Some of you, I know, are beekeepers. You may have honey bees which provide you with wonderful honey, or you may have wild bees that live high in a tree hive that is never touched, for their honey is theirs. Either way you will know the joy and responsibility that comes from being the guardian of creatures that, living according to complex ritual and intricate process where every member of the hive community knows its role and is focused completely on supporting that community, are far more intelligent and wise than human beings.
I have a tree hive which is situated in an old oak tree just beyond my office window, and I am able to watch the bees often to see where they go for food, how they defend their home and what they like by way of temperature and weather. I was outside one day last week when I heard the roar that indicated the hive was about to swarm, and saw a great cloud of bees massing together in a funnel shape before moving to a heavy branch on a nearby hornbeam tree; the swarm was so heavy that the branch sagged under the weight of thousands of tiny bees waiting to fly to their new home in a tree in the ancient oak wood nearby. They moved on quickly, within an hour, and left behind them an eerily quiet garden that felt very empty, despite the presence of the bees that remained to regenerate the hive and guard the queen who will have stayed in the heart of it. Bees swarm when their numbers get too large, and it is a sign of a healthy hive.
Wild bees are a good example of the value or otherwise of control. They live independently of humans and, allowed the right conditions in nature, they do not need us: if we try to control them, they will die or go away, and left alone they rarely get the mites and diseases that can afflict a hive that is over-managed or polluted by chemicals administered by some zealous beekeepers. The more nature is allowed to look after itself in a natural habitat, the healthier and happier it is.
It is interesting, in this context, to consider the arguments put forward in support of a benevolent “nanny” state versus a more non-interventionist approach to the amount of political influence in people’s lives. Proponents of the former – usually but not always parties on the left – often wish to encourage us, with their help, to live in social equality and in a way that they believe is best for us. Covid lockdown, mandatory vaccines, and an expanding benefits scheme are examples of this. Other politicians believe it is better to encourage citizens to take personal responsibility for their lives and that a “small state” is preferable to a large one.
There are good arguments for both positions: I wonder, however, if the growing dependency that there is in many western countries on government provision and solution is not making us healthier or happier but rather creating anxiety because of expectation, requirement and need. Wild bees flourish given freedom and the right environment, while bees that are heavily controlled in ways that are un-natural can suffer. There is nothing wrong in comparing ourselves to bees. Often, less is more.