Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The law of limited competition


"According to the law of nature it is only fair that no one should become richer through damages and injuries suffered by another."

—Marcus Tellius Cicero

Like most words, "law" can have different meanings. The law of gravity, for instance, is not the same as common law. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights and is crucial to the foundation of law in America unless, of course, you're in Guantanamo Bay detention camp or several other places that most Americans don't know (or want to know) about, places where defining law is as tortuous a process as, say, Dick Cheney's rationalizations in the guise of thinking. At their best, man-made laws are designed to ensure justice, harmony, peace, security and well-being in society as a whole. This usually happens under democratic forms of government. At their worst, man-made laws are designed to ensure that the powerful and rich are insulated from the best of man-made laws. This usually happens under corrupt democratic forms of government, dictatorships and oligarchies.

The universal law of gravity was not, of course, proposed or created by man, but was only observed, described and given a formula by Sir Isaac Newton.

Man-made laws often change with time, interpretation, degrees of enforcement and things like revolutions. Universal laws, like gravity, are more consistent, more natural, though it sometimes is the case that what one man terms a universal law another sees as superstition, and there are even some exceptional people deluded enough to think universal as well as man-made laws don't apply to them. Among others, the boys of Enron and their buddies come to mind.

What Cicero termed "the law of nature" has many facets, all of them universal. One of them is called the "law of limited competition," which keeps all of the biological world in balance. This law began to be neglected and forgotten at the time of the agricultural revolution. Instead of competing for food, man began to deny competitors access to food and reserve it all for himself. Animals that ate livestock (or, in modern times, elk) were hunted and killed. Insects that ate crops were killed by any means possible.

Modern, civilized man has a difficult time accepting that he is part of and not superior to the biological laws that govern life on earth. Humans are held (by humans) in such high esteem that they (we) find it difficult to accept that the laws that apply to birds, bees, fish, insects, reptiles, mammals and ecosystems do not make exceptions for humans. Exceptionalism doesn't exist in nature (reality), but the law of limited competition is universal.

Author Daniel Quinn defines the law of limited competition thus: "You may compete to the full extent of your capabilities ... but you cannot say, 'All the food is mine and no one else who wants any can have some.' You can fight for food but you cannot act in a genocidal fashion, setting out to kill those who compete with you merely because they compete with you."

A wolf and a bear may compete to see which gets to eat the dead elk, but neither can band together to eliminate the other so they will not compete for the kill. To do so would be to operate outside the law of limited competition, which wild wolves and bears would not do.

When a species destroys its competitors, there is more food available, and more food can support a larger population. With more population, a larger living space is necessary. As the species expands its living space, it finds more competition for the limited food supply, and in order to continue growing, it becomes necessary to destroy the competition for the available food. With new sources of food, the population expands and more territory is required. And then it happens again. And again. Fewer competitors. More food for the victors, leading to a rising population of victors requiring more territory.

Ad infinitum. Well, not really. Infinity does not exist in a finite world. Earth, after all, has a circumference of less than 25,000 miles, populated at this writing by nearly 7 billion people and growing at a rate of more than 150,000 people a day, all of them competing for food and thus contributing to more than 50 species of life going extinct each day. Violating the law of limited competition, as with violating many other laws, works for a short time, but eventually there is no space left to expand to, no competitors left to compete with for the remaining food supply. By such a time, so many competitors have been destroyed that the biodiversity of the entire ecosystem has been fatally weakened, but all food and life on planet Earth are sustained by biodiversity. Without enough biodiversity, even the victors who have violated the law of limited competition are eliminated. Sooner or later, life always implodes on lawbreakers. Only the lawbreaker and the lawbreaker's food are left when all the competition has been eliminated, and the one can't sustain the other in a sterile, mono-ecosystem.

That's the law of limited competition.

And the law is fair.

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