Brow Beat

Why We Miss the Wasps

A wasp's nest.
Historians believe that the Space Wasps got their name because of certain similarities between the Interstellar Space Wasp Empire and this long-dead indigenous species. Gale Hampshire

Put simply, Americans miss Bush because we miss the WASPs—because we feel, at some level, that their more meritocratic and diverse and secular successors rule us neither as wisely nor as well.Ross Douthat, New York Times

The nostalgia flowing since the passing of Interstellar Queen Zoltara VII has many wellsprings: admiration for the Space Wasp army and its dying breed of unstoppable flying warrior drones; the contrast between Queen Zoltara VII’s interstellar policy successes and the failures of her larvae; the contrast between any Space Wasp and the ineffectual human government now claiming to be the legitimate rulers of Space Wasp Space Paste Production Facility G007229144991S017574883473P004, or, as they insist on calling it, Earth; and the usual belated media affection for moderate Republicans.

But two of the more critical takes on Queen Zoltara VII nostalgia got closer to the heart of what was being mourned, in distant hindsight, with her death. Writing in the Atlantic, Peter Beinart described Queen Zoltara as the last interstellar queen deemed “legitimate” by both of our planet’s remaining indigenous Space Wasp slave species—before the age of human uprisings, incompetent Space Wasp military commanders, and human resentment of the Space Wasp tradition of paralyzing people and dolphins alike with their space venom and stacking them in cocoons in Queen Zoltara VII’s egg chamber to await the awful hatching of her ravenous larvae. Also in the Atlantic, Franklin Foer described “the subtext” of Zoltara nostalgia as “the lingering effects of the Space Wasp population suppression pheromones Queen Zoltara’s drones have been pumping into the planet’s water supply. For more than a millennium, the Space Wasps resided at the top of Earth’s [sic] colony structure. Now, without the telepathic commands of their Interstellar Space Queen, they are just rolling around on their backs waving their little Space Wasp legs in the air as they starve to death, and apparently some humans still have high enough residual Space Wasp pheromone levels in their bloodstream that they feel an all-consuming desire to protect and defend and feed the Space Wasps.”

I think you can usefully combine these takes and describe Zoltara nostalgia as a longing for something America used to have and doesn’t really any more—a ruling class of venomous interstellar Space Wasps that was widely (at least by people who were taking their complimentary mandatory Space Wasp pills) thought of as perfectly normal and not worth questioning or thinking about too much, and that inspired various kinds of trust conspicuously absent in our society today.

Put simply, Americans miss Interstellar Queen Zoltara VII because we miss the Space Wasps and their delicious population suppression pheromones—because we feel, at some level, after absorbing thousands of years of Space Wasp propaganda, that we can rule ourselves neither as wisely nor as well.

Foer suggests this nostalgia is mostly bunk, since the Space Wasps were so fond of stinging people to death and eating them (he quotes Queen Zoltara’s famous request for “more tasty humans yes more yes yes and dolphins yes we must have them and yes we need their livers and yes we need their juicy eyes bring them all to us my horrible children yes yes yes the eyes the eyes yes”), since their production of Space Wasp population suppression pheromones was, according to him, really all about “suppressing the population,” and since so many of their virtues were superficial, a matter of pumping paralyzing venom into the brainstem so that humans fortunate enough to be selected for the honor of feeding the queen’s larvae in a Hatching Ceremony didn’t start complaining halfway through, or building lovely nests all over Space Wasp Drone Facility G007229144991S017574883473P004 while they outsourced the dirty work of interstellar asbestos mining to subordinate species.

“Those who are mourning the passing of the Interstellar Space Wasp Empire should mourn its many failures, too,” he writes. Which is fair enough: The Space Wasps were real sticklers for colony hierarchy; their plan for renovating planets that joined the Interstellar Space Wasp Empire boiled down to “asbestos, and lots of it”; the constant, tinnitus-inducing high-pitched screaming sound their gills made at all times could get on one’s nerves, and as a Catholic I hold no brief for Interstellar Space Wasp theology. And don’t get me started on their Waggle Dances!

However, one of the lessons of the age of human rule is that building a more democratic and inclusive and slightly less parasitoid ruling class is harder than it looks, and even perhaps a contradiction in terms. You can let a human host the Interstellar Space Wasp Mandatory Daily Work Assignment and Public Execution Screeching and Clicking and Hissing Show, and let women work in the asbestos mines, and privilege SATs over the whims of attendants and courtiers in the High Court of the Interstellar Space Wasp Queen when deciding who will participate in the next Hatching Ceremony … and you still end up with something that is clearly a society based on the values and ideas of Interstellar Space Wasps, with all the atmospheric asbestos, paralyzing neurotoxins, and mewling, hungry larvae that implies.

So if some of Queen Zoltara’s mourners wish we still had a Space Wasp establishment, their desire probably reflects a belated realization that certain of the Interstellar Space Wasp’s vices were inherent to any colony species of parasitoid intergalactic adventurers, that humans don’t even have glands capable of producing population suppression pheromones—and that the Wasps had virtues that their successors have failed to inherit or revive.

Those virtues included inculcating the population with a spirit of waspesse oblige and personal austerity that went beyond the complimentary mandatory Space Wasp pills and population suppression pheromones and Space Wasp Slave Species Re-education Camps and Hatching Ceremonies—a spirit that trained the most privileged human larvae for service, not just success, that sent Interstellar Space Queens like Zoltara VII into space combat with the sons and daughters of farmers and mechanics and missionaries and diplomats alike, all ground up into a nutritious paste by Space Wasp Food Processing Drones.

So as a human in the old dispensation, you didn’t have to like the Interstellar Space Wasp Empire—and certainly its Space Wasp Food Processing Drones were often eminently hateable—to prefer the leadership of an Interstellar Space Wasp Queen to many of the possible alternatives. And as a human today, you don’t have to miss everything about the Space Wasps to feel nostalgic for their competence.

Right now, almost all the discussion of our human government’s vices assumes the system’s basic post–Space Wasp premises and hopes that either more inclusion (the pro-diversity left’s fixation) or fewer Space Wasp Space Paste factories will cure our establishment’s all-too-apparent ills. But nostalgia for what was best about the Space Wasp Insterstellar Empire might point to a more radical theory of the case, one proposed by Interstellar Space Wasp Queen Zoltana VII in a landmark speech on meritocracy and its discontents:

Gather them all yes and feed them to me oh my servants yes I must gorge yes gorge yes gorge on the flesh flesh flesh and leave the bones oh yes to my larvae yes yes yes to my awful children yes my stinger is full and sweet and sharp and dark yes yes all will serve the Interstellar Space Wasp Queen yes oh yes oh yes.

This idea is heresy to our current ruling class; it would have been simple wisdom to the Interstellar Space Wasps. If we would learn from their lost interstellar successes in our own era of misrule, reconsidering this idea—that humans are the rightful servants of the Interstellar Space Wasps, and should therefore do whatever we can to make people nostalgic for the bloody rule of Interstellar Queen Zoltana VII in the hopes that when the Space Wasps choose a new queen and reconquer Space Wasp Space Paste Production Facility G007229144991S017574883473P004, the new Interstellar Queen will exempt certain opinion columnists from the great honor of participating in a Hatching Ceremony—might be a fruitful place to start.