It’s very easy to feel that as human beings we enjoy a privileged position among living things. We are at the top of the “brain chain” and it can make us complacent. So, perhaps because it’s an election season, I’ve found myself drawn to a political metaphor that offers a much flatter vision of the organic world. It may even come with its own short bill of rights.
With a slight tilt of our imaginations we can look at the biological world as a Democracy of Living Things. You and I are citizens and so are every crow, dandelion, rat, spider, and mushroom. What we all share are the challenges of birth, survival, and procreation in some form. These universal experiences put us on a common ground that may be narrow but is also profound and, I think, noble.
The population of this Democracy is beyond counting. There is no formal government. But it is reasonably democratic in that everyone participates in each other’s lives and in the struggle for power within their own sphere. Everyone competes and/or cooperates in his or her or its own way. And while most members of our nation do not enjoy legal rights, we humans in our generous moments like to think that all living things enjoy an entitlement to the necessities of Life (survival), Liberty (the absence of threatening constraints) and the Pursuit of Happiness (thriving and reproducing).
The notion of a democracy of living things is a corrective lens for us humans. It offsets our habit of viewing organisms as “higher” and “lower.” And it encourages us to see all living things as individuals no matter how small they are or how densely packed together they are in clumps, hives and herds. Imagine it: the Democracy of Life.
Brock Haussamen: I grew up in New York City and now live in New Jersey, where I taught English for four decades at a community college, a profession I found varied and rewarding. I’m married, with family in the area.
I retired in 2006 in part to fight poverty as best I could, at every level I could–locally, nationally, and in Africa. I’ve become a local volunteer and on-line advocate and along the way have learned fast about the economic, political, and legal issues that accompany poverty.
I also found myself thinking more about the central questions that catch up with us sooner or later: What is my purpose? How will I face death? What do I believe in? I have always liked the descriptions from science about how living things work, about the history of the earth, about the nature of the cosmos. But I could not put those pictures together with my questions. Gradually I came to see that life’s history over 3.8 billion years stood inside and throughout my being and constituted my livingness at its core. In my blog at threepointeightbillionyears.com, I’ve been exploring the variety of ways in which our experience is anchored not just in our evolution from primates but in the much longer lifespan of life itself.
See Brock Haussamen’s Posts