Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Earl's Myth

In the latest installment of a novel I'm writing in parts, a fictional industrialist named Earl recalls a myth he used to finance his nascent company. The myth was based on an ecological interpretation of businesses within an economy which in reality I made up while writing about it:

Economies functioned much like biomes, with companies acting like organisms, industries functioning as populations of species, and economic activity joining them in communities that, together with the physical resources such as people and materials that they collected and processed, functioned as ecosystems.

Of course, economies are artificial, but I wonder if most of us tend to expect similar things from both our artificial and natural environments. Evolution has shaped us to get what we need from natural environments if we follow certain instinctive behaviors, and to penalize us if we don't. Education serves a related function in relating to civilization by priming both our skills and our expectations so we can survive and thrive to the extent that we occupy useful niches within our artificial environment.

For the analogy to work, people must be equivalent to organisms in both types of environment, but there are many indications that it is no longer working. Perhaps the most obvious indication is the huge amount of wealth inequality in the world today, the equivalent of which would, I suspect, never occur in a natural system that wasn't about to include at least one population collapse. Instead, as Earl's myth described, we have organizations that are functioning as organisms, and people have been relegated to the role of "resources."

For the most part, the few people who have mastered control of the artificial organisms, through the acquiescence of their fellows and the illusion of embodied energy in money, still function as organisms themselves, and receive rewards commensurate with their occupation of the new niches demanded by the artificial world. The rest of us are simply used, then discarded, and perhaps recycled eventually (after extended periods of unemployment) while others are "consumed," all the while thinking that the work and personal degradation is an appropriate sacrifice for a better world created by the super-organisms (some of whom are still like us) that will eventually meet our wants and needs too.

Of course, the fact that our artificial organisms are using actual resources, and are crowding out the real organisms whose bodies and work enable our planet's habitability, means that the flesh-and-blood puppeteers of those organizations will also be part of the human population collapse facilitated by their efforts. Barring the success of fantastical efforts like that described in my book (a success we may not end up wanting), humanity will have to dispense with dangerous myths like Earl's and become reacquainted with Nature's reality just to survive.

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