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Living Systems in Evolution

Elisabet Sahtouris

copyright © 1999 by Elisabet Sahtouris


The Body of Humanity


The new scientific worldview we are forming is already showing great influence on our broader cultural worldview. Just as mechanical images inspired the development of industrial and social technology, organic images of self-creating networks are beginning to inspire us to reorganize all human society as a more harmonious and humane venture.

Gaian evolution itself is pushing us in this direction. The evolution of a worldwide body of humanity is very much a step -- in fact, the newest step -- in Gaian evolution. Like the rest of evolution, it was not planned, but is free to occur and consistent with the overall pattern of the dance.

Much as we humans have been creating this step through our technology, we have not been creating it intentionally any more than we intended to destroy our environmental life support systems as we created our industrial lifestyle, or any more than we set out to create a means of committing species suicide when we invented nuclear weapons. We have just begun to understand that these are the real or threatened consequences of recent human activity and that they put our very survival in question.

In just the past few hundred years of our half-million years as tool-making humans, we have used our big brains and clever hands to produce a technology that changed the whole planet and united us into a new kind of being. Without strife, we have built an efficient worldwide system of mail, telephone and electronic communications, a worldwide air, sea and land transport system, a global money exchange, a United Nations with many cooperative agencies, and a vast system of non-governmental organizations. Our multinationals are global, we have a World Trade Organization and a World Parliament of Religions; we are continually working on international agreements of all sorts. Yet we have hardly even been aware that we were evolving into a single body of humanity. It happened as naturally as the evolution of our physical bodies.

Most of our understanding of ourselves, of our evolution, and of our social history has, after all, been gained only very recently. Before this century, we couldn't even know what was happening in the rest of the world while it was happening, much less trace its roots into the dim past. Quite suddenly we live in an age of telescopes that show us the most remote parts of our universe and its most ancient history, an age of microscopes that let us look deep into the tiniest parts of our own bodies and the rest of nature. Only in this age have we begun digging up the fossils of our early ancestors and the remains of the first human civilizations, making them into books and films that tell an ever more connected and meaningful story.

Only now can we see our whole planet from space and begin to understand it as a great living being. Only now do we see that, from Gaia's perspective, life evolves as a whole -- rock transforming itself into what we perceive as a great variety of separate species, as well as into what we see as the various environments of land, sea, and air. But, as we have seen, environments are not lifeless geological habitats in which living species evolve; they are themselves collections of living species and their products. Sea, soil, atmosphere, and even hard rock are all products of Earth's geo-biological metabolism as a live planet.

If all creatures and environments co-evolve by changing themselves and one another, then to understand any particular species we must try to understand how its evolution is related to the evolution of its environment. As we said, rabbits cannot evolve without their habitats and vice versa -- all we have is rhabitats. In particular, we can only understand ourselves as humans by trying to understand our co-evolution with the rest of nature.

Let's go through the story of our human evolution just once more, recognizing that its pre-historical phase is still very murky and that alternative stories are more plausible to some of us. Let's imagine seeing this evolution from a distance and sped up as a short film.

First we see small groups of humans evolving in dense forests in the warmer areas of the Earth. The climate changes and the forests shrink -- we see them walking upright on the ground, groups of them wandering in search of food, some finding permanent shelters in caves and other protected places. Using the resources of their environment, they begin to make things that are of use to them, things that compensate for their lack of fur, sharp claws, and long teeth; things that help them hunt other large animals for food, bone tools, and clothing; things that help them carry, store, and prepare food. They learn to control fire for warmth and cooking, and to carry live embers from place to place. When their families or tribes grow too large to live together easily, some members bud off to form new tribes.

The human creatures thrive, multiplying and spreading out as they follow food and water supplies. Great ice ages push them back to warmer climes, but each time the ice thaws, they are lured toward the lush new growth springing up in the wake of the ice. Eventually their food supplies draw them to all the continents. Some remain tribal hunter-gatherers or nomads while others begin the settling process we call civilization.

In the best climates, groups of them settle to make houses, villages and gardens, to keep animals and grow crops, to store food for dry or cold seasons. Some begin making boats to explore along rivers and venture out to islands in larger bodies of water. Villages grow into towns, and towns into larger agricultural societies that transform considerable areas into manmade ecosystems. Barter among settlements and wandering tribes develops an economy of exchange. For thousands of years they bud off new nomadic tribes and settled colonies as numbers slowly expand and they spread over the habitable areas of the world, developing their arts of plant selection, animal husbandry, pottery, painting, and metalwork.

Then we see the larger agricultural economies overrun by tribes of wandering nomads and hunters from harsher climates, armed with weapons, taking them over, establishing dominance systems of males over females, rulers over those ruled. They build kingdoms and unite them into empires through warfare. More and more land is taken for human use. The old self-creating, self-balancing ecosystems are destroyed as natural plants are cut or burned, their animals driven off, both replaced by human-bred monoculture crops and livestock, as well as by walled cities of stone and brick.

Within and between empires, wars are fought and goods traded, building networks of land and sea paths that connect human societies with one another. Along these paths, news, ideas, and stories flow together with people and their products, animals, seeds, microbes. Sometimes unwittingly, people change whole ecosystems as seeds or animals they import take over and drive out the native species. Cities, in which natural land is replaced by man-made buildings and streets, grow up as centers of ideas, inventions, new ways of life. Their crowded conditions also breed disease -- plagues sometimes wipe out whole populations. Natural disasters parch their croplands, flood or bury settlements, reminding them of nature's power.

The borders around kingdoms and empires change; continents are mapped into countries; human populations grow and divide into ever more languages and cultures. Ecosystems have shaped human civilization by drawing it to favorable climates, into fertile river valleys, along coasts, and wherever humans find the easiest overland transportation routes. In turn, humans transform the environment ever more to their use, especially by cutting forests for the use of wood and to clear land for crops; by breeding and herding hoofed animals that eat vegetation down to its very roots. Humanity proves to be a desert-making species -- to the extent that the deserts it creates are the only sign of human existence visible from the Moon to this day!

Cities crowd more and more people together in artificial environments; raw materials are transported to the city centers from more and more distant places, while the products manufactured from these materials flow outward again toward markets. Crops and animals native to one part of the world are planted and raised in others.

Human technology evolves from horses and sailing canoes to steamships, jet planes, and spacecraft, from weaving looms to computer industries, from town criers to television. A world once dark by night except for forest fires is lit by a twinkling cobweb of electric lights. A world once silent by night except for the lone cry of a bird or mammal is filled with the sounds of machines and music. Mines and quarries have been dug deep into the Earth and scratched out of its surface, their stone, metal ores, and fossil fuels transformed into human products.

Rivers have been dammed up and diverted into unnatural paths, flooding ecosystems behind them, making deserts in front of them, for the sake of the insatiable human demand for electrical power. Whole forests have been cut for lumber and fuel or burned to clear land for grazing and agriculture. More and more natural land is plowed under by farmers and paved over by builders of cities. Deserts grow larger while more and more species of animals and plants are killed off as humans exploit nature for their own purposes.

The atmospheres, the waterways, the soil, and the oceans become polluted by man-made fertilizers, pesticides, heavy metals, and other waste materials of human production. Yet food production and other technologies have suddenly exploded humanity itself into vast numbers with rapacious appetites for food and energy, destroying and outstripping the resources Earth can provide.

Wars are fought on an ever larger scale, ever farther from home, and involving greater numbers of people spending longer times in strange countries. A holocaust shocks the world with its unthinkable but true atrocity of man against man. Yet war brings people together in positive ways -- soldiers stay to make friends with and marry their former enemies, raising children together; others leave their war-torn countries to adopt new ones in seeking a better living.

Wars drive technology and industrialization to new heights, especially through the development of an enormous fossil fuel economy that spawns vehicles on land, airplanes in the sky and ever more ships crossing seas. More resources are dug and stripped from the Earth than ever before. Nuclear energy is a product of war -- two atomic bombs are blown up in warfare, deliberately destroying a part of man's own civilization. Others are blown up as tests, destroying and polluting ecosystems, raining fallout from the atmosphere worldwide. The peaceful use of nuclear energy proves dangerous as well, with accidents creating radiation sickness and damaging foodstuffs. But the war that gave birth to the use of nuclear energy also gave birth to the widespread use of computers and the ability to create an Information Age to succeed the rapacious Industrial Age.

Despite an intense Cold War after the two hot ones, in a world divided into Capitalist and Communist camps arguing which of their systems is best for the world, more and more people swell transportation systems as they are sent to work and live in one another's countries, or as they choose to go there on holiday. They learn one another's ways, sharing more and more ideas. Cultures are mixed within political borders; cultures are shared through networks of local and foreign communication; ever larger numbers of people become literate and learn what is happening in their world. Even people who never set foot in another country can eat and use the whole world's products and know the whole world's ways of life in full sound and color.

People prove that they are capable of mingling and sharing, yet governments maintain hostilities. Artists and scientists try to bridge the gaps between hostile peoples, to share their works and knowledge, their fears and hopes for humanity. The threat of nuclear holocaust has driven even politicians to seek new ways of working out differences. The old separations of distance, language, and culture are bridged as the human technologies of transport and communications bind humanity inevitably into a single worldwide body. But that body is plagued by the vast numbers of people who have been dispossessed in its building, who go to bed hungry and ill, who die as children.

Human technology makes the leap into space -- for the first time ever, we see our exquisitely lovely planet from afar, as a living whole. Humanity suddenly awakens to the recognition of the vast damage it has done to its environment and thus to itself. It is beginning to understand the threat of exhaustion or irreversible pollution of natural waters, fossil fuels, and other supplies; to recognize its power to destroy the whole human world and force the planet into new paths of evolution; to feel the effects of its greenhouse gases in an atmosphere that is growing uncomfortably warm and could kick the planet into an ice age or worse, a hot age. Just before the second millennium ends and the third begins, scientists recognize human effects on the planet as its Sixth Great Extinction -- an extinction progressing more rapidly than any before it, even that caused by sudden meteor impact sixty million years ago. It is the first extinction caused by a single species. We see the enemy now, as Pogo told us, and it is us.

·    ·    ·

On the other hand, an indigenous wise man, a Hopi Elder, tells us that "We are the Ones we have been waiting for." We -- not some imagined rescuing Savior -- are the only ones who can turn disaster into opportunity; we are the ones who can understand our interconnectedness in the great web of life and our power to honor it, treat it as sacred, cease damaging it, restore it. Will we understand that in time?

The history we have just watched is an impressive scenario, its saga ending on a frightening note. One species -- one new upstart species -- has appropriated the entire planet to itself, turning rich and varied ecosystems into fragile monocultures, vast deserts, and choking pollution. Are we a kind of planetary cancer, looking heedlessly to our own expansion at the expense of our own support system? Why is the only species with so much capacity for hindsight and foresight so destructive?

Let's be brutally honest with ourselves, for if we are the ones to change things, then we must look squarely at ourselves. The most obvious feature of human social, political, and economic systems continues to be empire building through dominance: humans dominate other species; the female half of our own species is still largely under the control of and exploited by the male half; most of the Earth's countries are still dominated and exploited by the few most powerful ones or by the banks and multinationals they have created; individual countries maintain their own dominance systems of class, caste, and discrimination, the few hiring the many to work for them and bring them the financial advantage that drives our economies; vast numbers of people have been dispossessed by this domination and driven to abysmal poverty and ill health; wars continue to erupt as dominance over land, resources, and beliefs are contested; the dominant culture is eradicating natural and cultural diversity.

Why this pattern of dominance, of competitive exploitation? Are we unique, or is this a normal stage in our species evolution?

We have already compared the evolution of the body of humanity with similar events earlier in our planet's evolution, suggesting that the development of communications and transportation, and the shift from competitive exploitation to a cooperative division of labor, are comparable to earlier processes -- ancient bacteria evolving into protists, protists evolving into multicelled creatures, ants evolving into ant colonies, and so on. All these show us a pattern repeating now, as modern countries evolve into a worldwide body of humanity.

In this comparison, the body of humanity is not fully evolved, because exploitation and dominance still grow side by side with cooperation, and one of their most dangerous effects is the ability to destroy diversity in favor of monoculture -- in energy production, in agriculture, in cultural fashions. The globalization of an adolescent American CocaCola and pop music monoculture that destroys all other cultures through the seduction of their own adolescents is no more viable than the genetic engineering of identical plants and animals. The vital importance of diversity to effective cooperation in nature has yet to be clearly recognized by the dominant human culture.

Surely there were far more failures than successes as ancient bacteria evolved into protists -- countless instances in which unceasing exploitation and hostilities among bacteria multiplying within a single cell wall led to the destruction of the whole enterprise. Perhaps, in a parallel fractal way, globalization struggles to happen on countless planets in our universe that have evolved civilizations, but we humans cannot afford to be one of the failures, as we have only one chance -- the common cell wall that binds us together is the boundary of our planet itself.

If we understand the evolutionary pressure on us now to complete the organization of this new body, we can work at the task consciously and rapidly. To see more clearly what needs to be done to complete our organization into a single healthy organism, let us look again at the successful evolutionary precedents of eukaryote cells and multicelled creatures.

The organization of the bodies of multicelled creatures -- including us -- is much like the organization of eukaryote cells, except that organs take the place of organelles, a brain evolves instead of a nucleus, blood and lymph vessels instead of cytoplasmic transport channels for supplies and wastes, and so on. Since most of us are more familiar with the workings of our own bodies than with the workings of single cells, it may be easier to see the relationship between our individual bodies and the whole body of humanity than to keep talking of cells.

Let us, then, play out this metaphor, or analogy -- this comparison of our familiar bodies with the still unfamiliar great body into which we are uniting -- by regarding countries and multinational corporations as organs, by seeing shipping routes that carry supplies and products as blood and lymph systems; communications networks that spread information and ideas as a nervous system; and attempts at building some kind of world government as first steps in the evolution of a brain that can coordinate all the body's activities. And let us acknowledge that the Gaian experience accumulated in the evolution of our bodies, as well-functioning and representative living systems, is worthy of respect.

Consider economics and politics -- the ways in which we manage our products and ourselves. How do we organize these basic functions of collective humanity and how does this compare with the organization of basic functions in our physical bodies?

Economy -- the way we organize the making and shipping, the selling and buying of our human products and services -- meant `rules of housekeeping' back when the word was coined and everything people ate and used was grown or made within households. Now our human household includes all of Earth and we might call economics our `operating principles' and ecology our `organizational design.' Our economy is a worldwide system of manufacture and trade that works by both national and international rules. Yet this system did not evolve to serve a worldwide household at all -- it was not intended to become a single system. It grew out of rather lawless competition among individual nations, though it was eventually forced by its own evolution to make international rules for managing it. Unfortunately, these rules still serve the interests of those who already have economic advantage better than those who do not.

The industrial countries that set up the international economy, with its World Trade Organization management, simply have more money and power to make political and economic decisions than do the poorer countries that supply their raw materials and cheap labor. If we continue the analogy with our own bodies, we can easily see why this is an unhealthy situation. The parts of our bodies -- its `nations' -- work together as organs and organ systems, such as bone, blood, muscle, and digestive organ systems. If all these organs and systems did not work harmoniously within themselves and with one another, our bodies couldn't function.

Imagine, for example, what might happen to us if our bodies' economics worked like the economics of human society. Raw material blood cells are produced inside bones all over the body, just as raw materials are produced in supplier countries all over our world. The raw material blood cells are then transported to the `northern industrial' lungs, where the blood is purified and oxygen and nutrients are added, making it a useful product.

So far, so good. But imagine the announcement of the heart distribution center, "Today's body price for blood is such-and-such. Who will buy?' Some of the bones in which the raw material blood cells are produced can't afford the oxygen-rich blood they need to stay healthy. But rather than lower their prices, the industrial organs destroy the surplus blood that no one can afford to buy, or put it in storage, hoping to sell it later. Bone cells begin to die of starvation. The starving bones would soon affect the whole body, making it unhealthy, crippling or even killing it.

It is clear that a few organs cannot exploit the rest of the body to their advantage. Nor do we find families that starve three children to overfeed the fourth. When we think of our bodies or our families, we have no trouble understanding why all their parts must be healthy. Yet, we do not manage our national or global economies by this same wisdom.

Even though our products, including our food, originate all over the world, we do not share fairly the means of their production or their distribution. The UN tells us that our food supplies are presently enough for all humans to eat well, but industrial countries own or control the bulk of food supplies, and they can set prices for the world market. Rather than let prices go down by flooding the market with food, they hoard or destroy surplus food and pay farmers in their own countries to stop producing, while huge numbers of humans go hungry.

Countries that grow food crops for export to industrial nations often do not grow enough food for their own populations, many have starving people. Bangladesh and the Sahel countries of North Africa, for example, have suffered starvation during years in which their food exports were at their greatest height. So much of their productive agricultural land is devoted to export crops that the very people hired to grow these crops have insufficient land for their own crop needs.

It is for reasons such as these that our news media often report starvation side by side with `crises' of overproduction! The solution, except in times of emergency, is not to give away surpluses to the hungry, but to redistribute the arable land so that they can feed themselves.

In our bodies, troubles of this kind do not arise, for our bodies evolved cooperative economic systems from the start. Illness or injury can of course stem from outside sources or from internal breakdowns, but our brains quickly detect such problems and see to it that any part in trouble gets immediate help from other parts. In its natural wisdom, our body recognizes that any unhealthy part threatens the health of the whole. It is no doubt fortunate that our everyday consciousness is not in control of such matters, for we have proved, at least so far, much less wise than the `automatic,' unthinking parts of our brain that coordinates body affairs. We shall return to this observation in the next chapter.

It is obvious that a living body can be healthy only if its systems function cooperatively. As long as human economics remains more competitive than cooperative, we hold up progress toward the evolution of the body of humanity.

The problems in our world economy have become even worse because starving populations -- strange as it seems -- grow faster than well-fed populations. It is as though the bone cells of our bodies, seeing their kind dying off from starvation, produce ever more of themselves in a frantic attempt to preserve life. Poor people see their children dying and make more. It is natural for them to love their children and to feel that the more they have, the better off they will be. More children mean more workers to bring in family income and care for parents in their old age. Over-population began when the colonial process broke up the communities of self-sufficient and self-regulating populations, as will be further discussed in Chapter 20.

The well-fed people of richer countries do not have such worries, and they have the opportunity to do many interesting things besides raising children. There is no overpopulation problem among rich people -- on the contrary, some rich countries have an under-population problem. It has become quite clear that if everyone in the world had plenty of food and opportunity, we would not have developed a population problem. Yet our efforts to solve this problem are all based on curtailing populations by law and contraception rather than by recreating self-sufficient communities, raising living standards and increasing opportunity.

People who are not hungry are also less angry. Much warfare in our modern world is a result of conflict between rich and poor -- poor people trying to get back land and resources taken from them in colonial times by industrial countries, industrial countries trying to keep or get back their control over these sources of raw materials.

Which brings us to politics.

·    ·    ·

After the Second World War, the most powerful nations divided themselves into two camps embracing the competing political-economic systems of capitalism and communism, as we all know. One side said people should look out for their personal interests and the whole society would flourish naturally through their competition, as in Darwin's theory of evolution. The other side said people should cooperate by sacrificing their personal interests to work for the good of the whole society.

The differences between capitalism and communism actually proved to be a good deal less sharp in practice than in theory. Both systems had essentially the same industrial structure: bosses and workers filled communist as well as capitalist factories and lived basically similar lives on both sides. Both sides recognized to some extent that their own people could no more afford to ignore collective society's interests than collective society could afford to ignore individual interests. Unfortunately, they did not extend this recognition and practice to their international politics.

What their international politics were really all about was the struggle for power -- especially the power to control the cheap raw materials of the less developed world to feed their industrial processes, as Alvin Toffler well described, and as David Korten pointed out more recently. Each side concentrated power and disempowered its people, wasting much of its human potential. And each side claimed its system would be best for the whole world to adopt and did whatever it could to push or persuade developing countries into their camp.

The competition of the big powers -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- for the allegiance of the rest of the world fanned political conflicts and outbursts of warfare that periodically threatened all humanity with their escalation into global nuclear war. Both major powers made enough nuclear weapons to destroy their opponents as well as themselves and seriously damage the rest of the world, including other species. By the time the Cold War ended, their nuclear and germ warfare technologies had spread to China and many smaller nations, creating an ongoing threat. The international trade in arms has become an enormously profitable enterprise. In fact, worldwide revenues from the sale of arms and drugs exceed the entire budgets of many nations.

Everyone knows by now that there is no way to fight a nuclear war without bringing on catastrophe for both sides as well as for those not involved in the conflict. If the body of humanity continues evolving, rather than destroying itself, we will see ever more nuclear disarmament agreements. But disarmament will not be enough to bring peace and equity, for there is another danger perhaps even greater.

The human mania for making monocultures is apparent in our social behavior as well as in our agriculture, because we simply have not recognized the vital importance of variety or diversity in any natural system. No such system or body could function if some of its species or organs had the power to make the other organs over in their own image. Imagine just a single such circumstance -- imagine your heart trying to persuade or bully your liver into being just like it. Its success would clearly be a disaster for the body as a whole. Do we really want the Malaysians or the Inuits or whoever is not like us to become just like us? Nature makes it abundantly clear that the secret of success is mutually cooperative variety.

The fact that humanity divided itself along lines that promote individual versus collective interest, is not so surprising when we look at nature. This conflict between individual and collective interests preceded the organization of protists from individual bacteria and the organization of colonies and multicelled creatures from protists. In fact, the whole Gaian system must constantly work out this conflict.

It is clear that every natural creature from paramecium to plum tree to puma looks out for its own interests by feeding and protecting itself as best it can, just as Darwin said. What Darwin failed to see was that nature is not made only of competing creatures in backdrop environments, but rather of those living holons we know as wholes in themselves, that are also parts of larger holons -- all nested into holarchies. Now, if every holon at every level in such an arrangement looks out for itself, we have a situation in which selfishness continually transforms itself into cooperation!

How this is possible can be seen easily by considering our bodies once again, and in the next chapter we will show examples elsewhere in nature. Each of our cells is a living system, or holon, in its own right. Yet, as a holon, it is also a part of larger holons -- organ, organ system, and whole body -- together forming a physiological holarchy. Clearly every cell manages to look out for its own interests -- to care for itself and to reproduce itself. But the organ it is part of also has self-interest, as does the body in which the organ resides. So we have a situation in which there is self-interest at every level of holarchy.

Two things can happen in this situation: one is that some level gains the power to destroy other levels to meet its self-interest, in which case the system will break down, as we saw in the example of blood distribution; the other is that self-interest at every level leads to negotiations that bring about cooperation and well-being in the whole system. This should remind you of our evolutionary pattern: unity-> individuation-> negotiation-> cooperation-> unity.

Darwin saw evolution as driven by competition among individuals. Later evolutionists noted cooperation and altruism within species, suggesting that evolution must be driven by competition among species for ecological niches in which to flourish. Richard Dawkins then proposed that both these theories were incorrect, as evolution was really driven by selfish genes that struggled to maximize their expression in the overall gene pool. What none of them had the vision to see was that they were all right, but only together. Self interest at all levels -- species, individual and gene -- motivates nature's creativity and health.

Even a couple learns that couplehood has interests in its own integrity apart from the interests of either partner. That is, a couple is a two-level holarchy, with levels of individual and couple. As the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes put couplehood dilemmas: "You can't live with `em and you can't live without `em." If the couple has children, they become a family with a new level of holarchy, which is embedded in a community, and so on. It is very important to recognize that self interest is not a bad thing, except when it is not contained and modified by negotiations with other levels of its holarchy. This clearly suggests that a world economy can work well only if it recognizes the need for strong local economies within it, rather than destroying them.

Nature works out dynamic balance between self-interest and interest beyond self, as we can easily see in our bodies. It is no doubt for good reason that every cell in our bodies contains the gene plans or resources for the whole body, since most of our cells must stay in place and thus cannot take what they need from a common gene pool when they need it, as do the streamlined free-flitting bacteria. The genetic directions, or resource libraries, in all our cell nuclei may even be organized as a holarchy of holons representing interests at all levels from the whole body to those of each individual cell. This is speculative, yet we do know that our whole bodies are clones of one cell and that each cell switches on the genes that concern its particular organization and work. What is speculative is whether each cell is in some sense directly informed by its nucleus about the rest of the hilarity's needs. If that information is not in each cell and continually updated, then it must be available through non-physical communications among all cells. Otherwise our bodies could not function.

We know that there is communication among cells and that each cell's organization and work are related to that of its organ, its organ system, and the whole body. This entire system unfolded during our embryonic development in such a way that each level of the physiological holarchy from cell to body looks out for its interests, and thus they are pushed or pulled into cooperation.

If every cell in an organ worked for its self-interest, but the organ as a holon did not, the cells might well kill one another off in competition. Surely they would be disorganized to the point where there was no functional organ. In the same sense, a society in which people looked out only for their individual interests, because they were not asked to do anything in the interest of their collective society, would not be a functioning society. This is why capitalist societies do have governments to manage the public interest, to create public works and institutions, to limit free enterprise and tax some of its profits to meet society's needs.

Consider now the opposite situation, where the organ or the society is so powerful a holon that it can demand the complete self-sacrifice of its cells or people in serving its interests. The cells or people thus enslaved would no longer be individuals in their own right. Science fiction writers have tried to imagine humans becoming robot parts of a mechanical society, but people complain bitterly about being cogs in a wheel, and they stop functioning well. This is why communist countries have either failed, as in the Soviet Union, or discovered they must give people some opportunity to work for their individual interests if their societies are to work as a whole, as in China.

Capitalists were right that people must work in their own interests, and communists were right that society must work in its collective interest, but both were are wrong in claiming that one or the other will do by itself. The present worldwide shift toward free-market capitalism will work in the long run only if it incorporates the best aspects of socialism -- the concern for the whole as well as the parts, including concern for the welfare of the entire body of humanity and its planet.

Nature never requires any individual to choose between its own interests and that of its larger body, society, or ecosystem as humans have been doing in forcing such choices, as we did between capitalism and communism. With the breakup of the communist world, it becomes ever more important to heed Toffler's advice that we stop looking at every idea in terms of whether it comes from the left or the right and see instead whether it takes us forward or backward. And the best way to see that is to look at living systems and how they function when healthy.

·    ·    ·

The body of humanity has not yet evolved the truly impartial and cooperative world government it needs to coordinate its interests as a whole. Looking back at evolution again, we recognize that there must have been a number of steps in the transition from monera to protists as competition among individuals gave way to their cooperation as members of a new whole. We know that one of the most important steps was the formation of the protist nucleus from the DNA of the various monera living within the same cell walls -- the nucleus that could coordinate the information needed to carry out the activities of the whole. The same step was accomplished when nervous systems formed in multicelled animals that had evolved from protist colonies in which different member cells did different jobs.

Something of this ilk is clearly happening as the body of humanity struggles to form its new identity. Since the close of World War I, people have recognized the need for some kind of organization to coordinate and balance national and international interests. First they tried the League of Nations, then the United Nations. Although the UN has accomplished much in the way of programs and services, the competitive interests of member nations still dominate on important issues, limiting the powers and often preventing the smooth functioning of the UN. Some powerful organizations spun off from the UN -- such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization -- clearly serve the interests of powerful nations and multinationals over the poorer nations. In this situation the wealth of the world is ever more unfairly distributed and the gap between rich and poor grows dangerously wide.

The rise of official UN NGOs -- UN-affiliated non-government organizations, many of them grass-roots base -- is an interesting development. It remains to be seen whether they will be incorporated into the present UN structure as it is reformed, or whether they will become a kind of parallel UN and history works out which will become the main organization. A world government, if it follows evolution's lessons, will not be autocratic or authoritarian but will become a world government in service to the needs and welfare of the body of humanity, as are our brains and nervous systems in our individual bodies. If our human civilization is to survive, we have no choice but to solve this problem before long, completing our evolution into a worldwide body of humanity with a functional coordination system.

We must also ask: How can the body of humanity function if half of its cells suppress the full expression of the other half ? It is a blight on humanity that neither the UN nor any single country in the entire world, not any multinational corporation, has yet paid more than lip service to training and selecting women for half of its governing and professional positions. Nowhere is it recognized that such equality may be fundamentally necessary to the health of any society, that a system of sexual inequality inevitably breeds conflict while losing valuable resources and justifying every other form of inequality, oppression, bigotry, and antagonism.

Our biggest job is to change our whole way of thinking to a larger perspective, to recognize ourselves as a body of humanity embedded in, and with much to learn from, our living parent planet, which is all we have to sustain us. How can we as a species live in harmony within it? How can we as people live in harmony within our own species?

The sooner we recognize ourselves as being in transition from exploitative and divisive practices on all fronts to a united and harmonious living system, and the sooner we recognize that there are natural models to guide us, the sooner we will complete our healthy evolution by our own choice and efforts.

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