Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006
Voices / Essay

The primary movement

A predatory attitude has gained a temporary dominance in our society and our politics. But from the cells of our being all the way to the stars, cooperation is built into nature.

Peter Adair produces annual calendars that celebrate the cosmos and our planet. Information:

Westminster West

I am surprised frequently when Republicans decry cooperative and supportive government as a “nanny state” and Democrats do not respond with resonant language.

This has not always been the case. Theodore Roosevelt was unafraid to call out captains of capitalism as “malefactors of great wealth,” and his cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, lambasted the “economic royalists” of his day.

It would be fair to say the ideal of our Republican brethren today is a “predatory society.” The economic guiding principle of this culture is survival of the richest, and the fundamental right is the freedom to exploit.

The right-wing stirrings of belligerent attitudes are of a piece with this orientation. Condemnation, hatred, resentment are predatory expressions of fear, seeking to devour a designated target through emotional and mental energy.

* * *

The constellations of cooperation and predation are drivers of evolution. These dynamics are found not only in our fraught political sphere but also throughout the unfolding universe.

In the bosom of dark matter, cooperative clumping produces the gravity that allows atoms to coalesce and collapse into stars and galaxies. Stars are fiery and intense consumers of themselves, resting within the quiet creative stirring of dark matter.

Closer to home, there is little plant and animal life possible on land without the distributing, cooperative, nourishing networking of fungi beneath the ground.

Fungi signal — talk — to one another, as well as to tree roots and bacteria. To conserve and enhance their medium of connection and communication, fungi help create soil.

Fungi are the supportive underbelly of living Earth. Thriving predation on the land — “nature red in tooth and claw” — rests upon harmoniously functioning ecosystems, themselves maintained by ubiquitous and egalitarian fungi. Predatory activity is the thrilling show upon a stage of cooperation.

Our very cells testify to the power of mutual benefit. Food we digest and break down into fats and sugars cannot be used by our own distinctly human cells. These nutrients are instead ingested by non-human units within our cells.

Mitochondria, formerly free-living bacteria that teamed up with human cells long ago, transform the fats and sugars into energy for the cells’ functioning. This form of cooperation is called symbiosis. Symbiosis led to the development of multi-celled organisms, creatures such as ourselves.

* * *

We humans are beings of imagination, but our imaginative capacity does not belong to us; it belongs to Earth’s dreaming.

Except for a handful of valuable indigenous strains, our collective imagination is committed to an extractive violence upon Earth, a hostility that is also expressed politically.

A predatory attitude has gained a temporary dominance.

No matter the appearance, though, predatory behavior is a secondary activity; cooperation is the primary movement.

Predation is simple and cooperation is complex, because cooperation brings into form something previously unimagined, a new unity, a fresh way of being, an enlivening foundation of a deepening wholeness.

Like what we do? Help us keep doing it!

We rely on the donations and financial support of our readers to help make The Commons available to all. Please join us today.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.


We are currently reconfiguring our comments software. Please check back if you’d like to read or leave comments on this story. —The editors

Originally published in The Commons issue #488 (Wednesday, December 5, 2018). This story appeared on page E1.

Related stories

More by Peter Adair