We picture humanity as a product of nature. However, thinking about how natural laws work, can we still consider human communities as part of this system of rules – in the same way as animals, plants and microorganisms?
In a recent article, Federico Germani nicely pointed out that different species sharing the same habitat tend to live in a competitive equilibrium, meaning that they usually do not affect the reciprocal permanence within a shared ecosystem. I believe this is one of the main reason why – looking at landscapes full of co-existing flowers, bees, wasps and lizards – we spontaneously associate nature to the concept of “harmony”.
Why is there such an extraordinary variety of organisms on Earth that seem to peacefully co-exist?
Why at a certain point, did a certain species in a certain habitat not take over, eradicating all the others?
First of all, we could simply imagine every species – and each individual of a species – as a product of its own genome: the information stored in DNA gives rise to a species that fulfils its potential. This species expands freely and populates all the vital habitats it finds. However, the genetic potential meets its limitation in the constrictive characteristics of the environment. The natural tendencies of a species towards expansion are therefore scaled down and limited in terms of time and space.
In the same habitat, different species relate to each another in multiple ways: they establish a prey-predator relationship, they compete for access to limiting resources, or they gain benefits by reciprocal interactions. In most cases, the outcome of all these multifaceted and complex layers is a dynamic equilibrium between the different species.
Each of these species loses and gains individuals. However, given the reciprocal relationship they establish, every species does not tremendously expand or shrink, and continue living in harmony with the others.
Every species on Earth – with a unique exception – cannot physically overcome certain pre-existing natural limits. The adverb “physically” is critical because it defines what an organism is capable of doing to survive. The body is the only instrument a living organism can use to face life-threatening situations. If the features of its body are insufficient to survive a certain habitat, the organism will die. This is what is called “selective pressure”.
Humans however, developed intellectual capabilities useful to arm our body. We can potentiate our body to escape selective pressure. We started by equipping ourselves with bows, arrows and lances. This event may appear irrelevant, but it gave our ancestors a selective advantage: suddenly they could compete with their own predators, without necessarily succumbing to them. From there we went on building stilts, inventing agriculture and organizing communities only populated by humans: villages and cities.
What I am now trying to define is a concept that I already introduced in this article: humans are out of nature, out of any selective pressure that pre-exists them and that is being imposed on them.
But there is more.
Human behaviour has become responsible for the rise of an unprecedented human-based selective pressure, that must be included with the natural one. In fact, humans have become part of the habitat of animals, plants and microorganisms.
In other words, humans apply a selective pressure as nature does, and the human-constructed environment – buildings, roads, railways – serves as a habitat as much as the natural environment does.
On this basis, we can conclude that humanity established an order in which – similar to nature itself – it has the power of life and death over the organisms living under natural laws, the very laws humanity previously escaped.
The only selective pressure humanity still feels is paradoxically caused by humanity itself: deforestation, abuse of fossil fuels resources, pollution. All these events not only have a great impact on the sustainability of wildlife and ecosystems, but also on the future prosperity of human civilizations.
Therefore, by applying a human-based pressure, we are inevitably counter-selecting ourselves.
Now, if we are starting to feel our own selective pressure, why don’t we resize our actions?
The idea that, by consuming all of the natural resources we will end up killing ourselves, does not seem to concern us. But why?
Given the aforementioned order humanity established through the millennia, we now tend to picture ourselves as a valid and independent alternative to the natural realm. We are convinced that we belong to a superior order than nature, an order that will eventually survive the collapse of the natural dimension. However, if we look at how the two systems work – the human and the natural one – we realize that one expands into the other: nature fills our stomachs and our industries, but it also proliferates in our greenhouses and fields, it is protected and remains untouched in our reserves. Although we are causing innumerable ecological disasters, nature – in different forms – will survive the extinction of humanity and reinvent itself, while humanity can only survive in a mutualistic condition with nature.
Somebody may argue that we will find a way to recreate apples or burgers in a laboratory. Somebody has indeed already tried to. Perhaps that’s the future we are anxiously aiming at: a future of humanity without nature.
But wouldn’t it be better to keep seeing some fruit trees and some cows still populating our planet?