Michel Serres, ‘Insects’ Meals’, pp.91-93, in:
Serres, M., Schehr, L.R., 1982. The parasite. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
The ant does not have as its dinner guest a flute-player or a folk-singer, whose voices constantly fill space. Thus, the ant excludes the parasite.
The dismissal of the parasite does not cost a thing. Chasing out the hare, on the contrary, costs the master, that is to say, results in servitude; it is dearly bought.
No one comes to replace or to supplant the grasshopper sent off to dance. In other words, the ant hill is a system proper. What is real for the ant is rational and can be rational through and through. The work costs nothing. The work is solely and wholly good and gives rise to a moral.
The ant is at home, is rational and works. It works by chasing out disorder. It constituted order, classifying its seeds, flies, worms; chasing away the singers and dancers ; building the collective city through its collections: well-run large cities, perfectly controlled. What is also noticeable is the equivalence of work to the police.
Every society founded on work and economics is a police state: we have known this since Aesop; man has known it since the story of the ant; humanity has known it since the elan vital of certain collective animals ceded its place to the mechanical instinct of social life. Workers and soldiers.
Animal cities no longer have anything but consumers, soldiers, and workers. It is a rational society through and through. Was Aesop aware that he was representing the exact gesture of the worker and the bestial nature of economics?
The ant works and is at home in pure reason. The ant forms a system or a city by making order. There is no end to it; disorder has to be eliminated and to do so, there must be work. No, the fable is not naive: it’s a snapshot of the ant at a given moment during its movements. Work never stops: armies of soldiers are needed to eliminate the grasshoppers, armies of street-sweepers to remove the trash. That is to say, workers and economists to make the best use of the movements. It is hoped that, through the work of the street-sweepers, the system will be clean.
We will finally be at home when everything is clean. This is all foreseen by the stercoral theory of the origin of property rights. Collective property must be clean as a whistle. You work yourself to death so you can finally be at home. The work is inhabitable when it is clean, appropriate to our own uses. The aim of philosophy is to make the world inhabitable. Thus it only speaks of order and disorder, of work, of economy.
The ant who eats and does not speak, speaks nevertheless to chase out the grasshopper. The ant produces parasites in eliminating others. There is perpetual movement in working and in appropriating the world and that is why, in traditional philosophy, it seemed to be the motor of the world.
Suddenly, work is no longer free; it has a price – of energy, power, time. And of loss as well. The cost of work: you have to work to be able to work. The moral changes positions, as do all the questions.
The ant works so as to be at home, for the ant is rational. But I would like to know what reason is in this case. Pure reason is inflation. Inaccessible purity raises its prices.