The Human Social Ecosystem

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Here are a few thoughts inspired by Earth Day…

I was pleased to discover that the term “ecology” was first defined by zoologist/artist Ernst Haeckel in 1866–pleased because Haeckel has been for years an important presence in my home, since his beautiful illustrations of radiolarians (single-celled organisms) are a primary source of inspiration for my wife Wendy Drolma’s work as a maskmaker and sculptor (explore her site; the studio tour video shows Haeckel’s presence).

That line of influence stretching across centuries is, in my view, an example of how the complex ecosystem of human interaction operates. The field of Human Ecology shares much with the social sciences and is built on concepts from ecology like interconnectivity, community behavior, and spatial organization–all subjects that interest me. But while Human Ecology’s interdisciplinary studies focus on the tangible, I’m more fascinated by the ephemeral: invisible but impactful threads of consequence radiating in all directions among us, in the form of objects, ideas, events, subtle contact shared by absolute strangers. While the Haeckel>Drolma connection is easy to see, the less visible vectors of influence are just as real, with the power to shift our thoughts, nudge our behaviors, send our lives along new trajectories.

We’re all part of a vast, complex network of interdependencies, give-and-take, message-and-feedback, an invisible social ecosystem. Of course, the Internet itself, and more specifically, the behemoths of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and all their smaller siblings, come to mind immediately. More and more digital ink flows every day exploring just what the social networking phenomenon means to human life and development. But just like Korzybski’s “the map is not the territory,” those sites are powerful tools, but are still merely cyberspace metaphors for the real thing: our true interconnectedness.

In my book of short stories, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, I’ve attempted to illustrate, or embody, some of the ways the human ecosystem works, and to provide another type of metaphor for Nondualism. The stories are linked in a variety of obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Several of the stories are made up of smaller stories, apparently disconnected, but sharing a strand of commonality that has a definite, if difficult to see, effect on the characters. In the story “Echoes: Five Men Speak,” the strand is a music CD that passes from one man to another, all strangers to each other. That contact is not meaningless; in each case it has some small consequence… but as the Butterfly Effect tells us, even the smallest of actions can have big results.

“Echoes” was originally published in the online journal Jerry Jazz Musician, here. I hope you’ll read it.

And I continue to hope that little by little, our species is inching toward a shared vision of our Oneness.

Hope you had a happy Earth Day!

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