Before I retired, I had no idea how the range of my thinking would expand once I was free from the imperatives of wage labor. It’s been a unique sort of experience. Among other things, it got me thinking seriously about “eye catchers” that I’d previously only chuckled over. (That’s not to say that they didn’t deserve a chuckle or two.)
Just a moment ago, I found myself contemplating the sales pitch for a popular product: a mouthwash. I use that mouthwash regularly, but I hadn’t previously given much thought to the claims made for it. Without identifying it specifically, I shall note that it claims to kill 99.9% of the germs that cause plaque, gingivitis, social isolation, involuntary celibacy, and voting for Democrats.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Before I started thinking more deeply about it, I’d have recommended it to all the romantically challenged young men I know…that is, if I knew any. But it occurred to me to wonder about the reproduction rate of the remaining 0.1% of those indubitably nasty and justifiably vilified bacteria. I also started to wonder about the mouth’s climax ecology and whether it’s ever reached under normal circumstances.
In colloquial terms, a climax ecology or climax community is one in which the populations of the living things in that ecology are approximately stable. They may fluctuate by a few percent, but time tends to maintain a balance among them. Such an ecology will continue as it is until there’s a significant change in environmental conditions, or an invasion by organisms capable of disrupting it.
A closed ecology will, over time, reach such a state. The human mouth isn’t a closed ecology – it’s regularly disrupted by breathing, eating, speech, bragging, and…ahem…other oral activities – but during the intervening periods, processes are at work in the mouth that, if allowed to run undisturbed for a sufficient interval, would produce an oral climax ecology. The questions that follow are:
- How long must that interval be?
- What are the resulting organisms and populations thereof?
If the 0.1% of oral bacteria that survive the use of my mouthwash reproduce swiftly enough, the mouth could reach a climax state much sooner than one might expect – possibly before one’s next breath. It would be a severe blow to the mouthwash’s maker were that to be the case…and were it to become widely known.
In this scenario, the other organisms that would participate in the climax state are of no immediate interest. That’s not the case in scenarios pertinent to human migrations and the societies they produce or disrupt.
Today there are very few absolutely closed human societies. The one I know of that comes closest, the Sentinelese people of North Andaman Island, is a tiny curiosity from which no conclusions can be drawn. That having been said, the quasi-closed societies that certain groups have achieved are worthy of considerable thought. Some of them exhibit characteristics reminiscent of a climax ecology, albeit in social, economic, religious, and political terms rather than the strictly biological.
Religious groups can insulate themselves from persons not of their faith. Sometimes the closure is absolute, as it is with Iran. Non-Muslims are absolutely unwelcome there; Muslims who are not Shia Muslims are almost unknown there, as well. In other cases, the group admits only of the mildest sort of admixture, as with the Chasidic enclaves in continental New York. A Satmar Chasidic enclave, such as the one in Kiryas Joel in Orange County, New York, is absolutely hospitable only toward Satmar Chasidim. (The Satmar will tolerate a non-Satmar Chasidim, for instance a Lubavitcher, but according to my wife, “they’ll never stop arguing with him.”)
Ethnic groups can be similarly insular, though such groups tend to dilute slowly over time, mostly through exogamy. This has been the case with Hispanic and Oriental enclaves in the United States. However, even those of their descendants who out-marry retain a sense of ethnic identity, and are encouraged to take pride in their heritage.
Today, the quasi-closed societies that are most resistant to penetration are political.
I hardly need remind my Gentle Readers about the “I can’t imagine how Nixon / Reagan / Trump got elected; nobody I know voted for him” effect. There’s a similar syndrome among hard-core conservatives, though until recently it hasn’t been quite as extreme. Such groups have become climax ecologies of thought and ideas – what Eric Hoffer would have called “a compact and unified church” outside which there is no salvation. The logic and evidence that prevails among the one finds no welcome in the other.
A political climax state can possess great stability. How could it be otherwise? Men’s convictions can only be moved by the influence of persons of divergent beliefs. If no dissenting voices are allowed to enter the conversation, the positions that prevail will go undisturbed, and unaltered in perpetuity.
This is not a good thing. Its ill effects are not on the wallet or the genetic health of progeny, but on the flexibility of the mind. In its extreme form, it can even cause the allegiants of a particular ideology to reject verifiable evidence that would require him to re-examine his beliefs. Such a case-hardened ideologue would attack the messenger, impugning his motives and veracity rather than examine the data he presents. And that never has good consequences.
Our ever more polarized society cannot afford that degree of rigidity. Yet the crossfire in accusations of low motives and bad faith will lead us toward that result. Allegations of evil intent often result in real violence. The rejection and condemnation of all dissent exhibited by some groups is the sort of thing that has led to ghettoes, pogroms, and campaigns of genocide. I hope my Gentle Readers are as averse to such outcomes as I.
Finally, as with my mouthwash, no process of purification is ever 100% effective. The 0.1% of survivors will remember what their persecutors did. Their progeny will come to maturity thirsty for blood.