Species and Biodiversity are Concepts Unfit for Purpose.

A species is often taken to be an objective thing in the world. It’s not. It’s a concept about the real world. In academic language we call this the difference between ontology and epistemology. Species is one way of categorising life. Not to be conflated with what’s out there.

One can say species is a social theory about reality. It’s not the same as it. Knowledge is always imperfect and that’s okay. What’s not okay is when understanding exists that in many ways is far more insightful, but remains ignored (by so called proponents of understanding life, evolution, biology, conservation etc).

For example the ontological nature of gravity or the subatomic world will never been totally 100%. Newton had a theory, that got some people to the Moon. Einstein had a theory that can do that and much more.

Species and Biodiversity are in some ways like Newton’s appreciation of the world, but still a dominant theory used to understand life when Einsteins equivalent has been knocking around.

Many have already written about the gaping holes in the concepts of species and biodiversity, primarily from a biological perspective.

I just want to highlight from a social perspective why they are cranky old concepts. And why this is crucial to appreciate if one is genuinely interested in environmental matters, in other words ‘life on earth’, rather than just your career.

Firstly amongst all the chat about saving species and their adaptability to global warming, pollution etcetera, the epic diversity of the social capacities of nonhuman is basically entirely missed. Nonhuman animals have social histories too that enable them to thrive and adapt. Not that these should be treated in the fixed static way of ‘saving’, but that respect for these will ultimately stop us from falling into a deeper colonial hole of being judges of life, what aught to be saved, when, how etc…

When you start seeing this your connection to nature flourishes. It’s no longer an abstract connection to dna sequences or idealised representations of nonhumans, but understood as deeply entangled social and biological relations across beings, that the more we cut off the more we die off. Try taking all the ‘nonhuman’ life out of human being. They will cease to be living or human. Which brings me to point 2.

The social lives of non humans and humans are not mutually exclusive whatsoever. We coadapt. For example rats in London and rats in New York and rats in Rio de Janiero have different social histories and adaptations that have developed with the human social networks they live with.

This runs very deep. So deep that the political economy, one insight into human social relations, of the interventions used to protect a species or save biodiversity fundamentally shape the kinds of human-nonhuman relations that emerge, as well as nonhuman social relations and in addition the chemistry and biology of these beings and their evolution.

Failure to understand this is just a failure of the modernist mind which is hamstrung by being devoid of rich understanding. Just because the computer says no, doesn’t mean you have to say no. Let your understanding be enriched, or carry on refusing to see life beyond bad watercolour paintings of it.

In sum, biodiversity and species are concepts that hide all the interesting things that will help humans adapt with non humans, whilst also entrenching an understanding of life that’s just plain colonial ie ‘this is how the world should be saved or this is how humans can mould it to make it survive’

I wrote this in 20mins. So it’s not referenced or fully explained. But feel free to contact me if you genuinely want to understand more of what I am talking about and I can recommend some readings, papers and experiments.

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