Opinion: Human beings should be reclassified as a parasite and danger to the long-term survival of life on Earth

We are NOT the good guys…

It’s official: The human race is earth’s disease

Okay, so it’s not actually “official” (since, after all, what would such a claim even mean?). But the following represents an interesting progression of an interesting idea through modern-day media culture.

1961-1964 and 1981: William Burroughs and the human virus

William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs

In his classic Nova Trilogy, published in 1961-4, William Burroughs famously developed the idea that “language is a virus.” In his 1981 novel Cities of the Red Night, he extended this by claiming that ultimately human consciousness itself is a virus:

Self-identity is ultimately a symptom of parasitic invasion, the expression within me of forces originating from outside. Language is to the brain as the tapeworm is to the intestines. Even more so: it may just be possible to find a digestive space free from parasitic infection, but we will never find an uncontaminated mental space. Strands of alien DNA unfurl themselves in our brains, just as tapeworms unfurl themselves in our guts. Not just language, but the whole quality of human consciousness, as expressed in male and female, is basically a virus mechanism.

David Attenborough – Humans are plague on Earth

Humans are a plague on the Earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth, according to Sir David Attenborough.

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Humans are plague on Earth – Attenborough

Sir David said commentary from presenters like himself is becoming less necessary as camera work is able to tell a story Photo: PA

The television presenter said that humans are threatening their own existence and that of other species by using up the world’s resources.

He said the only way to save the planet from famine and species extinction is to limit human population growth.

“We are a plague on the Earth. It’s coming home to roost over the next 50 years or so. It’s not just climate change; it’s sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the natural world is doing it for us right now,” he told the Radio Times.

Sir David, who is a patron of the Population Matters, has spoken out before about the “frightening explosion in human numbers” and the need for investment in sex education and other voluntary means of limiting population in developing countries.

“We keep putting on programmes about famine in Ethiopia; that’s what’s happening. Too many people there. They can’t support themselves — and it’s not an inhuman thing to say. It’s the case. Until humanity manages to sort itself out and get a coordinated view about the planet it’s going to get worse and worse.”


Zachary Turpin
, Incoming Asst Professor of American Lit, U Idaho

Parasitism, in the words of Wikipedia: “a non-mutual symbiotic relationship between species, where one species, the parasite, benefits at the expense of the other, the host.”


By this definition, humans neither are nor aren’t parasites, since our activities are enormously diverse, and some of them benefit our host (the biosphere) while others very definitely don’t. I think it’s fair to say that, over time, our activities have become less and less beneficial for the planet. But I think it’s only correct to use the term “parasite” as an analogy, since in the literal sense the situation is much more complicated than that.

But, even as an analogy, natural disasters being the planet’s “immune system” hardly works. They’re apples and oranges. I dunno — I mean, rhetorically, it’s a powerful move to compare the two. But the way the question is phrased makes it sound like you want to know if natural disasters are literally a planetary immune system. I don’t think that’s supportable, no.

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