The parable of the Antheap and the Anteater

escher In Godel Escher Bach there is a story about an Ant Heap. I think it's a conversation between Achilles and the Anteater, but I could be misremembering. Anyway, the Anteater tells Achilles about his friend the Antheap, called - if I recall correctly - Hillary3. And explains that whilst ants are individually stupid, as a hive entity they are collectively worth talking to. And, in response to Achilles being surprised that the Antheap wasn't afraid of him, an anteater, he notes that Hillary would often offer him juicy ants to eat. The death of a few ants was of no consequence to Hillary, who was the heap, not the individual ants.

But alas one day a disaster occurred: a rainstorm washed the heap away, destroying all the order. Not a single ant died, but the Heap aka Hillary was no more.

In GEB the analogy is to processes of conciousness. But I think it works as a loose analogy between individual human beings and cultures1. We might save all the individual people from a given culture - for example, by moving them, or allowing them to move, from a war zone to some place of safety; but in the process so dilute them amongst others that their culture is lost. Or we might kill any number of people, whilst preserving the overall culture2. And so attached to their culture - mistakenly, in my opinion - are some people that they might even prefer the latter option. In our liberal-democratic way we'd like to pick both options, and save all the culture and all the people; but we've not very good when both aren't possible. In theory, I think, we would and should prioritise the individuals, preferring to treat people as individuals rather than members of tribes. But of course, what do I mean "we", White Man?


1. Spare me the tedious outrage of comparing people to ants. No, I'm not.

2. In fact this option is illusory; culture is not preserved in this circumstance, only tatters of it.

3. Actually, Aunt Hillary. Geddit?


Torture and Terrorism (2006).

Ban it harder! An unwelcome new trend in British politics - Economist.

The Welfare State as Extended Warranty - Bryan Caplan.

Linda the Bank Teller Versus Freedom - Bryan again.

* The New Hereditarian Man: You Cannot Eliminate Envy by Brian Chau. 

The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire.


Anonymous said...

Saving individuals is also illusory.
A fish out of water isn't a very functional fish.

William M. Connolley said...

Why do you write such nonsense? People migrate, individually, voluntarily, indeed eagerly.

I think you have a preferred solution; in order to preserve that, you need to oppose any other possible solution, even at the cost of the welfare of those concerned, since the welfare of indivudals isn't your priority.

Anonymous said...

Migration can be voluntary.
Migration is not always voluntary.
Ignore the differences, you might learn something.

Nathan said...

'"I think you have a preferred solution; in order to preserve that, you need to oppose any other possible solution, even at the cost of the welfare of those concerned, since the welfare of individuals isn't your priority."

The irony burns...

After weeks (months) and 5 or 6 blog posts telling every to care less, we find you were the caring one all along! it was all Socratic Irony!

give us a break.

Nathan said...

Eagerly migrate from this...

But also why blame those who can't?
Why not blame the murderous bastards doing this?

Anonymous said...

So a person is an individual, relationships with others do not matter.


Link good for 14 days.


Nathan said...

Hear hear...

Find the courage to speak against tyranny

William M. Connolley said...

No-one in the Cold West - which includes Israel - needs courage to speak against "tyranny" because they won't be woken by Kalashnikov-wielding thugs if they do so speak. The people who do need such courage are the Palestinians, and sadly they appear to either lack it, or worse lack the desire to repudiate Hamas, or the dead hand of their history.

> what seems certain is that Israeli forces opened fire on thousands

This is not true; as so often, the desire to speak words and be noticed isn't matched by a commitment to reality.

William M. Connolley said...

> Nathan said...

Spammed. I fear you are condemned to the wilderness until you learn some civility.