by Stu Lucy

Humans move, we always have done and always will do. Our movement has evolved through the existence of our species from necessity – following the seasonal availability of food – to luxury, such as holidays and recreational travelling. While part  of our species has been afforded the opportunity to travel around the planet in our spare time, absorbing the multitude of cultures and landscapes it has to offer, there continues to exist a drive to move to find something better, not for food, as in pre-modern times, but economic and/or environmental security. Economic, climate and conflict migrant populations are increasing year on year, and are so for one very good reason: a global disease.

I’m not talking about some biological disease infecting these groups of people. To understand the epidemiology of this disease requires us to think in ways beyond the primitive tribal mindset that besets the nation state geopolitics of the 21st century. This disease has penetrated all but the very few places untouched by what we affectionately like to call civilisation. What’s worst about this disease is that unlike the objective nature of a bacterium or virus, which follows a strict biological mechanism of growth and reproduction, our species disproportionately feeds its spread and increases its intensity. Most pervasive of all that arises from this malign presence is the heterogeneous distribution of symptoms resulting from its infection. Forced migration, as a result of economics, climate, or conflict, is but one of the plethora of symptoms this pandemic has bequeathed upon us.

Forced migration, as a result of economics, climate, or conflict, is but one of the plethora of symptoms this pandemic has bequeathed upon us.

It is entrenched deeply into every nation on the planet; the more prevalent the disease, the more unrealistic any chance of a cure seems. The mechanism that perpetuates this entrenchment is not physical action or process, but belief: ideology crafted over centuries, legitimised by apparent victories over less oppressive, but equally malignant, ideas of how to marshal interconnected populations. Many within and outside the nucleus of its operation, both in favour or against its existence, when attempting to classify this disease label it with an ‘ism’. Simplistically, and I believe erroneously, this disease if identified as ‘capitalism’, ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘consumerism’. These words however only describe a broader, higher level symptom, producing lower order symptoms of forced migration, pollution or poverty. These clumsy attempts to label the problem fail to describe the real underlying reason hundreds of millions are forced to abandon their homes and way of life; instead they are merely a symptomatic mechanism by which the disease facilitates those additional symptoms. A sore throat is not the real reason you cough, it’s the virus living in it.

The true nature of this disease is much more straightforward to understand. In fact, at an individual level, we have been fighting a biological manifestation of this ailment for a long time, ironically in increasing quantities in the very epicentres responsible for the disease forcing migration, environmental destruction and vast inequality upon us. The biological woe I speak of is cancer. Irrespective of the various forms it may take, cancer’s epidemiology is simple: growth without necessity. To simplify complex biology, cells grow to the size, shape and content they need to be to serve a function, a need. Cancer is the result of cell(s) not knowing they’ve reached that optimum. They keep growing and growing, absorbing nutrients for no other need than their own needless survival, expanding to the point at which they damage surrounding tissues, organs and, ultimately, kill their host.

( Human migrations based on mitochondrial DNA CC BY-SA 3.0 Maulucioni )

Our species has cancer, not each and everyone of us, but collectively as a body upon a finite sphere. It’s been said before that we are the cancer upon this planet; that we grow and consume resources, consuming and damaging our environment and will kill our host, but I think that’s misguided. Rather it is the economic system by which we have allowed ourselves to be governed that it the cancer, not us. The type of continual growth that must exist to increase profits year on year in companies that provides jobs, which provide wages for us to expend in a competitive marketplace to further increase growth – this is the real problem.

As we compete to consume materials in order to grow, inevitably people will lose. They’ll lose their ability to provide for their families as large multinationals competing for resources to produce profit, move into developing countries and undercut local producers. They’ll lose their homes to unprecedented flooding resulting from climatic shifts arising from excessive consumption of fossil fuel. They’ll lose their communities and loved ones as they are callously bombed from above in order to raze unfavourable political structures so that resources can be acquired, consumed, and profited from. This is all justified by a necessity for growth, but really the only ‘necessity’ justifying the growth dynamic that has entwined itself to our species is a rationale of ensuring its own existence. People die everywhere all around the world every second of every day as a consequence of this disease of continual growth, with those lucky enough not to left with limited choices and meagre opportunities to survive. Despicably, most of these people came from cultures with traditions espousing only minimal consumption alongside environmental symbiosis, they did not ask to have this ideology of growth forced upon them, whether it happens by bullet or banknote.

As we compete to consume materials in order to grow, inevitably people will lose

It is growth without true necessity that is the disease responsible for the evermore visible symptoms of forced migration, climate change, and inequality. This growth originates from a small sector of our species but has now acquired the power and scope to damage us all. If we wish not to continue to see drowned children on the shores of Europe, we must treat the disease. Surely then it’s time for some global radiotherapy?

Featured image CC BY-SA 4.0 biology pop


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