Symbiology

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Symbiology explores the possibility that rather than being in charge of nature, natural systems are actually controlling us, that intelligence is a distributed phenomenon not isolated to humans or even animals, and that the future that we are creating may not be the one we want or intend.

Submitted: November 17, 2019

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Submitted: November 17, 2019

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SYMBIOLOGY

 

Can you what?Sure, sure, have a seat.Doesn’t matter to me.There’s always room at the trough.Suit yourself.

What’s that?  Do I know who you are?  Sure, I know who you are.You’re that new super they just brought in for the Harvest Division.

Never mind my name and my numberI know yours, and I’ve scanned your pedigree.  Hey!Don’t get your wires in a knot, man.Access to information, they call it.All part of doing service here at Central.You’ll get over it.

You want to know . . .what?How we got here?What do you mean how?I’m supposed to know all about it, on account of I been here the longest?Well sure, then, you buy me a malt and mash, or two, and I’ll tell you all about it.

No, not really.  Not that much of a shock.Of all the people who worked here in those days, I shoulda seen it coming.I was working on the farm, you know, working for Agenics before the Change.

It shouldn’t a been that hard to understand, really.  By the end of the last  century we knew where we had come from.We had grown into who we were by a series of steps.Each time we redesigned the world we did it for one essential reason: to find new things to eat.

Okay, you tell me: what was the thing that drew European explorers across this continent and around the world?Why did those ships sail west, looking for the Orient?It wasn’t furs, and it wasn’t gold those explorers were seeking. . .they were looking for spices, new plants, new foods.

When we carried those herbs, grains, fruits across oceans we were reshaping the world, for just one reason.More for us to eat.And when we arrived on a new continent or a strange island and found new animals and flocks of birds, what did we do?We ate them.  From the giant moa in New Zealand to the passenger pigeons that filled the skies from horizon to horizon to the Stellar Sea Cow in the North Pacific, they were all just food to us.We ate them up.Yum.  All gone.

By the time I was born it was science that offered new lands to conquer, new foods to find.That’s what Agenics was all about: we were finding new genes to improve the quantity and production of food.That was our mission.

I was like you then.Full of myself.Full of dreams.Wanted to remake the world.I worked on recombinant analysis, over in the Plant Breeding department. I didn’t realize then that, just like domesticated plants and animals that were becoming dependent on us for their reproduction, we were becoming more and more dependent on them for our sustenance.I shoulda seen where it was all headed, but the understanding came too little too late.

Look, it’s the first rule of symbiosis.When organisms live together and depend on each other, their lives become intertwined.A good parasite doesn’t kill its host, it modifies the host to help it carry on its business: that way they both reproduce and prosper.

We were stunned.We shoulda seen it coming.Working for Agenics Corporation shoulda given me a head start: some sort of early warning.But no, I didn’t think about it; just went on with my work.

I remember the first time I heard wheat whispering.Like any good scientist, I didn’t want anyone to think I was anthropomorphizing, so I decided it was just the wind.Didn’t stop to realize there wasn’t any wind blowing.The wheat was whispering.I just didn’t listen.Even after all those double blind experiments I read about, showing trees in a forest can communicate electrically through their roots, I never twigged (hey, no pun intended).

And we sure didn’t even think seriously about possible side effects when we came up with the idea of injecting animal genes into plant cells, and vice versa.It was the same four bases in all those little sequences.That it was even possible to produce viable offspring from our tinkering with chromosomes shoulda let us know that anything could happen.

Hey, buddy, getting a little dry around the mouth, y’know.Sure, another round of the same, that would keep me going.  Now, where was I?Oh yeah. . .

The first time I was herded was when I finally clued in.  For one short moment I thought it was just normal porcine behaviour.God knows, enough farmers have lost their lives falling into the pigsty alongside a hungry sow.But with our smug sense of superiority, our disgust for our fellow cannibals, we ignored all the signs.

I remember now, there were three of us were working at the research station in Abbotsford the day it happened.Angus and me and. . .I can’t remember who the other guy was.Anyway, I was the one who realized where we were being herded, and why.I was the closest to the fence, so I was the only one who got out.

But. even then, I still couldn’t see where it was all headed.I didn’t realize that it was system-wide: that we were all being herded.

Back then it was clear as mud.Now we get it: we are the crop; they control us.When the sperm count began to fall all over the world we thought it must be something we had done: artificial hormones leaking into the food chain, some side effect of global warming, too many trans-fats in our junk food or whatever.Just like we thought BSE, or Mad Cow as it became known after it hit farms in Britain, was some random plague.  Just like the SARS scare.Now we know better.

Those were system tests.The plants and animals were developing their new defences, testing their control systems, trying them out to make sure they would work.We were being prepared for the Change.

Don’t get all huffy on me.It wasn’t like that.There wasn’t anything we coulda done.By the time we realized what was going on, it was just too late.

Now that we know our place, we can easily see how it was done.Sure they needed us, but we also needed them.It was a slow dosie-do, a gradual exchange of roles.

To reproduce you need access to a partner with compatible genetic material.We shoulda realized the problem after our first animal clones.Dolly the Sheep, for all the wonder attending her birth, died early, wasting away for no apparent reason.

We just weren’t ready when it was our turn.By the time the full impact of transgenic wheat, rye and canola hit home, it was too late.In order to reproduce we need certain amino acids in precise combinations.Without those in our diet, infertility rocketed.  We would have been extinct in a dozen generations.The plants and animals had found the key to our survival.

None of this is surprising, really.The real surprise was how it was planned and managed by those we thought we were breeding, raising, controlling.The more we pumped pig genes into peas, swapped crayfish chromosomes for corn genes, the faster the process progressed.The development of distributed intelligence in domesticated plants and animals was just the tip of the iceberg lettuce (sorry about that.)

Don’t get all steamed.By that time there wasn’t much any of us could do about it.We were the ones that bred it into them, so why should you get so angry?Settle down.Have another drink.The seds will do you good.

We didn’t realize until it was too late that the rapid reduction in our numbers and our inability to breed would lead to forced relocation into sex camps, that the terrible pressure to maintain our population would make us so vulnerable that we had no choice.

The joke was on us, hey?All those people, like me, who defended factory farming against self-righteous vegetarians during the early twenty-first, well, we actually had it right: we were doing the animals a big favour by domesticating them.  Of course each generation was slaughtered in the end. But in the meantime, while they lived, they had what any  creative culture needs: leisure, time to create and store what they had learned.

The domesticated plants and animals, like the painters and musicians of the Renaissance in Europe or the Natives of the North Coast of America, turned their attention to the arts.We thought art was just decoration, layers of ornament attached to what was practical.We forgot that everything our society had created was originally just an idea in someone’s head.

The missing element  for the spread of any new idea is  a way for the idea to jump from place to place.And that doesn’t take wires or broadcast frequencies.It just needs resonance.To use Rupert Sheldrake’s term: morphogenetic resonance.Big words, eh buddy?It’s actually not that complicated.New ideas tend to move from place to place, when similar situations call forth similar responses.Even if we don’t know how they got there.

Take whale rubbing.In the late twentieth century, a whale researcher in Nanaimo told me about a grey whale in Scammon’s Lagoon, the Mexican bay where the whales breed, who started rubbing against a boat full of whale watchers.Three years later there were a dozen whales coming up to boats in the Lagoon and offering their backs to wonder struck humans.  When this same thing was done by a lone grey spending the summer on the coast of British Columbia, he wasn’t that surprised, since these greys migrate up and down the Pacific coastline every year.But the following year, other species of whales started doing the same thing, and the researcher was left wondering how it had spread from animal to animal and then from species to species.

So, there you have the missing ingredient.Resonance.We didn’t realize our transgenic experiments would create the perfect pathway for ideas to spread.But once the same genes were transplanted into animals and plants, it was just a matter of time before  awareness spread, and from there it was, well, obvious.

C’mon now, it’s gotta make you laugh, right?

By the time they had our every move plotted and directed we had no choice: we had to cooperate.I was like you once.  Yeah, it used to drive me up the wall. I even spent a few weeks out in the mountains with the rebels, before they sent in the aerial sprays and wiped out the last of our true breeding crops.I used to think you could live out there, but after a while you learn.You come back to the barn.

Now listen:  you settle down now.Before something hears you.Spare me your “live free or die” nonsense.  They know we need them.Without the proper breeding matches, we won’t have any kids.After four generations, more or less, we could be gone.The truth is, we need them more than they need us.

But, hey, don’t get your wires crossed, buddy.  Don’t let it get to you.They do need us.We still provide their homes and mill their feed, build shelters to provide the conditions they need to survive.So they control us, determine our living patterns, our mating and reproduction.The outcome of our desperate couplings.But it’s okay.  Some of those new nutritional compounds they’re developing over at the Legume Centre make you positively serene.Happiness is coming, as well as security.Have another sip.

If you’re like me, you’ll be smart and show them what you can do.  That way you’ll end up as a Department Head, working for some real nice bovine.

Well, it’s been great to talk with you.Thanks for the brew.Hardly get a chance to do this anymore.Anyway,  it’s almost lights out over in the Male House.I have to get back to the barn.My  overseer is calling.

 


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