The Web of Life

Mar 7, 2022 | Features, Opinion, Recent Stories

We humans have created a global net on top of the real web of life, but instead of working towards protecting and encouraging life we’ve decided to destroy it.

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Amanda de Luis

When Herbert Spencer coined the expression survival of the fittest as a way of describing the mechanism of natural selection, little did Charles Darwin know this concept would have an expansive influence in the generations to come. And not only in the biology field. At that time, Herbert Spencer already drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones. He saw natural selection as the preservation of the favoured races in the struggle for life. 

After two-hundred years this idea has permeated our collective imagination in such a way that our own conceptions of who we are as a species or how we act individually or as a group are often tainted with inherent egotistical and self-interested characteristics. Which in turn has helped to foster a global neoliberal economy based on the ideology of competition and the pursuit of self-fulfillment.

Nowadays, it is disparaging to see the consequences of the neoliberal globalization creed, from environmental catastrophes to persisting and raising social inequalities. Deregulating the financial markets and corporate practices has come at a great cost for all. And the worst is that even if we are not players in the stock-market we are all part of it. Not many people know that when they click on their computer screen to buy a pension plan their money often is used in a joint venture to speculate with arable land on the other side of the planet with catastrophic effects on the present and future survival of farming communities. An innocent avocado from the supermarket may hide a direct link with Mexican drug cartels looking to launder money and diversify their operations control. Our grocery shopping bag is full of carbon dioxide emissions, low-paid workers, criminal activities or loss of biodiversity somewhere else on this big blue planet. Even housing is suffering the consequences around the world of investors’ greedy long tentacles speculating and raising prices of a basic necessity so a few investment funds can multiply their capital. And all in the name of progress, competition and state-of-the-art finances. 

We are faced with an international economy and production systems disconnected from the basic needs of the world’s citizens and the limits of the planet. At the same time if something good has come from globalization, it is a wider outlook to the different human communities. Although there is an interdependence between international human relations, fossil fuels, global greenhouse gas emissions and corporate power, the world has become a big round table for potential dialogue and intercultural understanding.  

It seems rather titanic that humanity could ever pull off a global transformative change at the needed speed if we want to stop climate change and our own destruction. But we don’t have another option. The thought of doing nothing is scarier. 

Instead of being afraid of what the planet will keep doing if we don’t take care of it, we should be learning from it. The Earth is made of relationships that exist among all living systems and the many ways that these systems are constantly moving toward harmony and balance. We need to transform our worldview from fragmented pieces to a holistic structure so we cease the fracturing of communities and environment. We humans have created a global net on top of the real web of life, but instead of working towards protecting and encouraging life we’ve decided to destroy it. If we observe nature and its ecosystems, we will understand how we need to act in order to change our paradigm. Trees use mycorrhizal networks to share water, nutrients and send distress signals, finches remove parasites from iguanas, ants build nests together, predators hunt in packs. Just a few examples of the cooperation that happens every second around the globe. The lesson to learn is clear: collaborate with the rest of the system and everybody will benefit. 

If we want to mimic life in order to succeed, we need world collaboration amongst all human communities; diversity fosters social coherence and increases the chances for success as more ideas are brought to the discussion. Human diversity is as important to society as biodiversity is to ecosystems. And this means that the relationships need to be fair and just, with no veto power, bullying or coercive techniques. 

Luckily for us, Lynn Margulis, one of the most interesting biologists in evolutionary biology and microbiology, offers a new perspective about life with her theory of endosymbiosis. It was formulated in the 60s but not recognized by the scientific community until years later. Margulis revolutionized biology by presenting collaboration, rather than competition, as the driving force for evolution. 

Let’s get inspired by Margulis’ work. We are nature. We will only thrive through collaboration. 

About the Author

Writer, director and producer Amanda de Luis started her film and writing career in the documentary field in San Francisco. She’s produced feature films, TV series and documentaries. She has written and directed videos for raising public awareness and funding campaigns for NGOs in a number of countries such as India, Ethiopia, and Ecuador. She is currently writing and directing Iceberg, a documentary series about initiatives working towards a transformation to a new eco-social paradigm.

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