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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Interdependence, Independence and Temporary Mutualism

The peony has finally bloomed. Yesterday, by the end of the day, it looked like this:

The black garden ants are no longer attracted to the flower and have moved on. I wrote a retrospective about the whole process, and you can read it here:

When I first noticed the black garden ants patrolling the peony flower head, I had not idea what they were doing there. My friend Susan had to point out to me that they were helping the flower to open and were enjoying its juices all the while. This is an example of mutualism. It is also an example of how temporary mutual benefit should work. I find this highly instructive, in view of other insect models we have been cited as something to pattern our lives on.

People take all sorts of examples from nature, and depending on their preferences, try to apply them to mankind. For instance, in another blog I am following, on Mother's Day there was a piece on self-sacrifice using a spider as an example:

Yes, there are spiders who offer up their own bodies as nourishment for the young. Some people see this as a heartwarming example of altruism, but personally, I find it a little grotesque. Altruism of this kind is not attractive to me. On the other hand, I  like the temporary mutualism of the black garden ants and the peony. I especially appreciate how there are no hard feelings once the mutual benefit is over. The ants just move on. There are no recriminations: "You used us when you needed us, but now that you don't need us, you're sending us away empty-handed! We feel exploited!"

Instead, perceiving that there is no longer a benefit here for them, the ants move on. The ants have other sources of food. The peony is just one of them. They do not actually need the peony, nor does the peony in truth need them, but both sides benefited immensely from the relationship while it lasted, and all is good.

I think that  ideally employment should be like that. People sometimes want extra money and benefit immensely from having a job. Other people sometimes need help getting a task accomplished, and they benefit from having people work for them. So long as both sides are happy, they should stay in the relationship. But employees should not regard the employer as their only source of sustenance, and employers should not think that they get to have people work for them forever. As soon as there is no longer mutual benefit in the relationship, each party should be able to move on.

The problem is not just that sometimes people think they should have a job, because they "need a job", which is a euphemism for saying that they want money and does not take into account the rights of employers to discontinue a position. The problem is also that employers sometimes think they "need" employees and try to make sure that employees do not have other ways of life available to them.

I think the whole business of penalizing people for living off-grid is an attempt to make sure everybody will always need to be employed in order to pay the bills. That is just as bad as employees thinking they are entitled to a job. "Slavery is a leash with a noose at both ends." Recognize the quote?

Forced dependence of anyone on anyone else is a nasty thing. The essence of the concentration camp is actually such a forced dependence. It goes beyond slavery, to something even worse: uselessness.

The maternal relationship is sometimes seen as the model for all other relationships, but people forget how temporary that relationship actually is. Dependence by young on a mother is designed to last only long enough to bootstrap the new entity while it acquires the skills it needs to make its way in life.

Which brings me to the kitten. I am a little worried about the kitten, because I have noticed that when I put the food dish down on the floor, the kitten does not immediately know where it is. It goes all around the dish in circles, until it finally finds where the food is and sets about eating hungrily.  I hope this just means the kitten is inattentive, not blind. It will need to be much more efficient at locating food if it is to become an independent hunter.

If the kitten is not able to learn how to hunt, then it cannot live on its own. In that case, it will have to become owned or die. The case of individuals who can't provide for themselves and will always need help is a special one. To the extent that they are dependent, then they also cannot be free. Sometimes that cannot be helped, But we should not foster universal dependence of all people on all other people.

So what about Bow? There is no question that Bow is not independent right now. He is still an adolescent, so it's not that big a problem, but there is no reason to think that he will ever be independent, The important thing for Bow is to be with someone who finds him useful, so that paying for his keep will not get discontinued.  Unlike other researchers, I do not consider the project over and done with, and I will not stop supporting Bow, no matter what.  But for all the exotics who are currently being confiscated from owners who love them and therefore have a use for them, and are being shut up in government run facilities, the situation is much worse. Even in the so-called private sanctuaries, you have to wonder what will happen when their public funding runs out.

Not every concentration camp is intended to be an extermination camp. Sometimes people really do intend to treat others humanely, only it does not work out this way. I am currently researching what happened in an internment camp run by the Japanese in China during World War II. The Japanese did not intend to starve their prisoners, but as they started losing the war, they could not afford to give them much food. It's not the intentions that count. It's the results.

Here's what I'm really getting at: animal rights activists say that ownership of animals is evil because they liken it to slavery. While I will admit that slavery can be a very ugly thing, it is not the worst thing that can happen to someone. The worst thing is to be thrown into a sanctuary or a camp or a centralized facility where no one can find out what is really happening to you. That is my worst fear, not just for me and other humans I care about, but also for Bow.


  1. The example of the mother spider offering up her body to the baby does not seem heart warming to me. It seems specific to that species, and they are insects, and I would hope humans would not equate themselves with this action. As human being we should care enough about ourselves so we can care for others. Actually, a lot of self-esteem people say you should care about yourself and invest time in yourself, and put yourself as a top priority. When you think positive thoughts about yourself and look out for your own welfare, you are better able to help others. A person who does not think much about themselves is not going to think much about others because their mindset not capable of this. Just my two cents. I think we should put ourselves as a priority, and this is not selfish. It is survival, and living to see each day is a good thing. You should care enough about yourself to want to value your own life and enjoy it. Does not mean you cannot help others along the way, but you should help yourself too.

    1. Hi, Julia. I agree that we should put ourselves first. I am just not afraid to use the label "selfishness" for that. I hate that "selfishness" has gotten such a bad connotation that "selfish" has become a synonym for "evil." It is not bad to put oneself first, and it seems only logical, from an etymological standpoint, to call that selfishness.