Welcome to the American homeland of Late-Capitalism! Basically, it’s the fall of the West and it’s making America totally awful again. This period and mode of Capitalism in essence is accelerationist, in that the only way over is through; to push this economic system until it basically implodes, and it currently seems like our nation’s sole mission with Pepe as president. Married to this system’s warped time scale, the mechanization of agriculture (>< GMOs ><) and the blind optimism of digital labor, we are seeing culture becoming mono in the meta sense, narrowing in order to keep Capitalism working at any and every cost.
The Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest theme here is pretty bleak. As a Homo sapien, it seems today that one must conform into a cyborg or a hot Instagram girl in order to stay afloat in our late-Capitalist system.
It’s as renowned science and technology scholar Donna Haraway writes in her 1984 essay, A Cyborg Manifesto: “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.”
But how do non-human species react to our imposed system of organization? How does the flora and fauna choose to cope? It turns out, as we transform ourselves to become more adaptable to Capitalism with our bodies, so do the animal, plant and microbial kingdoms inhabiting the Earth.
Over the last decade, we’ve seen peripheral articles popping up about all sorts of bizarre, freaky and beautiful hybrid species occurring in this new natural world as means of survival. Here are just a few of our new anthropogenic neighbors!
The Anthropocene: an ominous term that bears the heavy burden of describing “our time.” Debatable in its exact definition, the word has been used to describe this particular geological and ecological epoch in time since the early 2000s. Its prefix “anthro-” is derived from the Greek word for ‘human.’ Its suffix, “-cene” is a combination of the Greek word for ‘new’ and the Latin word for ‘recent.’ Quite literally, the Anthropocene refers to the age of the human. Ultimately, we’re talking about a shifting time scale — changes in the planet’s geology and ecology during a time in which Homo sapiens inhabit the Earth (hello, climate change! :O)
However, anthropologist Anna Tsing has a slightly alternative timeline of how humankind’s existence is causing a major change to the planet. In her book, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins Tsing argues:
“The most convincing Anthropocene time line begins not with our species but rather with the advent of modern Capitalism, which has directed long-distance destruction of landscapes and ecologies.” For the sake of argument, this short piece will use Tsing’s analysis as a jumping-off point to take a quick look at the pregnant expectations and “promising contradictions” (as Tsing describes them) of the Capitalist era, and how this new form of human impact has contributed to an accelerating struggle between monoculture and biodiversity on this increasingly industrialized planet.
Native to North America, this 60% coyote, 30% wolf, and 10% domestic dog species is here to be the terror pet of your dreams. Smaller than a wolf and bigger than a coyote, they are less intimidating to their neighboring humans and have adopted the urban landscape as their own, traveling in smaller packs and moving with remarkable agility and stealth, always lurking just beyond our sight. In fact, there may be one prowling just under your nose at this very moment…
Known properly as Batrachocytrium dendrobatidis, chytrid is a new kind of fungal species that has almost single-handedly brought nearly half of all U.S. amphibian species into decline (and in some cases, extinction)! In response to both environmental changes and the growing international pet trade, chytrid recently adapted its method of reproduction from asexual to sexual, allowing natural selection to speed up its work in selecting the strongest, most aggressive fungal DNA. Chytrid triggers lethargy, weight loss, skin lesions and often, death among both frog and salamander species, and has been detected both in the wild and among our domesticated slimy friends.
U.K. etymologists recently discovered a new derivative species of mosquito called Culex molestus that apparently has evolved to perfectly fit into the ecosystem of the London Underground. They can breed in the confined spaces of the tube, maintain a habitat there year-long, and have significantly different DNA structures than mosquito populations living aboveground in the streets. The molestus species is notably more bloodthirsty than their surface relatives, and are a known nuisance to both human and bird populations. In 2011, the mosquitos appear to have jumped the pond, and started appearing in the sewers of the Upper West Side. Get ready, NYC subway riders, for an itchier ride!
Chemical biologists at the The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California were recently able to add two letters of DNA to normal 4 letter bacterial DNA, opening the floodgates for a new kind of synthetic biology, and the potential to create new forms of protein never before seen on this planet! These new DNA formulations will mostly be used in custom-made drugs, and so-called “designer” organisms, but who knows what other applications are in store.
Beginning in the 1980s, scientists have begun genetically modifying animal species to be more similar to humans for medical, genetic and biological testing. Studies on interspecies chimeras started with mice, but have since expanded to include rats, rabbits, pigs, plants, fish and more. Our new DNA-relatives are typically used in new drug trials, the study of diseases, and even experimental surgeries attempting to one day replace human organs with animal organs. In fact, this year, scientists created the first-ever human-pig hybrid by injecting human stem cells into pig embryos in the lab, which is both terrifying and a potentially important first step toward the future of developing lab-grown hearts and kidneys.
French fries and ketchup, all grown from the same plant? It’s the American dream! Too bad the TomTato® is a British invention, formed by literally slicing off the top of a cherry tomato plant and grafting it onto the roots of a potato plant. The technology, which has actually been around for centuries, works nicely because the fruits and tubers used are both part of the nightshade family. These delightful frankenplants have been available for sale in the United States since 2015, and you can apparently get them FedExed to your home in 2 ½ inch plots. Unfortunately, it seems as though all official U.S. TomTato® supplies are already sold-out for the 2017 season.
Now that the Arctic has warmed more than 2° C, North American grizzly bears are starting to tromp through polar bear territory, and scientists are worried the two species might be getting a little bit too friendly with each other. The first confirmed grolar bear (also called a ‘pizzly’ in parts of Alaska and Manitoba) was identified in 2006, with a second found in 2010. Since then, local hunters have been accidentally shooting grolar bears on a somewhat regular basis, and report that the hybrid species looks like a small polar bear, but with brown paws and big claws like a grizzly. Arctic researchers aren’t sure how prominent the new species may become, since sexually-active male polar bears outweigh their female grizzly counterparts four-fold, meaning the latter is just as likely to be lunch as they are a mate. It all depends how sparse the sea ice gets, I guess….
This time last year, the Washington Post published this headline: ‘Covered with bees, and a swarm pursuing’: Man dies after being stung more than 1,000 times in Arizona park. Now this isn’t standard honeybee behavior. This is the story of the “Killer Bee.” It all began in 1950s Brazil, in the lab of scientist Warwick Kerr, who successfully interbred African and European honeybees, producing a hybrid bee of superior honey-making capabilities. Everything was going quite well for Kerr and his bees until one day, a lab assistant accidentally let a few of them out into the wild. Initially bred for their ability to reproduce quickly, Kerr’s hybrid bees quickly become an invasive species, and by 1985, they reached the United States in their trademark aggressive droves. Unlike native bees, Africanized bees have a tendency to chase and swarm after perceived threats. On the plus side, however, some research indicates that Kerr’s hybrid bees might be less fallible to colony collapse, possibly making them a huge asset in U.S. efforts to Save the Bees. Just, you know… don’t get too close to them.
Perhaps one day, our future homeland could be populated entirely by hot cyborg freelancers, working from home in megacities with would-be wild hybrid pets and houseplants that all lead very normal, domesticated lives. This strange nature/culture/species relationship of diversification could also be the beginning of the end(!)
As an influx of cross-bred animals, survivalist flora and a normcore human species whose desire to become advanced results in an autonomized sameness, this new hybridized narrative could very well become the cultural story of the Anthropocene.
In the end, apocalypse or not, it seems like everything will eventually have to adapt to this late-Capitalist world. >:-)
Sophia Callahan is a New York-based writer, photographer, plus artist with a BFA from Parsons School of Design. She has written extensively for VICE's The Creator's Project, exploring the complexities of art and the Internet.