Parasitic Systems

What if we are not in any substantial sense actually running this whole slapdash random walk and historical sideshow of human society, culture and technology ? You are probably familiar with various flavours of parasitic creepy-crawly; insects which invade the bodies of other insects and harvest their living matter for their own selfish requirements. There is even a type of fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis) which creates zombies of ants. The spider wasp (Pompilidae) lays an egg inside a live spider’s abdomen and the larvae consumes the spider from the inside. All things considered, parasitic infestation or invasion represents a particularly nasty way to die, coopted for another organism’s reproductive or otherwise existential requirements.

Consider, though, and from way out of left-field: that we are the hosts for those social, cultural logics, structures and systems which replicate themselves through us. It is not easily spotted as the sense in which these systems exist as distributed informational and complexity systems, not traceable to a single coordinate or referential location, misdirects us through their lack of nodal or overtly focal agency that we might recognise or expect of a living thing. These systems (and their effects) do, however, clearly and self-evidently exist and possess profound consequences for all of us. We are just not perceptually or epistemologically wired to directly perceive that which is not notionally similar to ourselves; nodal, embodied and distinct. It may be that our own living forms, experiences, subjectivity and wordly choices and effects generate necessary shadows and reflections within those associated self-propagating dynamical systems which might always be to some extent just beyond liminal access or direct awareness; like a mandatory systemic blind-spot – irreducible, unseen (if accessible indirectly) but essentially and structurally distributed and ubiquitous.

We extract utility and benefit from the networked sense in which our social and cultural systems exist but perhaps never consciously notice the simultaneous benefit or value being extracted from or through ourselves and our activities and variously interdependent lives. Our own agency and subjective experience is not really in question as a valid and verifiable presence or potential entity but it has to be maturely weighed against and (as reflexive of) those distributed matrices that exert themselves through us in various ways, that provide opportunity and incentives to us in numerous guises but mischievously subtle and without agent volition beyond a pure emergent self-propagating essence. These systems reproduce themselves as complex dynamical flows of patterned energy and information and while they may not represent any form of life as we classically understand it, I think a case could be made for such ambiguous anamorphic entities as possessing many of those features that we attribute to living systems.

There is (much) more to say on this but the first thought to surface is that if this were true, and if all communication, language and information transmission was primarily a means of supporting these disembodied pseudo-life forms of self-organisational complexity, then even the act of raising this as a matter of speculation may only really serve some indistinct purpose of distributed systemic recombinatory metamorphosis and self-propagation. If we are the hosts, we may be fooling ourselves as to our own importance within the broader form and flow of history. Indeed, if we are the hosts, we only survive (in whatever limited sense any of us ever does) to benefit that inverse and disembodied self of unbounded continuity and recursive extensibility that the parasitic energy and information flows of disembodied presence must perhaps ultimately represent. Immortality in this sense is real, but not in ourselves so much as in a self-propagating and evolving matrix of patterned systemic influence, storage and replication that might form parasitic and symbiotic relationships with its utterly unwitting human hosts.

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