Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Superorganic Strategy for Survival

Last night, I was surfing the Internet and happened to find this movie, Africa The Serengeti, on Hulu. I'd seen it before and it had a strong impact on me at the time. I found this particular sequence below still has the same impact on me. I hope you can see past the brutality to the honest beauty of life that I found in it.

In 1994, I had the opportunity to see Africa: The Serengeti in IMAX at the Boston Museum of Science. It was a particularly difficult time in my personal life.

In 1984, I began a decade long odyssey that took me from Tucson,Arizona where I had built a life, back to my home town, Providence,R.I. with the idea of beginning a new adventure. But things did not turn as I planned when I began the odyssey. I experienced many changes and disappointments over the following decade. I was still trying to come to terms with these when I saw the movie.

The day I went to the Science Museum, a friend's 10 year old grand daughter was visiting her. We arranged with another couple, who had a niece the same age visiting, to take the girls on a day trip to Boston. The Museum of Science was one of several stops we planned. Going to the IMAX was a spur of the moment decision. A decision that was to be mind changing for me.

The feature film that day was Africa: The Serengeti.. The plot centers around the Serengeti Plain in East Africa, a 500 mile long grassland that stretches from Tanzania in the south to the northern borders of Kenya. The story follows the annual cycle of the plant and animal life that inhabit the plain as they adjust to the seasons and challenges these present.

The stars of the movie are the Serengeti and the African wildebeest (an antelope designed by committee)with a cast of thousands. The large supporting cast include lions, zebra, elephants, jackals, gazelle, vultures, crocodiles,cheetah, etc.. Brutally honest in its portrayal of life on the plain and the relationships between plants and animals, predator and prey, the film is a far cry from the sanitized Disney Wildlife films of my youth.

It was this honesty, more than anything else, which struck me. In the sequence below I experienced an epiphany that had a lasting impact on my outlook on life.

The film is available at and is Sponsored by the Micheal J. Fox Foundation

The scene of the herd trying to cross the river upset and saddened me. It seemed such a tremendous waste and cost to the herd, and especially inhumane for the individual animals. I came away from the movie disturbed. I was also concerned about how the girls had taken it. It turns out that they didn't seem as bothered as I was.

I reflected on the scene and the following scene about the calving. I suddenly realized that the early deaths were required for the new generation to have a chance. This is the strategy that the super-organic entity -- the wildebeest herd and species -- has evolved to insure its survival. It defines the role of the individual within that strategy. Each individual is responsible for its actions and the consequences, Yet regardless of the individual outcome, that outcome contributes to the survival of the herd and the species.

What is the super-organic? It is the wildebeest family, the wildebeest herd, the herbivores, the predator/prey complex, the Serengeti itself. And the Serengeti is but one small super-organic system on a planet, we humans call Earth.

I realized that I could put my own wounds behind me.I had to move on to survive.

Suddenly I saw my place is in something greater than myself.I realize that I am but a small actor in the much larger picture -- the super-organic entity that is humanity.

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