The relationships that define functioning biological systems exist on a spectrum ranging from vital, mutually beneficial relationships at one end to parasitic and predatory ones at the other. Vital relationships are when the parts within a system are essential to each other such as the vital organs in our body. After vital relationships are those that produce adaptive value but are not vital, such as arms or legs. On the negative side of the spectrum are parasitic and predatory relationships that act to disrupt these cooperative networks. Overall, a certain threshold of cooperative, mutually nourishing and-or defensive relationships is essential for coherent biological systems to exist.
The fact that destructive agents exist requires coherent systems to devote a certain portion of energy to contend with antagonists. Our immune systems are an example of this expression. Adaptive value is measured relative to a particular system. For example; predators nourish themselves at the expense of prey. From the predator’s perspective, this is an adaptive trait. From the prey’s perspective, it is destructive. Getting away more effectively or otherwise defending against the predator is adaptive to the prey.
This spectrum of relationships is expressed on many scales; on small scales within and between organisms, on larger scales in local environments and ecosystems. Out of this “relationship economy” come living monuments to the necessities of being. Complex adaptive systems that nourish and or defend coherence are what we see embedded in biology’s perceptions and responses. Each organism is tuned to this purpose. System properties that more effectively contend with the necessities of being over time are “selected” over those that do not.
The environment is the primary influence in defining the relationship properties of the systems that exist within it. Desert ecosystems tend to express a more defensive posture than do lush tropical ecosystems. All ecosystems have relationship elements from across the spectrum but the local emphasis is influenced by the necessities dictated by the environment.
Once behaviors get established, they tend to have their own “nourish and defend” aspects to them. This means behaviors that were once relevant to survive in one environmental circumstance can be carried over and adaptively misapplied in other settings. Renegotiating environmental variables is a necessary part of navigating over time in a changing environment. The impact of organisms can become part of that change agency. Ultimately nature manifests signals experienced by organisms as pain or pleasure to communicate when behaviors lose or gain value but there is an “echo from the past” aspect to these signal patterns. Not everything that worked to get us here is relevant to take us forward. This means we have to undergo sacrificial “pain” to give up established patterns that are no longer adaptive.
The same spectrum of relationships in physical biological systems exists in our human social relationships. The emphasis we express is built on environmental influence factors. An individual raised in a climate characterized heavily by parasitic and predatory relationship behaviors will develop a more defensive profile. The same influence factors apply at cultural levels. How we relate has a certain momentum that tends to make what has already happened more likely to happen again. This is especially true of large or long practiced behaviors. This can make pulling out of maladaptive behavior cycles difficult.
Insights into our behaviors can be applied constructively or destructively. We can apply our understanding toward the vital mutually nourishing end of the spectrum that strengthens the community of relationships we live in and depend on or toward the parasitic and predatory destructive end that diminishes vitality. This application influences our experience.
Understanding and applying this information is the oar we have at our disposal to intentionally influence what we experience. In the absence of this applied understanding, we ride on the experiential whims of ignorance and happenstance. We are defined by the environmental womb that formed us, with no voice in the choir that determines our experience.
There are a variety of opportunities available to us. Some of those within our reach can lay untapped until they are employed. Others are lost unless cultivated during limited windows of opportunity. Seeds out of geographic place or out of season for example.
Social systems, like all coherent systems, require a certain threshold of vital and beneficial cooperative relationship opportunities to be realized to service the integrity of the social group. Beyond this minimum necessity are the opportunities we can cultivate to make our lives more vibrant. Parasitic and predatory behaviors within this cooperative “matrix of necessity” can create a local benefit but diminishes and-or destroys the fabric of necessary cooperative networks. If a system is taxed beyond the threshold of its ability to cope with destructive agents its integrity collapses.
Behaviors at the destructive end of the spectrum demand more devotion of energy to defense. More energy to defense shifts energy away from the cultivation of cooperative opportunities. When our immune system activates, for instance, it shuts down energy devoted to growth, maintenance, digestion processes, and so on. This is to redirect those energies to the negotiation of the perceived stress. This realignment of energy is true within our body but also within and between species, within and between cultures, and between our species and the environment. This is the relationship economy that defines our experience operates.
We can become agents of our poverty on the altar of short-sighted gains or we can nourish our potential depending on whether or not we cultivate our opportunities. Having said that; it is not an easy proposition to overcome the momentum of parasitic, predatory and-or maladaptive behaviors that may be embedded in our nature. These events influence our perception and response profile and shape our experience. This does not mean to suggest opening the floodgates of trust. Extending unwarranted trust to each other is a danger when destructive agents exist in the social economy. Finding the place where we can realize the maximum opportunities that can authentically move forward is the only way we can effectively make progress happen.
If this analysis is correct, or at least useful as a lens to more clearly understand the role we play in experience, what are some ideas on how would we begin disciplining ourselves to strengthen the bonds of integrity we depend on and improve our experience? What would this look like?