Into The Trees

I guess a couple of the questions that Ghost in the Shellthe subject of last week’s post – raises are What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be alive? And inadvertently, What does it take to turn a squat-dwelling anarchist into a willing super-weapon for a government  that used her as a disposable lab experiment?

Quick! Unplug the Channel 4 election fraud wire!
What? Oh, it’s just the quickest way to absorb BBC News.

Long-suffering readers of the blog may recall that I’m interested in what it means to be alive….

[Find more enjoyably prosaic thoughts in the Apoplexy Tiny Letter]

At the end of 2013, I was thinking about Ferris Jabr’s examination of scientists’ and philosophers’ work to establish a specific set of physical properties that clearly separates the living from the inanimate. His conclusion?

[S]uch a property does not exist. Life is a concept that we invented…. Arrangements of atoms and particles fall onto an immense spectrum of complexity. In trying to define life, we have drawn a line at an arbitrary level of complexity and declared that everything above that border is alive and everything below it is not.

There’s a theory that our children’s or grandchildren’s generation may look back on our treatment of farm animals and see it as remarkably barbaric. But what if that’s only the tip of the iceberg?

See! Trees *can* communicate!
“Do you think he’s going to get back to human concerns?” “Shh!” – The Forest of Cheem

Stuff has been cropping up around the edges of my interwebz consumption about where trees fit into this spectrum. Discussions of Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees. Suzanne Simard’s TED Talk on How Trees Talk to Each Other.

Just before three of them walk into a bar.
“Dude. Don’t you think it’s time to move to cell?”

Both Wohlleben and Simard began their working lives among trees in the forestry industry – in Wohlleben’s case, as a forester tasked with optimizing the forest’s output for the lumber industry.

But now they both advocate for methods of managing forests that are much more connected to the trees. For they have each found – through scientific method – that forests are remarkably interconnected organisms.

If your mind's connected, the writing's on the wall
Neu Forestry enthusiasts, Stereo MC’s

Wohlleben writes of the scattered remains of an ancient tree being kept alive by its neighbours. He – and Simard, in her 18 min presentation – describe how trees are remarkably social. The offer mutual assistance, cooperate, and communicate.

Now, this all may seem a bit much – particularly when you think, Well, what do you want me to eat, Stroke Bloke? Or when you hear Suzanne Simard talk of Mother Trees, rather than Node Trees. But, metaphors have their place. Right?

I guess he's already taken out the dog under psychoanalysis
Well, that would appear to settle it

Particularly if contemplating the worth we ascribe to trees makes us contemplate the worth we ascribe to other humans. That seems pretty important right now, as Salon describes a world in which

Donald Trump uses obvious and naked racism, nativism and bigotry to mobilize his voters and to disparage entire groups of people such as Latinos and Muslims.

Here among the British Isles, something similar is in the post. Recent reports of the apparently disastrous dinner among Theresa May and David Davis and Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier suggest that Brexit will be an omnishambles for England and any other nation that gets swept up in shitstorm slipstream.

And yet, it seems so obvious as to be embarrassing that when everything turns to shit, the food in the supermarkets is unaffordable, and the poor and disabled are dying in the street, the UK government will have played an unbeatable electoral hand. It’s just proof that we were right to tell them to stick their Europe in the first place. Blame the nasty Europeans. A big European boy did it and ran away. Mobilize your voters and disparage any European who doesn’t represent the hard right.

But here’s the thing. When Theresa May says

Our opponents are already seeking to disrupt those negotiations, at the same time as 27 other European countries line up to oppose us

and paints people who have the same opinion as your blogger as enemies of the state, and Europeans as enemies of the United Kingdom, there’s an important omission. Our opponents are seeking to disrupt these negotiations, as the same time as the 27 other European countries we’ve just told to go £u¢k themselves line up to oppose us.

God knows, I’m a Eurosceptic in the truest sense of the word. I stood outside the EC embassy in Edinburgh to protest the way they handled the Greek debt crisis. But this othering of other nations for not giving the Brits their way, this othering of British citizens who dissent, is a nihilistic dismissal of human worth.

The tree remains that Peter Wohlleben found being kept alive by its neighbouring trees was four or five hundred years old. Somehow, I don’t think that his generation of Britons is going to last so long.

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8 thoughts on “Into The Trees

  1. So the civil war comments this week over here have made me think: at what point could some of these new nationalist movements come to fisticuffs at scale. And when I find myself asking questions like “does Scotland have an independent army” when I hear about a contentious indyref I think about the biggest historical mistake people think – that we live in a time where the system is stable. That core belief – that the supermarket shelves won’t run dry (because honestly where is the U.K. Getting oranges post super-hard-brezit? Shruggy-emoji is not an orange) – is not true.

    And that’s why the forest analogy is also useful. We have a bunch of forest we are starting to maintain as you know and wifey got that book and a few others for Christmas. They communicate and stabilize. But forest fires are an important feature of many forest systems.

    Hmm. Well that’s bleak. I guess I take comfort in the second biggest historical mistake which is believing rather than now being uniquely stable that now is uniquely screwed.

    Harumph. Well at least there’s a new Kendrick record to listen to.

    1. People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? Also, why does the internet give a platform to mostly uninformed people who will probably just go off conflating two basically unrelated things, and present some incendiary conclusion?

      Eh? Oh.

      Believing that the system is stable – that history ended in 1989 – is definitely one of the ideas Snyder attacks in that Salon article. And the idea that we are all steadily – nay, inexorably – marching forward toward a more perfect version of the form of liberal democracy in effect at that point is something I’ve seen presented as one of the great misjudgments in the West’s handling of the problems in the Middle East since that point.

      Meanwhile, oranges are no doubt going the same way as spinach. But folks won’t be able to afford to go to the supermarket soon enough, anyway. Cos this is an unprecedentedly screwed time. ;o)

      Oh, and when your Kendrick gets a groove dug in it, you might be interested to check out Loyle Carner (if you haven’t already). There’re grounds for hope. Heck, maybe we don’t even need hope:

      1. Uninformed incendiary views? I just don’t understand why you say that. You, sir, are worse than Hitler!

        And you can probably grow spinach in greenhouses in the southern UK, no?

        Sigh. Anyway off to check out that new music! Thanks!!

        1. Not yet! In tragic news, connoisseurs of English wine – both of them – have been hit by the catastrophic April frost that hit half of the harvest of English vineyards.

  2. Speaking of trees: Collapse, by Jared Diamond, is a very interesting examination of how certain societies failed while others survived – usually related to the colonization of a new land. Many of the “failures” started with cutting down too many of the trees. Cue flooding, soil erosion, declines in agricultural productivity, etc.

    Also, speaking of “into the trees”:

    1. Of course! This post is merely an excuse to send that song to Tiny Letter subscribers! (But the Weirdly Young Bob version, natch.)

      Collapse sounds pretty applicable to Britannia, as she prepares to Get In The Sea. With her foot on the accelerator – of course – as evidenced by Monbiot here.

      To quote Paul, Sigh.

        1. Man. Just what I need to read the day after ineffectively trying to convey my concerns about industrial meat farming to friends and family in SC (although, really, I’ve only got myself to blame).

          I think the trees are going to go the way of the dolphins. And who could blame them?

          So long, and thanks for all the fish

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