It is a cliche to compare political collectivism to insect behavior
or a "hive mentality." The imagery is efficively simple; that people
are nothing but expendable indentityless drones slaving away for the
lazy Queen. But the analogy is amazingly shallow, since insect swarms
are entirely devoid of politics. The Queen is not the hub of the hive,
she does not direct or punish. She sits idle in a way we only wish our
As National Geographic's article Swarm Behavior explains
One key to
an ant colony, for example, is that no one's in charge. No generals
command ant warriors. No managers boss ant workers. The queen plays no
role except to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony
functions just fine with no management at all—at least none that we
would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between
individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb.
Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing.
understanding has created Swarm theory, which explains the phenomenon
of simple organism performing simple functions creating a complex
system. This is perfectly applicable to grander organism, like humans.
Mises proved that humans do not possess the capacity to plan economies,
yet people unwittingly create them by pursuing their own petty
interests. Biologists Deborah M. Gordon seems to have stumbled upon this human economic truth by saying, "Ants aren't smart. Ant colonies are." People can not order economies, but markets can.
sadly, Biologists help to prove this theory about inability to plan
when they begin to plan how others should use this knowledge. The
even know yet what else we can do with this," says Eric Bonabeau, a
complexity theorist and the chief scientist at Icosystem Corporation in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. "We're not used to solving decentralized
problems in a decentralized way. We can't control an emergent
phenomenon like traffic by putting stop signs and lights everywhere.
But the idea of shaping traffic as a self-organizing system, that's
His termonology gives him away, he hopes to shape traffic. External "shaping" it is not consistent with self-organizing.
The only recommendation National Geographic can muster is directed at the individuals, not the planners:
never sees the big picture any more than you or I do," says Thomas
Seeley, the bee expert. "None of us knows what society as a whole
needs, but we look around and say, oh, they need someone to volunteer
at school, or mow the church lawn, or help in a political campaign."
the individuals, need to predict what the planners would tell us to do.
Perhaps someday the bee experts will learn a lesson from bees, things
work best when you don't try to force others to act as you want. The
lesson of swarm theory is not for the acters, but the planners.