Host and Parasite

What biology teaches us about creativity and capitalism

Paul Greenberg
4 min readJun 21, 2024

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Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

Everyone knows that Social Darwinism is an empty and useless metaphor. The poor do not remain poor because the rich somehow “evolved” to occupy a “naturally” higher class. The pressures of emigration did not make brains bigger when human legs carried them out of Africa. Herbert Spencer and his philosophical kin were wrong and propagated prejudice and condescension. Let’s leave it at that.

But there is a dynamic in evolutionary biology that does hold true as a metaphor for contemporary human society. I’m speaking of the struggle between host and parasite and the tactical escalation that occurs as they battle for the control of thought itself.

Like a cuckoo bird laying a foreign nestling in your skull, capitalism seeks to implant in your brain ideas like inadequacy, longing, and obsession.

Let me back up a minute just to nail down the biology. Along every branch of the tree of life organisms find themselves locked in contests for energy. Some, like trees, go about making their energy “honestly” — spreading out photovoltaic cells of chlorophyl in the forest canopy and converting sunlight into sugars. Others, termites say, drill into an upstanding…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org