04/05/20: Defining in one word when togetherness works
“Alone we survive, together we thrive”
Have you noticed what our language says about how we see the world? The French talk about chic, suave, and bon viveur. The Italians say amore as if it were a one-word poem. The Swedes have hygge (look it up). The British have sticky toffee pudding.
But there is a word absent from the English language that has the power, on its own, to transform our futures. This article describes what the lack of this word says about how we structure society. It reveals why we tolerate injustice and inequality at levels that are quite staggering. It sets out why we need a new word, and it introduces one to fill the void.
The Togetherness Question
Social media has a habit of affirming and amplifying discontent until it reaches boiling point, whether or not it is based on reality. Parts of our current world is riven with anger and hate, born of mistrust. COVID-19 poses a particularly challenging moral dilemma. Should we support globalisation to benefit from the lower cost of living it delivers and to help people from other nations to become more secure? Or should we reign it in, to reduce our exposure to other nations who we fear have an interest in undermining our way of life?
When are we better off together and when not? That is the question. In any given situation, would we be better off together or going our separate ways?
The Unnamed Concept
The missing word describes a particular type of togetherness that helps us answer its question.
The concept starts with creation. How is an atom created? Research into Quantum Physics reveals that an atom is made up of a number of sub-atomic particles. The sub-atomic particles whizz around in apparently random ways. Some only live for tiny fractions of a second. But when they bang into each other in a particular way, there seems to be an amazingly clever series of pulls and pushes of these particles that attracts them together in a way that becomes stable. Some of the particles form a proton, some a neutron. These pull and push together to form an atomic nucleus. The nucleus pulls and pushes another set of particles that form into an electron that spin around the nucleus. This stable atom itself has properties that pull and push it into other identical atoms to form elemental materials, such as gold, aluminium, and copper. Each element has its own distinct properties. Gold glitters and is used in jewelry. Aluminium is a soft metal that can be moulded into roofs and protection for food. Copper is good at conducting electricity and underpins the world’s electrical distribution grids.
Other atoms join together with different types of atoms to form molecules. Water is formed of two atoms of Hydrogen and one atom of Oxygen. It has properties that make it is drinkable and allows boats laden with goods to float. Steel is made up of more than a dozen atoms, such as Carbon, Silicone, and Phosphorous. It is especially hard and strong, which makes it ideal to use in rail tracks, bridges, houses, and skyscrapers.
A Word is Born
Here is the rub.
All these massively different materials are made up of exactly the same sub-atomic particles. What makes them different is how those particles combine or fuse together as one. Each fused material has its own distinct properties, characteristics, and uses. And its properties, characteristics, and uses bear no resemblance whatsoever to its component parts. It is as if the fused components have created a new entity in its own right. This new entity is what needs a new word. And that word is: “enfusion”.
An enfusion is a combination of entities that fuse together into a new, higher-order entity with its own stable characteristics and functionality that are distinct from its components.
Nature has a far wider set of enfusions that just the materials described above. Individual living cells are examples of a different category of enfusion.
Living cells are very complex combinations of very complex molecules that, when combined in very specific ways, stabilise into life. Over 99% of the molecules in primitive living cells are water. It is the other 1% that creates a whole new entity, or enfusion, that is capable of eating, growing and reproducing. In a primitive living cell, its molecules form into a membrane that keeps its contents inside. Its contents include molecules that have combined into a nucleus that contains its DNA, this incredible mix of structured chemicals that control the workings of the cell and that contain all the instructions it needs to reproduce. It contains mitochondria that allow it to acquire the energy to move and grow. And it contains Vesicles that carry waste materials outside the body.
Individual living cells themselves combine together into new enfusions. The human body is an example of an enfusion that includes living cells. Our bodies are the fusion of billions of living cells that form organs, such as the heart and lung, blood that transports nourishing oxygen to its living cells, and that carries away waste carbon dioxide. More than 80% of the human body is water. The brain, itself an enfused organ of the body, is structured to store and process electrical signals. The living cells form into such an advanced structure that it allows the brain to store and communicate between trillions of electrical connections into memory, processing power and consciousness. This almost incomprehensible complexity may explain why Einstein concluded that there must be a God. He could not envisage how a single enfusion could evolve this level of functionality without the direction of a higher power.
But there is yet another level of enfusion that is critical to why we need to create the word.
Until now, all the enfusions described are combinations that are irreversible. If the body dies and breaks up, its component cells are not likely to recreate back to their combined form.
By contast, some enfusions are capable of spontaneous creation, unwinding and recreation. A number of living species comprise individuals that are capable of living alone, but who work together in some sort of structured way for mutual benefit. An ant, for example, has no chance of surviving an attack by an ant-eater. But a colony of army ants is perhaps the most feared of all living beings. The number of army ants that join together into a single eating machine is so vast that a single colony can consume up to 500,000 living prey in a single day. Where an individual member of the colony breaks away, it can no longer perform the same function as the enfused army but is still capable of functioning as an individual ant. And it can rejoin the colony at will. Army ants evolved a social adaptation into a social enfusion that secured their flourishing.
Humans too evolved a social adaptation. But we have acquired an additional adaptation that underpinned our rise towards the top of the food chain. We have the ability not just to leave and rejoin our natural enfusion at will, but also to create and dismantle new social enfusions at will.
A hospital is an example of a social enfusion created at will. We combine a large number of individuals to create a healing functionality that individual humans alone could never match. It takes people such as engineers and builders to design and build the hospital, other people such as medical suppliers to equip it with beds and equipment, more technical people such as doctors to learn about medicine, to diagnose illnesses and to design remedies, less technical people such as nurses to overview the healing process and non-technical people such as cleaners and administrators to keep the hospital functioning.
An Inequality is Born
A key characteristic of all enfusions, but particularly social enfusions, is that the enfused functionality is not possible based on the contribution of any individual. It is the fusion of a wide range of skills and contributions of a variety of people that creates the new functionality. However brilliant a lead doctor may be, the enfused hospital is not capable of operating without even the least skilled cleaners playing their part.
And this is where the absence of a word for an enfusion is revealing. In an enfusion, everyone has an equally vital role in the higher level functionality. But a cleaner is far easier to replace than a doctor. So despite everyone making an equally significant contribution, the doctors have more influence than the cleaner. This helps to explain why a male doctor can be paid up to twenty times that of a female cleaner. The less easily replaceable people are able to exploit the more easily replaceable ones. It opens the door to engineering a reward system that bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the real contribution, but by arguing that it does.
In some multi-national or quasi-national companies, this goes even further. In the most extreme cases, the highest paid people can earn as much as ten thousand times as much as the lowest-paid person. Remember that the contribution of everyone is equally significant. It is just the balance of control that is not.
We need a word that encapsulates the true nature of enfusions to bring reality to the arguments that underpin inequality.
There any many more complex examples of an ecological enfusion. In a desert, grasshoppers eath plants. Lizards eat grasshoppers. Hawks eat lizards. All of them expel organic waste that drops into the earth, on which plants feed. This is an enfusion that combines a number of living species into a community of life with its own built-in self-replenishing pantry.
Climate change researchers have recently discovered an alarming loss of bees. The reason it is quite so alarming is that bees pollinate plants. Without them, we can not grow enough food. Without enough food, we can not sustain our way of life. It turns out that humans are part of a greater enfusion, without which we have no future.
“Enfusion” is a new word for a new future.
An enfusion is an entity that fuses components together as one to create a new functionality that its components can not attain alone.
Understanding the new functionality is key to answering the question of whether, in any given situation, we are better off working together than separately. Humanity’s success has been built on its ability to create effective enfusions to advance our cause. If we understand the concept of enfusions better, we undermine the arguments that sustain inequality. If we choose to dismantle enfusions without understanding their contribution to our individual and collective wellbeing, we risk changes that do not serve humanity well.