Perhaps because we are divided into two sexes, the human tendency to dichotomize—to divide things into either this or that—is very strong. According to traditional systems of classification, anything alive must be either plant or animal. But taxonomy, or placing organisms into categories, is not just an exercise of science—it promotes a frame of mind that pervades our thinking, colors our values, and affects our actions. Furthermore, that frame of mind may persist even when the classification system becomes obsolete. So it is with the plant/animal legacy. If we view microbes (all those organisms invisible to the unaided eye) as mere “germs,” hence unworthy of our consideration as part of biodiversity, we slight those organisms that provide our air and fertilize our soil, and we separate essential processes from the web of life. We codify our ignorance and preclude learning to use the recycling and gas production skills of the so-called lower organisms. The old labels impede the spread of knowledge about the mutually dependent diversity of life and its importance to our well-being.
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