Littera Nova

I write things sometimes.

Cherish the Heme Worm

Word count: 655 (~4 minutes), Last modified: Sun, 29 Dec 2019 01:05:05 GMT

Epistemic effort: metaphor seems intuitive, thought about language for a few weeks, did some research to see if this was original.

Deep in the Pacific Ocean, far below the layer at which sunlight penetrates and the sun's warmth is felt, there exist giant tube worms. These worms grow to over a meter long and are a startling red in color. Their pigmentation comes from hemoglobins, the family of proteins that give human red blood cells their distinctive hue. I first heard about these worms in a book called The Deep, and while one of the more well-known deep sea creatures, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person on the street who knows about them. That's because they have no obvious relevance to the day-to-day lives of us surface-dwellers, and so they are relegated to relative obscurity. While we toil away with worldly things, the heme worms blissfully live out their centuries-long existences, consuming sulfur compounds seeping from hydrothermal vents more than a kilometer from the surface world. If the world were to end in nuclear disaster, or the sun were to go out, while all surface life might be extinguished, the worms would carry on their existence, relying only on the warmth of Earth's radioactive core.

Sometimes, talking with people feels like looking at those beautiful heme worms at the bottom of the ocean. Any attempt to observe them too closely triggers a swift retreat into their protective shells, so you need like really good long range equipment to work on them. They're fragile so you'll hurt them if you try to force them to stay visible, and the equipment is expensive. Deep-sea oceanographers - worm enthusiasts all - argue that while you can't see the value in the worms right now, that's a personal lacking: it's obvious to them why the worms are important! It's fruitless to argue why you shouldn't install deep-sea vents in your house when you and the worm enthusiasts can't agree on the basic value of the worms themselves: you can't observe them enough to change your mind, nor can you see how such a thing would be possible with the resources available.

There's nothing wrong with being a heme worm - they're certainly fascinating and beautiful creatures - but most people leave them alone and for good reason. Their skittish and removed nature makes it arduous to study them, and it's risky. Travel to the bottom of the ocean carries many risks, and it's nonsensical to try if you don't have a plan on how to interact with the worms themselves.

In some communities, there exist people that I liken to these worms. Oftentimes they clearly have difficulty interacting with other community members, and being a heme worm is commonly comorbid with trauma, psychotic breaks, and experiences like intense acid trips. They often cluster together and are mutually intelligible, while being understood only imperfectly and with some difficulty by other community members. Certainly, worm enthusiasts seem to enjoy interacting with them and see a high signal/noise ratio, but use of bespoke language innovation, non-standard definitions, and overall having mental tech largely incompatible with the standard sort combined with norms of legibility for community forums leads to frustration and derailment of discussions they participate in. Usually the solution to this incompatibility is community insulation from the worms, either ignoring or shunning them entirely. This may not be the best solution, but it is a common one that lets surface-dwellers continue their work despite the existence of The Deep. Failure to address this conflict in some manner ends with only the worms remaining, safe in their darkness, filtering nutrients.

Don't refuse reasonable requests to heme worms in your community, and encourage them to make steps towards legibility. Nurture them, but be firm with your boundaries so your community can stay in the sunlit realms. Cherish the heme worm: but be mindful lest your community become their own.