[The cover photo for this essay was a picture of the wasp evolutionary cycle I took off a Reddit r/pics post. The psychedelic coloration was added by me in post.]
Look at these terrible creatures. Y’know, I find it so odd that in myths, fantasy and horror tropes, it’s always snakes, wolves, bats and spiders that are meant to represent evil and fear. The Vespulae are all that’s wrong with humanity; a standing relic of the most primitive evolutionary tendencies. These things know nothing of joy, individuality or philosophy. They exist to serve the monarch, quite literally working themselves to death, most of whom never even know what it’s like to love. Their own sex organs, the ovipositor, have been deformed so as to spread pain and venom, not pleasure and life, as intended. They are cogs in the machine of the hive–even the queen herself is cattle built for loveless breeding, robbed of a personal connection to any of her individual children. All the horrors of humanity–the masses enslaved by the top 1%, working oneself to death, the senseless destruction of anything that isn’t part of the tribalistic community–is inherent in these monsters. They are the most unearthly creatures imaginable and proof that if God(s) exist, they have a twisted side no one seems to want to acknowledge.
The Scariest Evolutionary Timeline
There are two factors which have kept wasps from dominating this planet. The first is winter, which forces each queen to start a new hive from scratch every year. Our second defense is the low level of oxygen in the atmosphere which does not support the two-foot wingspan which insects briefly enjoyed during the Carboniferous Period. Had the oxygen concentration remained the same up to our present day, and social insects still evolved in such an ecosystem, then we would not be having this conversation.
Instead, these circumstances would reduce humanity to a life of permanent seclusion in caves. Our recreational pursuits forever restricted to primitive cave paintings, both realistic and abstract. This sole niche left open to man’s creativity would depict the winged terrors who lorded over all the Earth. In this environment, no developments in technology or critical thinking would be allowed to occur; humanity couldn’t afford to form permanent societies as targets for the insectoid apex predators. All that could ever develop is our art, as new methods for each generation to express their fear of the armored, impassable evil. All of our thoughts would revolve around the terror which chased us every time we reluctantly ventured out of the caves for food.
Even if these unfortunate human scavengers managed to find and store excess supplies, each family or clan would still have to make the dangerous journey into the world now and again to look for a different cave. Staying in one place for too long would leave the humans open to a raid as the inevitable hornet scout located their dwelling. Once spotted, the vespoid interloper would secrete a fatal pheromone signal, alerting her sisters to the presence of an easy meal. As new tribes stumbled upon old, abandoned caves they would see the pictures and they would know. Know that there *are* in fact other men out there. And those other men are just as scared and helpless as they themselves of the Sky-Hunters. The only small relief would come from adding new pictures to the murals of unspeakable carnage decorating the walls.
I wonder if these miserable humans would still develop a belief in spirituality or God(s) in this nightmare reality. How would religion be different if mankind were not the dominant species on Earth? Would we worship the wasps themselves, maybe offer sacrifices to appease them? If so, I can think of no greater analogy for the futility of prayer and religion. For that’d be the ultimate insult–we’d be wasting our energy on Stockholm Syndrome. The wasps would not acknowledge us as sapient beings, nor could the wasps even begin to comprehend the feelings they’ve created in their prey. Wasps lack the mental capacity to realize or care about the horror their perpetual victims would live in. Wasps only know the pheromones which cause them to swarm and sting in mindless fury. Wasps could not decipher our paintings as tributes to their unshakable dominance. They would only pick the bones of the artists clean, and leave the whole sorry sight to dishearten any future human scavengers who should discover it.
The Hives would overpopulate the Earth, ravage its resources, spread terror and suffering without remorse, only to die unmissed in the service of a ravenous, self-defeating Absolute Monarchy. That’s the most disheartening alternate reality I could ever conceptualize. Imagine being a Human-like alien species, surveying the galaxy and coming across a foreign world as full of senseless hostility as that? What a terrifying discovery it would be–and there’s no reason to assume we ourselves wouldn’t come upon something like that eventually, if we ever explore deep space for ourselves.
Courtship Minus Camaraderie
I was thinking about the difference between human lovemaking and bugs, because those are the sort of things I wonder about at 1 AM.
At first I felt sorry for the bugs. I picture this scene from Chinatown below, and how the physical intimacy is engaged so casually and simply with that observation about the flaw in Evelyn’s Iris. Its like Jake’s saying to her “You have flaws, but they’re cute and unique and I want to show you I think you’re special.” After the deed is done, she asls him questions about his past to try to understand him better as a person. And there’s that beautiful understanding between two complex, inquisitive creatures.
But with bugs, there’s nothing but pheromones and instinct. When the drones mates with the queen, he rubs his feelers up and down her face. And it tells him “this is a female wasp; must impregnate.” But he knows nothing about who she is, really. What hardships she’s been through and how to comfort her, make her complete on the inside. If there’s a dent or a crack in her compound eye, he can’t communicate that he sees her vulnerability or how he wants to guard it for her. That’s a really sad, barren existence. It’s not love as we know it, it’s just…biological programming.
Yet, at the same time, maybe there’s something to be said for this simplicity. They don’t need to waste time with dialogue for its own sake, beating around the bush with ultimately meaningless words. They know what to do and get it done. They didn’t need words, just each others’ presence. In its own way, that’s pretty touching too.