Humans are a superorganism. The effect that we have on our planet and environment as an individual is negligible but as a whole we have truly changed the shape of the world. The way that we work together is akin to a colony of ants. The difference is that all the colonies of ants aren’t connected to each other.
We will die as one, mostly. Maybe not this generation, but some day. It is truly beautiful that we are all so connected. It makes us strong and powerful; wholly unlike any life in our ether. But that strength is also our biggest weakness.
The lines we draw amongst ourselves — nations, ethnicities, religions, professions, politics, sports teams — are illusory. We operate as one. That isn’t a flowery metaphor. It’s biology.
We tend to think of ourselves as individuals but that is, in a sense, wrong. It is true in the sense that are bodies and minds are separated from one another, in the way that the cells of our bodies are also separated from one another. But most of us cannot survive alone in the same way that our cells die when outside our body.
We are dependent on one another and our different levels of organization into families, companies, teams, cities, countries, etc. mirror the groupings on our own bodies. Some cells are the lungs, others the heart, others the brain, others build our bones. All parts work together to make us, and we also work together to make us. It is us, not I, that thrives.
It is because of this interconnectedness and interdependency that we thrive so unlike any other. The only other species that have all of their members connected to one another are either extinct or linked by humans, like our pets. When there’s only one group of an animal species left we worry about them. But for us, it is our greatest strength. I do worry that in time we will come to see that it’s also our greatest weakness.
We are all parts of the human superorganism in the way that a skin cell is a part of our body. Some of us can die with the whole surviving. But the opposite is also true. One skill cell that turns cancerous, and that cancer can quickly spread. A failing in one part can kill the whole. We are too powerful and too connected not to destroy it all, some day.
It’s scary but entirely realistic to think that we may, by misfortune or malevolence, wipe ourselves out. We are seeing in realtime the impact of a more or less naturally occurring and highly contagious virus that kills 1–2% of us. It’s not hard to imagine that a far deadlier ailment may spread in a similar manner, particularly as we bioengineer them. Nature’s fruits are plenty and we make them mighty — most of us. I should note, we are not all connected.
There are a handful of human populations that are truly isolated from the world. They make up a minuscule portion of the human population today but if a terrible virus wipes out the human superorganism, the future of man may be in their hands; them, and maybe the astronauts. I hope they have a way to live without us.