Dinner With Janine
--Birju Pandya
3 minute read
Jan 28, 2013

Janine Benyus
A couple weeks ago I had the good fortune to sit down with Janine Benyus.  She is one of the pioneers of the biomimicry concept (she literally wrote the book on it) and has since been working to incorporate nature-based thinking as her life's work.  We sat down for dinner and over the latter half of the meal our entire group was treated to some rare insights from the natural world.  I thought I might share a few of those with the community :)  I will preface by saying that this is my interpretation of the conversation, not to be taken as anything other than my opinion!

The point that stuck most with me was the idea of mutualism.  In nature, there seems to be 4 ways for species to interact.  Lose-lose, win-lose, neutral, or win-win.  Competition is fundamentally lose-lose.  It is a part of nature, but undesirable, so nature selects out of it quickly.  Sometimes, competition can 'rise' to be win-lose, which again is something nature wishes to graduate from.  The evolution process is from the first listed to the last.  The highest form of nature is in mutualism, the win-win.  This is the manner in which multiple species not only co-exist, but create conditions for the other (and itself) to thrive.  This hierarchy is the world in which humanity was born :)

This idea was proposed quite a while ago and has since been backed up with plenty of science/observation, but the idea is not kosher with the social policies in place, then or now.  We have created a social system that is antagonistic to the way nature works - and to add insult to injury, the Social Darwin approach actually justifies the current system by calling it nature-ordained!

In general, the ideas of Darwin have been taken quite out of context.  The Origin of Species mentions 'survival of the fit' as absolutely important.  This is to say that the survival of a species depends on its ability to fit with its environment - the more mutually beneficial it is, the more likely it is to survive.  However, that is not how we learned about it in school!  Survival of the fittest - the lion is king of the jungle and you, little Johnny, can be the lion or the one that the lion eats... your choice.  The key idea here is that science is interpreted by humans, people who have subconscious (or conscious) wishes of what they'd like the data to show, and a propensity to find what they are looking for.

We spent a fair bit of time discussing the 'egalitarian' nature of living beings in natural ecosystems.  They did an experiment where they tracked carbon molecules as they came in from a tree.  They found that, eventually, that carbon molecule was 'given' to another plant a half mile away.  A shrub - unrelated in any way except that it needed the molecule and was thus given what it needed (with the help of a living soil network).  We may view this as a 'mindless' activity by a tree, and yet for a human to do such actions would be the height of unselfishness :)

Janine also shared a bit about human habitat and this idea of 'intelligent life.'  We think of human beings as intelligent for a variety of reasons, however one point where our intelligence fools us is this - we are maladapted to our environment.  We are not the only ones that build shelter, that climate-control, that seek resources for our family, etc.  However, we are rare in that we do so in ways that harm the ecosystem we are a part of.  Nature deselects this behavior as it does not fit the axiom 'life creates conditions conducive to life.'

The conversation had plenty of twist and turns down a windy road but wanted to share some of the points that stuck in my mind.  From a ServiceSpace perspective, when we say that gift culture is 'old as hills', it is illuminating to know that this isn't just true for humanity, but the earth itself!


Posted by Birju Pandya on Jan 28, 2013

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