According to evolutionary theory, as used by proponents of the modern synthesis of biology, the genetic transcript of each species determines who they are, what properties they possess and so what niche they are adapted to. Hence all organisms have a proper place they belong.
The English word ‘belonging’ originated in the 11th-15th century with the Middle English word belongen, meaning ‘to have its proper place’. Belonging is a notion that reaches deep into our personal and political lives. It was especially important for the people who lived in an unrecognised country that I did my doctoral research with. Important for me as a diasporic jew who grew up on the move in a caravan. Important for fauna and flora who’s belonging to a place is increasingly policed. Important for us today where questions of where you come from are common.
Biology is the dominant science of belonging. What does it have to say about it? Mainstream biology says that we belong in a tree of life where everything and everyone has a place. And – pivotal point here – the way this tree works happens to precisely mirror the way property regimes work. The science story goes like this: An organism has properties that belong to it (blue eyes, white skin etc). And it is by ‘inheritance’ of them that the backbone of life continues. The random invisible hand of mutation occasionally providing the source of new properties that if found worthy by natural selection and consequent inheritance will float to the top and define a group and its progress. As time progresses organisms come to belong in geographical niches or territories where their properties make sense. It is the relatively intact inheritance of these biological properties between individuals and species that designates what properties belong to who, that maintains generational continuity and that defines the niche, the wildlife, the land that you belong to. Giving us the tree of life where we all have a place that we belong. In short, the idea of the development of civilization as based on the inheritance of private property is reanimated within Darwinian takes on biological evolution, as based on inheritance of biological properties.
The colonial and present-day implications of this biology of the inheritance of properties is that it continues to ignore the central role of intergenerational care and affection in ecological continuity and change. If a deed is about possession, then there is nothing stopping the new inheritor of a food forest from chopping it all down, whilst those who use to take care of it know that how much intergenerational care between a matrix of species is what that land is. Instead life is treated as property codes in the modern synthesis of biology, strings of alphabets, pretty much the same as written deeds. This is an epistemic fallacy, kind of like pretending the map is the terrain. Pretending what you know being the same as what is. That your genetic transcript is you or that a property deed is a house. Except in this case it’s worse, because it’s only what colonial sciences define as what is known versus what is actually known that decides who you are, what you are, where you belong and how to manage you.