Human body and anarchy

From Anarchy In Action

Within the human body, trillions of cells essentially confederate into autonomous communities that engage in mutual aid with each other and with organisms such as bacteria and mites. Without any overarching boss, body parts spontaneously maintain and self-replicate themselves, maintaining a functioning human body.

Authoritarians have often used the human body as a metaphor for a tyrannical society, with the head representing the ruler and the other parts representing subjects. This analogy vastly overestimates the brain's role and overlooks the decentralization that actually underlies a body's daily functioning. Even within the brain, one finds decentralization and spontaneity rather than any kind of top-down, centrally planned order.

Organs and Self-Organization

Collections of cells, the organs of the human body maintain and replicate their own structure on a regular basis. Fritjof Capra elaborates, "Thus the pancreas replaces most of its cells every twenty-four hours, the stomach lining every three days; our white blood cells are renewed in ten days and 98 percent of the protein in the brain is turned over in less than one month. All these processes are regulated in such a way that the overall pattern of the organism is preserved, and this remarkable ability of self-maintenance persists under a variety of circumstances, including changing environmental conditions and many kinds of interference."[1]

Decentralization in the human brain

The human brain is remarkably decentralized, involving horizontal coordination between different parts. Colin Ward writes in Anarchy in Action:

If we must identify biological and political systems, wrote the neurologist Grey Walter, our own brains would seem to illustrate the capacity and limitations of an anarchosyndicalist community: 'We find no boss in the brain, no oligarchic ganglion or glandular Big Brother. Within our heads our very lives depend on equality of opportunity, on specialisation with versatility, on free communication and just restraint, a freedom without interference. Here too, local minorities can and do control their own means of production and expression in free and equal intercourse with their neighbours.

Social theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write:

The brain itself, moreover, does not function according to a centralized model of intelligence with a unitary agent. Thought is better understood, the scientists tell us, as a chemical event or the coordination of billions of neurons in a coherent pattern. There is no one that makes a decision in the brain, but rather a swarm, a multitude that acts in concert.[2]

Symbiotic relationships

Biologists Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan explain that human beings "are really walking assemblages, beings who have integrated various other kinds of organisms—that each of us is a sort of loose committee."[3] The human body has three bacteria cells for every human cell.[4] Here are some of the organisms with which the human body has a symbiotic relationship:

  • eyelash mites
  • underarm bacteria
  • intestinal bacteria
  • spirochetes in our gums
  • bacteria and fungi between our toes[5]

Through horizontal gene transfer, genes from bacteria and viruses have entered into human cells. Some 8 percent of the human genome originated from viruses. For example, the genes responsible for the human placenta came from a retrovirus invasion into the human genome.[6]

  1. Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point: Science Society and the Rising Culture (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 272.
  2. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004), 337.
  3. Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of Species (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 19.
  4. David Quamm, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), Part VII.
  5. Margulis and Sagan, Acquiring Genomes, 18.
  6. Quamm, The Tangled Tree, Part VII.