We exist as an intimately connected cluster of transient organisms which are so closely and mutually reliant on their cosurvival as to merit collective attention. Recognising this allows us to understand ourselves both as continuing identities, and as relationships, with a subset of conditions that consistently support, and many others that relocate, reorganise, or destroy, the cluster and its relationships. Although these clusters vary through time they still pursue the common goal of living continuance.
This is somewhat akin to a recognition of the cooperative element of biological existence. Individual living organisms must sometimes interdepend in order to evolve. With this recognition comes the realisation that the dual processes of competition and cooperation are both important elements in living existence. Charles Darwin’s account of evolution focused unnecessarily heavily on the competitive element at the cost of the cooperative. However, both drives exist in nature and it is upon the latter that the older, microbial world is most dependent.
An expansion of the locus of value from individual organisms to cooperating naturally ocurring, biologically diverse clusters works at the micro-level: within a single square centimetre of soil, organisms cannot be said to act, in many instances, as individuals, but act instead in groups of, depending on their size, tens, tens of thousands, or tens of millions. The actions undertaken can best be described as primarily cooperative at this scale. While individual organisms do not necessarily benefit, the local, intimate cluster does, through its continuance.
Of course, nothing about this picture suggests a peaceful, harmonious state of existence. My naturally biodiverse cluster includes both a human genome, the enculturated activities that have shaped my phenotype, and the microbial and non-organic “wilderness” that interacts and shapes reactions at the cellular and multicellular level of existence. This is nature within culture, the wild within the domestic. Of course, too, naturally biodiverse clusters are as much a social construct as any other culturally relative concept. Our cultural millieu dictates, to a huge degree, how we decide to live. But there are two questions we need to ask ourselves in relation to this deciding. First, we must ask whether or not we are approaching with sufficient humility the degree of ignorance we still have in relation to our understanding of the intricate relationships between, particularly, members of the microbial community. If we focused more on what Cockell calls “the small things”, the microbes in the soil, the bacteria in our own guts, and so on, we would perhaps be able to better frame the question of what to include when considering how to live.
Secondly, we need to ask whether or not we have sufficiently cultivated, or even enculturated the value of imagination in the direction of biological investigation, so that we can take ourselves beyond the current cultural conceptions of scale we ought to use to measure what to include in considering interests.
Recognising that we are reliant on the living energy systems beyond human culture for our own survival, we can begin to question what it is that has been suppressed of the drives to excessive use and mindless self-satisfaction that we cultivate both in ourselves and the environment. Considerable further imaginative engagement with this work on instincts is required if we are even to begin to approach an understanding of what has driven us to here, and what of us might be said to be making choices about where to go next.