Everybody hates parasites.All they do is cause discom-fort,disease and death.So everybody agrees it would bebest to just wipe them out.Everybody except MichelSerres,the French philosopher.Serres believes parasitesare the very change agents driving progress,in partbecause they force their environment to respond.He saysparasites are intelligent organisms that attack and thenadaptto their host,bringing unexpected change.Andthis change is quite often positive,a new symbiosis.
Professor Serres, what is a parasite?
The word“parasite”is ofGreek origin andmeans “one who eats next to you.”“Sitos”means food,“para”means next to.The parasite is like a guest whoturns up without an invitation.Someone who has forcedtheir way in and now sits at your table.There is also a sec-ond definition.There are many different types oflivingorganisms—insects,bacteria,viruses,microbes—that set-tle in the body ofan animal to feed,stay warm and repro-duce,and in the process devour their chosen host.The parasite’s bad reputation has to do with the factthat they cause the host to become ill or even die—givingthe wordparasite negative connotations.The initial reac-tion to a parasite is disgust,flight or waging a massive at-tackagainst them.Athirddefinition exists in some otherlanguages.Parasitic can refer to radio interference,excess
“Parasites are the agentsofprogress.”
Interview with Michel Serres
By Johannes Wiek
noise,static in the connection or background noise—in-terfering sounds that disrupt a clear signal.It is parasiticnoise that interferes with or devours the conveyed message.
Does this mean that there are also parasitesthat affect our social and economic interaction?
I am not an economist,but I believe thatthe economy is fascinated by the idea ofmaintaining bal-ance.Parasites on the other hand are responsible for anunequal exchange—the disruption ofthat balance.In any case,the parasite takes something without giving some-thing back in return.And the host gives without receivingsomething in return.The consequence is a completely unjust situation.Why are there such unfair players? Why does the principle ofcomplete injustice exist? The answerto this concerns not only economic exchange,but also thefundamental question about life as such.It all revolvesaround an interesting natural law.There are cells in our intestines that facilitate digestion.All ofthese cells originate from parasites—the same para-sites that killed our ancestors,and that have learned fromthis to become symbionts.This is evolution.
This means that parasites inflict a high price onthemselves and on their host.
A very high price;the price ofevolution.
Are parasites driving progress?
They are the driving forces.They are theagents ofchange.The parasite is more often than not thevery force that makes a change necessary and possible atall.The logic ofparasites in systems that I discoveredshowed that a parasite has two different methods for asolution.On the one hand it causes illnesses,epidemicsand death—in other words,it causes chaos.On the otherhand,however,it causes unbelievable changes.It is basi-cally a logic that is both negative and positive.
Can you give us examples of the effect of para-sitic logic in our economy and society?
Imagine an orchestra,shortly before thebeginning ofa concert.You hear random noises andchaos in search for the right note.Without this mix-up,there would otherwise be no perfection that follows wheneverybody then plays together.Before one can play together as a team,there has to be white noise.It is exact-ly this random noise that is parasitic,the din ofdisturb-ing sounds that precede order.Take the example oftheInternet.Within the network,parasites compete againstparasites.Parasites are necessary to translate the whitenoise ofnew circumstances into a system ofrelationships.The white noise attracts them,driven by their goals toprofit,to collect information or to manipulate,and they