FLIES OR ANTS?

Our patriotic picnic was over, the crowd had left for the lakefront and the ball diamond, and I remained, a sluggard among the ants. These regimented hymenoptera, with their proverbial industry, were transporting cake crumbs to their colony headquarters. My observations were interrupted as I drove away a fly which had buzzed up from a puddle of root beer to light on my nose.

John Ruskin once wrote a tribute to the fly as the freest, most republican (I suppose we should say, democratic) creature on earth. He contrasted the fly’s impudent individualism with the instinctual slavery of the ant. Our bandstand orator of the afternoon had described communism as anthill collectivism. He too preferred the fly life.

I had supposed that Ruskin’s dry admiration for the fly was an expression of nineteenth century individualism. He also observed once that no human being was ever so free as a fish. (Since fish can catch flies and flies fish, so that we have both flying fish and fly fishing, it is difficult to decide which is the better symbol.) It now appears that the fly should be cast in a symbolic role in this century also. What is more existential than a fly buzzing against a window pane? Perhaps the beatnik fly in a lamp globe!

Are we to choose, then, the liberty of the rebel fly, or the burden of the adjusted ant? As I swatted at the fly that had returned to my cheek, I decided for the ant. Anthill conformity is probably not at all confining for ants, and its efficient pattern is far more satisfying than droning meaninglessness.

Or is there a better candidate for Insect of the Century?

Pastor Peterson came back from the ball game with a sprained ankle and rescued me from my musings. He pointed out that it is not surprising ...

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