Slate

How Other Animals Choose Their Leaders

You think our elections are tough? Tell it to the wolves.

It is hard to escape the sensation that our electoral process is broken. Too much money. Too much bullshit. Perhaps we should turn to nature for insight, remedy, or just salve. The Book of Proverbs implored believers to go to the ant and consider her ways when it came to wisdom and industriousness. Can we also turn to the ant for lessons on democracy?

The idea that ants, honeybees, or other social animals might do a thing or two better than we do is ancient. The Bible, Torah, and Quran all invoke insect societies. In the Amazon, Kayapo children were once advised to follow the brave, social ways of the ant (and to eschew the more vulgar ways of the termite).

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What Are You So Scared of? Saber-Toothed Cats, Snakes, and Carnivorous Kangaroos

The evolutionary legacy of having been prey.

In the developed world, we live in the most peaceful, healthful time in history. The murder and violent crime rate is dropping; we are vaccinated against the most deadly diseases of previous generations; our houses protect us from most storms; relatively few people go hungry. The average lifespan is longer than it has ever been. Then why do we walk around so anxious, so full of fear? The answer is not terrorists, TV, Republicans, or Democrats. The answer is our legacy of ancient fears, the result of having spent millions of years running from predators. Our fear response is more influenced by the ancient species we struggled to escape than any modern challenges. We live in a demon-haunted world.

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Why We Need Ecological Medicine

We know which species make us sick, but we must learn which species make us healthy.

It was a revelation. Germs cause disease. When Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch discovered and developed what would later be called the germ theory in the 1860s, this was a radical, then revolutionary idea—one so good it seems obvious in retrospect.

At the heart of their work was the notion that individual species cause disease by invading our bodies. Over the next century, the notion of “germs” changed our behavior. It led us to scrub our hands and actively fight specific pathogens (as researchers came to call dangerous germs) and to cure the diseases they cause. These changes saved millions, maybe billions of lives. Every day you rub shoulders with the success of this theory. How could there be anything wrong with it?

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