“I” am a fan of Lynn Margulis’ ideas on symbiosis and the concept of holobiont. Simply defined, a holobiont is a collection of species that are closely associated and have complex interactions, an assemblage of a host and the many other species, such as viruses and bacteria, living in or around it.  Exactly, like you and me. Or, wait a minute, you and us. When we feed our community, things can change: an existential question arises. Who am I,  and who are these creatures with whom I cohabit? In what way do they determine who I think I am, I thought “I” was special!

If you ever moved to another part of the world you may recognize the feeling that things you considered normal, suddenly are peculiar and vice versa. If this is a benevolent community, you slowly accept your new normal, things come out that you never knew were within you. We adapt. Or maybe the “us” is changing, some move out or die, others take up residence. Slowly our innards are gentrified. We thrive by keeping up healthy relationships within and among our communities. We are discrete, yet permeable beings, biologically speaking.

But what about me as a person? My being determined by time and place I came into existence as a breathing being, taking the outside world in, becoming and active part of this incredible pumping and pulsing planet. But being is not enough to be a person. Personhood is bestowed on most of the sapiens among us at present, and then some, becoming a legal entity and identity, with rights and responsibilities. The world divided up into persons and things.  It is a bit more complicated than that, but the relationship between person and thing can take only certain forms, person can own thing, person can exploit thing, person takes care of thing,  person does not care about thing.

In general we tend to assume that all members of our species are persons, and only our species. Philosophically it is not that easy to define what this means, are we defined by consciousness, something else?  And legally, many of us were not even considered persons for a long time. Slaveholder owns slaves, Man owns woman. Even now, when it seems the legal playing field has leveled out, the extreme desire to own resources (in other words, greed) has created such a strange world, that if there were a continuum with person and thing on either end, a large part of the human population would probably cluster at the ‘thing’ end. Few persons owning many things, many persons owning few things. 

It is only natural, to a certain extent we are all driven by self preservation, but there is a trade-off since we are also social creatures, and not only that, we host and are part of entire communities with whom we need to live symbiotically to survive.

So what about greed, the excessive desire for resources, is it in our genes?  The pendulum seems to swing the other way, supporting the idea that cooperative behavior evolved and that maybe evolutionary processes take place at the group level. Apparently, groups of highly cooperative individuals have higher chances of survival. If this is so, is the greedy individual a dying breed? 

Are we not only holobionts but are becoming a superorganism, as a group of synergetically interacting organisms of the same species? It is maybe time to question and revise divisions of ‘person’ and ‘thing’ and embrace our newly understood biological being as a basis for re-conceptualizing our connective worlds.

And then there is the curious case of corporate personhood, epitome of ultimate greed, how will we collectively deal with and dissect these malevolent creatures in our midst.  

This is like opening a can of worms… but briefly for now, I am reminded of the Asian giant hornet. Yes, the one who became infamous for killing bees by the thousands, recently migrated from Japan. The Japanese bees however have, over time, come up with an effective countermeasure: by forming a ‘bee ball’ around the hornet and vibrate in place, the bees collectively turn up the heat that will ‘cook’ the intruder. Cooperative behavior at its best. 

To be continued…

insect