Sunday, November 8, 2009

Invasive Species

In ecology, “invasive species” are species that evolve in one type of ecosystem and either move, or are moved, into another type of ecosystem. Once there, they typically wreak havoc by outcompeting native species. Humans are arguably the most successful invasive species on the planet; and will continue to be, until we either change, or finish driving ourselves extinct along with as many other species as we can take with us.

Our corporations and empire-building nations are perhaps the most visible cultural manifestations of this identity. Each measures success by how much of the world it can control to meet its needs and wants; how many people use its products, services, and cultural artifacts; and how many resources it can consume without paying full price for them (which often involves deceit, because deceit is easier than work).

On a philosophical level, a large number of us accept without question the notion that competition will solve all problems and maximize personal well-being. Only the latter part of this is true, and is only applicable to a rapidly shrinking fraction of the population. This is because competition by definition brings rewards to a small number of “winners” and penalizes the vast majority, who as “losers” will eventually be unable to survive on what’s left. In a resource-constrained world, competition is exactly the wrong strategy if the “problem” we are trying to solve is the long-term viability of the most number of people.

Other species, which don’t have a chance of competing against our tools and our intellect, are the ultimate losers in the “game” we are playing. Rather than cooperating with them, we treat them as resources to be consumed, or as competitors for what we want and they need to survive. Lost in our lust for total domination of the planet is the fact that our fate is ultimately tied to the fate of others. We are part of the larger community of Nature, which has supported us in unseen ways on the visceral promise that we will support it. That mutual support, which is far too complex for us to deal with on a purely intellectual basis, has now eroded enough to threaten the survival of the planetary biosphere which depends on it.

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