Are metaphors useful when real life intrudes on their original power as a pattern framer?

Colony Collapse Disorder

Colony Collapse Disorder

For instance (almost a decade ago) when I coined the term “Human Hive” as a metaphor for the living, evolutionary human system of the city, it predated many life events that have since occurred. Perhaps the appropriateness for using this biomimicry term to look at the city as a living system is outdated? These days, when I share my ideas about the Human Hive, a series of particular events have become frequent challengers to thinking about the city in the terms of a hive metaphor.  Those most disturbing events have become known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

This is the alarming phenomenon that is endangering the honey beehives. The result of the syndrome is simple enough to describe – the majority of the honeybees abandon the hive and do not return. They apparently lose their carrying capacity to sustain themselves, the hive and contribute to the wellbeing of their eco region (through pollination).Why honey bees do this is as mystifying as it is disturbing. Scientists do not have consensus on whether the fault is the neoconitide pesticides that were introduced in the last decade (and are now being made illegal in many countries); loss of diversity in the gene pool; mites; changes in the environment – both man-made and natural; loss of flower habitat; and/or all of the above.

However, Colony Collapse Disorder has not dissuaded me from considering apis millifera – the honey bee – a worthy teacher. (In fact, cities in the Middle East may well be going through the equivalent Human Hive disintegration, as migrants pour out of their borders and seek sanctuary in European cities?)

But one of my deep consolations, is that the bee as a species, is 100 million years old and has adapted to every geography on earth. Entomological evidence indicates that CCD has happened before and the trusty bee has survived, adapted and continued to thrive. The most recent recommendations I have read about treating CCD is for humans to stop interfering by applying technological solutions and let the most advanced species of the invertebrates – for that is what the honey bee is considered to be – to let apis mellifera get on with developing its own solution to CCD.

As human migrants swarm out of one endangered city or country they are creating life conditions where the Human Hives they target become endangered themselves because of their own lack of carrying capacity. But as homo sapiens sapiens is supposed to be the most intelligent vertebrate on earth I wonder what natural intelligence we must release in order to overcome and/or avoid the human version of Colony Collapse Disorder that our invertebrate cousins the bees are hopefully figuring out how to do? As a radical optimist I think I will continue with the Human Hive metaphor, confident that Life’s Evolutionary Intelligence can see us through.

(This blog is one of a series on Waking Up the Human Hive Beyond the Smart, Resilient City to the Integral City – thinking notes for a keynote speech at IDG’s IT Smart Cities Conference, September 23, 2015, Amersfoort, NL.)