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The secret megalopolis of the ants
January 31, 2012 8:52 PM   Subscribe

This video will haunt your dreams (slyt). Ten tonnes of cement were pumped into a gigantic ant colony and carefully excavated, leaving the skeleton of an alien city and a billion dead ants. (via)
posted by Joe in Australia (205 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:54 PM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


There's something about the description of this video that makes me not want to watch it. I'm assuming this event was done intentionally for some reason.

I'm sure it's interesting.... but, I think I'm going to pass on this. I know, ants are only ants, but the destruction of "a billion", on purpose..??!!! sigh... It says something about us...

someone tell me I'm wrong...
posted by HuronBob at 8:59 PM on January 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Boo. I like ants and would hace preferred a less destructive approach to studying their building actuvities.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:00 PM on January 31, 2012


...leaving the skeleton of an alien city and a billion dead ants who never did anything to you, so what the fuck people?
posted by Scientist at 9:00 PM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


someone tell me I'm wrong...

Well, it was a study on just how immense a colony could get.

I don't really think I can work myself into a froth about the "lives" of a billion ants.
posted by disillusioned at 9:01 PM on January 31, 2012 [20 favorites]


That's some fucking Cthulhu shit right there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:02 PM on January 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hey fuck you guys what a shitty thing to do.

(No denying that structure is fucking incredible but don't we have ground-penetrating x-ray lasers or some shit like that?)
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:02 PM on January 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


Anybody have a link to the academic journal article?
posted by phenylphenol at 9:02 PM on January 31, 2012


"I don't really think I can work myself into a froth about the "lives" of a billion ants."

Karma is a bitch!
posted by HuronBob at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


That's actually pretty darned cool.

And ants have a life span of about 3 weeks, and ants as a species are about as far from "endangered" as it is possible for a species to be. I feel nothing about "deaths of a billion ants" because there are a trillion more where those came from.

I watched the video with the sound turned off, so I don't know if this was answered: where was this done? Where you get get red soil like that?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2012 [7 favorites]


I assume all you fussy types never eat anything that has a spine, right?
posted by leotrotsky at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2012 [20 favorites]


I don't really think I can work myself into a froth about the "lives" of a billion ants.

I can't work myself into a froth about the Stalinist purges, but I'll still go on record as saying it was a tremendously rotten thing to do.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:06 PM on January 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


I personally would have no problems paving over a billion living baby ants and their mothers... for science. Or just any old reason really. Fuck ants. Fants.

Great video, wish there was more shots of the fully excavated piece.
posted by grizzly at 9:06 PM on January 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


According to the BoingBoing comments, this is from a longer documentary and the colony was deserted/abandoned.
posted by soelo at 9:08 PM on January 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


a froth about the "lives" of a billion ants

The death of AN ant colony is more apt - it is the collective that exhibits the behaviours we study here.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:08 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


We're monsters.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:09 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's science. Sometimes you have to take things apart or you won't find out what makes them tick. And I don't think entomologists get the ground-penetrating x-ray laser budgets.

If you must mourn, mourn more the single superorganism than the individual ants.
posted by darksasami at 9:09 PM on January 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


They built that city on rock and soil.
posted by davebush at 9:10 PM on January 31, 2012 [57 favorites]


This ranks way, way below things like factory farms on my outrage meter. Especially since this has the potential for actual learning, and it's unlikely that ants have much consciousness.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:11 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's ok— there's a few trillion more where those came from. In fact, the ants substantially outweigh us.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:11 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anybody have a link to the academic journal article?

It's not this study, but here's an article describing a similar nest cast made using plaster [pdf].
posted by jedicus at 9:11 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ants have about 250k neuron seach while humans have about 100b each. While it's not simply a numbers game, that's still about the same amount of brain matter as 2500 people. Ants may not be smart, but ant colonies might be.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:11 PM on January 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


ants as a species

whut
posted by shakespeherian at 9:13 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ants are nutritious. Much better than the pink slime at McDonald's.

I'm calling shennanigans on wasting all that food!

Also it looks like a 3D Mandelbrot set.
posted by bukvich at 9:14 PM on January 31, 2012


I think that generally, ants are jerks so I am okay with this.
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:14 PM on January 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


It looks like what would have happened had HR Giger designed the Mines of Moria sets for the Lord of the Rings movies.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:16 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


the colony was deserted/abandoned.

that's what I read too. So no ant murder apparently, k?
posted by sweetkid at 9:16 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Won't someone please think of the ants!
posted by planet at 9:18 PM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


In all reality, ants are some of the coolest animals on the planet. They are indeed better understood on the colony level rather than the individual level, as any given worker ant is sterile and her activities are biologically pointed toward passing along the genetic material of the queen (of whom she is a clone). An ant colony is a superorganism-- a single entity which communicates with itself chemically, just like your parts do, except that the parts are physically separated and can wander around on their own.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:18 PM on January 31, 2012 [18 favorites]


I'm trying to become an ecologist and I've recently been doing a lot about how too often ecology strives to understand the natural world while sort of casually disregarding its value as anything other than a series of systems to be teased apart and quantified. (Most of this recent bout of thinking was kicked off after reading a paper that in the course of its methods referred to baby bats as "homogenate". I'll spare you the details.) I really feel like if our culture and our scientific practice manages to progress to a more enlightened and holistic view, one that not only analyzes the natural world but that strives to incorporate the lessons thus learned into our ways of living, then we will eventually have to shed these destructive and invasive methods of experimentation and leave them behind, or at least change our paradigms to reflect a perspective which values natural systems and non-human organisms equally to artificial systems and human organisms.

I mean, yes, it would have been very difficult to get the quality and detail of observation that these researchers obtained through non-invasive means, maybe even impossible. And yes, perhaps the information gained through the destruction of this ant colony will one day be used to save countless others (even if only indirectly -- there's not a lot of insect-focused conservation going on). Those arguments don't hold for research on humans, though -- or at least, they're not considered anywhere near sufficient to permit the nonconsensual destruction of human life. They used to be, in some places, at some times. A lot of modern medical knowledge, knowledge that we still use today and that helps to underpin modern medicine, was derived from truly horrific experiments performed by the Nazis during WWII. We don't do that anymore, not legally anyway.

Yet we still do it to other animals, sometimes in the service of improving human lives, other times (like this one, with the ants) simply in the service of expanding human knowledge about our world. Both are noble quests, but if the results rest on the fruits of the death (arguably torture, in many cases) of animals who could never have given consent then doesn't that sort of give the lie to any claims that we are interested in improving the world around us, of better understanding the natural world and our place within it?

It's something that's been troubling me recently, and I wish I could express my reservations in a clearer, more lucid way. It's something that I'm very much still working on.

Bottom line: I think I'm going to be a botanist.
posted by Scientist at 9:18 PM on January 31, 2012 [29 favorites]


This ranks way, way below things like factory farms on my outrage meter. Especially since this has the potential for actual learning, and it's unlikely that ants have much consciousness.

Granted, but what I don't like is that a) we've gone ahead and assumed that we're the arbiters of what has consciousness and what doesn't and b) those ants busted their ass to build that thing, and we shat all over it with a big concrete poo. But what happens when we build a big stupid statue to some war idiot, and pigeons do their sharts on it? MILLIONS OF LITTLE SPIKES.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:18 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"the colony was deserted/abandoned.

that's what I read too. So no ant murder apparently, k?"


I can sleep tonight, knowing our species is not doomed to pay for the lives of billions!
posted by HuronBob at 9:19 PM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Scientist... well said...
posted by HuronBob at 9:22 PM on January 31, 2012


the colony was deserted/abandoned.

Oh? Where's it say that? Where did the billion dead ants come from? Were they already dead? Or did one of the guys go "Oh yeah they're totes dead I was spraying boron down there all night."?
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:22 PM on January 31, 2012


"If ants had nuclear weapons, they would probably end the world in a week." – Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson, 1994
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:25 PM on January 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


How did they get the concrete into the far corners of the city before the center area dried up? They mention it took 3 days to keep pumping it. Assuming even that they worked around the clock, I'd be surprised if there weren't some tubes that got a little clogged, dried (or thickened) up, and totally blocked off from the main stream of concrete. I'm almost more impressed with the concrete than I am with the ants.
posted by Metro Gnome at 9:29 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow. My mind is kind of blown by that.

And I'm completely fucking terrified of masses of ants (thank you, English 9 and the reading of Leningen vs. the Ants) so I can't say I'm all that heartbroken about the world having rather fewer of them, but it does seem a bit weird that they would kill a billion ants and then make a movie about how smart and cool they are. Or, rather, were. Before they killed them.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:31 PM on January 31, 2012


1 - That was amazing and made ants even more impressive than I already knew them to be.

2 - Those amazingly impressive fuckers got into my kitchen last year, so it was pretty satisfying to imagine how they felt when the cement started pumping in.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:31 PM on January 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


I like ants. But, then again, I've never had to deal with the stingy ones
posted by KokuRyu at 9:31 PM on January 31, 2012


Metro Gnome: "How did they get the concrete into the far corners of the city before the center area dried up? They mention it took 3 days to keep pumping it. Assuming even that they worked around the clock, I'd be surprised if there weren't some tubes that got a little clogged, dried (or thickened) up, and totally blocked off from the main stream of concrete. I'm almost more impressed with the concrete than I am with the ants"

Looks like the concrete was really, really thin, from the shot where they start pouring, which might well help.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:32 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hey I heard the Pink Panther was one of the scientists. When asked about the project all he could say was dead ants, dead ants, dead ants dead ants dead ants dead ants dead aaaaants dead ants.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:32 PM on January 31, 2012 [21 favorites]


Also, we should figure out how to do this with reinforced concrete, dig out some perfectly cubical or other geometrical chambers and connect them to the rest, fill everything with concrete, and leave it there for future generations to discover and dig out. Imagine the nightmares we'll cause!
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2012


..."on purpose..??!!! sigh... It says something about us..."

Well... I don't know if this would be the event I'd choose to single out for our focused attention in that regard...

"I can sleep tonight, knowing our species is not doomed to pay for the lives of billions!"

...Um...

"...work myself into a froth about the Stalinist purges..."

Yeah... if you were about to lose sleep over ants, man do I have some bad news for you a little bit further back on the timeline...

I know you were kidding, was building off your joke
posted by midmarch snowman at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's nothing about a billion dead ants in the video. The only billion I heard referred to was the number of loads carried to the surface to excavate the nest, about 40 tons of dirt in total. That may be an editorial addition by Joe in Australia, or perhaps he's seen more of the video that snippet came from.

I don't think it was a dead nest, though, as there certainly appeared to be many live ants on top of the initial mound, and you see at least one live ant during the digging.

But killing ants is not, to my view, a major crime. Even by the billions. They are probably the most successful macro species on Earth, and killing one nest doesn't strike me as something to be terribly upset about.
posted by Malor at 9:35 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I assume all you fussy types never eat anything that has a spine, right?

Yup.


Look, I'm all whoo-ra for science, and I do think the result is cool, but I don't think that necessarily goes against the opinion that this was kind of a shitty thing to do to billions of ants and the surrounding landscape and mini-habitats they dug up to excavate it.

Of course it's all cost vs. payoff. What did we get from this? A neat video and apparently learning that ant colonies can get really big. Are there any farther-reaching implications? I'm sure there are, but I don't know them yet.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:38 PM on January 31, 2012


KokuRyu: I like ants. But, then again, I've never had to deal with the stingy ones

Man, most ants wouldn't lend a cup of sugar to their gran.
posted by gilrain at 9:39 PM on January 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


The billion ants was my impression and not stated explicitly. I just made a guess based on the stated size (50 square metres, eight metres deep, divided by titchy equals ... a billion?). You can actually see at least one ant crawling around on the structure as they excavate but it may have come from some other nest.

I'm wondering about two things: are the ant highways really that big, or does the cement soak into the soil and harden the area around the tunnel? Because those were tunnels were scarily large. And if ants had little ant ghosts, wouldn't it be horrifying to be haunted by a billion of them?
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:42 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also would like to go on record as saying that ants are crazy awesome and the results of this project are impressive as fuck. I'm trying to think of how one might have done it without killing the ants.

(For the moment, I am leaving aside for the moment the allegation that the colony was already abandoned, which if true neatly sidesteps the issue at least for this instance. But then what about whatever opportunists had no doubt moved in? What about the bacteria and fungi still remaining in the ants' gardens? What about the thousands of microorganisms that I destroy every time I wash my hands? What about the ongoing all-out genocidal war currently being waged inside my body between my immune system and the seething myriad of pathogenic microbes that are striving to turn me into nothing less than more of them? On and on and on it goes, and so it has ever been, and yet something inside me whispers "They have no choice. You do.")

The best I can come up with so far is that you could somehow radiotag the ants or pump radioactive (hopefully *mildly* radioactive) gas into the ant mound and then image the resulting signal. This may or may not be significantly harmful on its own though, and would doubtless be *much* more expensive than ten tons of concrete plus a few weeks' time picking through the dirt. I don't feel like ground penetrating radar would be likely to give the kind of detail that this study got, though it's possible that with some smart software and enough passes you could interpolate a higher resolution than the equipment was intrinsically able to give. Maybe you could get some of the data with ultrasound, and some with fiber-optic cameras.

If you were thorough enough and were able to combine all your data and feed it into the right software, maybe you could generate a passable 3D model. Then you could get one of those fancy 3D printers to spit you out a few copies of a scale-model of the ant colony that you could send to your sponsors as a desk toy. No ants need be harmed.

How feasible is any of this? I'm not sure, it's not really my thing. Doubtless the researchers who actually did this thing considered other methods, though I would be curious to hear in their own words what the lives of 1 billion ants actually mean to them personally. I would love to know what they would say, they who study these ants so intimately and intensely, and who probably understand them better than any other humans ever, at least in some ways.

There's a lot of good food for thought, here. I would love to see the paper that was published from this study.
posted by Scientist at 9:42 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


leotrotsky: "I assume all you fussy types never eat anything that has a spine, right?"

'Oh come on now, Ender - you're really telling me you're squeamish about killing a billion living things at once? It's just like eating a hamburger! Stop being so fussy!'
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's a bloody hole in the ground, six-or-six-thirty, and once they pull the concrete out, and fill it back in, all that will be left is a depression from the missing dirt. The grass will grow back within a month or two, and after a few years the topsoil will be re-enriched. Right after fill-in, it'll be mixed in with the less fertile dirt from deeper down, so maybe the grass won't grow as high for a while, but it'll all heal up.

It's not like they're moving square miles of topsoil, or leaving behind toxic chemicals, or paving over the top. This sort of mucking about is a very natural process, and things fix themselves right up.

Even a single big storm could do a lot more damage, and it's got nothing on even a small forest fire.
posted by Malor at 9:47 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Anybody have a link to the academic journal article?

What journal is it in? I am missing the reference. I can get it, but I don't even see a reference.
posted by cashman at 9:47 PM on January 31, 2012


Of course it's all cost vs. payoff. What did we get from this? A neat video and apparently learning that ant colonies can get really big. Are there any farther-reaching implications? I'm sure there are, but I don't know them yet.

So, you'd be OK with Stalin's purges, if the payoff was OK?

I can sleep tonight, knowing our species is not doomed to pay for the lives of billions!

Your religion sounds brutal!

This must be the daily thread to bring out the insanity.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:48 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, a little poking around suggests this is from a documentary called "Ants: Nature's Secret Power, about Bert Holldobler, who, with Edward O. Wilson, wrote a classic book about ants. He is an ant freak. There is no way he killed a colony just for fun. According to a random academic article I found, ant colonies emigrate all the time.

Besides, anyone who's ever poked an anthill can tell that wasn't an occupied colony - no ants came boiling up when they started pumping the concrete.
posted by gingerest at 9:50 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is it not from the documentary: Ants! Nature's Secret Power (full thing, 54mins)

Not watched the entire thing, but when I first saw the clip way back when, I'm pretty sure it did say that it was an abandoned colony.
posted by titus-g at 9:50 PM on January 31, 2012


Thanks, ants. Thants.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:50 PM on January 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also I suspect ants block tunnels in cases of flooding, which would have been counter-productive.
posted by titus-g at 9:53 PM on January 31, 2012


Pour on ants, pants.
posted by The Whelk at 9:54 PM on January 31, 2012


I can sleep tonight, knowing our species is not doomed to pay for the lives of billions!

Count yourself lucky not have been born a blue whale. They can kill 40 million krill per day, which means nearly 15 billion dead krill per year, and possibly 1 trillion murdered krill across the lifespan of an individual blue whale. That's a lot of bad karma.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:59 PM on January 31, 2012 [15 favorites]


or does the cement soak into the soil and harden the area around the tunnel?

The concrete looked especially fluid (probably to get it into all the tunnels before it cured, and keep it from smashing through the tunnel walls). It would have soaked into the substrate that formed the tunnel walls, and the soils would function like aggregate in the concrete.

Yes, the tunnels/rooms are larger than actual size. Without knowing the porosity of the soil or the makeup of the concrete, it would be hard to tell exactly, but I'd guess up to a half an inch envelope on the outside.

Still a massive construct, on that scale. Those ants are determined laborers.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:59 PM on January 31, 2012


2N2222: So, you'd be OK with Stalin's purges, if the payoff was OK?

Look, sorry to single out your specific comment, there are others here in the same vein and they pop up any time people express unhappiness at the devaluing of life, whatever form that takes. I think that you're being somewhat annoying and facile, but there's a valid point underneath it, namely that there is no life without death, and so there is therefore no tenable way for one to hold the position that they shall not take life or support the taking of life in any way. We all draw lines, we all make compromises, and the ramifications and interactions between those choices are complex and ofttimes difficult to reconcile.

That doesn't mean that it's not worth thinking about. It's hard to really consider these issues in an effective and honest way, but in my own opinion it's also tremendously important. Just as you can tie the killing of a billion ants to the megadeathcrime committed by Stalin, so too one can tie the desire to respect and preserve those tiny lives to the civil rights movement, the human rights movement, and what I hope one day will become the living rights movement. I think there are a lot of hard questions that we need to ask ourselves along the way, both as individuals and as a society (even -- dare I say it -- as a species) and I know that I am far, far from a place where I am truly at peace with the compromises and decisions that I make in my own life, let alone the compromises that we as a society make to support our collective lifestyle, but I nevertheless feel that these issues delineate a discussion which is important, worthwhile, and potentially transformative in truly fundamental ways.
posted by Scientist at 9:59 PM on January 31, 2012 [16 favorites]


Very cool video. I don't care in the least that they killed any number of ants. Didn't you know that insects are just tiny robots?
posted by Edgewise at 10:01 PM on January 31, 2012


I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

:(
posted by mazola at 10:02 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, you'd be OK with Stalin's purges, if the payoff was OK?
Isn't that what utilitarianism is?
posted by planet at 10:05 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, it's not in the YouTube video, but I heard they killed 1 billion kittens to excavate that ant colony.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:07 PM on January 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


Isn't that what utilitarianism is?

You misspelled "utilitariantism".
posted by Wolof at 10:08 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm a vegetarian and I still can't believe everyone is talking about killing the ants.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:09 PM on January 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


Very cool video. I don't care in the least that they killed any number of ants. Didn't you know that insects are just tiny robots?

All fun and games... until a spacecraft lands in Central Park and a giant robot ant comes strolling out asking "What the fuck did you do to my kinfolk?"
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:09 PM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


Perhaps it is ecological understanding as a style of rationality that is missing from the popular movements in Science. An ecological understanding, as such, defies certain positive methodologies. In the case of the ant colony and in many other situations I believe the best course of action is complete non-action. We do not have the luxury of pretending that our experiments exist in a vacuum.

What is this sensibility for me? It is tacit, aesthetic, ecological. It is grounded in the recognition that actions have consequences. And it is the rejection of the notion that through vivisection we can understand life. This experiment is no different than Descartes sticking his fingers into the beating heart of a dog. A positivist mode derives positive truths, and occludes proper understanding. Said another way:
Seeking the real, you give up the true
We must all be diligent in this regard
posted by kuatto at 10:10 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Look, sorry to single out your specific comment,

It wasn't my comment, really. It's just beyond belief that someone would seriously draw any significant parallel between destroying an ant colony and Stalin's purges.

Besides, if you're going to draw a parallel, it has to be with Hitler, not Stalin.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:11 PM on January 31, 2012


It's a bloody hole in the ground, six-or-six-thirty ...

Yes. I grasp this. But again, destroying the colony and upheaving the surrounding (even though it's temporary) was kind of a shitty thing to do to the billions of ants and the surrounding little buggies and creatures crawling around in there.

I think it's hard to argue that it isn't shitty to (potentially--I guess the colony may have been abandoned?) kill a shit-ton of ants and lots of other creepy crawlies in the process. It can maybe be justified, but it's still shitty for the ants/bugs/whatever.

That's all I'm saying. That is seriously it.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:13 PM on January 31, 2012


So, if I had just said, as B.P. said "Wow"..... would this thread have gone in another direction? (not that I was trolling, that isn't the case, my comment was sincere)
posted by HuronBob at 10:14 PM on January 31, 2012


There's nothing wrong with making me concrete.
posted by anthill at 10:17 PM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


I feel nothing about "deaths of a billion ants" because there are a trillion more where those came from.

Yet just yesterday we got a 340-something thread about how animal shelters can't find enough proper people to take care of the pretty little dogs and cats....
posted by c13 at 10:18 PM on January 31, 2012


For crying out loud, the OP admitted that he pulled the number straight out of his ass. I have likely between one and three ant colonies here in my house. Who volunteers to get them to move along humanely without damaging my house or the ants? I guess some of you should start getting your Stalin references ready, because I might just kill them all.
posted by chimaera at 10:20 PM on January 31, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's funny the ways and the places that we take a moral stance on things. In Australia recently there was widespread outrage when it was discovered that Australian cattle were exported live to other countries, where they were often mistreated. It was a huge story, people were appalled, and the process was stopped. I'm sure the vast majority of those people happily ate bits and pieces from various animals all the way through, and saw no contradition in that.

Here, too, people are offended at the thought of senselessly killing millions of ants - but, realistically, don't we kill far more millions when we fell forests for the paper we use, and clear land for the farms that feed us, and use electronics that can only work with conflict-sourced materials, and so forth?

That's not to say that the ant deaths don't matter - I think it illustrates our fumbling but earnest desire to be good people. Even though it may be inconsistent with much of the rest of our lives, we can see this and say that there's something sad about what happened here, even if the results are beautiful and enlightening.
posted by twirlypen at 10:22 PM on January 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


gingerest is right, it is from http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/ants-natures-secret-power/ starts at 46:16.
posted by brewsterkahle at 10:23 PM on January 31, 2012


This is really interesting on a number levels (as a study of ants, as a study of humans, to name a couple). It also kind of reminds me of Pompeii.
posted by kilo hertz at 10:26 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ethics problems for Mefites:

1) Concrete is flowing down a pipe toward 1 billion ants. You can turn a valve that will divert the concrete away from the ants, but if you do, a white, heterosexual male will be buried in the concrete. He has a lot more money than all of the ants combined.

2) Concrete is flowing down a pipe toward 1 billion ants. You can turn a valve that will direct the concrete away from the ants, but if you do, the dealership will have no place to park the hybrid automobiles that are to be offered for sale to the public.

3) 1 billion ants are scurrying down a concrete pipe. You are nowhere near this scene, but if you turn a valve, you can pour yourself a refreshing glass of water. You can soberly reflect on how we're all ants in a concrete pipe, if you wish to.
posted by planet at 10:27 PM on January 31, 2012 [63 favorites]


hat's not to say that the ant deaths don't matter - I think it illustrates our fumbling but earnest desire to be good people. Even though it may be inconsistent with much of the rest of our lives, we can see this and say that there's something sad about what happened here, even if the results are beautiful and enlightening.

What!? What the fuck are you talking about here? We've poured concrete into someone's house for three days straight. This illustrates our earnest desire to be good people?!
There's something sad about what happened? Really?
posted by c13 at 10:27 PM on January 31, 2012


someone

I think this is the sticking point.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:29 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that some of those who are expressing disbelief here are maybe being a little bit intentionally inflammatory. I get that your value system doesn't consider the lives of 1 billion ants to be worth much. And I get that in this case the anthill was probably abandoned. It's still an issue that is worth talking about in the abstract and the specific, and I think that there's a really interesting discussion to have here if the people on one side would stop being so "OMG! You care about ants?!?!" and would try to actually engage in a substantive way rather than a dismissive one.

To make things a little more specific, there's that paper I mentioned in my first comment here. In it, a researcher "sampled" bats from two colonies in New Hampshire (i.e. snuck in while they were sleeping and captured about 100 mother/infant pairs) and brought them back to her lab, whereupon she euthanized the infants with chloroform and homogenized (i.e. blended) their corpses in order to analyze their tissue content. She was looking to see whether the unusually long nursing time that these particular bats undergo has something to do with needing body tissues to be relatively mature in order to support flight which of course bats need to be able to manage if they are to forage independently. It actually didn't provide great data -- in discussing it with some of my fellow students, the best idea we could come up with was that she had been sitting on the data for 14 years (collection happened in 1998) and didn't know quite what to do with it, so decided to publish a kind of weak paper with it rather than let it go to waste.

I would be curious to hear whether people think that the killing and blending of 100 baby bats is more, less, or equally distateful compared to the (hypothetical) killing of 1 billion ants (or one ant colony, if you want to look at them as a superorganism). What is your conclusion, and why? I am genuinely curious. I think that there are many possible conclusions that a reasonable person might come to, and that some of them are probably rooted in worldviews that are strikingly different from each other in some pretty fundamental ways. That reasonable people can hold differing views about such an important topic (whether or not killing is OK) is something that I find fascinating and worthy of serious and thoughtful discussion.
posted by Scientist at 10:34 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


. In Australia recently there was widespread outrage when it was discovered that Australian cattle were exported live to other countries,

Actually, my sons saw that TV show about that on Discover Channel and loved it.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:36 PM on January 31, 2012


Remind me the next time I want to make use of an abandoned ant colony for scientific purposes not to videotape it or else the internet will compare me to Stalin.

I had no idea people felt such empathy for ants. How do you sleep at night knowing your house was built on ant habitat? Do you shake with horror while riding the subway knowing that many (real, not imagined as in this case) insects were destroyed while excavating the stations and the tunnels? My god, parking in an underground parking garage must bring you to tears.

I admire your sensitivity towards living things, but I don't envy your lives.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 10:40 PM on January 31, 2012 [16 favorites]


What journal is it in? I am missing the reference. I can get it, but I don't even see a reference.

It's from the New England Journal of ANT MURDER. I can't remember the issue, but it's a recent one, with a picture of a magnifying glass on the cover. It's published by Elsevier.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:42 PM on January 31, 2012 [49 favorites]


Well those ants never insulted me on the internet which is more than I can say for you!
posted by mazola at 10:42 PM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would be curious to hear whether people think that the killing and blending of 100 baby bats is more, less, or equally distateful compared to the (hypothetical) killing of 1 billion ants (or one ant colony, if you want to look at them as a superorganism).

This is more than a whole separate discussion on its own, but I'm going to take a TL;DR crack at it: All other things being equal (i.e. no major pollution/ecological effects, no risk to habitats or species), I privilege sapience, then sentience, then life. I'll pick 100 baby bats over a single ant colony every time (our best information indicates that all mammals have a higher degree of sapience than insects do). I'll pick a single ant colony over a billion plants (provided the ecological issue above is not a concern). I'll privilege a plant over an acre of bare rock.
posted by chimaera at 10:43 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would be curious to hear whether people think that the killing and blending of 100 baby bats is more, less, or equally distateful compared to the (hypothetical) killing of 1 billion ants (or one ant colony, if you want to look at them as a superorganism).

I don't know, Scientist. Having killed trillions of yeast cells, trillions of plant cells, and several mice just to perform some experiments, I honestly can't say whether killing a mammal is any worse than killing an insect.
At the same time, if you throw a fluffy kitten into a blender, people think you're a monster, no matter what your experiment is.
posted by c13 at 10:45 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cement ≠ concrete

They didn't send down the stuff we make sidewalks from. They sent down the stuff we use to bind together the stuff we make sidewalks from.
posted by looli at 10:45 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


What!? What the fuck are you talking about here? We've poured concrete into someone's house for three days straight. This illustrates our earnest desire to be good people?!

The fact that we're offended at this loss of life, despite causing other, much greater loss of life elsewhere, is what I was talking about. The offense in this thread, not the concrete pouring itself.
posted by twirlypen at 10:47 PM on January 31, 2012


Every single person involved in this will be murdered by eco-terrorists. PETA will deny involvement, yet their grins will be unhideable.
posted by BiggerJ at 10:48 PM on January 31, 2012


The proper response to this should be:

ANTS. FUCK YEAH!
posted by P.o.B. at 10:53 PM on January 31, 2012


Fiver woulda seen this coming.
posted by not_on_display at 10:54 PM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


I had no idea people felt such empathy for ants. How do you sleep at night knowing your house was built on ant habitat? Do you shake with horror while riding the subway knowing that many (real, not imagined as in this case) insects were destroyed while excavating the stations and the tunnels? My god, parking in an underground parking garage must bring you to tears.

You know, this sort of thing is really unnecessary, the weird passive-aggressive mockery thing that's going on a lot in this thread. Do you doubt that people actually care, or do you think they're just acting this way so that they can be sanctimonious? If you're assuming insincerity you're approaching the discussion in bad faith. But if you think people might actually care you're basically mocking them for having feelings.

I get that you and many others might not really care about an ant colony, I really do; I actually do think this project can be justified, I think the result was neat, and I don't have a big problem with the study when you get down to it. But what is up with all of these sorts of comments?

I do seem to have an innate empathy for pretty much anything. I am indeed saddened in most scenarios where unnecessary destruction has taken place, if I'm made aware of it by someone else or I happen to think about it myself. It does suck sometimes. Is caring (not even getting into taking action one way or the other) really such a bad thing?

This is pretty much the most extreme 'caring' position I've seen in this thread:
Let's assume an anthill, let's assume an entire colony still living there, and let's assume they dumped in concrete, killing billions of ants, etc. As per tumid dahlia's first comment, is it really so unreasonable to suggest that-- if an alternative, non-destructive, similar-cost method exists to measure the same thing-- we should use that instead?
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:54 PM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


no regrets, coyote,

Indeed, when I look at the earth around me (a bunch of concrete and strip malls) and I think about what it used to be I am moved to tears. Sometimes I get the impression that the kind of people who enjoy blasting concrete into the ground run the world.
posted by kuatto at 10:55 PM on January 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


,i>The fact that we're offended at this loss of life, despite causing other, much greater loss of life elsewhere, is what I was talking about.

I can't quite reconcile your earlier comment with this one. Maybe it's just me...
posted by c13 at 10:55 PM on January 31, 2012


Honestly, I think that it's kind of a sad fact that my house (city) is built on ant (alligator, squirrel, pelican, rabbit, cyprus, moss, catfish) habitat. I don't shake with horror, no, just as I don't shake with horror knowing that my city was also built on land stolen from the prior human inhabitants, and that it was built on the backs of slaves and continues to be run on the backs of the poor and exploited for the benefit of a very few wealthy and powerful people. Am I horrified, paralyzed, afraid to move for fear of crushing a cockroach underfoot? No, of course not. I get on with my life, just like you. Still and all, I think that it kind of sucks and I would like to do something to nudge our species away from its selfish, wanton, destructive, greedy ways (at all levels of existence, from ants to CEOs) if I can manage it. Do I make personal choices that always reflect this desire in an honest way? No, of course not, I do not claim perfection or even consistency. I struggle to reconcile myself, to some extent, but I get on with things and do the best I can, striving always to do better.

Is it wrong for me to care, if I am not going to suddenly devote every ounce of energy in my being to pushing back against the runaway train of our culture? Is it wrong to be imperfect, despite being aware of my imperfection, and to simply try to make small changes, a little at a time? If I find I am unable to create the fundamental changes in our culture that would be required to return us to a more balanced and stable place in the web of life, is the only logically-consistent alternative to make a complete turn and fully embrace the narrative that our society would have me believe in?

Is it wrong to instead reconcile myself to a small amount of internal conflict, and to try to push forward regardless? That is that path that I have chosen for myself, and I think perhaps there are others here who might agree. Ain't none of us perfect. Don't mean we shouldn't do our best.
posted by Scientist at 10:55 PM on January 31, 2012 [28 favorites]


And as usual, Scientist says it better.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 10:56 PM on January 31, 2012


Scientist - Before I get all het up about the ethics of ground-up baby bats, I want to look at the abstract at least for myself. Citation, please? (I do remember a biochemistry paper I read in the early nineties that included the homogenisation of nine whole baby or fetal pigs, and specified a Waring blender, so I don't doubt this happened, but I like a little context for my condemnation.)
posted by gingerest at 10:57 PM on January 31, 2012


That last was in response to no regrets, coyote's comment above.
posted by Scientist at 10:58 PM on January 31, 2012


Is it wrong to instead reconcile myself to a small amount of internal conflict, and to try push forward regardless?

Forward to what?
posted by c13 at 11:03 PM on January 31, 2012


Here's that abstract, gingerest.

The methods section isn't there but here are relevant quotes from there regarding killing and blending:
"Bats were humanely killed by prolonged exposure to gaseous chloroform (Gannon et al. 2007). Body composition analyses and care of mothers is described elsewhere (Hood et al. 2006)."

"Detailed descriptions of analytical methods are described by Hood et al. (2006). Briefly, whole carcasses were thawed and homogenized in a Corning laboratory blender. The dry matter content of homogenates was determined by drying samples to a constant mass at 60°C in a forced convection oven."
It's gruesome stuff, but not exceptional. A lot of biology reads like this, ecology and conservation science included.
posted by Scientist at 11:04 PM on January 31, 2012


As far as the ethics go - I just read a paper where E.O. Wilson "defaunitized" six small islands in the Florida Bay in order to study colonization patterns. By fumigating them with methyl bromide. Okay, they were very small islands (one to several mangrove trees), but still, if the most famous ant scientist in the world doesn't mind killing a few ants (and several other dozen species) for knowledge...
posted by unmake at 11:07 PM on January 31, 2012


So after careful ethical deliberations Metafilter people do, in fact, welcome our new insect overlords, is basically what I'm taking away from all this.

I saw this coming.
posted by furiousthought at 11:11 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


I agree also that that bats vs. bugs question I asked above was probably not the best question, though I am grateful to those who thought it worth taking a shot at answering. To me at least, the responses were quite interesting. What I wanted to get at, I think, and I think maybe chimaera's comment touches on this the most, is that we all draw lines about what is and is not acceptable killing, but not all of us really have -- or feel the need for -- a comprehensive and internally-consistent ethos for how we draw those lines. There's a huge amount of gray area around the matter, especially when one is talking about the taking of non-human life, and especially when it's indirect or a byproduct of serving some other ostensibly noble cause (such as the advancement of human scientific knowledge). As someone who considers the scientific enterprise (which is what I still have in mind here as the basis of my thoughts) to be one of the greatest projects of our species and one of our finest creations, and who considers himself to be an active participant in that enterprise, I am fascinated by the fact that it so often seems to consider itself a fundamentally amoral process despite being shot through with the intentional exploitation and killing of living organisms all the way from bacteria up to other primates. It's a complicated issue, one that I'm still struggling with personally.

In the end, I'm not sure what to make of it. I should probably go to bed and stop dominating the thread.
posted by Scientist at 11:11 PM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only reason you consider science as amoral, and "the advancement of human thoughts" as noble, or indeed the separation of "our species" and "our creations" as something worth mentioning is because our species' fascination with a (depending on a region) supernatural deity that created us in his image and gave us dominion over all the other species he created.
posted by c13 at 11:23 PM on January 31, 2012


Man, I wish this thread was about ants, instead of ant ethics. I have to stay ahead of my toddler on the bug facts.

But I came in to say, the full documentary this clip came from is available on Hulu. (You too would know about every single insect video on hulu if you had a Bug-crazy toddler.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:35 PM on January 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


no regrets, coyote: "Remind me the next time I want to make use of an abandoned ant colony for scientific purposes not to videotape it or else the internet will compare me to Stalin."

Oh, stop. Nobody compared anybody to Stalin here. If you're going to wring your hands at precious hippies, try to be rational about it.

"I had no idea people felt such empathy for ants. How do you sleep at night knowing your house was built on ant habitat? Do you shake with horror while riding the subway knowing that many (real, not imagined as in this case) insects were destroyed while excavating the stations and the tunnels? My god, parking in an underground parking garage must bring you to tears. I admire your sensitivity towards living things, but I don't envy your lives."

So you assume that, because people don't like the idea of killing bugs for no reason, they must live their lives in perpetual anxiety about death being all around them? What a weird thing to assume.

My own experience is that most of this 'get over it, death is all around us!' crap comes from people who have never actually had to kill something. Seriously, I'd like to see you out down a horse which is suffering in order to make sure it doesn't suffer anymore and then come back to us and try to explain again how death is so inevitable that we're better off just being oblivious to it. Life is not so simple. Sensitivity to causing pain isn't a debilitating defect of those who care too much about life; it's a virtue which is needed for civilization to continue to exist.
posted by koeselitz at 11:40 PM on January 31, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, you'd be OK with Stalin's purges, if the payoff was OK?

Bean-plating. False. Equivalence.

Who knew so many MeFites carried around little ahimsa brooms, sweeping away the ants on their way to work and home?

I'm having trouble reconciling that some of you can't understand that a distinction can be drawn between the "life value" of a literal ant compared to absolutely any higher order of life. Or do you start weeping for wheat because harvesting fields of it is a "shitty thing to do to the wheat", it's worked so hard growing as wheat and such?
posted by disillusioned at 11:51 PM on January 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Didn't you know that insects are just tiny robots?

Thanks a lot, I'm crying now.
posted by wayland at 12:04 AM on February 1, 2012


Is this the part of the thread where I post a .gif of someone walking into a room, looking around, becoming horrified, and quickly leaving?

Because come on, they're ants.
posted by reductiondesign at 12:07 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Human slaves, of an insect nation!
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:37 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


You should hear what happens to bacteria when you sterilize surgical instruments. I think we're well within the bounds of reason to refer to that as genocide.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:37 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've always wanted to see how big these fellas got and how they were really organised. But after watching that clip I'm also wondering at the collective consciousness of those billions of ants finding their life purpose is served by slugging away their tiny window of mortality lugging dirt four times their weight uphill. The forms of the tunnels and sacs echo the nodes of a lymphatic system - truly beautiful, organic architecture.

I'm a big fan of anthills so this was a great post for me. I have two defunct ones in my front yard that come from mining exploration surveys in the Pilbara [Western Australia] and I marvel at them.

In a documentary I saw years and years ago, a thirsty Kimberley countryman, on a long walkabout, wanders up to a large red anthill and walks around it several times. He sits next to it and waits. Then he gets up and says to the camera, oh so humbly and beautifully, 'you can ask this fella where the water is. He show you the way to go ... He says just go this way a bit...' The level of respect and co-existence with non-human architecture and life is just beautiful [and so pragmatic, the oldfella finds water by following the anthill's advice in the following scene].

There is a moral dimension and problems of our human processes of 'discovery', but from my experience in getting my own defunct anthills, I know there are very strict parameters for interfering with anthills and termite mounds in Australia. There have been cases of assholes driving into them, setting them fire to them, pouring in petrol, or any other mindless disgusting thing you'd imagine assholes do to lovely things for fun - but it's punishable. I cannot imagine this - concrete being poured in by entomologists - being allowed to happen to a live anthill in Australia. As I said above, the anthills have significance to local people and are protected. Mining companies, for example, who have a lot to gain from their destruction, are often forced to figure out ways to deal with live anthills. The anthills in my possession had to be signed off by site entomologists before they could be taken away from the Pilbara.
posted by honey-barbara at 12:40 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Really? My sis-in-law was snapping rat necks for dissection when she was in 3rd year at university.
posted by PenDevil at 12:41 AM on February 1, 2012


Human slaves, of an insect nation!

I think it's important at this point to remember that while spiders are not technically insects, in a war they would actually side with the insects.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:25 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My own experience is that most of this 'get over it, death is all around us!' crap comes from people who have never actually had to kill something.

I've killed ants. I've also had to put down a cow. I've had to put down three puppies. The cow took along time to die. You'd think a shotgun blast to the neck would be a quick death, but not for a cow, and probably not for a horse either. The throat was just gone, you could fit my whole head in space remaining. And puddle blood was huge. So much blood kept coming out, and yet the cow kept on breathing through the hole in her neck. I stayed with it for like an hour, because it was so sad. I couldn't do anything else for it, and I felt the least I could do would be to sit, keep it company and bear witness as it left this world.

The three puppies were brought in to the humane society. I don't know what exactly was wrong with them, but they were obviously sick. They moved and looked like the Emperor Skeksis. When the needles were stuck in to them, two puppies didn't even react, while the other just made a slightly different whimper than they had been making. I stayed with them too until they were all the way asleep, because I wasn't going leave them to drift off alone in that fucking white room on that fucking grate. Beneath the grate was water, where they were drowned once I left the room.

I provide these details not to be morbid, but so that you can understand and believe that I have familiarity with this. I was fucking crying trying to type out about the puppies, and my throat/sinus hurts from choking the tears back. It wasn't my finger on the shotgun trigger, and it wasn't my hand holding the needle, but it was my hand on the cow's head for an hour as it slowly bled to death, and it was my lap holding the puppies while they were injected. I have been impacted in just the way that you are looking for. Now I'd like to say something:

The cow's death was sad. The three puppies was sadder. But killing ants is not sad. Get some perspective. It's like complaining that the flu shot kills flu virus cells, except each flu virus cell probably has more sentience than an ant. Ants don't just have zero sentience, they are actually into the negative on that spectrum. It is a good thing that they killed a colony of ants, and I'd love for them to come study the colony of ants in my bathroom.
posted by BurnChao at 2:12 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I get that you and many others might not really care about an ant colony, I really do; I actually do think this project can be justified, I think the result was neat, and I don't have a big problem with the study when you get down to it. But what is up with all of these sorts of comments?


Well, speaking for myself, I feel there's a lot of ignorance and arrant hypocrisy in them. Scientist, your lucid and super-wellintentioned comments actually illustrate this - in some ways.

Obviously, everyone is allowed to feel what they feel; grieve for the ants it makes no matter to me and everyone's emotions are valid. But on the other hand, the censure and mentions of the unethicality of killing the ants is a bit much. As pointed out more and less bluntly several times above, here are a hundred - a thousand, ten thousand - different things that you make a choice to do, ranging from the clothes you buy, the meat you eat, the medicine you take, the job you work etc etc etc, things that any individual can probably do something, anything - albeit little - about, and the accompanying slaughter, genocide, death and suffering concomitant with that horde of things is okay because "I'm doing the best I can/I do the best that I can manage". I humbly submit you - or any of us - are most definitely not "doing the best we can", and that that's merely a dodgy post-hoc rationalisation allowing us to sleep at night and enjoy our new sweatshop t-shirts without feeling too crap.

At the other end of the spectrum, with this video, is something that has already happened, in the past, disconnected to you and your plethora of daily activities - a river you cannot step into twice - a thing you can do literally nothing whatsoever at all about, and (from my perspective), THIS is the thing people are getting worried about? Angry about? A little shaming about, perhaps? This thing?!? The average human, through the average choices they make every day probably kills more living beings than all the hypothetical ants killed in this video, in any given week.

So yeah, it strikes me as an unpleasant compact to worry about this, compared to the tempest of suffering we knowingly unknowingly visit upon the world every day. We make this ant-killers look like gandhi. I'm not into false dichotomies, man, but perspective, please.
posted by smoke at 2:22 AM on February 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Speaking as a farmer with invasive, mound-builidng fire ants on my pasture land, I can assure you that if they had tried to pour concrete down a live anthill like that, with the hose in only one entrance, they would have been attacked and overwhelmed from all quarters by evacuating ants.

Unlike domesticated animals, ants do not freeze up in the face of danger; they go out to meet it. They also realize that a colony that size in unmanageable, and break it up and start new, smaller colonies elsewhere. This factor is essential in colony control.

You cannot kill fire ants. You can kill the queen, and the remaining soldiers will create new queens and spread out to new colonies. The ants, they are not threatened in any measurable way by our puny human efforts.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:37 AM on February 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


"THIS is the thing people are getting worried about? Angry about? A little shaming about, perhaps? This thing?!? The average human, through the average choices they make every day probably kills more living beings than all the hypothetical ants killed in this video, in any given week.

So yeah, it strikes me as an unpleasant compact to worry about this, compared to the tempest of suffering we knowingly unknowingly visit upon the world every day. We make this ant-killers look like gandhi. I'm not into false dichotomies, man, but perspective, please."


Amen.

I fall more inside the animal rights camp than outside of it, but a lot of the responses in this thread are either puzzling or distressing to me. The sarcastic allusion to Jainism by disillusioned above is appropriate because it's almost certain that none of the condemnative commenters are Jainists. It's not as if it's likely that anyone here lives their lives with the respect for living creatures implied by this level of outrage.

By some estimates, ants are the most successful, most numerous macroscopic animal on Earth. Does that make the destruction of this colony (if it was, in fact, destroyed rather than abandoned as some have reported) insignificant? Maybe, or maybe not. But if it's not, if it's still important, then so to is it important when we kill an individual ant. The relative scales are the same. If you say that it's wrong to make quantitative arguments minimizing the wrongness of this based upon the total number of ants in the world, or upon the neuroanatomy of ants, then so too are any similar arguments about individual ants. And if you say, well, you draw the line over here, then that's fine. But others draw the line elsewhere.

I think that a respect for life is ethically very important. I very strongly oppose judeo-christian culture's "dominion over the plants and animals" ethos as well as its deeply related anthropocentric exceptionalist dualism. I oppose many varieties of animal testing and support many initiatives for recognizing animal rights.

But it's crucially important to distinguish between a casual sentiment that pretends to be an ethical position, and an actual considered and rational and effective ethical position. Outrage when it's convenient, the lack of outrage when it's also convenient, discrimination based merely upon convention and personal history and aesthetics, all of these debase and discredit an ethical principle that does matter and is worth fighting for and defending.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:52 AM on February 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


Destroying life, any life, should never be this callous and unproductive.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 3:03 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I watched the video with the sound turned off, so I don't know if this was answered: where was this done? Where you get get red soil like that?

posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:04 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


Grass Cutter Ants in Argentina
.

I thought it might be somewhere in Southern Africa or Northern Australia, which both have similar bright red soils, and similar giant mounds. Though I think the African and Australian mounds might be more often made by termites than ants as such.

In contrast to what Honey Barbara says about Western Australian fauna protection laws and needing to get permission for the removal of mounds (which is correct, that is indeed the law), I've found that most towns in the Kimberly have at least one termite mound sculptor. Termite mounds on the edge of town develop faces, or turn into Moai sculptures overnight. No one ever admits to knowing who the sculptor is, and I seriously doubt that all but the most crazed and vigilant Department of Conservation rangers ever try particularly hard to find out. It's always seemed to me that the mounds get repaired during the next wet season and there's rarely any lasting damage done.
posted by Ahab at 3:13 AM on February 1, 2012


It is a good thing that they killed a colony of ants, and I'd love for them to come study the colony of ants in my bathroom.

Tried sugar syrup laced with borax? Cheap, easy, works exceptionally well. Dissolve half a cup of sugar in half a cup of boiling water, then dissolve a teaspoon of borax in that. Bottle the mixture and let it cool. Fill a dessertspoon with the syrup, then leave the spoon sitting somewhere the ants will find it. A determined little army of foragers will helpfully take it all back into their nest and use it to poison all their nestmates.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ants are not the clones of their Queen, shakespeherian. Read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins.

There are insect species like Ants with haploid males, known as haplodiploid, meaning their males only have one copy of each chromosome. It follows that all full siblings have an identical genetic contribution from their father, which drastically alters their familial genetic relationships.

In particular, the daughters share exactly 50% of each chromosome pair with their mother, but share on average 75% of each chromosome pair with their siblings! Insect species only mate once per lifetime because they don't live very long, meaning all siblings are full siblings. It follows that daughters propagate their genetic material most effectively by encouraging additional siblings, rather than mating and producing offspring themselves.

We're therefore observing daughters farm their mother to better pass along their father's genes! Ergo, ant, bee, etc. queens aren't rulers but royal slaves, probably they'd rather go farm their own mother.

There is strong evidence that eusociality has evolved 11 separate times in haplodiploid species, although non-eusocial haplodiploid species exists. There are various non-haplodiploid species like termites are considered eusocial too, but usually their eusociality isn't nearly so pronounced as in haplodiploid species.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:00 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know, the posturing in this thread really diminishes Metafilter, but I will say only this:

To pretend to display some sort of enlightenment by prioritizing living beings based on their intelligence level is like a rich man saying "Rich men matter more!"

How about we prioritize based on total mass or long term ecological equilibrium? Ops...
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:12 AM on February 1, 2012


It wouldn't surprise me to find somebody building one of these above ground on Aporkalypse.
posted by usonian at 4:14 AM on February 1, 2012


It's hard to believe that some people are getting worked up over this.

How do such people live their lives? It's a serious question, because it sounds like a person who is upset about this would live a life radically different from mine and I'm curious as to what that life looks like.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:15 AM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


That was antswitz
posted by Renoroc at 4:42 AM on February 1, 2012


Isn't all this hand-wringing over ants just insect speciesism? What about the ongoing insect apocalypse on our nation's highways? What of the butterflies stuck on bumpers, dragonflies splattered on windshields, mayflies jammed into grills... Think of the bugs. Think of the bugs!
posted by kinnakeet at 4:50 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Everyone should chill out there are far more important things to be angry about. In fact I it says right here that in the previous thread someone's melting down a sloth!
posted by pmcp at 4:55 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regarding Leiningen vs the Ants, I've just finished reading it and it's very entertaining but really way overblown depiction of an army ant raid. They are not that intelligent/stupid, depending how you look at their behaviour. And they don't eat plants.
posted by hat_eater at 5:08 AM on February 1, 2012


So, you'd be OK with Stalin's purges, if the payoff was OK?

You'd be okay wiping out *billions* of bacteria if the payoff was ok?

Would you be okay killing over ten million people to stop the next Hitler?

Which, of course, would be a deal, given that over 16 million allied military personnel died in WWII.

See, we can play these games *all* day.
posted by eriko at 5:09 AM on February 1, 2012


What kind of idiot puts a cow down with a shotgun shot to the throat? Assuming it was a blunder, why not reload and put it out of its misery?
posted by Static Vagabond at 5:11 AM on February 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Would you be okay blowing up a planet, using a fully armed and operational battle station, to save an Empire?
posted by Malor at 5:13 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ants are not the clones of their Queen, shakespeherian

You're right, of course. I meant that they're not genetically any different from the breeding queens produced by their colony, despite being sterile. My point being that an individual ant's genetic material is passed on in part by her effort despite her inability to breed.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:29 AM on February 1, 2012


Planet earth is just an anthill to something?
posted by fistynuts at 5:49 AM on February 1, 2012


Much better than the pink slime at McDonald's.

Funny that.

On Thursday, McDonald's announced they have discontinued the use of ammonium hydroxide as a processor in their U.S. beef

Perhaps the new process is powered by the souls of forsaken ants?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:16 AM on February 1, 2012


My dreams last night were not haunted by this video, but I did go to sleep wondering what would have happened had the researchers done this to a live ant colony. Imagine billions of ants engaged in a full-on rescue operation, each carrying a bit of of hardening cement in their jaws, clearing out the tunnels as fast as the researchers tried to fill them up. As the ants cleared away the cement, what would they build with it?

Also, I want to do this with an abandoned tenement block.
posted by hydrophonic at 6:26 AM on February 1, 2012


Ethics aside, that is a truly beautiful structure. I wish our cities were as architecturally interesting.
posted by Forktine at 6:29 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I, for one, as the proud owner of a couple of acres of fire ants, welcome the concrete overlords if it meant a summer without an epi-pen on standby.
posted by dejah420 at 6:45 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow - lately the "must-protect-every-living-creature", scientific exploration is "worthless" brigade seems a bit strong.

Ants. There are more. There will be more. They will outlast us. You can all rest easy that they will have the last laugh.
posted by jkaczor at 6:47 AM on February 1, 2012


Also, I want to do this with an abandoned tenement block

You might win a prize!

Nice work by the ants and an equally sprawling and fascinating thread. Interesting and amazing. Interazing.
posted by asok at 6:58 AM on February 1, 2012


Imagine my confusion; I read the original post as "giant ART colony."
posted by Miko at 7:03 AM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Where you get get red soil like that?"

Usually it's older soil that has -- no kidding! -- rusted. The iron in the soil slowly rusts over time with exposure. In North America you find it (among other places) in Prince Edward Island and Georgia. Georgia's red clays appear in songs and stories, and PEI's red dirt roads are well-attested in literature, travelogues, etc.

Googling "terra rose" or "red soil" will bring up plenty of examples.

They're usually poor in nutrients because of the age of the soil and the oxidation of minerals over time, so not great farming soils. I always think they look like they ought to be rich because they're such a pretty color, but no.

They also stain like mofos if they get on your clothes, because you're basically getting rust on your clothes. Muddy, muddy rust.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:20 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


*terra rosa, not terra rose
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:21 AM on February 1, 2012


Alright. Last post for this thread.

Everyone should chill out there are far more important things to be angry about. In fact I it says right here that in the previous thread someone's melting down a sloth!

First of all, this 'chill out' thing is kind of similar to gaslighting; I haven't seen any comments from the 'poor ants' camp (which seems to be implicitly the camp you're primarily addressing given the rest of your post) that weren't calm.

Second of all, this is the same argument used against all kinds of things--why care about, say, one starving person in America when there are 300 million people saving in Africa; there's billions of people on earth after all. You can care about a lot of things at one time, humans are pretty versatile like that. I guess what I don't understand is where Metafilter draws the line on when we should stop caring (i.e. when the opinion becomes mock-worthy) and why, because usually Mefi doesn't stand for this kind of argument.

Third, you can also care about something and acknowledge its shittiness of it without spending your day sobbing. You can think about how it could have been done differently and ponder over whether it was worth doing at all without being in a frothing rage. You can do these things and conduct the exact same experiment the same in the exact same way next time. There is nothing wrong with considering alternative options and it's fine to ultimately figure the one you used was the best for whatever metric you're going for.

I feel like a lot of us are refusing to move from the extremes in this. From my 'side', if someone cares about the destruction of the colony at all (working on the original assumption from the thread that it was destroyed, ants included), they are crying on their bedroom floor. I am having trouble understanding why the opinion--taken completely out of the context of the reasoning/justification/results behind it and temporarily ignoring those--that billions of ants dying is shitty is invalid. I don't mean the emotion, I'm glad people accept that that's fine, I mean the opinion.

Well, speaking for myself, I feel there's a lot of ignorance and arrant hypocrisy in them. [...] As pointed out more and less bluntly several times above, here are a hundred - a thousand, ten thousand - different things that you make a choice to do, ranging from the clothes you buy, the meat you eat, the medicine you take, the job you work etc etc etc, things that any individual can probably do something, anything - albeit little - about, and the accompanying slaughter, genocide, death and suffering concomitant with that horde of things is okay because "I'm doing the best I can/I do the best that I can manage". I humbly submit you - or any of us - are most definitely not "doing the best we can".

You are assuming a lot about your audience here, but I understand your main point. I personally am not saying those results (death, suffering, etc.) are "okay" because I'm doing the best I can. They are not okay, and they are still shitty. I would rather acknowledge and consider this, and look for any reasonable changes I can make to lessen the suffering and institute them rather than just jumping straight to 'well, can't be helped' and moving on.

[...] this video, is something that has already happened, in the past, disconnected to you and your plethora of daily activities - a river you cannot step into twice - a thing you can do literally nothing whatsoever at all about, and (from my perspective), THIS is the thing people are getting worried about?

Why discuss the ethics of anything that's in the past, ever? You can't do anything about it, after all, so why bother talking or thinking about it?

Experiments are often repeated. Methods get handed down for years and years and in some cases become almost automatic. We're having this discussion here and maybe someone might consider the point of view that there could be a better way to do this or a better reason to do this (or similar) experiments.

I work in a lab, actually, and I have been considering our current methods; the balance sheet of whether or not it is worth all the waste and chemicals and money and time is really complicated, and I'm still trying to decide if the research is worth the payoff. The most difficult part is that we often don't know the most far-reaching effects of our results, and possibly never will. But is it really so wrong for me to spend the time looking at our methods and questioning them when there's any chance I could improve them so as to use less material/destroy fewer things? Is there any downside to that? I'm failing to see it.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:30 AM on February 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


If this were a human city, how big would it be? I'm trying to figure which city it would compare to.
posted by FunkyHelix at 7:40 AM on February 1, 2012


I'd imagine About 6 Mexico Cities, stacked on top of one another.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:41 AM on February 1, 2012


Imagine my confusion; I read the original post as "giant ART colony."

something something REAL artists are willing to die for their installation!
posted by elizardbits at 7:46 AM on February 1, 2012


BurnChao: “I've killed ants. I've also had to put down a cow. I've had to put down three puppies... I provide these details not to be morbid, but so that you can understand and believe that I have familiarity with this. I was fucking crying trying to type out about the puppies, and my throat/sinus hurts from choking the tears back. It wasn't my finger on the shotgun trigger, and it wasn't my hand holding the needle, but it was my hand on the cow's head for an hour as it slowly bled to death, and it was my lap holding the puppies while they were injected. I have been impacted in just the way that you are looking for. Now I'd like to say something: The cow's death was sad. The three puppies was sadder. But killing ants is not sad. Get some perspective.”

You have perspective. I have perspective. Lots of people don't have perspective. Would you rather those people be happy to kill, or kill only because it's necessary?

smoke: “Well, speaking for myself, I feel there's a lot of ignorance and arrant hypocrisy... Obviously, everyone is allowed to feel what they feel; grieve for the ants it makes no matter to me and everyone's emotions are valid. But on the other hand, the censure and mentions of the unethicality of killing the ants is a bit much. As pointed out more and less bluntly several times above, here are a hundred - a thousand, ten thousand - different things that you make a choice to do, ranging from the clothes you buy, the meat you eat, the medicine you take, the job you work etc etc etc, things that any individual can probably do something, anything - albeit little - about, and the accompanying slaughter, genocide, death and suffering concomitant with that horde of things is okay because ‘I'm doing the best I can/I do the best that I can manage’. I humbly submit you - or any of us - are most definitely not ‘doing the best we can’, and that that's merely a dodgy post-hoc rationalisation allowing us to sleep at night and enjoy our new sweatshop t-shirts without feeling too crap.”

This has absolutely nothing to do with the question at hand. It's what's called an "ad hominem argument." The fact that anyone does or does not practice strict Jainism in this thread has nothing to do with whether they're right about life meaning something, and cavalier killing undesirable. I shouldn't get an "F" on a math test just because I'm a jerk to my parents; and people are not wrong simply because they aren't "doing all they can."

I mean, let's stop and think about this for a second. You mention that almost everything in our lives has its root in killing. In fact, our society seems to kill more routinely and more haphazardly than any that's ever existed. Even our food animals are kept suffering in squalor, and we all know this – we just try to keep it off our minds. Are you really and truly trying to tell us this is a good thing? Are you really saying that we shouldn't care that things are this bad?

I suspect this is a way of sidestepping the main issue here – the fact that you, too, feel like life should be seen on some level as sacred, and yet you don't know how to square that with the fact that humans kind of find themselves compelled to kill and that, more immediately, we find ourselves compelled (apparently) to live in a society where cruelty is routine. The question is a difficult one – much more difficult than anybody seems willing to acknowledge here, particularly among the "killing is awesome, let's shoot some cats and laugh about it" crowd. All I can do is make what I would have thought was a pretty obvious calculation about the issue on the face of it:

It is a basic necessity of civilization that human beings see cruelty as a bad thing, and attempt not to engage in killing unless it's necessary.
posted by koeselitz at 7:58 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just killed a gnat. Is that ok?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 AM on February 1, 2012


I dislike killing ants. I use a natural repellant to keep them out of my home. Cinnamon oil. So far as I know, it doesn't hurt the ants, they just leave.

I read someplace that Muslims are not supposed to kill ants.

After reading that ants can guide you to water, I was not surprised!

Ants are utterly amazing, as are bees. That said, I watched the video and was floored by how cool the ant's home is. I too would rather have seen a less invasive study, but maybe they could display this someplace? Because I totally want to see it!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:11 AM on February 1, 2012


Next time they should gather up all the ants and force march them to a tiny colony far away; that's much nicer than killing them all.
posted by Mister_A at 8:30 AM on February 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


We had to cement the village in order to save it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:33 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


My heart bleeds ants.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:47 AM on February 1, 2012


Next time they should gather up all the ants and force march them to a tiny colony far away

something something trail of sugary tears

goin 2 hell brb
posted by elizardbits at 8:52 AM on February 1, 2012


I'm from Buenos Aires and I say kill 'em all!
posted by lantius at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm from Buenos Aires and I say kill 'em all!

Aaaand thread.
posted by curious nu at 9:04 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The smithsonian has a few ant colonies on display, made from putting molten metal, rather than concrete. They're not this big though, but because they're metal there is no dirt support structure needed like the cement needed in this video - the entire colony outstripped and can be seen. I was entranced for ages...
posted by -harlequin- at 9:07 AM on February 1, 2012


I think I'm going to have several of these made in silver to decorate my house.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:09 AM on February 1, 2012


Suck it, haters. I doubt you'll find many South Africans sympathetic to the poor little ants. Whatever their place in the ecology, they don't keep it out of anyone's home enough to win much sympathy. (and mostly they won't take sweet bait. Fat or protein, yes.)
posted by Goofyy at 9:11 AM on February 1, 2012


Goofyy: “Suck it, haters. I doubt you'll find many South Africans sympathetic to the poor little ants. Whatever their place in the ecology, they don't keep it out of anyone's home enough to win much sympathy.”

That doesn't even make any sense at all. How do you know this? And when did any of us suggest that South Africans are the acme of human moral enlightenment?
posted by koeselitz at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2012


I think it may be time to pump a few tons of cement into Metafilter.
posted by notmydesk at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just keep thinking...damn, a billion ants! Maybe one of them would have invented the time machine that would allow us to go back and kill Hitler.
posted by malocchio at 9:58 AM on February 1, 2012


I'll say this one more time, since it pretty much encompasses how I feel about all this:

Sensitivity to causing pain isn't a debilitating defect of those who care too much about life. It's a virtue which is needed for civilization to continue to exist.
posted by koeselitz at 10:25 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


But can we even call ourselves a civilization after murdering trillions upon trillions of ants for our own homes?!

Let's cook some bacon and talk about this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:31 AM on February 1, 2012


We need to accept moral ambiguity as a fact of life. But that doesn't mean we can't be disappointed by it. And this post should be deleted for spurious factual presentation / gross editorializing.
posted by grog at 10:34 AM on February 1, 2012


Brandon Blatcher: “But can we even call ourselves a civilization after murdering trillions upon trillions of ants for our own homes?! Let's cook some bacon and talk about this.”

Ha, yeah! And after that, we can shoot some puppies and play catch with their corpses! It'll be fun! Death is awesome!
posted by koeselitz at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe relax? You're just hectoring at this point.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:38 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


All animals in nature live in a state of high anxiety, fear, and stress. They don't have enoug to eat, are frantically trying to pass along genetic material, and usually live short lives with violent, painful endings. They don't exist in some utopian default that was just peachy before those damned scientists came along.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:39 AM on February 1, 2012


Hectoring? Every other comment in this thread is hectoring. The two comments you've posted are hectoring. Why is hectoring okay when you're taking hippies down a notch, but not okay when you're defending them?
posted by koeselitz at 10:41 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ha, yeah! And after that, we can shoot some puppies and play catch with their corpses! It'll be fun! Death is awesome!

What the hell, you sick bastard?! Kittens are the way to go on this .

I'm confused why you're equating puppies and ants and seeing all the destruction of an abandoned ant home as a love of death and destruction.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:42 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Seriously, this thread is one long, sarcastic 'VEGANS ARE DUMB AMIRITE!?!?' It's more than a little tiresome. I've been trying not to get pissed off, but this is difficult when person after person thinks it's awesome to come in and make a HA HA ANT DEATH!!! joke.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:42 AM on February 1, 2012


A quick search of the thread reveals that you're the first person to mention the world 'vegan', so I'm not sure what you're talking about.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:44 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


FFS six-or-six-thirty I thought it was obvious that what I said was just the setup for the bad joke about Kristen Bell's Sloth Meltdown. I wasn't trying to "psychologically abuse" you!
posted by pmcp at 10:45 AM on February 1, 2012


> The two comments you've posted are hectoring.

Oh, get off it. Those and other similar comments were random jokes like any other thread on this site and not directed at you.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:47 AM on February 1, 2012


They were jokes pointed directly at anybody foolish enough to care. I have a hard time believing you didn't mean them that way.
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 AM on February 1, 2012


this thread is one long, sarcastic 'VEGANS ARE DUMB AMIRITE!?!?'

No, a goodly chunk of it is you approaching a near-insufferable level of something approaching sanctimony. You are right about the 'more than a little tiresome' bit, though I suspect you aren't including yourself in that. Perhaps a MeTa's in order?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:00 AM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sensitivity to causing pain isn't a debilitating defect of those who care too much about life. It's a virtue which is needed for civilization to continue to exist.

You know, I don't think this is true, and I say that as someone who is fairly sensitive to other people's pain, some would argue overly so. Empathy is, I think, a virtue, but I don't believe it's a load-bearing pillar of civilization. Certainly, to this point it hasn't been. (cue Gandhi: "What do you think about Western civilization?" "I think it would be a good idea.")

Various types of social contracts describe our relationships to and responsibilities for each other, but they're very rarely framed in terms of empathy, and there's a good reason for that: lots of people don't have any. A general aversion to, or abdication of, one's own personal responsibility for violence and vengeance is the prevailing trend, and that's probably a pretty good thing, but as a formulation it needs to appeal to the selfish and selfless alike. It's all well and good to treat those with less empathy than you as lesser beings in a moralist treatise, but when you're building a society to last you sort of have to make these accommodations, because enlightenment doesn't come at the same speed over time for everyone, and when it does come it usually doesn't look anything like you thought it would.

The problem with appeal to and reliance upon empathy is that it speaks to a worldview and an internal orientation that is neither sufficiently prevalent nor universally regarded as more moral. Empathy is an obstacle to pure utilitarianism, and Kant's categorical objective is specifically deontological because people's varying levels of care or selflessness vs. selfishness leads to inconsistent and underpracticed morality in the society. It's one thing to be motivated by empathy, and as I said before I think I am quite a bit. But civilization's existence doesn't require it in the universal instantiation you're describing.
posted by Errant at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2012


Metafilter is better than this conversation. Please people, the colony was abandoned. The video is cool. I can't get whether the ant-lovers are serious or threadjacking. Perhaps I am an immoral bastard, or the fact that ants weren't actually hurt doing this is making it a non issue in my head, but I just want to scream 'stop arguing about nothing'.

This is not the place for a 4 page tirade about moral equivalency. These are ants, and they weren't even harmed.

That said, you've pissed me off enough that I must respond:

I admit there is a visceral sense of dread caused by the intro to the post. But projecting these deaths into some equivalence with billions of human deaths is absurd and disingenuous. Particularly because it is simply impossible to go about life without being responsible for millions of insect deaths. Your food, your drive to work. These account for thousands of insect deaths daily. If you are intellectually honest about your philosophy of caring about all forms of life equally you have to extend it all the way down to individual insects. Leaving you in a situation which is morally equivalent to this supposed genocide. Therefore your philosophy is unsupportable. The only moral thing for you to do is either accept that you are wrong or stop living.
posted by darkfred at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2012


I've mused about the possibility of encountering alien species that'd replaced themselves with software, like one expect for any spacefaring species, who no longer attached any moral consideration to physical instances, only the ideas contained within. In particular, only humans who wrestle with substantive ideas might receive moral consideration. It follows they'd administer an exam before dissecting anyone to make sure they didn't kill any real ideas.

Ants posses about 250,000 neurons, which presumably function in a reasonably prescriptive fashion, well far more so than mammals or octopi anyways. We could probably already train video game AIs with 250,000 neurons that "suffer" to learn to better respond to the player. In fact, we might even build them a sense of their own mortality with the intention of making the human player keep watching the ads. We've already built 20 billion neuron simulated neural networks for doing research into human cognition, which might eventually require creating pain. Is doing either immoral?

There must eventually an erosion of the strict vegetarian position as our understanding of biology, cognition, and computation advances. Yet conversely, these same advancements bring with them greater respect for the cognitive processes of mammals, birds, reptiles, and octopi, especially higher mammals like chimps and elephants, and food animals like pigs. I'd consider this unambiguous moral progress even if it means people cannot grant an ant any more moral standing than a video game character.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:10 AM on February 1, 2012


FFS six-or-six-thirty I thought it was obvious that what I said was just the setup for the bad joke about Kristen Bell's Sloth Meltdown. I wasn't trying to "psychologically abuse" you!

Hi, pcmp. I said I was done but came back to respond to you because I didn't mean to upset you.

It was an obvious joke setup, but I used it because it was the most recent event in this thread of someone basically saying "hey pro-anters, calm down!". Probably should've chosen another one that wasn't a joke setup, and that is a fair point. I'm not mad at you. You sound mad at me. I'd rather you not be.

Probably about half of the comments in this thread have some variant of gaslighting. People who show concern for the ants are 'working themselves into a froth' or being 'fussy' or 'worrying' or 'crying' or 'really need to chill out' or all kinds of ridiculous things, none of which match what was actually happening in the thread. And after that people are essentially ignoring the actual opinion being stated and just stomping on about emotions.

It's very frustrating because it shuts down the discussion, and it happened by the fifth comment and just kept rolling in from there.

So I didn't mean to focus it all on you. I was just using your phrasing, which is very common in the thread, to make a point.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:22 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


And after that people are essentially ignoring the actual opinion being stated and just stomping on about emotions.

The second, third and fourth comment of the thread decry the murder of the ants and destruction of their home.

They are factually wrong. Later comments noted that the colony home was abandoned. So what were those second, third and fourth comments about? An emotional reaction.

It's perfectly fine and admirable to the destruction of other living things into consideration. But it would be helpful if people first figured out whether said destruction occurred.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2012


OK, I wasn't upset or angry, just a little exasperated. I wrote a 2 sentence joke explicitly saying "everyone" should chill out and you were riled enough to reply with a thousand word essay as if it were about you.
posted by pmcp at 11:44 AM on February 1, 2012


Two bee keepers were talking.

"How many bees do you have?" said the first bee keeper.

"I have ten thousand bees"

"How many hives do you have?" said the first bee keeper.

"I have ten hives" came the reply."How many bees do you have? responded the second keeper to the first

"I have twelve million bees"

"Thats a lot of bees!" said the second bee keeper. "How many hives do you have?"

"I have only one hive"

"Twelve million bees in just one hive!" exclaimed the second bee keeper.

"Fuck 'em. They're only bees."
posted by Decani at 11:46 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously, this thread is one long, sarcastic 'VEGANS ARE DUMB AMIRITE!?!?' It's more than a little tiresome.

It's full of knee-jerky outrage, when the OP admitted that his "a billion dead ants" thing was a total fabrication, and most likely, this was done to an abandoned hive. A billion ants weren't actually murdered. I think the faux outrage over a fabricated idea of insect deaths is pretty over the top deraily and counter-productive. I mean, there may be a conversation to be had, but it's not about a billion ant deaths. If you or anyone else wants to discuss how researchers consider the environmental impact of their work, then great, but the vitriol seems out of proportion.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:46 AM on February 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


To pretend to display some sort of enlightenment by prioritizing living beings based on their intelligence level is like a rich man saying "Rich men matter more!"

No, it's not like that because for that equivalency to work Rich Men would indeed have to be more intelligent than the rest of us...rather than just being the beneficiaries of better familial stability, access to education, opportunities, etc...

Unless you are saying that we as humans only think we are more intelligent than ants. I'm open to that position, but I think the available evidence on the subject would work against you.
posted by jnnla at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This has to be my second favorite example of threadjacking. A singular member coming in and repeatedly posting 3 to 6 paragraph diatribes, preferably early in the thread, is a great example of a workable how-to.

Derailing involves slightly different tactics, but is similiar in execution.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:27 PM on February 1, 2012


Sensitivity to causing pain isn't a debilitating defect of those who care too much about life. It's a virtue which is needed for civilization to continue to exist.

I think there's a middle way - I agree with errant that universal empathy is not necessary for civilization to exist. The Roman Empire was indisputably a civilization, and they tortured and killed people for entertainment.

But I also agree that the characteristic of being able to be sensitive to whether pain is caused is necessary for caring for infants, has driven a lot of advances in medicine, and is pretty fundamental to maintaining a culture.

But a society or an individual can be both sensitive to causing pain, empathetic, and caring at some moments while being indifferently cruel at other moments. Any one of us, as specimens of the human species, has the potential to run either of these response patterns.
posted by Miko at 12:28 PM on February 1, 2012


I just made a guess based on the stated size (50 square metres, eight metres deep, divided by titchy equals ... a billion?).

Interesting note from the Ants: Nature’s Secret Power link:
The largest colony known of these insects is in Japan, where 306 million ants, with 1 million queens, in 45,000 colonies spread over 270 hectares.
That equals a little over a square mile.

But there's another colony in Europe, that is 3,600 miles long, stretching from Italy to Spain. If that's not big enough for you, there's also a mega colony that spans the world.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:31 PM on February 1, 2012


Alright. pcmp I sent you a memail.

Brandon Blatcher: The second, third and fourth comment of the thread decry the murder of the ants and destruction of their home.

They are factually wrong. Later comments noted that the colony home was abandoned. So what were those second, third and fourth comments about? An emotional reaction.


1) No-one knew that at the time that they were factually wrong, because of the way the post was framed.

2) Those first few posts follow lines like "I'm sure it's interesting, but..." and "I like ants and would have preferred a less destructive approach..." which I would think most people would find pretty measured. There's emotion involved but there's also recognition in those that this might be a worthwhile thing. There is a real opinion there: 'there could be a better way' or 'is this justified'. People seem to be focusing entirely on the dismay. That's the only frustrating part, and see #2 for why.

2) The more problematic posts are later where the people who are 'defending' the ants clarified their positions and the response was almost entirely still along the lines of 'you should calm down'. Maybe almost everyone is only responding to the more heated posts up at the top of the thread, still. But some people have repeatedly posted with that sort of thing and a good deal of mockery as well. When you write a post that seems pretty measured and get people responding to you as though you're in hysterics or directly making fun of you it's a little irritating.

That's all I'm saying. I'm just saying it sucks to have an opinion ignored out of hand--or actually the worse part is being (repeatedly) mocked--with the accusation of being 'emotional' or even just 'caring' as an excuse or a driving factor. Honestly I thought a lot of people were pretty remarkably patient with it.

It has happened on all sides now. I brought it up originally in defense of the 'pro-ants' group because I didn't see anyone (until things started getting all HEATED down here at the bottom) from the pro-ants group doing it to the other group. Didn't see any weird accusations like "you just want to kill everything you're so full of hatred boo". Saw a lot of "you must cry all the time because you like ants and everything dies anyway so haha".


Look, I'm done, for real, I don't think I can explain my position any more. I'd have memailed you but I can't. Thanks for the input, thanks for the discussion, sorry for the derail, this is my first and maybe next time I'll do better at just walking away.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:39 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


How many bacteria did you massacre today, ant-lovers? Huh? HUH?
posted by Decani at 2:08 PM on February 1, 2012


Not to mention the genocidal wankers.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:10 PM on February 1, 2012


Probably about half of the comments in this thread have some variant of gaslighting.

Oh man, using terms like this in relation to trivial nonsense like this thread and equating them with some at-times sarcastic discussion from many different people really undermines their value and also the seriousness of their actual use in the real world.

It is not a password you can use to say "this is serious!" or "you're all bullies!". If you feel marginalised, hurt, or ignored, by all means say it - You can feel gaslighted all you want, but let's please not just go throwing around serious terms relating to abuse like that.
posted by smoke at 2:50 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


As the original poster: I didn't know at the time that the colony was abandoned and I'm a bit sceptical of that claim: the very beginning of the video shows you a living ant hill with lots of ants crawling out. It then cuts to them pumping cement into an excavated tunnel with an ant crawling around around it. Was it the same ant hill? I have no idea; but that's the impression the director created. As for the number of ants killed, I stand by the precision of my arithmetic.
(More than lots, less than zillions.)
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:11 PM on February 1, 2012


smoke: “... let's please not just go throwing around serious terms relating to abuse like that.”

The ant people here have been labeled fussy, frothy, arrantly hypocritical, vitriolic, knee-jerky, and a host of other things. Now you're concerned about being accused of "gaslighting"? After a while, it seems like the insults lobbed back and forth start to lose meaning.
posted by koeselitz at 3:26 PM on February 1, 2012


Well then it's not gaslighting then, is it, Koeselitz?

I take umbrage with it because it's essentially equating the discussion in this thread with malevolent abuse. Doing so, I believe is both a disservice to the discussion and this community's members, and trivialising a serious phenomenon with far, far more serious effects than what is at play here.
posted by smoke at 3:45 PM on February 1, 2012


Okay, so we'll take 'gaslighting' off the table – which makes sense.

All that really happened here was an onslaught of sarcastic bile accompanied by a series of claims that anyone on this side of it needed to "chill out" or was being "outraged" or "vitriolic." This may not be malevolent abuse, in that it is not really up to the level of malevolence; but it's hardly a way to conduct a discussion. And that's more than a little unfortunate, because there was a discussion to be had. I think this thread mostly fell prey to the urge people have to make a joke they think is oh-so-original, even though two dozen people have made it already, and even though it's a sarcastic dig at other people in the thread.
posted by koeselitz at 4:08 PM on February 1, 2012


Metafilter: we shat all over it with a big concrete poo.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:23 PM on February 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm in favor of not using 'gaslighting' because it reminds me of when I was age nine or so and learned the word 'instigator.' For weeks I went around calling the kids that tried to start shit 'instigators.' It was like I learned of this new power in the world and perceived it suddenly everywhere.

The word 'gaslighting' is like that. The word has existed for decades, but its rediscovery on the internet means that suddenly, any time someone's view of things doesn't accord with yours, they're 'gaslighting' you. Sometimes a disagreement is just a disagreement. I liked the word best when it had a strong, specific meaning to describe situations in which a malevolent person is trying to make you doubt yourself for their own gain.
posted by Miko at 6:19 PM on February 1, 2012


Miko, I never said that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:44 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


(Seriously, this thread is one long, sarcastic 'VEGANS ARE DUMB AMIRITE!?!?')

This thread has never been about vegans at all. You are nuts. Nobody said anything at all about vegans. Ctrl-F, try it. You are throwing people into bullets, and then exclaiming "oh no they've been been shot!"

The conversation was never, at all, at any point, about vegans. That is so completely absurd that it really seems like you posted in the wrong thread.
posted by BurnChao at 10:56 PM on February 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sometimes reading MeFi is like a picnic: Lots of ants on a plate of beans.

A very sad picnic; one where the kids complain about it all the friggin' way home.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:20 AM on February 2, 2012


People lamenting the shitty way this thread turned out should look no further than the poster's own built-in hijack by pulling "a billion dead ants" not just as an arbitrarily high number, but without any evidence whether the colony was fully occupied or deserted.
posted by chimaera at 10:27 AM on February 2, 2012


So. Imaginary dead ants aside, does anybody know if there's any, like, pictures of the fully excavated concrete colony? That video was a nice tease, but I want to see the whole thing dammit!
posted by antifuse at 10:37 AM on February 2, 2012


I wouldn't expect a shape like that, made as it is out of portland cement and a bit of sand at the edges, to be tough enough to support its own weight if totally excavated.
posted by flabdablet at 4:54 PM on February 2, 2012


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