By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Laline Paull
Narration by: Orlagh Cassidy
“The Bees” is about collective limitation. “The Bees” may simply “bee” a story about bees but Laline Paull is not an apiarist or entomologist. She neither keeps bees nor is educated as a melittolgist. However Paull writes with passion and fertility of mind that draws listeners into the life of a beehive, a collective way of life desired by some and reviled by others.
Plato wrote of an ideal “Republic” constituted by producers (the commoners), warriors (soldiers), and rulers (guardians). Paull writes of a beehive with one female ruler (guardian), male warriors (soldiers or drones), and many producers (the commoners). Paull’s “producer” bees fall into subcategories like cleaners, foragers, princesses, and slaves. Each category in the hive is perfectly suited for its role in the beehive just as Plato’s citizens are groomed for their positions in the “Republic”. Like in Plato’s “Republic”, Paull suggests there is a rare possibility of any one bee rising to a higher class. Only by transgressing the fundamental rules of Plato’s “Republic” or “The Bees” society, can the individual change their station in life. Transgression is suggested by Plato and Paull as possible, and justified by individual virtue; i.e. the attainment of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.
Flora 717 is Paull’s transgressor. Flora is born into the lowest class of beehive society. Even in her class, Flora is different. She is bigger, stronger, and able to speak and dance like bees of the higher classes. Flora is recognized by the ruler queen for having the virtuous qualities of wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Flora becomes a slave, a forager, and finally a bearer of three bee’ eggs. The rule of the beehive is that no one but the queen can give birth. Flora’s first two births die but the third lives to become a ruler, the new queen of the hive.
Just as Plato’s “Republic” fails to spawn a nation-state in history, Paull’s “The Bees” fails to create a hive. Platonic virtue is not enough to create a nation or a beehive. Nation-states and beehives fail because virtues existence in the few or the one cannot overcome the nature of life. In the case of Paull’s “The Bees”, wasps, spiders, and humans destroy the hive. In the case of Plato’s “Republic”, subsequent history shows human nature destroys the nation-state.
Flora’s daughter is queen bee for a very short time. The tree in which the hive is established is sold when the landowner dies and his children sell the land. To have a collective state or a collective beehive, all citizens or bees must have virtue and an inherent willingness and desire to serve the common good. Virtue and the common good are not the sole nature of organic life. In humans, lassitude distorts virtue; and self-interest interferes with the common good. In bees, outside influences disrupt virtue and pursuit of the common good. The fundamental limitation of any collective is nature; the nature of humankind and the randomness of survival.