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OPINION | Protest Biology 101

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HAGÅTÑA — There is a model in food chain ecology called the “consumer-resource interaction.”

It is used to analyze how organisms exploit each other for either energy, shelter or both. From it, we are able to understand a few things about the parasite-host relationship and how it differs from other interactions where one consumes or exploits another for something it wants.

One of these things is that this particular relationship is almost always beneficial only to the parasite. It only needs to attach itself to the host and essentially mooches all it wants and needs from it. If you’ve ever caught a big fish and cut into it, you may have noticed little worms embedded in its flesh. This is a parasite. Gardeners all over the world must remain vigilant for parasitic aphids, beetles and flies that bury themselves in leaves and fruits and wreak havoc on harvests.

Secondly, parasites reduce the general fitness of its host. If your pup has heartworms, for example, they may not kill the puppy but will have a significant impact on its overall health. Obviously the worm in the flesh of the aforementioned fish didn’t kill it — you did. However, the worm did diminish the fish’s overall health.

Thirdly, unlike a predator that will outright kill and consume its prey, a parasite is better off if its host lives; therefore it prefers to leech its host’s goodness until there is no more to give. I suppose you can look at it two ways: Either the host is “nicer” for not murdering its host, or it is an insidious, blood-sucker. I tend to subscribe to the latter.

This jaunt into biology is not in the name of science education. Rather, it has been one of the systems I have turned to in order that I might try to understand why there have been, as of this writing, 101 straight nights of protesting and looting in Portland, Oregon.

To be quite frank, I don’t really get protesters. To begin with, I feel there are more efficient ways I can communicate my dismay and demands than standing outside with a sign over my head. The truth is social demonstration is just not my thing. I cringe overt public displays of affection and the piling-on of superlatives such as, “my gorgeous grandchild,” or “the world’s best mom.” Every time I see a social media post of the “most absolutely perfect dinner” I roll my eyes.

Similarly, I am neither moved nor convinced by posts that angrily condemn or praise either a politician or a fireman, a teacher or nurse. To me, it triggers a bit of PTSD from teaching middle school where my days were spent refereeing “he said” with “she said,” and “why did you do that” with “well, he did it first.”

Cold as it sounds, I am not moved by the marches and protesters who have very good reasons for doing so. I do not disagree with them one bit; I’m just not myself one who protests obviously. I realize I say this too boldly in a time where minding my own business is tantamount to persecution itself, but so be it. Enemy or hero, honestly, that line has long been obliterated.

However, I am very concerned that the peaceful protestors are playing hosts to the parasites that are looters, vandals, and those who mar the democratic process of individuals who wish to peacefully demonstrate. And I hate that their righteous fervor has blinded them to the enabling of parasites.

I’m not saying that the demonstrations should stop. They should continue, but smarter. Peaceful demonstrators must outsmart the parasites. To this end, nature, again, offers some ideas:

  1. Smother the looters. In nature, this is called amensalism, in which, say, a large tree deprives smaller plants from receiving light, therefore they perish. So don’t have a small demonstration, have a huge one. Make sure you demonstrate in large enough numbers that you inhibit neer-do-wells with your eyes, phones, and sheer number.
  2. Make the looters help your cause. Science calls this commensalism. Look at it this way, if you are protesting police brutality, then don’t gather in the downtown where looters will destroy privately owned businesses and homes. Assemble, instead, at police precincts. Give the looters police cars to destroy instead of those belonging to citizens who haven’t harmed you. If it is lopsided justice that you wish to publicly challenge, have that demonstration at a courthouse. Better your vandals smash the windows there, than at homes of nice people who have done nothing to harm you.

I do not suggest that I hope for a day when demonstrations are not needed. Quite the opposite; I hope that America remains a country where it remains a right that is supported by the government. Let’s just be savvy and street smart about it. These are times when the moral high ground should not be taken on the high street.

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