Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Fatal Ecstasy of Work

"... the spirit of the laws of the hive. For in them the individual is nothing, her existence conditional only, and herself, for one indifferent moment, a winged organ of the race. Her whole life is an entire sacrifice to the manifold, everlasting being whereof she forms part. It is strange to note that it was not always so. We find even to-day, among the melliferous hymenoptera, all the stages of progressive civilisation of our own domestic bee. At the bottom end of the scale we find her working alone, in wretchedness, often not seeing her offspring (the Prosopis, the Colletes, &c.), sometimes living in the midst of the limited family that she produces annually (as in the case of the humblebee). Then she forms temporary associations (the Panurgi, the Dasypodae, the Hacliti, &c.), and at last we arrive, through successive stages, at the most perfect but pitiless society of our hives, where the individual is entirely merged in the republic, and the republic in its turn invariably sacrificed to the abstract and immortal city of the future...
Where there is progress, it is the result only of a more and more complete sacrifice of the individual to the general interest. Each one is compelled first of all to renounce his vices, which are acts of independence. Among the humblebees, for instance, the workers do not dream of renouncing love, whereas our domestic bee lives in a state of perpetual chastity... Little city abounding in faith and mystery and hope, why do your myriad virgins consent to a task that no human slave has ever accepted? Another spring would be theirs, another summer, were they only a little less wasteful of strength, a little less forgetful of self, in their ardour for toil; but at the magnificent moment when the flowers all cry to them they seem to be stricken with the fatal ecstasy of work, and in less than five weeks they almost all will perish, their wings broken, their bodies shrivelled and covered with wounds."
From The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck. He goes on to caution "let us not too hastily deduce from these facts conclusions that apply to man."

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