Self-Help Advice from a Single-Celled Organism

An open letter to humanity on getting its collective act together

Doubtless, you’d have preferred a revoltingly twee, anthropomorphised depiction of the author with big googly eyes. You make me sick. (Image by Axel_Kock)

Dear H. Sapien,

You know that scene in The Matrix where Agent Smith monologues his revulsion with your species by likening it to a virus?

You wish you were a virus.

Here’s the pecking order here on planet Earth: plants, unicellular organisms, viruses, fungi and — dead last — animals like you. At least you’re at the top of that totem pole.

I know, I know. It’s hard to take. Here you are, having dutifully woken up at 5 AM, made your bed, drunk a litre of water, meditated, gone for a 10K jog and had your Greek yoghurt with goji berries, being told you’re lower than amoebae, pond scum and slime mould.

I’ve got the world’s smallest violin for you. Perhaps you were hoping for a pat on the back or a thumbs up? Well, I don’t have your oh-so-special opposable thumbs, so how about I give you some much-needed advice instead?

Humanity’s flaws

Not adaptive

The average bacterium has probably mutated several times during the time it took you to read this. I exaggerate, but the only thing it’s taken you mere days to evolve is another psychological complex.

The last thing you humans (sort of) adapted to was drinking cow’s milk, for Cripes’ sake. Not exactly comparable to my cousins Staph and Gono surviving an antibiotic microbicide, is it?

Not abundant

It’s great you’ve been cultivating an ‘abundance mentality’; it truly is—the world’s your oyster. But plainly speaking? There are fewer than 8 billion of you. Those are rookie numbers.

Not original

Look, I’ve only been alive for two hours, but my people go way back. My great grandpappy was floating around a cool three billion years ago. And when did you lot climb down from the trees, may I ask? Five, maybe seven, million years ago?

Not special

Ah, Homo sapiens — a miracle of creation, probably the only intelligent life in the entire universe. Curious, inventive, playful, I could go on… about octopuses. That’s right, you’re not even the sole intelligent lifeform on the planet.

Not essential

Can you ferment grapes to make wine? Can you acidify milk and make a delicious cheese? Can you hug a child with nuclear arms?

Do you enable the digestion of food, the synthesis of vitamins? Did you create breathable air for the entire planet? Quite the opposite!

Not cultured

There’s probably more culture in that yoghurt you’re having. Honestly, when’s the last time you saw a play?

Not in control

Has reading about your inadequacy as a species got you down? Feeling a bit depressed? It’s probably just the microbes in your gut. Master of your domain? You’re not even master of your own mood.


Not…able exceptions

Look, it’s my fault, really. Bacteria have been the guiding force shaping mammalian evolution; your failings are my failings.

Let me help.

My advice


Less self-flagellation, more self flagella-tion. Be kind to yourself, but do make the necessary improvements. Also, grow a flagellum or two — it couldn’t hurt.


Granted, there are some bad apples. However, you’ll find quite a few types of bacteria exist in peaceful harmony with their host or are even essential to their wellbeing.

Meanwhile, your species has run roughshod over your host’s entire biosphere. Does the Quaternary megafauna extinction ring any bells? The dodos? Deforestation? Global warming?

Be kinder to the planet.

Asexual reproduction

The average Tinder user spends 35 minutes of every day on the app. You could probably learn a foreign language in that time. Just sayin’.


It took you and two friends twenty minutes to agree on Holy Moly Guacamole! for lunch. Just a little while later, me and one million of my closest chums used quorum-sensing to coordinate becoming virulent. Er, not that you should be worried about that.

Stop screwing each other — and the planet — and start working as a collective.

Keep it simple

You’re a complex organism; feeding all those neurons alone uses up 20% of your energy. I’m guessing all that brainpower comes in handy for anxiously anticipating the manifold ways members of your social order might reject you.

You’re multicellular; you have specialised tissues and many, many issues. I get that. But do you think you could Keep It Simple, Stupid regardless? Multitask less? Delete some apps on your phone? Embrace minimalist décor, perhaps?

Stop vaccinating your children

I have no vested interest in this.

A microscopic consolation

Estimates suggest that a third to slightly over half of the cells in the human body are bacteria, meaning you’re mostly composed of winners!

Oh, don’t give me that look. You brought this lecture upon yourself; no one asked you to eat that $3 beef burrito bowl.

Yours tough-lovingly,

E. Coli

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