Questions for Political Science Researchers [November, 2018]

The Political Beekeeper's Library

[The Political Beekeeper’s Library. Photo: Erik Sjödin.]

In October 2018 I was invited to present my work with The Political Beekeeper’s Library in a research seminar at The Political Science Division at Linköping University. These are some questions I brought with me for discussion:

According to Thomas D. Seeley, author of Honey Bee Democracy, honey bees implement a sort of representative democracy with quorum sensing for their most important decision; to decide where a swarm should establish a new bee society. Representative quorum sensing is an effective decision making model in this case because the bees have clear and common goals and only need to quickly decide how to most effectively reach those goals. How efficient are human democracies and is it a problem that major societal goals are not clearly defined?

According to Robert E. Page, author of The Spirit of The Hive, the bee hive is mostly self-organised by individuals through a stimuli-response system, rather than through collective decisions. To what degree can human societies be said to be self-organised versus organised by collective decisions?

Honey bees have evolved their societies over millions of years while human societies of similar scale only have existed for some thousand years. Honey bees don’t have to re-invent their societal structures and decision making methods as new societies are established and the same structures and decision making methods are applied in every bee society. How evolved are human societal structures and decisions making methods and how much of our politics can be said to be nature or nurture / nature or culture? Can we predict in what direction human societies and politics will evolve?

Kin selection is the proposed evolutionary mechanism for most species including humans. However, some sociobiologist (mainly E.O. Wilson) has caused controversy by arguing against the dominant paradigm that evolution among humans (like honey bees) may include group selection. The difference between kin and group selection is to what degree individuals make efforts for themselves and their nearest offspring and if there, as in the case of group selection, exists altruism that can extend to a group that doesn’t include near relatives, or if altruism even can be at the expense of individuals and their near relatives. Can fundamental biological and evolutionary mechanisms such as kin or group selection be seen to play fundamental roles in the driving forces and politics of human societies?

Honey bee societies are often described as superorganisms. To what degree is the superorganism concept also valid for human societies? Can for example nations and cities be considered as superorganisms?

The Political Beekeeper’s Library is a collection of books in which parallels are drawn between bees and humans and how they are socially and politically organised. Beehives are well known to host parasites such as the varroa mite but they also host organisms that are beneficial for the bee society (f.ex. bacteria in the bees stomachs). That the bee hive is multi-species is a perspective that is not related to as a parallel between bees and humans in the literature in the library. Does this reflect an unawareness of the multi-species constitution of human societies? How is and can a recognition of multi-species societies be reflected in human politics?