If you knew you were a cancer cell, would you change your behavior?
I used to think humans were parasites on this planet. Hoarding nutrients from our host. After several years of droning on and on at dinner parties, in clubs, galleries, beaches, airplanes, really anywhere I could (as proof here’s a picture of little old parasite me at the 2014 Climate March in nyc – I would wear that sign on my daily work commute in the subway), I met two scientists in Barcelona who walked me through this idea. Parasites are separable, external organisms. No, we are very much from and a part of this planet. We are cancer.
1) Cancer reproduces at a rapid rate. Human population is growing rapidly, barreling towards overpopulation.
2) Metastasis – Cancer invades healthy tissue, settles in and begins to promote the creation of new blood vessels to attract more nutrients thereby depleting the nutrients of the healthy tissue it invaded. Oh wow where do I begin? Metastasis, the spread of cancer from localized to other areas of the body, looks an awful lot like manifest destiny and colonization. For example, the United States going into countries, starting wars for resources or taking land from indigenous populations to suck the resources dry. The US is not alone. Humans promote the creation of pipelines and shipping routes to attract more resources globally. This level of selfishness and greed has metastasized all over the planet. If you look at the power imbalances in Russia, the UK, Syria, North Korea they appear quite similar at their root – “I want more for me so I take from you.”
3) Even if you do not believe that colonization was/is destructive, you cannot deny that we are distinct as a species in our increasing thirst for electricity, food, water, oil etc to power our growing species. Similarly, Cancer has a higher metabolism and grows more than other cells. This is because they use more resources and evade growth suppressors.
4) Cancer clumps in tumors. Humans clump in cities. Here’s a picture of Paris (1) and a papillary carcinogen metastasis (2):
5) Cancer prolongs death by evading natural growth suppressors. Humans are increasingly able to live longer through medicines, heart transplants, etc. “The problem that I see is that those medicines are not available for everyone,” says Celia Tapia, a scientist at Barcelona’s Institute for Research in Biomedicine studying cancer transmission in fruit flies. She goes on to explain that, “big pharma has the patents so they provide medicines for a large amount of money, which typically makes (access to medicine) unachievable for most of the people in the world.” This inbalance in access to medical treatments is where Tapia sees a correlation with cancer’s propensity to hoard resources and monopolize evasion of growth suppressors.
6) Cancer kills its host. As discussed in (2,3), Cancer depletes the resources of healthy tissue to accommodate its voracious appetite. As a result, people with cancer often die from caqyuexia which is a depletion of nutrients. Similarly, humans are depleting resources on this planet and causing the extinction of species. If we continue at this rate we will either be eliminated through global warming (radiation) or we will kill our host.
You are cancer.
Even if this is just a thought experiment, consider for a moment the implications of this perspective. Immediately one recognizes she is part of a larger organism and that her very nature is destructive. Greed and extremism has metastasized all over the planet. Colonization has lead to the devastation of healthy, balanced ecosystems. A majority of wars have been for the accumulation of resources, oil as of late. This sobering view of the reality of our species and ourselves may cause the shift in consciousness necessary to change individual selfish behaviors, promote recognition of the interconnectedness of all life and bring our environment back into balance without needing to remove the human race.
My intention in exposing these similarities is to provide a framework from which to ask, “what’s next?” As a species aware of its destructive potential, will we reexamine our actions? Or will you continue to plunder, confident that this is just how God, nature, entropy etc intended?