Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Make a lake.

Niche construction is the process in which an organism alters its own (or other species') environment, often but not always in a manner that increases its chances of survival. . . Several biologists have argued that niche construction is as important to evolution as natural selection (i.e., not only does an environment cause changes in species through selection, but species also cause changes in their environment through niche construction).  (Wiki anonymous)

The problem with beavers is beaver dams and ponds.  But the ecological compensation is eventual meadows with deep fertile soils.  The problem with beavers is their fur.  The ecological contribution was an economic basis for Euro invasion of indigenous lands and the decimation of beavers.

So my niche is that of an old, educated woman with a history on this high prairie reservation and a learning path through anthropology, but that’s not all.  There is a precedent here in Ivan Doig’s treasured Valier school teacher, in that she was highly educated and had a LOT of books, but she accepted the Fifties high school culture of her time (I do NOT and anyway, it’s different now) and she had nothing to do with Indians.  I am retired, free to read and write all day long, entirely neglecting my property, which is offensive to this community but enforced by poverty.  I’m only minimally conventional, even in terms of my diabetes, which means I cannot eat with locals (they do not change their eating but merely increase their medications) which precludes me from many bonding events like “feeds.”  I have no dining room nor kitchen table.

A think tank can be a niche.

But neither is my niche friendly to the middle class scholars and past friends who read my blog.  They are lost when they assume I am now as I was when they knew me.  My family, which is highly conventional and mostly respectable, on one side pretends I don’t exist -- nothing dramatic, just omission -- and on the other side mimes a relationship.  If they visit, they are baffled by my rattletrap existence: no washing machine, no dishwasher, too many cats and (gasp) mosquitoes because the cats ate the bats.  

There is another niche with which I communicate because I ignore propriety, even when it’s enforced by infection, stigma and criminalization.  It is connected through writing which is contagious but not in a medical way.  Like me, they are creating their own niche in the face of opposition, and they are doing it through the arts, clear across the continent, communicating through the Internet.  I follow them and love them, but talk about them very little because it would endanger them.  

This small niche of my friends derives from a macro-niche, a mini-society that developed decades ago in San Francisco when gay men began to insist on their right to exist on their own terms in their own habitat and then were ravaged by an African virus, partly because of the terms of their niche: sexual freedom and unlimited travel.

Watering hole as niche.

Feedback relationship between natural selection and niche-construction exposes new dangers.  "When organisms affect their environment, that change can then cause a shift in what traits are being naturally selected for.  The effect of niche construction is especially pronounced in situations where environmental alterations persist for several generations, introducing the evolutionary role of ecological inheritance. Less drastic niche-constructing behaviors are also quite possible for an organism. This theory, in conjunction with natural selection, shows that organisms inherit two legacies from their ancestors: genes and a modified environment. Together, these two evolutionary mechanisms determine a population's fitness and what adaptations those organisms develop in the continuation for their survival."  (Wiki anonymous)

This ecological inheritance of gays was political.  They learned that group solidarity was a survival necessity if people were going to express their own niche preference.  Space and respect for nonconforming sexual identities and practices grew in many aspects, demanding space in global society.  Resistance sprang up and the agonistic drama goes on now and probably for some time in the future.  My niche is partly formed by the desire to understand all this and describe it — not to participate.  (Anthropology.)  So on the one hand, I don’t want to identify with those “inside the circle” but neither do I want to identify with condemning assessments of those “outside” it.

Least helpful both inside and outside are institutions of all kinds: religions, schools, Internet platforms, governments, nations, scientific categories but not scientific understanding.  Most helpful are the humanities, including the arts.  I reject most introspection which means most Medium.com writing.  I am deeply interested in neurological research of all kinds, all the hyphenates — neuro-evolution, neuro-paleontology, pre-frontal cortex mechanisms like “working platforms,” whole-body thinking, and the evolution of language (not just words but concepts and metaphor).

People are like dogs: they want to come see what a person is doing, in case it is something to eat, and if it is not, they pee on it.  Or if it is alive, they might try to kill it.  Or just pack it around for a while. They hate fences and they make a lot of noise.  (Cats don't do any of this because they don't make niches -- they discover them.)  

This is a dark and cynical point of view, but it is part of my niche and exists alongside a great appreciation of dogs.  I have had much contact with dog holocaust (piles of euthanized dogs) and know that it has a close relationship to the sentimentality of pretending about things like “forever homes” and that dogs only exist in relationship to humans.  “Pye dogs”, pariah dogs that carry rabies and eat both feces and human carrion, are outside the fence that shields prosperous people from reality.  These dogs cannot be eliminated — they are part of the ecology even in civilized neighborhoods.

Pariah dog in India

Some observant folks notice that we treat our children as pariahs, pushing them into parts of society meant to act as drains and disposals, those that push children into sex work, those who create children only as an unwanted biological consequence that is represented by sentimentality which denies that it ends in early death.  

The difference is that these children themselves, by the time they reach adrenarche (6 to 12) and even more so in adolescence, are capable of creating niches for themselves that protect them from attack and feed them something besides shit and cum.  They have their own language, deliberately offensive, full of tropes of defiance.  This helps to protect them from institutions who want to make profit out of their mass confinement, as though they were domestic animals.  They are not dog packs because they can reflect and create niches, though they may be outside the culture.

Institutions defend themselves by using the dark romances of crime, addiction, violence, secrecy, terrorism, oppression — all based on power and domination.  Only here and there does the Far Eastern discovery of how to resist by turning these forces back on the dominators -- using cleverness and the shift of circumstances to disarm enforcers -- create new niches of a different kind of empowerment, webbing nets.  Women, blacks, tribes and metis, are doing it. 

I don’t want to join these groups.  I just want to know about them and to reflect.  I see humans as biological entities without “souls” but with deep participation in the biggest niche humans regularly inhabit: the planet earth.  And I discover that one doesn’t have to travel or accumulate lovers or derange oneself, but merely to pay attention.  Of course, I write it down to share.

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