The Human Super-Organism

In February, I linked to Tim Flannery's fascinating piece in the New York Review comparing leaf-cutter ants with humans in the era of the Internet. There's a follow-up in the new issue worth airing:

The human species is precisely not a superorganism: its Darwinian success is precisely due to that fact.

We are capable of survival and replication in extremely small single-family units, on the one hand, and enormously large conurbations on the other. This "accordion" capacity allows us to colonize, and recolonize, waste spaces but to endure, as well, the enormous crowding of supercities. Competition, not only between states but between cities, communities, and families, at all levels of social organization, distinguishes us (and other mammals) from the ants, who have laid aside competition at these lower levels in favor of unquestioning collaboration.

The human condition, past and future, can be better understood, biologically, as an exemplar of succession theory, derived from the study of plant community histories.

Flannery responds here.