This week I've missed watching the paper wasps described in recent Newsletters. The nest was empty and abandoned when I returned from my two-week trip, having been overrun and plundered by army ants. The nest's history is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/wasp1.htm
Earlier, I'd enjoyed watching the wasps slowly and methodically construct their nest, and so attentively care for their larvae and pupae. When a hot sunbeam suddenly cut through the forest's canopy, striking the nest, it was thrilling to seeing how quickly an appropriate number of wasp sisters -- for all the workers were female and from the same mother -- positioned themselves over the sun-struck cells, whirred their wings and ventilated them to keep them from overheating. Though I felt sorry for the surrounding area's caterpillars, it was impressive seeing workers landing all through the day, carrying in their mandibles little green balls of caterpillar flesh they'd hunted down, butchered and neatly compacted into manageable portions.
I didn't get too misty-eyed about the nest tragedy, though, because all along the wasps' almost mechanically aggressive and predatory behavior struck me as a little "fascistic." And fascistic behavior gives me the creeps, even when it's expressed in one of Nature's paradigms, as with wasp behavior.
But, is it really appropriate to associate wasp behavior with fascism? For clarification I turned to The New Oxford American Dictionary installed on my little Kindle reader. It said that...
Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.
Well, if we think of wasps as like an ethnic group whose predation on surrounding caterpillar populations expresses their supremacy, and certainly there's no hint of democracy among the sister workers, then on these points wasp behavior is somewhat analogous to fascism. However, an analogy falls apart with regard to the definition's "strong demagogic approach." Wasps don't produce demagogues, people do.
Being reminded of how important demagoguery is to fascism, I returned to the dictionary, which said that a demagogue is...
... a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
At this point, I'd have let the above train of thought drop, except that this week I got to show the rancho to a couple of Danish visitors to Ek Balam. Learning of my nationality, they couldn't resist expressing their surprise and alarm at political events in the US. They said that even in peaceful, low-keyed little Denmark extreme right-wing parties were gaining momentum fast, feeding on popular anti-immigration sentiment. They observed that a whole new crop of right-wing demagogues was popping up all over Europe, and Danes have good reasons to remember what happened the last time this occurred.
The abandoned wasp nest still hangs above the hut door, each time I see it, evoking all the thoughts traced above. Its presence also brings to mind all the caterpillars that were slaughtered to create the nest, as well as the army ants, themselves "fascistic," who pillaged the nest, and even it brings to mind pictures I've seen of the German army advancing relentlessly across Russia, and of Hitler and Mussolini ranting before their admiring masses. Somehow that whole panoply of images and the feelings they evoke fit together in my mind.
I wish everyone had an empty wasp nest hanging outside their door, always reminding them of exactly what fascism and demagoguery are, and what they lead to.