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aquato's picture

Just this morning, a professor remarked, “It amazes me how efficient we as a species have come to destroying shit.” This destruction fits with the definition of an invasive species as defined by the National Wildlife Foundation, which declares any species that “grow and reproduce quickly, and spread aggressively, with potential to cause harm” to be invasive ( When brainstorming ideas for a paper, my esteemed colleague rokojo suggested the idea of humans as invasive species, as put forth by Elizabeth Kolbert’s novel The Sixth Extinction. Even earlier, gmchung and I were kicking around the same idea; there were indeed some parallels between humans and other invasive species. We were connecting, for instance, the spread of infected, foreign frogs to indigenous golden frogs in Panama. Consequently, the golden frogs contracted the fungus and began dying in droves. Similar, since Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the “New World”, European foreigners settled the area and infected the Native Americans with smallpox and other fatal diseases. These few parallels, however, do not constitute a complete equivalence. Kolbert agrees that the human race is “arguably the most successful invader in biological history”, but can it really be that simple (Kolbert 210)?

The first instinct, when thinking of human invaders, would be to point towards colonization. A powerful country leaves its own soil to take over and inhabit another, usually for the prize of resources. The invaders go to “exotic” places, imposing their own standards on the natives and their land. Colonization, destructive as it is, fits with the NWF’s definition, but it is done intentionally. All other invasive species have become invasive without conscious intention.

Kolbert’s analogy of humans as invasive assumes colonization, but could there be another angle? In Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation, Ozeki’s character Lloyd—a farmer of European descent, himself—dubs the critics of “exotic” plants as hypocrites. Understandably, it doesn’t seem very sensible for a foreign people to be complaining about equally foreign plants. He says that “our plants are as immigrant as we are” (Ozeki 67). As opposed to colonization, immigration is a plight of those who wish to better themselves by coming to a new country. The “exotics” to which Lloyd refers usually correlates to immigrants of low status. The intentions, sometimes, are not even to get to one country or another, but rather to leave their own.

It’s interesting to think about how each type—colonization and immigration—affects the culture of the area. Each type of “invasion” brings its own culture along with them. However, colonization is more aggressive in placing its own culture as the only standard in the area. Regardless, local and colonized customs end up mixing together to make a fusion. For instance, when Spain conquered the Philippines, the languages mixed. Local dialects fused with Spanish; my mother, a Filipina herself, speaks what she calls a broken Spanish. In another instance of this fusion, they dance with Spanish-influenced clothes on local sugar cane poles. Other times, though, there is no fusion at all, when foreign invaders force natives to assimilate to their own. This is most prominent in Native American spaces. Immigration brings a different story. When Eastern-european and Jewish peoples came to America later on, they kept their cultures without imposing it on others. Instead, they carved out their own spaces in ethnic neighborhoods and enclaves, keeping their culture to themselves. Simply by proximity, however, their culture may also start to mix with the native one.

Lloyd believes this mixture to be non-aggressive and beneficial. He thinks that the “introduction of species into new habitats serves to increase biological variety and health” (Ozeki 67). Yes, the mixing of two cultures can create something new, but once those two are fully mixed, there is now only the one mixed culture instead of the two separate ones. Over a global scale, this effectively decreases the diversity; Kolbert says that “global diversity—the total number of different species that can be found worldwide—has dropped” (Kolbert 212).

Diversity aside, there still stands to be a native response. I suppose, then, that the biggest difference between normal invasive species and humans is not dealing with the invader, but rather the invaded. Often in nature, the invasive species usually wins—that is to say, a single invasive bamboo outgrowth can overtake a whole ecosystem, or a white-nosing fungus can decimate an entire bat population. In such a short span of time, these assaulted species do not really have the capacity to resist invasion. Instead, you find bamboo littered in the Northeastern US, and bats that, once infected with the fungus, instinctively leave the cave to search for food, only to die of exposure. Humans, on the other hand, have more consciousness on the matter. They reject standards, or adapt, or throw out colonizing powers completely. This human consciousness is what prevents us from flying around blind with white-colored noses.




Works Cited

Kolbert, Elizabeth. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt, 2014. Print.

Ozeki, Ruth L. All over Creation. New York: Viking, 2003. Print.

"Invasive Species - National Wildlife Federation." Invasive Species - National Wildlife Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.



Anne Dalke's picture

I’m liking, for starters, your using (and acknowledging your use) of your “esteemed colleagues,” rokoyo and gmchung: so nice to see you recognizing not only various assigned texts, but also your classmates, as rich sources for your own thinking (should they take a place in your bibliography?).

I’m liking, next, your willingness to deliberate on the degree to which the actions of “the most successful invaders in biological history” are like-and-different from the “invasive species” denounced by the National Wildlife Foundation, and also your shifting the focus from what invaders (of whatever species) do, to the actions of the invaded.  There’s a nice movement here, well supported by apt quotes from both Ozeki’s and Kolbert’s texts.

Your first point of differentiation is that of “conscious intention,” your second that humans, positioned differently, may differ on how willfully they travel, to what degree they are-or-feel forced to relocate. To conclude, you return to the notion that “humans have more consciousness”—and to the claim that, with consciousness, comes the power to resist. I’d like to think through that idea with you some more. How often have colonizing powers been resisted? How important is consciousness in governing our behavior? Are you familiar with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel? (I know it’s a favorite among scientists on this campus.) Diamond is a geographer who attempts to answer the question of

why Europeans came to dominate the world rather than, say, New Guineans or Aztecs. He concludes that geography is the key factor. Eurasia, with its huge ... tracts of land ...contained the most plant and animal species suitable for domestication. The opportunity to rely on food production rather than hunting and gathering allowed many Eurasian societies to become sedentary and develop civilization. The east-west orientation of the continent allowed plants, animals, and technology to spread quickly to other civilizations at similar latitudes. On other continents, even those societies that did develop agriculture that allowed them to grow beyond small bands of hunter-gatherers were confined by geographical factors to relatively small areas with little contact with other regions; consequently their technology lagged behind that of the Eurasians, while their immune systems, exposed to relatively few diseases, remained susceptible to visitors' germs. Thus, the fact that we do not live in a world in which aboriginal Australians colonized and enslaved the rest of the world is not mere happenstance.

…and not necessarily the result of “consciousness.”  Geology, anyone?