Spores of the Apocalypse, Part 1: The Fruiting Body

Part 1 / Part 2

We live in a mushroom, and time is running out.

Let me explain.

A fungal mycelium grows throughout a landscape, recycling death, nurturing life. Like indigenous human cultures that live intimately with the land, mycelium finds a way into every niche and crack and cranny of an ecology. Both indigenous cultures and mycelium are intermediaries and stewards for other beings. There is killing and there is birth, there is balance, there is no central power or hierarchy, there are overlapping communities too numerous to count. Mycelium runs through it all.

Both mycelium cultures and indigenous cultures are fantastically long-lived. Because a mycelial system has no central organs or diversified structures, mycelium can regrow from a single cell, and can therefore survive nearly any disturbance. Mycelium cultures flirt with immortality, and indigenous cultures do the same. Australian Aboriginal stories stretch back at least 10,000 years and likely more. Mycelium cultures will always grow and regrow and adapt, possibly forever. But there is more to fungus than this ancient underground web.

Watch closely. A spot of mycelium becomes greedy and flares with thirst and hunger. Silky threads of the web thicken into ropes and swell into architecture: a mushroom emerges from the soil. A fruiting body is a pompous rupture out of a balanced community. It is selfish, enormous, extractive, intent on self-replication.

We human beings have been known to do the same. Out of cultures that hunt and gather in close relationship to the land, ambitious civilizations will occasionally spring forth, conquering and dominating and philosophizing and evangelizing. Populations boom, blood is spilled, wonders are built, hierarchies are established at the point of a sword. We are living in a mushroom civilization now.

And what is the purpose of a mushroom civilization? To create spores. Sometimes millions, sometimes billions. Fine as mist, clouds of spores float on the breeze, ready to land in fertile soil and grow into relationship with all the other creatures there. Notice these spores. They are impossibly durable, able to live on asteroids far out in the cold emptiness of interplanetary space, searching for a welcome home, waiting patiently for millennia. In contrast, a mushroom is impatient and determined. It explodes with these dense, informational spores and then melts back into the soil from which it came. This self-destructive act of reproduction is inevitable for the mushroom and is inevitable for mushroom civilizations too.

If you’re like me, you don’t have a choice in belonging to a mushroom civilization. Spores are created every day and constantly fling around the planet in a dense fog of cultural information. Each thing you learn, each object made, each song sung and story told is a spore that might survive long past the collapse of the mushroom that birthed it. It is not so bad to live in a mushroom civilization, once we understand that it was never meant to last. We are implicit in this greedy, explosive cultural structure, but we are also here to make spores, to choose what survives the end of the world and grows again from the ashes.

We don’t have much time left before the spores are all spent and the mushroom collapses. In the following posts in this Spores of the Apocalypse series, we will explore what exactly our civilizational spores contain, and what kinds of people and concepts will make it through the eye of the needle at the end of the world.

A question for reflection: What can you keep once this world ends?