Sahtouris-2/3-“The Biology of Globalization”


Richard Moore

                              CADRE Library
                       "The Biology of Globalization"
                    Copyright 1997 by Elisabet Sahtouris


     Practice did not bear out theory.

     While we believed in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness--
     convincing in the first decades following WWII, our Congresses
     were gradually bought off by corporate interests. As Paul Hawken
     pointed out, "Washington D.C. has become a town of appearances and
     images, where sleight of (political) hand has largely replaced the
     clumsy system of payoffs, outright bribes and backroom deals of
     old....One percent of American society owns nearly 60 percent of
     corporate equities and about 40 percent of the total wealth of
     this nation. These are the plutocrats who wield the power and
     control this pre-eminent "company town" while trying to convince
     the other 99 percent of the citizenry that the system works in our
     best interests, too." (The Ecology of Commerce, Harper Collins, NY
     1993, p. 111) Not that outright bribes are obsolete, given the
     average of eight junket trips per congressional season that each
     member of the House of Representatives is treated to by corporate
     benefactors. When is the last time you bought your Congressman a
     hotdog, or took up a community collection to buy him a competing
     vacation golfing in Bermuda with your City Council?

     In biological terms, megacorporations, now globally legitimized by
     the WTO and the GATT, are overriding the interests of their
     embedded holons: nations, local communities and individuals. As
     Nader points out, "Under WTO rules, for example, certain
     *objectives* are forbidden to all domestic legislatures [national,
     state, county, city] ... including [objectives such as] providing
     any significant subsidies to promote energy conservation,
     sustainable farming practices, or environmentally sensitive

     Take the living system most intimately familiar to all of us: the
     human body. We've long known that our bodies behave as a community
     of cells. It has a central nervous government that continually
     monitors all its parts and functions, ever making intelligent
     decisions that serve the interest of the whole enterprise, and an
     immune defense system to protect its integrity and health against
     unfamiliar intruders.

     More recently, microbiology has revealed the relative autonomy of
     individual cells in exquisite detail: every cell constantly making
     its own decisions, for example, of what to filter in and out
     through its membrane, and which segments of DNA to retrieve and
     copy from its nuclear gene library for use in maintaining its
     cellular welfare. Hardly the automatons we had thought them to be!

     It is abundantly clear that the needs and interests of individual
     cells, their organ "communities" and the whole body must be
     continually negotiated to achieve their dynamic equilibrium,
     commonly called balance. Cancer is an example of what happens when
     this balance is lost, with the proliferation of individual cells
     outweighing the needs of the whole. In the same sense a mature
     ecosystem-- say a rainforest-- is a complex ongoing process of
     negotiations among species and between individual species and the
     self-regulating whole comprised by the various micro and macro
     species along with air, water, rocks, sunshine, magnetic fields,
     etc. As Soros recognizes: "Species and their environment are
     interactive, and one species serves as part of the environment for
     the others. There is a feedback mechanism..." among levels.

     It should be obvious by now that I have a respectful view of life
     in evolution as a self-organizing enterprise-- nature may stumble
     at times in its improvisational dance, or make crude moves,
     especially on the part of young aggressive species, but it is far
     too intelligent to proceed by accident. One can discern in
     evolution a repeating pattern in which aggressive competition
     leads to the threat of extinction, which is then avoided by the
     formation of cooperative alliances.

     New biological information on nucleated cells, multicellular
     bodies and mature ecosystems as cooperative enterprises challenge
     our ingrained view of antagonistic competition as the sole driving
     force of evolution, which was adopted as the rationale for
     capitalist competition. (Note that the cooperative side of
     evolution was emphasized in the Soviet Union.) As Soros says,
     "there is something wrong with making the survival of the fittest
     a guiding principle of civilized society. This social Darwinism is
     based on an outmoded theory of evolution."

     What is it that prevents your cells, or your organs, from pursuing
     their self-interest competitively such that relatively few "win"
     and most "lose?" The obvious answer is that they are part of a
     cooperative-- a multicelled creature, a whole entity that began as
     a single cell, but is more than the sum of all the cells cloned
     from it. That creature, like every cell comprising it, is
     autopoietic; that is, self-creating and self- maintaining, thus
     necessarily self-reflexive and self-interested.

     Oddly this notion of simultaneous self-interest at several levels
     of living systems is not yet popular among evolutionists. Darwin,
     as we all know, held the competitive individual to be the driving
     force of evolution (the capitalist version), while later
     biologists countered with the alternative of species
     self-interest, wherein individuals demonstrated altruism and
     self-sacrifice for the common good (the communist version). Then
     along came Richard Dawkins saying both sides of the debate were in
     error because competition among selfish genes drove evolution

     This is a pervasive either/or syndrome in our society, exemplified
     by setting ourselves the choice of capitalism or communism, and
     often enough between thinking and acting locally or globally. It
     seems to me that all these evolutionists are right, but not right
     enough. The evolution of living systems, as well as their ongoing
     livelihood, is an improvisational dance of negotiations among
     individual parts and levels of organization -- among the holons in
     a holarchy. This dance is energized by the self-interest of every
     part and level, choreographed by compromises made in the tacit
     knowledge that no level may be sacrificed without killing the
     whole. At its best it becomes elegant, harmonious, beautiful in
     its dynamics of non-antagonistic counterpoint and resolution.

     This, I believe, is the Popper/Soros vision of the Open Society,
     where the interests of all levels would be open to discussion and
     thereby harmonized.


                   An Inspirational Tale of Ancient Times

  In studying the Earth's evolution, the most fascinating story I know is
  that of ancient beings who created an incredibly complex lifestyle,
  rife with technological successes such as electric motors, nuclear
  energy, polyester, DNA recombination and worldwide information systems.
  They also produced - and solved - devastating environmental and social
  crises and provided a wealth of lessons we would do well to consider.

  This was not a Von Daniken scenario; the beings were not from outer
  space. They were our own minute but prolific forebears: ancient
  bacteria. In one of his popular science essays, Lewis Thomas,
  estimating the mitochondrial descendants of ancient bacteria in our
  cells as half our dry bulk, suggested that we may be huge taxis they
  invented to get around in safely (Lives of a Cell, 1974).

  From whatever perspective we choose to define our relationship with
  them, it is clear we have now created the same crises they did some two
  billion years ago. Further, we are struggling to find the very
  solutions they arrived at - solutions that made our own evolution
  possible and that could now improve the prospects of our own far
  distant progeny, not to mention our more immediate future. I owe my
  understanding of this remarkable tale to microbiologist Lynn Margulis,
  whose painstaking scientific sleuthing traced these events back more
  than two billion years.

  The bacteria's remarkable technologies (all of which still exist among
  today's free-living bacteria) include the electric motor drive, which
  functioned by the attachment of a flagellum to a disk rotating in a
  magnetic field; the stockpiling of uranium in their colonies, probably
  to heat their communities with nuclear energy; perfect polyester
  (biodegradable, of course) and their worldwide communications and
  information system, based on the ability to exchange (recombine) DNA
  with each other.

  Yet, like ourselves, with our own proud versions of such wondrous
  technologies, the ancient bacteria got themselves deeper and deeper
  into crisis by pursuing win/lose economics based on the reckless
  exploitation of nature and each other. The amazing and inspirational
  part of the story is that entirely without benefit of brains, these
  nigh invisible yet highly inventive little creatures reorganized their
  destructively competitive lifestyle into one of creative cooperation.

  The crisis came about because respiring bacteria (breathers) depended
  on ultra-violet light as a critical component in the creation of their
  natural food supply of sugars and acids, while photosynthesizing
  bacteria (bluegreens) emitted vast quantities of polluting oxygen which
  created an atmospheric ozone layer that prevented ultra-violet light
  from reaching the surface of the Earth. Cut off from their food supply,
  the hi-tech breathers, with their electric motor rapid transport, began
  to invade the bodies of larger more passive fermenting bacteria
  (bubblers) to literally eat their insides-- a process I have called
  bacterial colonialism.

  The invaders multiplied within these colonies until their resources
  were exhausted and all parties died. No doubt this happened countless
  times before they learned cooperation. But somewhere along the line,
  the bloated bags of bacteria also included some bluegreens, which could
  replenish food supplies if the motoring breathers pushed the sinking
  enterprises up into brighter primeval waters. Perhaps it was this
  lifesaving use of solar energy that initiated the shift to cooperation.

  In any case, bubblers, bluegreens, and breathers eventually contributed
  their unique capabilities to the common task of building a workable
  society. In time, each donated some of their "personal" DNA to the
  central resource library and information hub that became the nucleus of
  their collective enterprise: the huge (by bacterial standards)
  nucleated cells of which our own bodies and those of all Earth beings
  other than bacteria are composed.

  This process of uniting disparate and competitive entities into a
  cooperative whole- a multi-creatured cell, so to speak-- was repeated
  when nucleated cells aggregated into multi-celled creatures, and it is
  happening now for a third time as we multi-celled humans are being
  driven by evolution to form a cooperative global cell in harmony with
  each other and with other species. This new enterprise must be a
  unified global democracy of diverse membership, organized into locally
  productive and mutually cooperative "bioregions," like the organs of
  our bodies, and coordinated by a centralized government as dedicated in
  its service to the wellbeing of the whole as is the nervous system of
  our bodies. Anything less than such cooperation will probably bring us
  quickly to the point of species extinction so that the other species
  remaining may get on with the task.
     -- adapted from Elisabet Sahtouris' "The Evolution of Governance"
                        IN CONTEXT, #36, Fall 1993;

     My hope lies in the fact that life is resilient and that the
     greatest catastrophes in our planet's life history have spawned
     the greatest creativity. Ancient bacteria once blanketed the Earth
     by themselves, inventing all the ways of making a living still
     employed today (fermentation, photosynthesis and respiration) and
     devouring its "resources" with downright human thoroughness. (See
     box) Finding themselves in crisis, they invaded each other for new
     "resources" in a phase of bacterial imperialism we echoed so much
     later in our ignorance. This phase led to renewed crisis, because
     their early attempts at "globalization" into huge communities
     lacked protection for all participating members' wellbeing. But
     somehow they finally managed to hit on the cooperative scheme we
     call the nucleated cell, a huge bacterial community with a
     peaceful division of labor-- all this without benefit of brains,
     in time to avoid the extinction of all Earthlife eons ago. In
     fact, their invention of these huge cells is what makes you and me
     possible, for each of our cells is one of their descendant
     cooperatives, as microbiologist Lynn Margulis has so elegantly
     shown us (Symbiosis in Cell Evolution, 1981; Early Life, 1982).

     To see one of the actual cooperative evolutionary steps to
     multicelled creatures, watch the slime mold. It silently plays out
     its cyclic dance beneath many a rotten log, alternating its phases
     as individual cells with phases of communal creaturehood brought
     on by crises, as if to remind us of our own evolution as
     multicellular biological beings and to inspire us to our own next

     Dynamics of Natural Democracy:

     Let's explore this driving dynamic a little further. As
     Aristophanes said of marriage partners a long time ago, "can't
     live with 'em; can't live without 'em." Couplehood has its own
     interests, frequently in conflict with those of either partner. Or
     as one Indian creation myth has it, the cosmos began as a sea of
     milk in which a tiny wavelet formed, torn ever after between
     wanting to be itself and longing to merge back into the sea. Both
     are metaphors of individual and community in the endlessly
     creative dialog and metalog of self-expression, already recognized
     in ancient times. What matters in this dialog is that the
     contradictions do not become antagonistic.

     No one denies that we humans are social/communal creatures as
     surely as ants and gorillas, or that both capitalism and communism
     are social systems-- one cannot practice either as a hermit. Had
     we just a little vision we would see them both as experiments and
     evaluate them both as having imbalanced the interests of
     individual and community respectively, by making one subservient
     to the other, rather than putting them in balance with each other.

     It is of considerable interest here to observe that capitalism and
     communism both were in part inspired by the democratic political
     economy and social structure of the Native American Haudenosaunee,
     a union of native nations the Europeans called Iroquois. Ben
     Franklin, influential with the other founding fathers of the USA,
     on one side and Friedrich Engels, who influenced Karl Marx, on the
     other were inspired by this unique democracy. As Paula Underwood,
     herself of an Iroquois tradition, points out, "My tradition helps
     us learn that... individual and group needs must be met in ongoing
     ways for the People to survive as a People." She continues, "As we
     try to consciously and conscientiously fit economics and business
     back into a holistic approach to life and living; there is much
     that can be learned from societies and communities that have never
     forgotten that wholeness;... communities that understand Life as
     flows of energy,... [in which] everyone receives basic support....
     everyone contributes... no part is separate from any other part..
     [and the] health of the whole enables the health of any part
     thereof... [and] sickness of the smallest part impacts the whole."
     (Creation and Organization: A Native American Looks at Economics;
     World Business Academy Journal, vol 10 no 4, 1996). Unfortunately,
     neither the capitalist nor the communist systems inspired by the
     Haudenosaunee ever really thought in these terms.

     It is nevertheless a lesson to be learned from many native
     cultures that humankind is but one holon within the Earth
     holarchy. In such awareness, we all would see clearly the
     advantage in negotiating (not eliminating) our human differences,
     and we would also cease and desist immediately our denial of
     planetary interests and our profligate destruction of that natural
     entity sustaining us with ever more difficulty.

     If we were an intelligent species-- and I suspect aliens would
     have to judge us otherwise given our knowing destruction of our
     own life support system and our ridiculously juvenile antagonisms
     over what belongs to whom-- we would look to the planet that
     spawned us for guidance in human affairs, as was the original
     purpose of natural philosophy in ancient Greece. It would then
     become obvious that human affairs have reached the danger level at
     which cooperation must restore the imbalances of aggressive
     competition and hoarding if we are not to go extinct along with
     the tens of thousands of other species we are knocking out of the
     game each year.