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Of, By, Entangled in the World

The Unknown's picture

The cultural, political, and materialistic myth of disconnection and destruction: people are unique, alone, and more intelligent than any other species. It seems that we are only separate from the natural world in the way we use language and politically shape the identity of our species. Part of people’s resistance to accepting the idea that people depend on and are dependent on nature is that to fully accept this idea means that people must therefore succeed to “nature” and all of its systems, which are mostly unknown and unexplored. To admit that people are a link in a flow of entities that run through all life is to relinquish a dominating human idea that dictates that people are above and separate from their surroundings. To think ecologically, people would have to accept not being divine, the most adaptable, or special entities, but realize they are bodies that are composed of other bodies, permeable to the mostly unexplored, outer world.

People constantly see themselves as separate organisms and individuals, but are actually a vital component in the interconnected webs of natural systems. An “individual” has never existed. The idea of “individualism” has been socially constructed to promote materialism and capitalism, but is not based in fact or reality. As a matter of fact, people are comprised of about 100 trillion microbial cells, with each person consisting of a different combination of extremely small living organisms, or micribiomes (Zimmer 1) As stated by Stacy Alaimo in “Porous Bodies and Transcorporeality, ” there is nothing singular about the word “body”: “Moreover, it’s clear that bodies contain other bodies and that the activities of the smaller bodies contained within a larger body can be different than those of the larger bodies” (Alaimo 1). People’s bodies are not single or individualistic, but permeable, letting the outer world constantly penetrate and shape them. People are of the natural world and always coming into contact with it. The outside world surges through people, specifically by mircrobiomes, or small creatures that live inside people which change the people they inhabit as well as are changed by the people they reside in. They are part of a process that is not centered on them or any one “body.”

With this disconnection in people’s perception of interaction with the outside world, there is only a metaphorical division between people and nature. This separation puts humans at the center of the world, suggesting that other creatures react to humans, instead of seeing humans as parts of systems, where each action leads to a reaction, which creates larger ecological effects for all creatures. As stated by Stacy Alaimo in “Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality”, people lack understanding of themselves in part because they do not see their connections with the world:

In the case of Cartesian bodies with well-defined boundaries, the problem is that we come to see ourselves as separate from the broader world and thus fail to discern how we affect and are affected by this world. In failing to recognize that we are interfaces with a broader world we also fail to recognize the ecological dimension of our being (Alaimo 4).

Alaimo is concerned with this interpretation and explanation of nature. People’s bodies are the environment. They are a link in connections that affects the entire planet. With this false and misguided understanding, people are misrepresenting what it means to be a human, because they do not know. They are defining “human” as something separate, uniquely intelligent, and superior to all other creatures.

In order to survive, humans require the continuous movement of microbiomes in their bodies. According to Stacy Alaimo, bodies or systems are only sustainable when microbiomes and other organisms are flowing through them: “These systems can only sustain themselves through flows of matter-energy through them. They both draw matter-energy from the world about them and release it into the world” (Alaimo 3). Bodies need all sorts of flows infiltrating them to continue living. Scientists have discovered that the greater the diversity of microbiomes in people’s bodies, the healthier they are. These organisms that move through humans do not belong to people, but consist of microorganisms. They do not only pass through people, but they change them, by leaving a piece of themselves behind. These beings transform into something new as they pass through bodies. Humans incorporate these species into their lives and depend on them for survival, mostly without realizing they exist. Most importantly, the ability of human bodies to act is increased and easier due to the constant flow of microbiomes.

There is no isolated placed. There are only illusions of human genius and supremacy. Bruno Latour in “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene” redefines what it means to be human in-terms of solidarity and shared loss, rather than independence and separation:

To be a subject is not to act autonomously in front of an objective background, but to share agency with other subjects that have also lost their autonomy. It is because we are confronted with those subjects-or rather quasi-subjects-that we have to shift away from dreams of mastery as well as from the threat of being fully naturalized (Latour 4).

The planet cannot be seen as a separate entity. There are no abstract ideas when it comes to people’s place in nature. The Earth cannot be described or seen without humans; people’s views of nature is not separate from nature, but instead effects the systems they are entrenched in. Nature is not something to overcome, but rather a system to work in and with. There is no individual story, but a common thread of interactions, changes, and manipulations. The problem then becomes how people can learn, discover, and appreciate their shared ecologies.   

 To understand people’s connections and dependence on nature, people must garner ecological intelligence. Chet A. Bowers in “Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence” describes ecological intelligence: “In short, ecological intelligence takes account of relationships, contexts, as well as the impacts of ideas and behaviors on other members in the cultural and natural systems ” (Bowers 45). To harness ecological intelligence is to understand the metaphors that are presented through changes within ecosystems that effect changes in other ecosystems, effectively reshaping the orders of interdependence inside natural systems. Thinking ecologically involves using contextualized thinking, which means looking to patterns in nature and deviations from those patterns to understand how natural systems function.

There is nothing that does not effect or is not affected by humans. Stacy Alaimo explains that to think ecologically means thinking in a way that sees any obstacle, as a nature obstacle whose solutions do not simply benefit one animal, one person, or one ecosystem, but everyone who inhabits this planet:

Not only are our bodies trans-corporeally constituted by all these things, but there’s an entire network of interactions and events that affect the entire planet… It also allows us to see how these issues are not simply issues of people who have a particular aesthetic appreciation of “nature”, but rather how they are issues of the very fabric of our bodies and minds or what we are  (Alaimo 5).

To solve these problems means understanding that no action is confined. This means understanding that people are formed by the world, as well as framing nature. The amount of pollution that people emit, does not go unnoticed, and does not only contribute to changes in weather and the frequency of natural disasters, but effects every living creature on this planet. Everything is close and pertinent. There is not distant place, action or reaction.

To understand nature and its complex systems, people must see and discover the interconnections within the interdependent world. Through gaining knowledge of these webs, people also learn their place and purpose inside the structures that are out of their control. This means that people find their function only by thinking ecologically. In understanding how natural systems operate, people will ideally learn to recognize the beauty in being one of many, a vital link that supports and creates, rather than destroys life. Thinking ecologically, calls for a redefining of what it means to be human, not as simply a species that seeks to continue its own lineage, but as part of a shared history whose survival is contingent on sustaining and giving life to the systems it is deeply co-dependent on.


Works Cited Page


Alaimo, Stacy. "Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality." Larval Subjects. 24 May 2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

Bowers, C.A. "Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence." OMETECA. 14-15. 43.

Latour, Bruno. "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene." New Literary History 45, 1     (Winter 2014): 1-18.

Zimmer, Carl. "The Wired Atlas of the Human Ecosystem | WIRED." Conde Nast Digital, 25 Sept. 0011. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.             <>.