In an attempt to shape our character as The Leaders Of The Twenty First Century, we've been bathed in insect metaphors all our lives. Cautionary ant-and-grasshopper tales exhorted us to buckle down, and knuckle under, and put our noses to the grindstone. "Consider the humble honeybee!" they extolled. "Each individual doing her part without complaint, selflessly devoted to the good of the Hive!" and so on, ad nauseam.
Everybody by now has heard of the mysterious disappearance of honeybees. One of the new threats to bees is a new parasite to our shores. This is not an illegal alien metaphor I'm working on here. The mites invaded us from afar, but honeybees themselves are not native to America. Seems we're all immigrants. Anyway, Varroa Mites lay their eggs in baby bee cells and grow up with them, sucking their blood, weakening and sometimes killing the young workers. They double their population each cycle, timed to the Queen's reproductive rhythm. It's cradle-to-grave parasitism.
"Hey! This is just exactly like what healthcare and drug companies do, isn't it?" you may well ask. And yes, it is.
"But what can we, the Humble Bees, do? They've got our number. They bite us in our diapers, and embed themselves in our lives. We Need Them!" Really?
"But what can we do," you repeat? A lot, as it turns out.
Smaller, forward-thinking beekeepers have stopped trying to utterly destroy each and every parasite, microbe and predator that plagues their hives. As with chemotherapy, the old idea was that the parasite can't take quite as much deadly poison as the host, so you dose the patient just short of death, and then hope they recover faster than the parasites. Instead, the new thinking in beekeeping is to "manage" them. Live with them in harmony. And then make their lives a living Hell!
(Remember, keep thinking in terms of the insurance-and-drug-infested healthcare industry...)
So instead of trying to squash every last bug with toxins, we've taken to keeping track of levels. Levels of infestation and infection as revealed by counting the number of mites, and the numbers of dead bees, that fall out of the hive over a given period.
And we've found all sorts of ways of preventing them from reaching hive-threatening levels. For instance, instead of dousing the whole thing with a shotgun blast of antibiotics and insecticides calculated to kill the mites before killing all the bees, we douse the bees with powdered sugar, which makes them slippery so the mites fall off. We open the bottom of the hive so they can't just hitch another ride, and we can count them. The bees like to lick the sugar off each other, too, which encourages grooming behavior, which also annoys the parasites. There are lots of other strategies, like "splitting" a hive, which throws off the parasites' reproductive cycle.And in the long run, we get stronger bees out of all this, and weaker parasites.
Returning to the healthcare situation, does this suggest anything?
The Humble Bees have begun to evolve methods and strategies to deal with parasitic mites. For instance, some bees bite off the mites' legs, so the mites can't hang on. If we implement "Pest Management" properly, this behavior is encouraged by Darwin's famous selection principle, because the bees that do this kind of thing tend to live longer and preserve stronger parasite-resistant genes.
So what are we humans doing about health care? So far we all seem to believe that the bloated middlemen - that is, the drug companies, the insurance companies, and the rest of the parasites sucking our blood - are necessary, legitimate, providing a service! Hello!? They're sucking the life out of us! We need to wake up to the fact that these are parasites. We don't actually need them at all! Life without them will be much, much better.