Two weeks ago, a familiar face from the University of Southern Maine Philosophy Department became something of an Internet star, appearing on the popular news aggregation site Reddit and the blog of Wil Wheaton, an actor best known for his roles on “The Big Bang Theory” and as Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“The whole thing caught me off guard,” professor Jason Read said. “It’s interesting to see how quickly something can take off.”

What brought Read to Internet fame was a photo of him with a quote in which he challenged the description of poor people as parasites, instead criticizing the economic “one percent,” the target of many in the Occupy Wall Street slogan.

“People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as ‘parasites’ fail to understand economics and parasitism. A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host, one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden. Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.”

Although Read has delivered lectures and written an essay about Occupy Wall Street, the source of this particular quote may come as a surprise: from a Facebook status update.

Read said he posted the status update on Dec. 29 as something he found “mildly amusing” and that he wouldn’t typically use that kind of discourse for his lectures. By Jan. 8, a friend of Read lifted the quote and superimposed it onto a photo of him, posting it to his own profile and the Occupy Maine Facebook page.

The image was soon posted to Reddit on Jan. 9 and received 5,430 “upvotes” by the website’s members. The image’s hosting site, imgur, has since recorded 152,272 views as of Jan. 21.  Shortly after the image’s appearance on Reddit, Wil Wheaton posted it to his blog on Tumblr, leading thousands of people to share it on their own blog. As a result of his newfound popularity on the Web, Read said he has since received multiple friend requests from strangers.

The proper term for this phenomenon is an “Internet meme,” a term used to describe a concept that sweeps through the World Wide Web with popularity and swiftness. Popular examples of Internet memes include singer Rebecca Black’s music video for “Friday” and the dramatic chipmunk video, which originated from a Japanese game show.

Hundreds of impassioned Reddit users have since left comments on the image’s submission page. And while some members cheered the sentiment, others debated the issues of economic inequality and the exact nature of a “successful parasite.”

“Mr. Read clearly needs a few lessons in biology,” said one member. “For a parasite (or any other organism for that matter) to be deemed successful, it simply has to do only one thing: survive.”

To clarify, Read said the main point of his statement was that “if people are concerned about those making money without work, then they should look at the top 1 percent.”

On the USM Philosophy Department’s Facebook page, one person was inspired by Read’s words and made a plea to the professor:

“Please come to Ireland, sweet Jebus, we need you, Jason.”





  1. If something is false, that does mean its opposite is true.
    Ayn Rand does not validate Karl Marx, and vice versa.

    That said, acknowledging the parasitic nature of, say, corporate raiders seems more than fair.

    • Truth & falseness even empirically (a crude test) very rarely have the kind of purity in life to mirror or cancel out whatever examples occur. Truth demands our active participation to parse it.

  2. By that logic, brain is also a parasite, as it is propped up by the supply of oxygen from the respiratory system and blood flow from the circulatory; even the skeletal system is the parasitic servant of the brain, as it serves as structure and protection against injury. However, no rational human being would call the brain a parasite, because it acts in a directorial manner for the rest of the organism; it provides conscious direction in the form of thought, mid-level conscious direction in the ability to act, and subconscious direction in maintaining activities such as the heartbeat or breathing while asleep. The capitalist “ruling class” is of the same position; they provide direction on all levels of activity (giving direction for employees, providing employment, etc), and provide the mechanisms (capital, consolidation of ideas, etc) for an economy to continue.

    A parasite, however, is that which simply takes from the system, returning nothing. The best illustration for the captains of industry is not “parasite;” I would stick with the brain illustration, but at worst one could say “symbiote.” However, if the term parasite must be applied, one ought to appropriately apply it to a class of people who do not work, whether by choice, design, or misfortune. To call them parasites is not a statement of their worth or value; it is a description of their function in society–people who will not, do not, or can not work are necessarily harmful to society, and function as a drain on society.

    The difference we encounter between a purely biological concept and an bio-economic illustrative concept, however, is that in a biological system we simply hope to destroy the parasite; in our bio-economic illustration, and in all reality, our economy, we hope to convert these parasites back into functional cells.

    • That makes no sense, dear.  You need a few lessons of systems biology.   How can the “brain be a parasite,” or muscle system, or intestines be parasite, when they work in unison with the other systems for the good and health of the entire organism?  That my dear, is not the definition of parasitism.  That is definition of unison.  Parasitism is when one organism harms the others while taking in selfishly for itself.  that is the 1% of this country, and they suck up far more than they need out of pure greed with no care whom or how many they destroy.  Parasites.

      • Take a look at the top 12 or so incomes in the US. It consist of people like Jobs, Zukerman and others who had very creative ideas and made billions from those ideas. All on the list are beloved progressive liberals.

      • “That makes no sense, dear…how can the brain be a parasite?”

        That’s exactly his point!

        If you’re going to condescendingly reply to someone’s comment, please take the time to understand that comment, instead of making a knee-jerk reaction to the first line.

    • poor comparison mate. a human body without a brain is dead. hosts survive without parasites, in fact they thrive and do better without parasites. the brain co-ordinates every activity in the body. 

    • seriously Aj? have you no understanding of the concept of mutual benefaction, something that a parasite does not have with its host?

      so although the brain, skeletal system etc exist symbiotically within the human body; the “capitalist ruling class” does not within society for many reasons

      1) “they provide direction on all levels of activity”
      -directing employees: because people are sheep and must be led, right?
      -providing jobs: PEOPLE control jobs, not the “capitalist ruling class” (note: see Nick Hanahuer’s TED talk)
      2) “provide the mechanisms (capital, consolidation of ideas, etc) for an economy to continue” — only the “capitalist ruling class” is capable of this? you use this term as though it is an entity in itself; correctly so, because the mass of unconscious individuals consisting in a big business create a monster larger than the sum of its parts. but you have to remember that this “monster” is not capable of “consolidating ideas”: these ideas come from INDIVIDUALS, from self reflection and from teamwork within SMALL groups

      big businesses don’t run the economy; the middle class runs it, people run it, big businesses are dependent on them. moreover, big businesses are not necessary for a healthy economy (au contraire) and are quite dangerous to the health of PEOPLE

    • The difference is that unlike the 1% the brain can’t survive with out the other parts as it can’t amass “wealth” like the 1% that would allow it the freedom to deny the other components of the system their full requirements for survival. The brain is intelligent enough to know it is best served with making sure all parts of the systems are well cared for.

    • Sorry, but you’re wrong. The same logic cannot be applied to the brain as the brain is a part of the host and a parasite, by definition, cannot be part of the host until it enters the host and completes its function.

    • I’m not sure that AJ and Professor Read are talking about the same “ruling class.”

      AJ is talking about business leaders–CEOs, CFOs, and other positions in upper management. I’d agree that good ones do provide vision and direction for their company; a good business leader therefore provides value to the organization and should be compensated accordingly [But should they be AS highly compensated as some of them are? That’s a different question…]

      But when Prof. Read says “ruling class,” does he mean business leaders, or is he referring to regulatory authorities (who, themselves, contribute neither goods nor services to an otherwise productive capitalist economy)?

      I took him to mean regulatory authorities. If my interpretation of Prof. Read’s statement is correct, then AJ’s comment does not apply to Prof Read’s statement. But if AJ’s interpretation is correct and Prof. Read is referring to business leaders as “parasites,” then AJ is right [at least in theory]: business leaders are “parasites” just as much as the brain is a “parasite”–that is, they’re NOT.

    • True, why should the taxpayers bail out the super rich who make poor decisions with their mega bucks, and they don’t even pay taxes?  History has shown we bail them out and they STILL make poor decisions afterwards!  Stop giving these super rich handouts, let them deal with their bad financial decisions the same way the rest of us do:  with hard work and giving up some worldly pleasures to save money to survive.

  3. I’d be reluctant to take ‘direction’, Aj, from people whose sole social function is to maximise their own income.   Personally, ‘parasite’ seems about right to me for those who own and invest capital. Some of them work, and some of them choose not to. And it seems to make precious little difference to their income whether they do or they don’t.   I can’t see, therefore that their ‘work’ is what creates their income. 

    And  I’m not entirely sure that they create work for others, either.  They create employment, but that’s not quite the same thing. At the moment though they are creating unemployment by refusing to invest.  The amount of capital they are holding idle at present is huge.  Because they have a monopoly ownership on things like plant and machinery, it seems that people can only work when it is convenient for them. Frankly, I’m not convinced they are anything but a pain in everyone else’s side.

  4. I would say, parasite is not the correct term. All life on earth simply takes what the earth provides to live. As we are not born in a natural environment, many people feel it as unnatural to work to survive instead of to take to survive as has been our program for many thousands of years. Only very few achieve the ultimate simbiosis of being purely creative without thinking about making money from it (such as Steve Jobs, who claims he never thought of making money, but was only driven by his creativity) and nowadays society. So, the other 99% is either a slave or someone unable to fit into this machine driven by slaves. Thus in the end there is the 1% of ‘disabled’ (wether fysical or mental or conscientious). Wether these people deserve our support is more of an ethical question.  

  5. I want to repost my comment with some corrections to it: 
     “I would say, parasite is not the correct term. All life on earth simply takes what the earth provides to live. As we are not born in a natural environment, many people feel it as unnatural to work to survive instead of to take to survive as has been our program for many thousands of years. Only very few achieve the ultimate simbiosis of being purely creative without thinking about making money from it (such as Steve Jobs, who claims to never have thought of making money, but was only driven by his creativity) and nowadays society. So, the other 99% is either a slave or someone unable to fit into this machine driven by slaves. Thus in the end there is the 1% of ‘disabled’ (wether fysical or mental or conscientious). Wether these people deserve the support of mainstream society is more of an ethical question. But since these people have no land and are overpowered by mainstream society and born in it, it seems quite obvious that they do.”

  6. This is a good example of why relying too heavily on analogies to understand issues is problematic. Most analogies can very easily be manipulated to convey many different understandings of an issue, and thus if one ends one’s exploration at the level of analogy one’s paradigm is vulnerable to the most subtle of attacks.

  7. “An out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid.” Martin Wolf, Financial Times

  8. When we think about those that receive money without work, I say folks need to consider the cost of maintaining a wealthy class… and particularly ours that hoards so much more of the wealth as part of it’s maintenance it receives without work it accumulates from actually working people (to their demise). Talking about the victims in poverty is a distraction using the consequences of systemic depravation that provides for such excessive accumulation (aka: talking about the “symptoms” rather than the “root” problem). Were not talking about basics such as putting food on the table. We’re talking about all the luxuries and excess. Can we afford it? We certainly are and look at all the depravation it creates as a consequence. The wealthy class is more expensive as a share of the economy than certainly what we used to tolerate (aka: the more “symbiotic”ish form of capital accumulation that was kept in check with taxes and the creation of a middle class that _still_ provided for systemic poverty and a more tame wealthy class… aka: the “leisure” class). Folks are all concerned about shredding the “new deal” social contract that saved capitalism from itself and it’s parasitic nature killing the host (aka: the “great depression”) by taming it to be marginally more symbiotic. Folks need to be thinking about the missed opportunity we had to end poverty altogether with economic security for all and moving away from the corporate feudalism economics that’s crushing working people into roaches for the enrichment of the few who can really play casino capitalism to steal the value of work from working people (the “financier” class) to sustain obscene privilege and doom working people to indentured servitude as disposable peasants. Ever notice the rhetoric of “opportunity”? Yes, you too may be able to escape the terror of poverty (the REAL terror)… BUT… most of you will be either victimized by it or hover very close to it. I say end the terror itself (I’m tired of playing the “Hunger Games”… how about the rest of you?). There’s no “we can’t afford it”. It’s a matter of “will” and not “ability”. The truth is that really translates to “we WON’T afford it” and that’s our struggle to overcome because we MUST afford it.

  9. Somewhere up the line, the ruling class has probably invested effort (right or wrong) or capital to merit the rule. Therefore apparent absence of effort in subsequent generations might not make them parasites in the typical sense of the term.

  10. What the guy who tries giving a biology lesson failed to understand is that usually parasites are very difficult to be noticed in plain view. They can live for years feeding on its host while this one might never realize of its existence. That’s the whole point of the professor’s analogy.

  11. Actually the parasitos is the latninization of a greek word meaning “one who eats at the table of another” check wiki etymology. It was not originally used in a pejorative sense because living off of other people’s labor was an accepted lifestyle of the aristocracy down through the ages.

    When capitalism was first making it’s debut, and serfs (who had a RIGHT to the land, unlike moderns whose only right is to prostitute out their time for money)

    were holding organized revolts demanding freedom led by female organizers (“witches” – in the parlance of men in dresses called “priests”).These women were more communally oriented because they shared tasks with each other in child rearing, making of clothes, cooking etc and so presented a serious challenge to the parasite class of the day..hence the Inquisitions.

    (See Caliban and the Witch-Silvia Federici

    Dumbocracy with capitalism is not all that different ,most people are indoctrinated by the same sources that live off of their labors.

    The names change but things stay the same…the monied classes just came up with a mo better way to convince people that their system of thievery was the “best”. Anyone who knows the history of the US in particular, could not help but be amused at the way the serial genocides, constant wars, constant repression of the working classes are portrayed in such glowing and hysterically ludicrous terms.

    One wonders if the human race will ever wise up enough to throw off the

    parasites and actually BE free for a change, …ten thousand years of servitude and counting.


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