An army of ants

The other night as I sat at my
computer struggling to write a short story that held none of the promise of my
dreams, a small army of ants rushed up to my key board and spread out across my
And do you know, I squashed them
all with my thumb, every one of them squashed flat under my thumb.  I did it out of instinct and in a
hurry, intent on making sure that not one single ant survived because by now I
had decided these were the scout ants, the ones who go out in advance of the
troops to survey the land for food and I did not want any other ants to invade
my desk. 
I could not find a local ant to photograph and so I offer an image of my weapon of destruction. 
Only now do I consider the
heartlessness of my actions, but when it comes to ants I can be ruthless and
why is this so?
 If it were a spider or a beetle, I would have used a tissue
and collected the creature, and put it out the door.  But not so the ants. 
Mind you, I’m not sure how I’d have
handled an avalanche of spiders. I might well have run from the room.  I’m not scared of spiders as a rule but
a group of ten of them advancing from behind my computer screen would be worse
than any of the unexpected and negative events that happen in my dreams. 
This puts me in mind of the asylum
seeker debate here in Australia which preoccupies me at the moment. I suspect
there are folks who regard refugees rather in the same way as I considered
those ants, with fear and loathing, mostly because they are seen as enemy
aliens to be gotten rid of or avoided. 
The asylum seeker issue is copping
a battering in Australia at the moment because the government has been trying
to pass legislation that will allow so-called off shore processing, say in
places like Malaysia, as a way of preventing people smugglers from taking the
refugees’ money and shipping them out to Australia in leaky boats, two of which
have recently capsized and sunk with the loss of many lives.  And also of stopping the uninvited influx of refugees from invading our shores.  What an irony when you consider what happened to our indigenous people a couple of centuries ago.   
I know it is a political issue, and
a complex one, and that many people have different perspectives so I can only
speak for myself.  I can understand
why many are reluctant to make room for these strangers.  I know that I too often prefer the
cosiness of the in-group, especially when I’m included in it, but if we lock
people out, desperate people who have nowhere else to go, out of fear or greed
or sheer ignorance then what sort of world are we creating for our young ones?
I sound like a cliché and must get
off this topic.  I hate to
preach.  For days I’ve been
following this argument on Jennifer Wilson’s blog, No place for sheep, and I’m
stunned at the vitriol that gets poured into the debate now being waged among
seemingly intelligent and thoughtful folk. 
Some actually abuse one another
online.  Moron, dick head, idiot
etc.  These words when spoken don’t
trouble me one bit, but when I read them online I get a shock when they are
directed at one another in the course of an argument.   In written form they hold more weight.  And not all the people arguing are men,
I understand, perhaps more prone to flaming.  There are some women – or people who identify themselves so
– who use this language. 
I say this because I’m still
thinking of Plastic Mancunian’s post about the differences between men and
women, how men when faced with an issue want to solve it and women more or less
want to talk it over, talk it through, get some empathy rather than have the
problem solved in an instant.
That’s my take on the issue related
to asylum seekers.  We need to
think about it more, but there seems to be this push to take action.  Granted it’s been going on for years
now and there’s a fear and expectation that many more people will die on those
leaky boats, but what other choice do they have?  Their lives are desperate and coming here even if it kills
them seems to be their only hope. I can understand that.
And now I think of my ants.  I killed them effortlessly and can
rationalise that ants are not sentient beings.  They will not have suffered on their quick exit, but we are
hopefully more likely to identify with human beings who need our help now
however different from us they might seem to be.  
Most of us know what it’s like at
times to feel desperate, but there are degrees.   And for a heart stopping take on this, especially from paragraph four down, I send you back
to Jennifer Wilson’s latest post on quiet desperation.  Some of you will understand this

42 thoughts on “An army of ants”

  1. Your writing and ruminations are always so rich and interesting, Elisabeth. I know nothing about the asylum issues of which you speak, but I clicked over to the post about quiet desperation and was stunned by it. Thank you for that link, for expanding my mind, again.

    "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor)

  2. Those who think the earth, any part of it, belongs only to themselves, is the basis for most of the problems the earth faces. It always has been. Yet we all have limits as to how much we are willing to share. Obviously ants aren’t going to search refuge anywhere near your computer..

  3. I reckon the ants are looking to build a nest for the winter, what better place than a snuggly warm computer keyboard. I'm all debated out regarding the asylum seekers :-).

  4. Ants are attracted to anything electrical that generates heat. I battle with them too, and find myself especially intolerant when they try to invade my keyboard.
    As for asylum-seekers, their stories are so heart-breaking and the issue is so complex. How can wisdom and compassion be brought to this issue, as well as plenty of insight into how the people smuggling business works?

  5. You know, I also get that 'us and them' thing with small creepy crawlies and wonder if that's how the Greater Being sees us and have a crisis of conscience. So easy to rationalise something that you have no connection with.
    I can't imagine not feeling safe in my country of birth.
    God forbid that another person should lose their already fragile life.
    Karen C

  6. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I saw an ant, Lis. These days insects in general are something I see very little of apart from these black beetles I squash mercilessly and the odd woodlouse who suffers the same fate. The slang expression for woodlice here is ‘slater’. I had a friend once who was always saying, “I feel like I’ve got a slater up my nose.” I can imagine nothing worse. Believe it or not I do have a poem about bugs:


          "Bugs with six legs
          are the worst kind,"
          my last wife said,
          "they're unclean things."
          She still stepped on

          Six is one short
          of perfection
          but then a bug
          with seven legs
          would just look plain

          07 November 2007

    This links two memories. The first is almost a direct quote. My last wife said that which is perhaps why I’ve a special aversion to carpet beetles and nothing to do with the fact that their progeny might eat the flat from under me given half a chance. The second was a question I posed to my dad one day. As you’ll know numbers are significant in the Bible especially numbers like 3, 6, 7, 12 and 40. In simplistic terms 7 is a holy number and so 6, one short of perfection, is unholy. If that’s the case why would God create an insect with 6 legs? His answer was that 7 legs was unnatural.

    Spiders I don’t kill nor crane flies (which Scots tend to call jenny longlegs rather than daddy longlegs). I certainly don’t kill ladybirds. If I can encourage a fly, a bee or a wasp out of a window then fine but I have no problems swatting them if they become a nuisance but compared to my childhood you hardly see any anymore. I think we had two flies in the house last year discounting the wee fruit fly infestation I had to deal with; a splash of wine and some cling film sorted them out although I must have swatted a good hundred of them. Butterflies are also a rarity. In my parent’s garden there were always red Admirals flitting about but I haven’t seen one in decades; the odd moth finds their way into the flat but that’s it.

    Actually I’ve just remembered another poem about bugs which I wrote when I was a kid.

           The Fly

           i      Did I have the right?

                    It annoyed me
                     (but is that a good enough reason)?

           ii     Is not mankind like a fly swarm
                    buzzing madly around God’s head?

                    Doesn’t God have any rights?

           iii   Why did God create the fly…
                    perhaps to teach us a lesson in godship?

    Okay it is a bad poem but the punch line is good.

    There are about 5000 asylum seekers in Glasgow mostly from the places you’d expect them to be from but there were some countries on the list I wondered about like Pakistan, Turkey and Sri Lanka. For a while it felt like most of them used to live in the Red Road flats until they were demolished. There are quite a few African families in our area. Not sure why here but they all seem nice, the kids especially. It’s a problem and obviously one Australia is aware of yet there are TV programmes here encouraging emigration still which I find surprising. People you’re obviously not short of bodies so why not train them up? The skills that the people on the shows aren’t out of the ordinary; one I remember was a mechanic, there was an electrician and another a primary school teacher.

  7. The only worry I have about the asylum seekers is do we have enough infrastructure in place to support these extra people? Water supply, housing, jobs, schools, hospitals etc.
    I don't have any problem with ants inside, I don't think I've seen a single one since I've been here. But I do get slaters. There's a tiny gap between the skirting board and floor in some places and now and again I'll see one crawling along the floor. Then I go around the flat and squirt all the gaps with Baygon. That keeps them out for a few months.

  8. The late George Carlin once made this observation about houseflies. If he saw one on the other side of the room, he would let it fly in peace. But once it started buzzing around his face, he'd roll up a newspaper and become the Great White Fly Hunter.

    Carlin also never understood why the fly was buzzing around his face when there some nice juicy dog crap in the back yard.

    My only concern about immigrants, especially illegal ones, which is a problem, some say, here in the United States, is that they compete for low-skilled jobs. Some
    pro-immigrant advocates argue that these illegals are actually vital to the economy, as they do jobs native-born Americans won't do. I suspect many native-born Americans (including yours truly) would do those jobs if only they paid more money.

  9. A thought-provoking post Elizabeth – I am really of the opinion that sensitive issues have no place in Blogland. Perhaps this is a coward's way out but, like you, I find that people tend to get aggressive. I also agree about asylum seekers – I think back to Nazi Germany and the Jewish people who came here . On the whole they were welcomed with open arms. If I were in the same position I would hope that someone would welcome me.

  10. Reading this I immediately thought of the D.H. Lawrence poem, Snake. " A snake came to my water trough today…"

    (By coincidence I learned that poem in Gawler High School, SA when my father was posted to Australia in the 1950s.)

    Re asylum seekers – I feel for those poor wretched souls who manage to reach Australia in boats. I don't know the answer – but Australia is rather large! Here in the UK we have both suffered and gained from some version of asylum seekers for centuries. We're such a mongrel nation though have achieved great things. Personally I couldn't turn away a fellow human in need.

  11. Elizabeth,

    There was a time when I squashed every spider with the same unflinching vigor as you have dispatched an army of ants. Now is a different time and all spiders get free passage to do their predatory duties unabated and unmolested.

    Greg Rudzinski

  12. If only this plea: "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor)

    was able to be taken seriously by all nations everywhere, Elizabeth, only then might we be able to find room for everyone on this vast planet, despite our apparent differences and needs.

    I'm glad you found Jennifer Wilson's blog post inspiring. She writes with such courage and conviction, along with her sharp intelligence and sensitivity, I'm stunned by the depth of her writing.

    Thanks, Elizabeth.

  13. Those poor old ants, anthony. You're right: they haven't returned to my computer. As for the more serious issue of our difficulties in sharing the earth's space and resources, I agree the struggle has been around since time began, only I suspect there may be times throughout history when certain people have been worse at sharing than others. I wonder if now, especially in parts of the western world, is one such time.

    Thanks, Anthony.

  14. Winter's been around for a couple pf months, Windsmoke, and yes I know it seems it's getting colder than we're used to here in Melbourne, but you have to wonder why especially now for those ants behind my computer.

    As for your burn out regarding the continuing debate on asylum seekers, I think it's understandable. And yet the problem won't go away.

    It's a far more serious problem I reckon when those who have the power tire of the debate. That's when atrocities are more likely to occur.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

  15. I hadn't thought of the electrical side of this visit from the ants, Juliet, but you're right. My computer tends to stay on all day and night even when not in use. Presumably it generates some heat. And ants might well prefer the warmth. Most creatures do, even cold blooded snakes.

    As for the dreadful struggle to find homes for all the homeless people in the world, especially those forced out of their homes through war, we need all the compassion we can muster. And it's not easy.

    That's the expression I was trying to find in relation to Windsmokes' comment above. I think it's called 'compassion fatigue'.

    It happens and it's understandable but I reckon we need to take extra care that it does not lead into apathy and inertia.

    Thanks, Juliet.

  16. I know about these crises of conscience, Karen, when we become the arbiters over life and death in the insect kingdom. It's not something that we ought to lose too much sleep over. We'd be in trouble if we did.

    As for the folks whose lives are made so miserable, if not downright impossible, generally through no fault of their own, but through a fault of birth – the place where they were born, at the time they were born, a place riven by civil conflict and war – then it's a different matter.

    What I find hard to deal with is my own helplessness in these things. I can write, and think about these matters, but such activities have very little effect on the outcome.

    Thanks, Karen.

  17. Well Jim, for a person who's not laid eyes on any bugs lately, or should I say on many bugs lately, you have a wealth of knowledge about them.

    I enjoy your poems about god, numbers and bugs' legs, as well as flies. I'm not keen on flies, especially blowies, but it's the baby flies I hate the most, the dreaded maggots. The same with weevils. It's the squishy white bodies shaped rather like miniature mummies that put me off.

    Why? I don't know but it's that teeming movement, I suspect. All those bodies piled in together. Any swarm of insects like that especially in infant state puts me off.

    I'll have to think more on this. In the meantime the asylum seeker issue has really caught my attention more than ever this weekend – the politics of it -such that it's hard to get it out of my mind.

    I enjoy the influx of people who look different living here in Australia, but I gather not everyone is so happy. And yes, I agree with you – we have a skills shortage, a people shortage and we need help with that.

    Australia is a vast country however far away it might seem to be from the rest of the world. Not all f its inhabitable, but in time and with ingenuity it might be made so. To me there's room for more.

    Thanks, Jim.

  18. We don't see many slaters around here, River. Certainly not indoors. Somehow I don't mind slaters. They remind me of miniature dinosaurs.

    My youngest daughter hates cockroaches passionately, but they to do not bother me. My daughter tells me they carry disease. What bug doesn't. I tell her that spiders are good. They eat flies. But it doesn't help her aversion to spiders.

    Anything that might jump on you unbeknownst in the night. Mosquitos to me are worst of all, not so much for their bite and disease-carrying capacity, as for the way they whistle in my ear late at night in summer. It's a pet aversion of mine.

    It's so much easier for me to write about bugs than to write about the things that seen more serious to me like asylum seekers. As for the infrastructure, my theory is it will grow as the numbers grow to manage it.

    It's rather like the idea that some people have: you have to have a house before you have a baby . To me it's okay to have the baby first. The house will follow. Though here I'm speaking about your average person in a place like Australia.

    Not those who are desperate and homeless, or indigenous in some instances. Even stateless.

    Thanks, River.

  19. Yours is the second time I've read George Carlin quoted recently, Kirk. I read it on Jennifer Wilson's blog, No place for sheep, a quote offered by one HudsonGodfrey, writing about so-called PTSD:

    'I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. For some reason, it just keeps getting worse. I’ll give you an example of that.

    There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to it’s absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either (click) snapped or is about to snap.

    In the first world war, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.

    That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the second world war came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue.

    Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

    Then of course, came the war in Viet Nam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder.

    I’ll bet you if we’d of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Viet Nam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I’ll betcha. I’ll betcha.'

    To me this connects with the way we think about and write about the issues of illegal immigrants who get confused with genuine refugees, who get confused with ordinary immigrants or anyone desperate enough to try to find a home.

    I reckon most of these matters are so complex, it's tempting to try to find a way of thinking about them in black and white terms – the good the bad and the ugly – but life is rarely if ever like that.

    Thanks, Kirk .


  20. I think you may be right about this issue of talking about the politically sensitive topics in blogland, Pat. As you say some people can become aggressive.

    They are such emotionally laden issues. And yet there are many such emotionally laden issues touched upon in blogland . It's a risk to raise them, but I cant bear the silence and like you I keep thinking about the events of the second world war and the way certain things were kept under wraps even as many people knew about them, but did not want to know what they knew for fear of how it might have impacted upon them.

    I can understand this. Especially in wartime, we tend to become paranoid and fearful. Why ever not? It becomes a matter of life and death, as it is at the moment for most asylum seekers.

    Thanks, Pat.

  21. I'm with you here, Elegancemaison: Australia is a big country and like you, I'm not sure I personally could turn away a person in need, and yet we as a nation seem to be doing that – or trying to do that – in droves when it comes to asylum seekers.

    They seek asylum but instead they find things like detention and an unwelcoming stance from our politicians by and large.

    I'd better get off this topic soon because it makes me hot under the collar. As Pat, Weaver, reckons, people become aggressive. Not that all aggression is bad. We need it when we are to fight for what we believe in, and in order to fight for the underdog – but of course in moderation.

    Thanks, Elegancemaison.

  22. So you're another person like me, Greg, who believes spiders have their place in the line of 'predatory duty'. Some call it survival of the fittest, but I reckon it's also about keeping a sustainable eco-system within the animal kingdom.

    Unfortunately, we humans tend to stuff it up from time to time.

    Thanks, Greg.

  23. I've been writing about just these questions and topics recently, Elisabeth, though not as succinctly or forthright as you. In fiction the issues are no easier to fathom however, although I do get to choose my own endings, which is more than asylum seekers get.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  24. I stopped trying to have "dialogs" on almost any serious subject in blogland. When the subject is the environment, the flamers are horrible and the conversation gets reduced to two or three vitriolic pro and con writers. Same with immigration here.

    So many people, I think, in this day and age, EXPECT quick fixes to problems that have developed over decades, often. DEMAND quick fixes. In the USA I feel a depressing combination of greed, a NEED for instant gratification, and selfishness–qualities that preclude welcoming immigrants, wanting to help the poor or the sick, or recognizing the concept of shared sacrifice.

    I hope Australians deal with issues better than we are of late.

    As for bugs? In my home, I see them as intruders into MY SPACE. Outdoors, I see myself as the intruder. I rarely think before I squash. Sometimes I leave spiders in the corners alone as long as they do not venture to the ceiling above my HEAD! They are welcome in the corners by the door and screens, and I see how they've spared me mosquito bites.

    I am inconsistent in all of this. And last night, perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt guilty eating meat. I pictured the animal. I've never done that. I am sensing a change, perhaps, from omnivore.

    Ah, Elisabeth, we are all studies in inconsistency–works in progress, all.

  25. A very interesting post Elizabeth. Especially Jennifer Wilson’s thoughts on desperation.

    In a world where compassion is such a rare commodity, I'm not surprised that Australia is having this kind of conversation. We're having something akin to that in Canada. More government imposition than conversation, actually.

    Which is why I despair for our future. Our collective future. The future that belongs to all of us.

  26. I checked out DH Lawrence's poem, Sarah and you and Elegancemason are right. It's wonderful. Nothing like waiting in the queue for a snake.

    Thanks, Sarah.

  27. I have trouble with endings, Rachel, whether fictional or non-fictional, but you're right: if we could choose our own endings, life might feel better, at least more under our control and certainly under more control than any of the asylum seekers have.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  28. I have trouble with endings, Rachel, whether fictional or non-fictional, but you're right: if we could choose our own endings, life might feel better, at least more under our control and certainly under more control than any of the asylum seekers have.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  29. I have trouble with endings, Rachel, whether fictional or non-fictional, but you're right: if we could choose our own endings, life might feel better, at least more under our control and certainly under more control than any of the asylum seekers have.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  30. I have trouble with endings, Rachel, whether fictional or non-fictional, but you're right: if we could choose our own endings, life might feel better, at least more under our control and certainly under more control than any of the asylum seekers have.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  31. I have trouble with endings, Rachel, whether fictional or non-fictional, but you're right: if we could choose our own endings, life might feel better, at least more under our control and certainly under more control than any of the asylum seekers have.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  32. I have trouble with endings, Rachel, whether fictional or non-fictional, but you're right: if we could choose our own endings, life might feel better, at least more under our control and certainly under more control than any of the asylum seekers have.

    Thanks, Rachel.

  33. I'm not sure that we here in australia are doing any better than the folks in your country, Jeanette, as regards a concern for those in more need than ourselves. The desire for instant gratification abounds here, and the need to consider those more vulnerable than the rest of us tends to get sidelined as unimportant or irrelevant.

    Like you, as far as the animal kingdom is concerned, from the smallest to the biggest, I too can be inconsistent in my carnivorous habits and my desire to be free from the wriggling biting ones. And I too love my pets, especially when they're well behaved.

    Thanks, Jeanette.

  34. Our collective future on this planet does seem worrying Rob-bear, unless of course as a collective we get more behind efforts to slow down the rot, for want of a better world.

    Most of the time I'm optimistic but not when I hear some narrow-minded folks speak harshly about the needs of others less fortunate than us, and realise there are an awful lot who think this way.

    Thanks, Rob-bear.

  35. I'm not too sure what W.M.D.s are, Dave, but I suspect I should. Computer ants in disguise I get. Hopefully I've eliminated them.

    Thanks, Dave.

  36. @rhymeswithplague: Thanks for that. I was aware. If you look again at the poem what it's saying is that my ex-wfe still stepped on spiders (even though they don't have six legs). She squished millipedes too. I just found it amusing, given her entomophobia that she would take especial offence to creepy crawlies with six legs imagining them somehow "dirtier" than all the others.

  37. I feel the same about ants and spiders as you do.;) Actually the other day when I killed a few ants that are right now causing an infestation in our bathroom, I thought about the irony in this *murder*. I have actually terminated life, it was just not another human life… It is funny how we human seemingly decide when such an act is a crime and violence and when it is a mundane occurrence going perfectly unnoticed.
    As for refugee control, you are completely right, the unknown will always bring the worst out in people, in their actions, speech and words.

  38. It's a tough one this, Zuzana. As humans we have more control over animal lives than might sometimes be good for us and then to mix that control up with the lives of asylum seekers, those less fortunate than us, it becomes an even more serious thing. That is if we are to value human lives above those of the insects.

    You have to wonder sometimes.
    Thanks again, Zuzana.

  39. I hope Jim cleared the confusion over eight legged spiders satisfactorily for you here, Rhymeswithplague.

    It's sometimes easy to overlook the negative. We assume it's a positive.

    Thanks again, Rhymeswithplague.

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