I guess a couple of the questions that Ghost in the Shell – the 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?
Long-suffering readers of the blog may recall that I’m interested in what it means to be alive….
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
Husband: “I want a divorce, custody, and all the marital assets.”
Husband: “You are undermining my negotiations.” https://t.co/N27DVjVNHU
— Jo Maugham QC (@JolyonMaugham) April 30, 2017
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.