WORDS BY WILLOW DEFEBAUGH
As we have faced a public health crisis, a global reckoning around race and colonization, political warfare, and a United States that has never felt so divided, it has been a year of attempting to answer a question that is at the heart of our latest issue, Hive: How do we work together?
The adjective “imaginal” refers to both the collective imagination and the imago, the final form of an adult insect achieved after its ultimate metamorphosis, in which it has at last found its wings. While I was unaware of this etymological connection until this issue was well underway, there’s no more felicitous word for the story behind our fifth volume, Hive.
As it happens, I am writing this letter on the one year anniversary of the pandemic putting our world on pause. As we have faced a public health crisis, a global reckoning around race and colonization, political warfare, and a United States that has never felt so divided, it has been a year of attempting to answer a question that is at the heart of this issue: How do we work together?
According to the Smithsonian Institution, some 900 thousand species of insects are known to exist, representing 80 percent of all species. From bees that sacrifice themselves for the safety of the hive to ants that act as one superorganism, few kingdoms embody collaboration quite as eloquently as insects. With this in mind, it is both symbolic and sobering to know that almost half of existing insect species face extinction, according to a recent study published in Biological Conservation.
Above all else, the pandemic has made it painfully apparent how interwoven our wellness is with that of the whole—how blurred the boundaries of individual health become when the illness of one can mean the illness of so many more. For this reason, the first commission for this issue was our “Get Well” series on holistic medicine systems, united by the belief that “health” is not an absence of illness but how in sync we are with our environment.
Holism is a theme that connects many stories in this issue. In “Family Trees,” renowned ecologist Suzanne Simard tells me what both forests and the pandemic illustrate about systems theory, a field that studies how smaller systems impact the larger ones they are part of and holds that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “I think that the pandemic is instructive, that it can help us with climate change,” she says. “Individual behaviors matter: whether you wear a mask or you don’t wear a mask. These self-organizing, small-scale individual behaviors result in changes. We can all behave in ways that result in phenomena that change the whole system.”
In “Mythos and Mycology,” biologist Merlin Sheldrake illuminates how we are collectives in and of ourselves, infinitely interrelating with the world around us. As he explains, “The lives of mycelial fungi, in particular, teach us about the way that all organisms are in constant dialogue with their surroundings—that we’re less collections of matter and more systems through which matter is passing.”
When we understand that all systems are made up of many smaller systems, we start to see the solutions to systemic issues. Just ask the influencers of Climate Justice Tok, the buzzy subset of TikTok that’s on a mission to spread the word about sustainability and environmental justice through harnessing the power of the social media hive. You can get to know them in “TikTok for the Planet” and read more about how our digital world is harnessed for both harmony and harm in “The Hive Mind” by contributing editor Ruth H. Hopkins.
Of course, systemic change means looking at the ways in which systems are replicated within us and the organizations and communities to which we belong. While studying examples of hives and colonies in nature, we knew we wanted to explore the subject of decolonization. What does it look like in practice? According to Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry, it looks like radical rest. As she tells brontë velez in “Resting on and for the Earth,” we must resist the capitalist notion that we must all be busy (read: burnt out) worker bees in order to be of service.
In “The Altered Destiny,” Kendriana Washington outlines how the solutions to systemic inequality and the climate crisis combine in the customs and creativity found in communities of color: “To create ecologically sound futures, the whole must return to the source by applying the enduring futurist customs found in Black and Brown indigeneity and environmentally durable technological enhancements.” For proof, in “On a Move,” Mike Africa Jr recounts how his family stood for sustainability before it became a buzzword—and how they were persecuted for it.
One question we had when exploring the theme of Hive was: What does it mean to be a queen? As environmentalist drag queen and community advocate Pattie Gonia tells me in “Queen P,” it’s about offering people permission to be more wholly themselves: “Being a queen is about giving yourself the space you need to just keep on discovering yourself.”
Identity and individuality are complexified when we understand ourselves as collectives and inseparable systems, pointing to a paradox that is at times impossible to perceive: We are separate, and yet we are one. As Sherri Mitchell Weh’na Ha’mu Kwasset writes in her book Sacred Instructions, “As we seek this healing, let us do so with the knowledge that oneness is not sameness. It is the transcendence of our differences and the weaving of our diverse expressions into a tapestry that is harmonized and aligned with common purpose.”
When it comes to who the queen of our Hive is, I’ll leave you with this to consider: Perhaps it’s Mother Earth, known by many names. Perhaps Nature speaks to us through evolution and our individual and unique natures. Perhaps her voice is intuition, inspiration. Perhaps our past year has been a metamorphosis—a passage of grace through gore to a world made more self-aware.