Environmental Ethics: 2.2 Symbiosis Or Mutualism (2)

Author:  Image of S.M. JainS.M. Jain
Published: 14.02.2012


It is a serious aberration, a flaw in the basic human nature to be predatory and exploitative. The anthropocentric approach that mankind is supreme and every thing is for its use, pleasure and consumption has been introduced and propagated by force and inducements by eccentric individuals with vested interests, who misinterpreted the natural laws and phenomena under the garb of religion and pseudo scientific theories. The modern society well informed and with abundant knowledge well aware of consequences, continues to follow the medieval anthropocentric approach and is indulging in indiscriminate over consumption of resources accepting it as an index of development. It is suicidal and must be stopped, reversed and set right in time with natural law of mutualism (Symbiosis).

It is also fallacious to assume that microbes, bacteria, virus, fungi, insects or any other living beings big or small are harmful to human beings or to any other within the species or with other species. There are numerous microbes on the skin of human body more than the total population of the globe, but they do not harm. There are microbes inside the body living symbiotically. It is only when the system or subsystem is disturbed that beneficial life forms become harmful in the same way as a good friend may turn into a foe because of wrong behaviour. Appendicitis is caused by bacteria, otherwise living symbiotically, beneficially in intestines but because of closure of opening as a result of wrong dietary habits. The plague bacillus Yerisina pestis earlier known as Pseudo tuberculosis was living harmlessly in the intestines but turned harmful by mutation as a result of wrong life styles few thousand years back. Same is true about HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) which causes deadly so far incurable AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). This virus was existing, living harmlessly in animals and humans for several years but turned harmful by mutations triggered by inoculation of Hepatitis-B and Smallpox vaccines in America and Africa (Scientist Wiles Delede of Sweden). A harmless virus changes into a dangerous variety in mice tissue whose diet lack Selenium. Septic shock syndrome is caused by harmless intestinal bacteria only when there is external injury. The diseases are because of weakening of body’s internal defence mechanism, the immune system which is result of one’s own wrongs than of others. There are trillions and trillions of microbes all around but all are not affected and only weak gets diseases. It has been established that all mature systems are symbiotic and there is competition or predation only in immature systems. Predatory life styles of mankind are indicative of its immaturity. Before advent of agriculture the carnivores were just scavengers and not predators or killers. In humans it has been experimentally proved that diets play an important role in moulding behaviour good or bad in addition to other physical environmental factors. Criminals can be improved by good balanced diet of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids etc. When the earth surface was all covered with climax, dense polyculture, multi-canopied forest, all sorts of wild animals both the herbivores and carnivores lived symbiotically. There were plenty of naturally dead bodies of herbivores which were food for carnivores, animals, tigers, birds, vultures etc. and variety of microbes and insects which worked as scavengers and kept the environment clean. There is never any sort of pollution by untreated waste in good natural forest.

Competition v/s Cooperation:

It is generally argued that competition in business, industries etc. is necessary for better quality and performance. It may appear beneficial initially but is harmful in long run. Competition is based on selfish gain at the cost of others. It is like a war in which both the victorious and vanquished suffer. Competition is suicidal in long run. Many small scale industries get closed down as they can not compete with bigger ones because of costs involved in advertising, marketing and other infrastructure. But bigger industries also suffer as their cost of production is higher. There can be cooperation between big and small by ancillarisation which will benefit both. Cooperation rather than competition will likewise be beneficial in other human activities. The principle is that every one should contribute according to his fullest ability and take in return only what is essential and should not usurp the share of others depriving the weaker ones from their basic needs.

Symbiotic Physical Constituents Earth, Water etc.:

In pre-Vedic shramanik postulations earth forms, the rocks and mountains, water forms the rivers, lakes and other water bodies, fire and air have also been included in life forms. This does not imply the organisms living in them but their molecules themselves are considered living in the same way as molecules constituting the cells of other organisms. The shramanik code of conduct lays down elaborate rules for the most frugal, austere minimum use of these resources so that no or least harm is done. Like humans, other life forms including earth, water, air and fire also have rights. The mountains also have rights and should not be deprived of their green cover resulting in erosion. Likewise the rivers have rights to be free from dirt and fifth and keep on flowing. In shramanik literature there is mention that minerals also keep growing and will not be exhausted if taken within limit of growth rate as is the case of forest which will not diminish if their produce (wood etc.) is taken within their carrying capacity i.e. the growth rate. The trees themselves drop their fruits for humans and animals. Like wise naturally dead branches are continuously dropped and trees also have age and die and can then be used. Rocks, minerals etc., likewise naturally disintegrate into lifeless molecules and can then be utilised.

Janathan Turk in his work “Introduction to environmental studies” has mentioned that coal, iron, oil, nitrogen, oxygen etc. are also renewable like trees and plants, of course on a longer time scale and will never be exhausted if human numbers and needs are kept below the level that allows the biochemical sizes to operate in such a way that materials and organisms are reassembled as fast as they are dispersed. Shramanik thinkers realised need of symbiotic utilisation long ago and postulated the principle of “APARIGRAH” i.e. non-acquisition beyond bare necessities, austerity and utilisation of natural resources, services of living beings animals etc. including humans with in their carrying capacity and formulated elaborate and stringent rules of do’s and don’ts. The shramanik principle of aparigraha can be an effective instrument to inculcate symbiotic attitude. Every organism, its components, organelles, cells and smaller and larger subsystems and systems have built in carrying capacity to interact symbiotically. This can be illustrated comprehensively by the example of grasslands and grazing animals. Different grasslands in different climatic and edaphic conditions have different varieties (species) of grasses both annual and perennial in different proportions. Their capacities to support grazing animals also varies. Generally cow is taken as one unit and buffalos two units. In case of a grassland with carrying capacity of one cow only if two or more are grazed then it will deteriorate and ultimately get destroyed completely paving way for subsequent deterioration of land by erosion. The grassland will deteriorate if it is completely closed to grazing by one cow unit which is its carrying capacity. Cow eats grass, enriches the land by its droppings (cow dung) and urine. This is symbiotic relationship. The status quo of grassland, a sub-climax is maintained indefinitely. There is neither progression and succession by other species, the shrubs and trees which would eventually encroach on grass which would deteriorate it.

Similar is the case with forest lands which if utilised within their carrying capacity which is the annual growth rate of the forests. It is like harvesting only the interest from a bank account which keeps the principal amount intact. If forest produce is harvested within carrying capacity i.e. its M.A.I. (Mean Annual Increment) then the forest as such remains healthy and productive indefinitely. Over exploitation will result in its deterioration and ultimate destruction. Like wise under utilisation or no utilisation i.e. total stoppage of interaction between humans and animals etc. with forest would result in succession by uneconomic species.

Likewise the rivers and other water bodies (hydrosphere), air (atmosphere), biosphere, lithosphere etc. have their carrying capacities to clean impurities and depredations but not if these are beyond their capacities as has happened in case of many rivers in India and other developing countries the water of which have been polluted to such an extent that they are not fit even for bathing and not at all for drinking. There is already scarcity of drinking and irrigation water and it will accentuate further. This is result of over exploitation, uncontrolled discharge of household and industrial pollutants. The same is the plight of atmosphere which is getting more and more polluted every passing day and people need breathing oxygen cylinders and masks. As a matter of fact normal pollution by optimum populations is beneficial e.g. in rivers for flora and fauna, in air CO2 for plants. The methodology and indices to measure carrying capacities and health of various eco-systems have been well researched, documented, standardized and established.

Symbiosis at Planetary Level:

There is symbiosis, mutualism, harmony in all interrelations of all the constituents of environments not only at the levels of larger and smaller systems and subsystems but also at universal level between different planets, galaxies orbiting in their own orbits. Earth’s moon may be cited as an example. It exerts a considerable influence on climate of the earth and thus on the inhabitants, its tidal influence is well known. It is the presence of moon that exerts stabilising effect on inclination of earth at 23º27' with its orbital plane around sun keeping the variation within 1º3' and it is because of this that there are regular seasons and climate on earth congenial for inhabitants. The variation in case of mercury is 90º and that of Mars is 60º, resulting in extremes of harsh climatic conditions. The Steady State Theory of Universe i.e. its timelessness without beginning and end, assembling of new and disintegration of old in a harmonious way continuously still holds its ground. According to Prof. Jayant Narlikar the Big Bang Theory is not confirmed and each time new observations are made there are stronger reasons to look for alternative cosmologies. There is a perfect cosmic symbiosis also in space-time and matter. According to Einstein gravity is consequence of the fact that space-time is not flat but curved and warped by distribution of mass and energy in its bodies like earth. The mass of sun curves space-time in such a way that although earth follows a straight path in four dimensional space-time, it appears to move along a circular orbit in three dimensional space. Thus matter and energy affect space-time and also vice versa.

Experimented Illustration of Symbiosis:

The symbiotic relationship can be demonstrated by a simple experiment. If a jar of glass is filled with pure water and algae is put in it and is sealed and put in sun light then algae will die after using and exhausting all the carbon-dioxide (CO2) available in the jar. In addition to algae if some snails are also put in it then snails will produce CO2 by their metabolism and algae will be producing O2 by photosynthesis. It will last for longer time. The system does not have mechanism to disintegrate the dead bodies of snails and will therefore collapse. Instead of pure water if water from a natural pond containing micro-organisms is filled in the jar, it will become sustainable for indefinite period. The algae is producing oxygen (O2) by photosynthesis which is necessary for snails. Snails are producing CO2 for algae. Microorganisms in water will disintegrate dead bodies of snails and algae and turn into organic compounds required by algae and snails. There will be perfect balance, keeping populations of all the three symbionts constant according to availability of constant quantity of food for each other. The status quo and survival and well being of all will be maintained indefinitely. This is how all the systems and subsystems are working symbiotically, disturbed and harmed only when run-aways of any one of constituents in population and demand occur. Mankind with its superior brain power, anthropocentric attitude, uncontrolled proliferation in numbers, and rising demands has caused greatest harm.

Consequence and Redemption:

Mankind itself has suffered from conflicts of all sorts, wars big and small, calamities of famine, drought and pestilences because of lack of symbiotic attitude and relationships within itself and with other life forms and physical environment. The known history of mankind is written more with blood-shed, predations, exploitation and subjugation of one another than in brief green spaces of peace and harmony. There is no such rivalry or exploitation anywhere in nature if not disturbed by human greed, exploitation and encroachment. Mankind is bestowed with most superior brain power in the entire biome, has capacity to judge between right and wrongs, good and bad, beneficial and harmful, yet man indulges in all sorts of wrongs in spite of abundant knowledge, information and stark warning scientific facts. Even rudimentary life forms with infinitesimal mutation capacity do not commit such wrongs. Obviously mankind is yet immature in evolving ethical process. There cannot be maturity without symbiosis.

Every component of the environment physical or life-form is integrated and interdependent. For harmony and welfare there has to be symbiotic relationship between individual to individuals, individual to systems and system to system/s. Aberration on the part of an individual create problems for the individuals, the society, the system and the whole environment. This is evident in case of human domain, the anthroposphere. A simple example is disposal of waste generated by individuals, groups, industrialists, agriculturists etc. People are so selfish and individualistic that they do clean their own places but through away the garbage at others places or public places like roads, parks, drains, rivers etc. They are concerned with their own self-interest and are indifferent to harm to others and society (which includes themselves). It is getting more and more formidable even in the most advanced societies. Unless each individual or group has symbiotic attitude and disposition, free from personal greed, infatuation and lust for material pleasures the problem would not be solved whatever be the strategies and methodologies. This is one important factor responsible for pollution of soil, water and entire environment causing various endemic and epidemic diseases. It is individualistic tendency which generates personal and social conflicts in families, societies and even nations many times of horrendous and catastrophic nature. Mental disorders stress, tension and even schizophrenia is generally because of lack of congenial atmosphere in families and societies. It is lack of harmony (symbiotic environment) that triggers biological malfunctioning, chemical imbalances of serotonin, dopamine etc. which are secreted in excess or short amounts by neurons and other glands and cells. If there is symbiotic environment there will be no psycho-somatic problems and also other conflicts and wars.

Most ills in human society are because of lack of symbiotic relationship, and growing individualism, personal greed and self-interest at cost of others. The growing individualistic attitude has almost destroyed old symbiotic, harmonious joint family system. The hype about rights of individual has also aggravated the situation. Individual rights must be subordinate to community rights. Most criminals are individualistic as they are not concerned about harm to others. A pharmacist manufactures fake drugs knowingly as he is concerned with his own profits oblivious of harm even death of others. Traders adulterate eatables. Engineers condone sub-standard construction and materials even in structures of national and international importance, viz. dams, canals, railways, bridges and roads although fully aware of the harmful consequences. A forest officer who knows maximum about importance of forests, indulges in illicit feelings for personal greed. A drug addict even kills a person, steals costly ornaments and sells them for pittance just to satisfy his immediate need. The main cause of growing corruption is alienation of individual from society i.e. from symbiotic to predatory attitude and action. The malaise is so wide-spread that law enforcing agencies collaborate and connive with law breakers, thieves and murderers and industrialists who spill pollutants all over. Even the judges sell justice and outstanding scientists trade in nuclear arm secrets. Teachers getting hefty salaries do not teach in classes but force students to pay them heavily for private tuitions. Eminent educationists leak papers and take bribes to award PhDs. and even from examinees. There are cases of abetment with terrorists, criminals by politicians, security agencies and others. This is all because of individualism, personal greed without any concern for harm to others, society, nation or even entire mankind.

There are innumerable examples in day to day life. Even an ordinary clerk can do incalculable harm if not paid bribe even for genuine work of persons. Personal greed is so pervading that even life-saving drugs, instruments etc. purchased in hospitals are substandard and then not maintained or utilised. There is lot of corruption in defence purchases where officers take bribes even in supply of rations for jawans and horses and even in ammunition and other arms. The corruption has grown so much that only 15% of development funds reach the beneficiaries and rest are pocketed by functionaries, government servants and even by cooperatives and gram panchayat executives (Late Rajiv Gandhi PM of India corroborated this). The knowledge and expertise by selfish persons is utilised more for personal greed devising methodologies for safety from laws and rules than for the purpose they are educated and trained. It is because of selfishness that engineers, doctors and other specialists trained at considerable cost from public funds for special services shift to lucrative generalist administrative jobs or even leave the country to serve elsewhere. Even politicians change ideologies and parties for selfish gains. Politicians as individuals and as a group and party are so selfish and greedy, for their chairs, power and position that they can go to any extent to harm others and more so the country which they swear to serve. There are political murders. The increasing use of money and muscle power in elections and criminalisation of politics, corruption at all levels is largely because of politicians’ selfishness. There is emphasis on principle of one nation one people but only in statue books and lectures and in actual practice politicians and political parties are dividing people on basis of caste and religion. Mankind has been predatory and exploitative within itself and also with other life forms and physical environment. It has inflicted wounds on itself, its own species and also others. It is high time the suicidal path is abandoned and sooner the better. For this symbiotic altitude needs to be inculcated in all and all over. Even if historical, archaeological or other evidences, are not available to support symbiosis conclusively, the human wisdom should accept it for its own survival in view of facts cited have.

The globalisation process being pursued by world community is the step in right direction. It should be expedited by removing hurdles being put because of vested interests of individual nations if necessary by mandatory resolutions at United Nations. Technological advances, particularly in telecommunications have made the whole earth planet as one global village. It is now high time to break ethnic, religious, casteist and other national barriers. World would be much better place to live in if all people of all nations plan to evolve a cooperative model of various relationships rather competitive which is ultimately harmful to all. The planet earth comprises variety of climatic conditions, soils, minerals, plants, animals, ethnic groups of people, each type suitable for producing different things which are mutually complementary and supplementary to be exchanged to meet diverse needs. Symbiotic diversity is the essence of coexistence. Globalisation should be in global interest and not shackled by individual national interests. Unfortunately it is local in its track and deviating from its basic objective of common good of all people of all nations. It is getting more and more restrictive than liberalised because of vested interests of individual nations. The rich, powerful and developed nations are continuing to exploit the poor and weak nations. Globalisation as of now is same continuing exploitation in new garb. Rich and powerful should understand that all mankind is one and exploitation in any form must end. World community should now take conscientious steps through the UN resolutions and enforcement to put it on right track to meet its basic objective of mutual good.

In the common interest of all nations and all people the United Nations should be empowered to function as federation with adequate administrative, economic, political and military powers to enforce common environmental ethics. Individual nations however big and powerful should not be allowed to dominate and exploit others. Variety is the essence of life. All individual nations, ethnic groups and societies while maintaining their cultures and identities should function as one united interdependent symbiotic whole following the uniform environmental ethical code and ideally United Nations should have sufficient military and economic resources to establish symbiotic model in place of prevailing exploitative interactions.

Environmental Ethics
Prakrit Bharati Academy, Jaipur
Society for Scientific & Ethical Living, Jaipur
1st edition 2006
HN4U Online edition:
Dr. Rudi Jansma


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  1. Aparigraha
  2. Body
  3. Brain
  4. Cooperation
  5. Einstein
  6. Environment
  7. Environmental Ethics
  8. Globalisation
  9. Greed
  10. Microorganisms
  11. Space
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