Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

Crazy Ants and the Invasive Memes of Globalism

Papervision globe According to Discover Magazine the invasive “crazy ants” have taken over the ecosystem on Christmas Island. My initial thought was, “oh shit, they’re going to need some genetically targeted virus to kill of these invasive buggers.” But the longer the story sat in my head the more I discovered two very different poles of thought.

First, this is what natural selection is all about, isn’t it? Living organisms battle for supremecy; and as far as we can tell, that battle balances out into nice (albeit violent) symbiotic systems.

Second, it hit me that these “crazy ants” don’t belong on Christmas island. They’re an import–a result of our globalized infrastructure. There’s nothing natural about the way these six-legged invaders swooped down the chimney bearing the gift of ecological homogeneity.

With those two poles firmly established, my mind then turned to abstraction. Marx left us with the Hegelian notion of a dialectic iterating between infrastructure and superstructure. Culturally these should create balancing (if violent) antitheses, theses, and syntheses. But does this sort of iteration begin to break down if the globalization of culture creates the possibility of invasive memes that even the strangely prescient Marx couldn’t foresee?

Isn’t it possible that globalism has resulted in invasive cultural memes that operate outside the normally corrective feedback loops of infrastructure and superstructure? If this is possible, could it mean that our systems of thought, some of which are superior in quality to invasive memes, could nonetheless be out competed by invasive species? It certainly feels that way some days. I can’t help but wonder if invasive memes could begin the implosion of a historical dialectic. Or perhaps history, by nature, can only implode, and we are just now reaching that event horizon.


  1. Good questions. I’m not a Marx scholar by any stretch, but I think it bears remembering a couple broad points from his theory of history.

    1) Marx believed that history was an arrow with a target; i.e. that we go through particular economic systems to arrive at the telos of communism. From Marx’s perspective capitalism would lead to its own downfall and prepare the next stage, socialism.

    2) While Marx did conceive of the relationship between base [infrastructure] and superstructure in somewhat dialectical terms, he clearly made the infrastructure the primary force that ordered society. Thus he writes, “The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships . . .”

    I bring this up because I don’t think Marxist theory (according to Marx) is compatible with biological theories like natural selection and corrective feedback loops. Not to say that we can’t make an amalgamation of the two, but I think a more worthy project would be to marshal Marx’s critique of the ruling class against the practice of global corporations.

    I do think that there are harmful memes spread by globalism. What are the specific material relationships that allow them to spread? And what about “capitalism with a human face”? Shouldn’t we just work to use the global network to bring people medicine and clean water?

    I don’t know enough to answer the first question. As for the second I’m with Marx.

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  3. Very interesting thoughts.

    I take issue with your statement that the manner in which the ants were transposed to the island was somehow “not natural.” I’ve always thought it strange that people refer to virtually EVERYTHING but man-made or man-related objects as being “natural.” This is an idea given to us by centuries of religious doctrine telling us that a man in the sky placed us here, that we are somehow not OF this planet. This idea is ridiculous, NATURE created us; we are NATURAL and everything we create is natural too. Don’t worry…we may die out, countless species may die out, but life will go on :)

  4. The separation between nature and culture has always bothered me too. Why is the “human domain” over and against the rest of nature?