Friday, May 30, 2008

Invasive Destiny

Writing about the threat to biodiversity posed by our dispersal of species into non-native environments, it occurred to me that human history might be explainable in terms of our own role as an invasive species. If so, it is tempting to consider the possibility that our collective goal, indeed the whole “meaning of (human) life,” is the replacement of other species with human biomass (that is, we want to be the most successful invasive animal species ever).

Our intellects and resulting technologies have enabled humans to colonize virtually every area of land, reducing biodiversity in the process. Even those parts of the world we haven’t personally occupied (especially the oceans) have seen dramatic population losses and outright extinctions due to indirect effects of our actions such as pollution.

Of course, our predations haven’t been limited to just other species. History contains many examples of how members of our population have treated other members as though they were part of another species (non-human), resulting in death or enslavement. This intraspecific competition is aimed at having a small subset of humanity dominating (if not destroying) everyone and everything else.

There are people who do value other life forms and others of our own species (“cooperators”), providing some counterbalance to the “competitors” in our population (while realistically we are each likely a mix of cooperator and competitor, one characteristic may tend to be more dominant than the other over a range of situations). Cooperators tend to tolerate complexity much better than competitors, and are therefore more capable of creating and living in highly diverse ecosystems.

As we ride down the ecological slide the competitors have created, cooperators will hopefully be able to shift the balance in time to keep us from going over. My best guess, however, is that the competitors will continue to dominate, using force as necessary (something cooperators are loath to do). The competitors will have the simpler world they have been working toward, impoverished like a lawn overcome by weeds that are unable to handle all their needs by themselves and primed to be taken down with nothing left to survive them.

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