In-Groups and Out-Groups: A Biological Perspective

There is a certain fungus that is able to control certain ants to serve as a vehicle to further its own reproductive ends. The ant, in this case, dies in service of reproducing the fungus. There is also the case of the bacterial parasite T. Gondii which edits rodent brains to be attracted to felines so they get eaten, which helps the bacteria to enter its spawning grounds, which is in a feline gut. (it also edits other mammal brains in different ways) There are numerous cases of parasites and viruses that have the capacity to influence other organisms in service of their specific ends. It could be said that this is the norm in nature – competing influences that ultimately result in emergent behaviors that we typically identify as belonging to “an organism” but are in fact based on the collective property of many organisms.

When we consider that we are also a collection of various organisms that are influenced by each other, each with various agendas and various means of carrying that agenda out, we can begin to see that what we call our choices, and what we think of as our identity, may in fact be a byproduct of the parliamentary constellation of influences that rises from the pool of biological organisms that define us. We may be a reflection of the relationship field from which we are composed which extends beyond human genetics.

A recognition of this, at least from the parasitic sense, there is a now “theory” on the block called ; “The parasite-stress theory” which sees our personal and cultural identities through the lens of the parasitic creatures that influence us to service their various needs. In some real respects, it posits that our cultures in large part are an emergent property of the parasitic microbes that influence our behaviors.

The evidence for this idea is the strong correlation between the strength of parasites in the relationship field of the people in a given culture and their relative state of peace or conflict in addition to whether or not the culture is conformist or individualistic etc. In other words, what we see as culture may be a mirror effect of the relationship field between organisms.

According to this video; the parasite-stress theory may be a general theory of culture and sociality. In a nutshell it acknowledges the fact that the various strategies organisms have to influence other organisms to serve its purposes do have a role in defining this thing we call us. My thought is that it would be a more accurate lens if it looked at the full spectrum of organisms, some of which are on the mutually beneficial range of influence – commensal organisms having a stake in the success of the community it depends on – and doing what they can to offer benefits such as stability, defense, long life and so on. In other words, I think this theory is on to something, but is not yet complete. If we factored in the full spectrum of influences, (rather than just the parasitic segment) we would be able to understand that our opportunity for cultivating an intentional experience of life, rather than riding ignorantly on the winds of biological chance, is rooted in whether or not we intentionally tend the biological relationship field of which we are, on which we depend and that defines this thing we call “us” to be inclined toward the commensal, mutually beneficial segment of the spectrum of relationships.


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