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A brief meditation on wasps

The wasp butts its head against the top of the window frame - once, twice, three times, not a fourth and then flies, menacingly, in slow concentric circles.

It ascends to the ceiling where it bumps its back several times before descending to the same height as the open window. It does not fly out.

It simply hovers there for a second before flying up once more and charging ferociously against the window panes.

If I was to ascribe intentionality to this wasp (a discussion for another day) I would say that it desires to leave the room and believes it is going about doing so the best way possible.

Wasps process the world hundreds of times faster than we do - their synapses register their reality at thousands of frames per second.

This means that if they have any conception of time, they conceive of it hundreds of times slower than us because they experience the world in slow motion, so to speak.

The quick swipes we take at them, then, instead of lasting a few seconds, could last close to an hour in their reality.

Wasps live on average 12-22 days, meaning a few short swipes can add up to a decent proportion of their lives.

What lasts but the blink of an eye for us, is actually tantamount to a significant chunk of the wasp’s time in which their very existence is in danger.

In some sense, this would provoke a significant degree of anxiety in the wasp. At least it would, if we are going to anthropomorphise the creature.

One could in fact understand the time that it is being swiped at as something akin to a mid life crisis for the wasp.

The specific wasp that this article was about was stuck in my room for about half an hour before it flew out of the window. I know this because I watched it, nervously from the door.

That half hour amounts to 1/1,056th of its life stuck in my room - not an all too insignificant fraction of time.

That would be the equivalent of 27 human days. By no means the longest period of time to be uncomfortable - but think how you would feel if you were kept somewhere against your will for four weeks.

And as I watched the wasp performing yet more concentric circles and crashing into things, it’s movements stuck me as erratic and completely counterproductive to its desired end - that of escaping my room.

It did, eventually, leave the room, but that appeared to come about as a result of chance rather than an active decision made on the part of the wasp.

It made me wonder how effective we are in dealing with our concerns and problems and how pragmatically we actually go about dealing with them.

Indeed, to a being vastly greater than ourselves, how much of our attempts to alleviate suffering appear to be completely random? How many times do we vainly against the window panes of our existence?

Perhaps all of the problems we have solved are simply the result of a determined approach colliding with the laws of probability.

On this line of argument, all of our reasoned attempts to heal the ills of the world would just be a matter of statistics; that somehow, if we keep showing up, something is bound to go right for us at least once.

Some might claim that such a way of thinking is inherently defeatist; what would be the point of doing anything if everything that happens is merely a result of luck?

To that end, I encourage those of such a persuasion to think of the wasp.

What would have happened to the wasp if it had not attempted to leave the room, but had simply given up and rested on the wall?

I would have killed it with wasp repellent because I hate wasps.

- Claude Pink

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