This Is A Community Too

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This image made the rounds of my social media world a week ago (while I was just getting over defending my PhD! yay!). It came to me via my animal studies friend Jodey Castricano, and has been shared, including by an Idle No More facebook page, over 1680 times.

I’m very interested in the way that environmental activism, indigenous rights activism and Western poetry overlap in their moments of forwarding a vision of the world that has been called ‘animist,’ or anthropomorphizing – basically a vision that suggests seeing non-human nature as having a kind of sensitive, responsive interdependence.

I’m interested in this overlap most because Western culture has a story of itself as rationalist and a story of animism as being primitive, non-European, pagan, New Age etc. Of course, what we call animism is part of a number of worldviews that tie spirituality to cycles of nature, many of which can be easily found in the histories of Western European cultures. Is it possible that a “rational” Western culture has returned to seeing non-animal nature as communicative and responsive? Seems to me many of us have; what was once considered New Age woo-woo is confirmed by our god, Science. That’s part of the story we tell here at the Plant Intelligence Project.

If we already do see non-animal nature as communicative and responsive, then what stands in the way of making policies and doing business in ways that respect our interdependence with plant and animal communities?

The infrastructures we have built without that respect seem so much bigger than each of us individually. I drive my car to work to write nature poems; I sign up to big cable to get my internet connection; I eat meat. It was actually easier to eat more veggies and not drive when I lived in a big urban centre than living an an agricultural community. Argh, the convenience monster. Argh, habits.

As a kid I never understood racism because it seemed so silly, so not like grown-ups, to not like someone just because of their skin colour or the language they spoke. I now understand racism, at least within a nation’s own boundaries, as a shorthand for feeling entitled to one’s conveniences: a plantation, a railway, a mall, a pipeline. The comments of the former NDP (!) candidate in my riding come to mind. It was never really about colour. It was never about facial features or language. It was always ever about power: about some humans deciding to master nature on a large scale wanting to distance themselves from those who would be made to serve their purpose.

Okay, depressing. But then: the planet quite naturally has registered our disrespect to plants. We see the global consequences of missing forests. Perhaps what hope there is around how to change our own habits, or learn new ways of inhabiting power, comes from the models of solidarity, interdependence, community and passive resistance that we are learning from plant communities.

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