“The devil of complacency is in the ignorance of detail.”
This is another post that I’ve resurrected, and updated, from four years back, because it places the Extremophile Choice hypothesis in the context of the broader, and not the more fashionable, ecological discussion. The original has earned more attention from ecological nerdom than many of my other blogposts, so here is my more or less rigorous attempt to flesh out “The Problem with Confusing Environmentalism and Conservation” with a formal evo-ecological and phenomenological underpinning drawn from previous essays.
www.knowswhy.com /difference-between-ecology-and-ecosystem/ : Ecology is the study of the interaction between organisms and their environment. The word ecology comes from the Greek words “oikos” meaning house and “logos” meaning word or study. Ecology today can be divided into two broad domains. The author Christian Lévêque uses the terms population ecology and systemic ecology to refer to them.
I won’t deny it’s been a real challenge for me trying to convince well-meaning environmentalists that, despite all the current talk about the need for humans to become better integrated with “our Natural environment”, technological systems are, by purely evo-ecological reasoning, incompatible with fully diversified Natural systems. Most people can’t even imagine why I would say that, but I think this is simply because “environmentalism” draws only on the unifying logic of Christian Lévêque’s “systemic ecology”, and, in their understandable sense of urgency, environmentalists find it inconvenient (and many trained scientists even worry that the exercise will confuse the ‘messaging’) to follow the multiplicity-based principles of “population ecology” to their logical conclusion. The above website distinguishes Lévêque’s two ecologies this way:
In systemic ecology, both the living and non-living components of the environment are considered in depth. Systemic ecology will often look at non-biological aspects of the environment such as the transfer of matter and energy through different trophic levels as well as biogeochemical cycles. … Population ecology focuses on the interaction between species or populations and between populations and their environments. This branch of ecology does consider non-biological factors, but it is primarily concerned with the living world. Population ecology can be studied on multiple scales including individual organisms, populations, and biological communities.
I can easily understand why most of us would naturally gravitate to the systemic view when considering the relationship between Humans and Nature: the metaphysical construct of universal inter-connectivity is intuitively appealing, because it seems more “spiritual” than the scientific principles derived from fastidious study of the disparity, abundances, and distributions of species. But this is where “the challenge” takes on a very real sense of urgency for me. When, in all of the history of human kind, has the abstract knowledge of inter-connectivity ever moved whole populations to change their course? The devil of complacency is in the ignorance of detail. At best, the feeling of “oneness” is an object of contemplation that can promote maturity in individuals who have already achieved a degree of personal openness through experience; at worst it is an elitist affectation, and a cop-out.
(Deep down, in some remote Contrarian, or perhaps even a more intimately meditative level of the brain, do we not sometimes suspect, or fear, that abstract systems, whether they be the 'economics' of Nature or of Man, are only "real" (notice I'm using the directly experiential sense of the word) for those who want an excuse to ignore the truth of beings for their own self-indulgent strictly 'me-chanical' advantage? https://www.extremophilechoice.com/2022/10/01/panphilia-can-love-of-natural-systems-be-personal/)
Here is how I expressed the Humans-and-Nature question — as a tangible matter of ‘coevolving-structures-in-motion’ — in Darwin, Dogen, and the Extremophile Choice:
So now, when we ask what does it mean to be human in the Natural world, it soon becomes a pivotal issue whether or not natural selection’s everyday priority is to limit behavioural flexibility by pruning out all behaviours that don’t conform to species-normal body structures. For if the answer is yes, then it becomes obvious that technology compels a radical departure from this Natural state of affairs, and this must not be overlooked by holding to a sentimental (and indeed self-serving) Man-As-Part-Of-Nature Environmentalism. After all, ‘oneness’ is not an ecological, but a metaphysical, mental construct; the more we think about one-ness, the less we really have to think about, and while this points us in the right direction ‘spiritually’ (though unlike silent practice, it doesn’t act-ually get us there … sorry, get us here), it’s of no use to us whatsoever scientifically and functionally.
In historical fact — as famously argued both inside and outside academia in the writings of Marshall McLuhan — it is the application of scientific insights that has ever changed the course of human behaviour en masse. And so it is only by taking into account the well established evo-ecological principles derived from painstaking study of the living world around us that we can hope to arrive at a truly transformative view of what it means to be Human in the Natural world. In particular, we should be looking at those population ecology principles having to do with structural and behavioural modification and stability. I am beginning to wonder why many of these well-established principles have been entirely overlooked in today’s environmentally ‘approved’ conversation. Perhaps what follows is the real “inconvenient truth” the general public needs to hear just now?
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principles of population evo-ecology to which humans do not conform
1. — genetic structures evolve in response to a functional shift
2. — opportunism means behavioral flexibility, but only by compromising genetic structures
. . . and the kicker
3. — competitive exclusion of organisms that exhibit traits deep in the overlap zone between niches maintains the integrity and diversity of ecosystems
. . . so when technology allows us, not in Millions of years but in mere decades, to fully overlap every niche, then
4. — unlike any ‘coevolved species’, we wouldn’t only not be missed if we disappeared from their ecological space, but our disengagement would cause their more Natural populations to once again flourish!
substantiation that humans are not a ‘species’ in the co-adapted sense
5. — co-adaptation requires stable relationships with other species over many lifetimes
6. — In thriving pre-human ecosystems, there was more biomass at the top of the food pyramid than at the bottom; in all humanised systems it’s the other way around.
7. — racial discrimination drives adaptive radiation and ensures the integrity of species in stable ecosystems, but Humanity is a racial ‘melting pot’
. . . because
8. — as Milford Wolpoff’s multiregional hypothesis, tells us: “the potential for niche overlap would have made the co-existence of multiple tool-using species impossible”
. . . then, since these principles anticipate that humans do not, for some time now did not, and ‘evolving’ forward can-not contribute in a co-evolutionary way to a thriving Nature, we might want to consider the buddha-natural idea that evolutionary ecology is already an Intelligence in its own right; meaning we must recognise its right to ‘self-determination’. (If we argue, as some have, that we ourselves are “Nature’s intelligence”, it would still be incredibly perverse to claim this has been so far helpful, let alone ‘needed’.) It’s generally accepted now, even in animal behaviour studies, that Awareness did not arise with us out of an oblivious Natural World; and if our vaunted Creative Intelligence as well can be understood as a kind of conceptual evolution, wherein “self” is also a concept, then “in effect”:
conceptual intelligence can be seen as a permutation of pre-existing speci-fying intelligence
9. — extraordinary parallels can be shown to exist between our planet’s slow but undeniably creative Earth Spirit, and the much faster creative spirit of human intelligence
10. — sexual selection is a meta-evolution that plays the same role of speci-fication in ecosystems that symbolic language (meta-behaviour/learning) plays in human cultures
11. — with a language-like model for ‘intentional’ (i.e. selected and maintained by inner tensions) species generation, there is now compelling reason to treat evolving ecosystems as Fellow Intelligence
. . . and, to justify this whole exercise, of trying to see something we’ve never seen before, we must ultimately ask, what might be the
consequences of a new and ecologically wayward human animal coming to know ‘what it is’
12. — dependency on Natural Resources is what gives rise to the ‘instinct for territoriality’ in the animal kingdom in general. This is a notoriously troublesome facet of our original ‘animal natures’ that might become substantially baseless as we take on, by achievable degrees, the http://www.extremophilechoice.com/ . Imagine that!
13. — Perhaps, like human children, an adolescent Technological Intelligence comes to adulthood when it is individuated from its parent Genetic Intelligence. And if we finally come to understand that our technology is meant to free us, and Nature too, from our unsustainable dependency on resources (see principle 12 above) that have been evolved to efficiently sustain only eco-evolutionary flourishing, would this not make our task, our endless un-Natural choosing among ever-more-novel options, less picky and quarrelsome? Perhaps returning us, on an emotional plane anyway, to the more Natural condition experienced by other animals who are born knowing their niche in life?
. . . but, in this fractious, or at least this vitally argumentative human world, where every dream of “destiny” has always been opposed by rival dreams, why should we expect this scenario to be acceptable to a majority of human kind? Maybe because, just like human-caused global warming, or like natural selection
14. — once you see it, you can’t un-see it
* * *
Until we start talking in these population ecology terms, about what it means to be Human in the Natural world, the human-centred ‘environmentalist’ conversation will hold us to our past and present apocalyptic course. Until we fearlessly examine our assumption, that we have a God given, or evolution-given right to Natural resources, we will continue to turn self-regulating and therefore thriving ecological diversity into “productive” (i.e. less diverse) farmland. And until we see that Technological Intelligence is intrinsically incompatible with co-evolutionary Genetic Intelligence, the conservation of myriad Naturally regulated species will always take a back seat to the immediate interests of one unregulated, technologically adaptive, and politically volatile primate who thinks he’s an integral part of their co-evolution just because he walks under the same sun and breaths the same air.