When ants reach obstacles they cannot cross, they link their bodies together to form a bridge. Ant bridges are a lesson in solidarity. An ant’s brain is very small, but such cooperation makes ants capable of some amazing things. Many of humankind’s most insurmountable problems would melt if we simply lived in solidarity and mutual aid.
Ant bridges are also a parable about abstraction. We humans come together to create bridges we call “government” or “religion” or the “economy”. Unlike ants, our brains are very large and we can come to imagine that these bridges are more real than ourselves. When we surrender responsibility to any system we are like ants who have made the bridges more real than ourselves.
Whenever someone says “trust the market” or “we must not question scripture” or “we must support the troops” it is possible they have surrendered their own responsibility to an abstraction. When we look at the institutions of our culture as static forms we can forget that we are building those structures with our words and deeds.
Einstein once said, “Remember your humanity and forget the rest.” That is probably going too far, but there is a basic sanity in not believing that the categories of our culture are concrete realities to which we must conform. Even in the Genesis creation story, God gave us the world. We are responsible for it. Human institutions are necessary and helpful conventions, but WE are responsible for how we treat one another. In the end, It’s just we ants.