It seems to me that the nature of any relationship between two or more organisms can be generally categorized as either symbiotic or parasitic. This applies to relationships between individual people with one another and with other lifeforms, and between groups of organisms like herds, colonies, species, tribes, cities, etc.
“Symbiotic” meaning a relationship that serves to improve, enhance, or enrich the life of all the participating organisms.
“Parasitic” meaning a relationship that serves to improve, enhance, or enrich the life of just one of the organisms while harming the life of the other organism(s) involved.
In nature there exists a whole spectrum of types of symbiotic and parasitic relationships. Some which are neutral to one party and beneficial to the other, and some which are harmful and deadly to both parties. Yet it seems there exists an exclusivity of either mutually or non-mutually beneficial relationships between organisms, symbiotic or parasitic, which is what I’m concerned with now.
I suspect this is another inescapable dichotomy existing everywhere in the natural world such as east and west, up and down, in and out. I also suspect it’s in constant fluctuation. Most organisms probably shift between different symbiotic/parasitic stages during their lives. A parasitic relationship between 2 species may be symbiotically supporting a 3rd species, which may in turn symbiotically support the parasitic relationship. What an intricate web Nature has spun while weaving life together using these relationships.
For instance the relationship between a lioness and the water buffalo may seem parasitic at first. The lioness hunts and kills the buffalo, eating its flesh and blood, which only seems to serve the lioness. Yet the relationship between the lion pride and the buffalo herd is symbiotic in the sense that the herd actually needs the lion pride to hunt their slow and weak in order to continue breeding faster and healthier offspring. Without the lioness the buffalo herd would eventually become as docile and slow as domesticated cattle.
Nature found the perfect balance, and therefore both the lion pride and the buffalo herd are enriched and mutually benefit one another’s evolution, despite their prey/predator relationship.
All the while the oxpecker and buffalo enjoy a harmonic symbiotic relationship The oxpecker species supports its own web of relationships with other organisms, and so on. It’s all connected.
When temporary imbalance strikes - when the lions are hunted to near extinction by humans, or if a severe prolonged drought destroys a population of buffalos - all species involved suffer. While other species, perhaps the mycology in the soil feeding on the increase in corpses, may be enriched.
Nature has innumerable ways of filling the gaps left by such an imbalance. Either a new predatory species emerges to hunt the buffalos or some new prey emerges to feed the lions. Because of this overarching, all-encompassing symbiotic relationship I believe the whole of natural living organisms is ultimately symbiotic and is meant to keep perpetuating itself.
While thinking about all these relationships a few ideas found me, and I’ve been trying to uncover more about them:
Symbiotic/Parasitic Net Effect (SNE & PNE): a measurement of whether an organism is ultimately symbiotic (life-enriching, creating life upward into higher complex lifeforms) or parasitic (life-taking, dismantling life downward into lower simple lifeforms), and how much so in either direction. I would guess an earthworm would have a high SNE, but something like a virus would have a high PNE. This is an ever fluctuating measurement and organisms can flipflop between them during different stages of their lives.
Symbiotic Awareness (SA): a spectrum of awareness among intelligent life that designates how aware an organism is of their own S/PNE. For instance, a human illegally dumping motor oil in a public lake probably has a low SA, while successful organic gardeners would likely tend to have a higher SA.
I believe that while individual members of the species may have wildly different SPNEs and SAs, their species has its own collective SPNE and SA. I also suspect that an increase in SA results in an increased SNE and decreased PNE.
I’m just starting to reflect on all the obvious questions that arise:
What is my personal SNE/PNE? How SA am I?
When I leave a lightbulb on in a room I’m not in, it seems like my SNE goes down and my PNE goes up. The energy for that light comes from a power plant, which likely comes from coal or nuclear power, which comes from a destruction of the balance of nature.
Every gallon of gas I burn causes pollution, which to some degree harms the overall balance of most surrounding life. Collectively CO2 emissions disrupt the entire balance of the broad web of life. What’s my role in that destruction? What steps can I take to become more SA, and to lower my PNE upon other organisms?
Hopefully soon I’ll have some answers to those questions and perhaps a better handle on these new ideas.
It might seem like I’m labeling SNE and PNE as a proxy for good vs evil, that parasitic behavior is bad and must be defeated somehow. That’s definitely not what I’m saying. Life operates on balance. Balance and interconnectedness of the symbiotic and parasitic are what allow life to keep going. It’s extreme and prolonged imbalance which will cause the game of life to end, so to find a healthy balance is my goal.
(Synchronistic Bonus: As I finished this article a child was watching Sesame Street nearby and I heard “The word on the street is: Balance!" and the whole episode was teaching children about the idea of bala3nce.)