Deconstruction Deconstructed

Human society is what it is: a little crazy, a little aggressive, a little beautiful, a little fearful, a little boastful, a little shy, a little ugly, a little transcendent, and very much absorbed with its own affairs. That’s why it’s called “human society” and not something like “spiritual society” or “environmental society”or “the society of ants.”

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Not Human Society … Yet

Still, it’s good to keep in mind that this “human” thing is new and was grafted onto spiritual and aristocratic forms of society about 200 years ago. It’s good because it means that the term “human society” has nothing more or less to do with the great apes living within its constraints than did those preceding patterns of organization.

Great Ape at Play, Vernon Winter Carnival

What’s more, over time the freshness of humanism (the basing of social organization around the interests of one species of great ape) has become as commonplace as was once the deference of kings to popes or farmers to aristocrats and now looks just, well, everyday.

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Everything Normal at the Armstrong Fall Fair

In the late 20th century a group of philosophers in France cooked up a method of stopping this slide towards the commonplace, in the hope of keeping society in a continual state of watchfulness and revolution, or, if you will, because it was late 20th century France after all, résistance.

The Resistance at Work, Vernon

The classic form of resistance in French history is the partisan war waged against the German invaders and occupiers of 1940. For background to that, in the German Third Reich of 1933-1945 it was a dominant belief in Germany that every German knew more in his bones than any intellectual (meaning French or Jewish intellectual or educated type). He (only males were allowed to be German citizens at that time) just needed to think and brilliance would pour forth, accompanied by simple, clear solutions where others (such as those intellectuals and dastardly Frenchmen) saw only shades of grey and points of relativity and discussion.

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Hitler Wouldn’t Have Liked this Neo-Nazi Form of Resistance, Erfurt, Germany

The work of this group of Marxist philosophers, including such famous and brilliant men as Roland Barthes and Charles Lacan, is called deconstruction. It uses intellectual tools to dissect the commonly understood physical world into components, just as science does when it studies natural phenomena to reveal the structural forces at play in natural forces. Such deconstruction (dissection) is a task that can never end, because it is in the nature of humans to continually recreate this sense of everydayness, and to dull the deep historical patterns of the world with a patina of normalcy.

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In Canada, Plastic Flowers Stuck Into Lions is Normal

Yes, it’s weird.

Against this pressure coming from the deep, animal past of humans, the deconstructionist must remain ever vigilant, lest he be seduced by normalcy and let its bodily responses overwhelm his deeper, more highly-evolved and educated understandings.

Dead Oak Tree A Long Way From Home

University of British Columbia, Okanagan

It’s all a bit too much like 1930s and 1940s German dehumanization of Jews turned on its head for my tastes, but it’s immensely popular and fills most Humanities courses in the universities of the world today. The thing is, though, it might not be quite as universal as it claims to be. It might even be dead wrong, because of that sticky matter of it all just seeming a little too much like French-German mid-20th-century politics. Such a close correspondence should always be a warning sign.

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The Ruins of Mid-20th-Century Politics, Conconully, Washington

In other words, deconstruction might be dead wrong, because it might just have the wrong idea about humans at its root. It might be the result of sloppy thinking.

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Bad Thinking That Lasts for A Hundred Years, Vernon

I say this because I’m troubled about those Third Reich Germans who went around claiming to be a master race in a continent of so-called sub-humans (apes, such as Frenchmen or Poles or Jews, all given the name of communists for the simple reason that they weren’t German). These Germans (my ancestors among them) were surely a barbarous lot, but if there’s any chance that deconstructionism is built on the foundation of a resistance to them as the antithesis to civilized behaviour, then it’s just plain wrong. The Germans of the Third Reich no more represented primal, brute responses coming from, say, the reptilian brain, than do the actions and theories of, say, Barthes.

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British Columbia Back Yard Ornaments: Not Nazi

The Germans weren’t individual, common sense geniuses either. They did, however, certainly represent one response to mechanization and industrialization. The thing is, deconstruction was another. Whatever a commonplace human is or however such a person thinks has nothing much to do with these responses to industrialization or with the historically-fraught relationship between France and Germany, however terrible that relationship has at times been and however vital the force of resistance turned out to be.

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Canadian Street View: Neither Nazi Nor French, Okanagan Landing

In fact, it might not be possible to determine just what a hypothetical human might actually be like, because humans are always embedded in societies and draw much of their identity from their social and environmental bonds.

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Humans Often Prefer This Stuff to the Sun Itself, Okanagan Landing

What strange creatures!

If my observation is correct and my concern well-placed, then in its work of deconstructing the commonplace wherever it appears, deconstruction might very well be deconstructing humanity itself, from a sense of wholeness to a sense of assembled components, put together like scientific theories or cell phones on an assembly line in Singapore, tied together by a fragile unifying force called “an identity” or “a self”.

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Old Tractor Taking the Place of a Human

Humans love this kind of stuff. To them, it’s like looking in a mirror.

Doing so might be breaking the bonds between humans and the earth, and might be a very real reason why the earth is dying, why so much of it has been laid to waste, and why our younger generations live through electronic social devices. These devices and the post-humanist structural networks they enable are the physical manifestation of deconstructionist philosophy, just as the physical earth and the traditions of working within it cooperatively were the manifestations of “spiritual society” or an aristocratic one.

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Grafted Apple Tree in the Author’s Garden

In German, this process is called “Nobling”. Yeah, you get the picture, right?

If we look to ourselves we see the earth. If we look to the state of the earth we see the state of ourselves. Given that humans (and I am in this group, yay), draw a large part of their identity from the environment in which they were raised and the one in which they live (in complex ways deeply rooted in what is called commonplace, non-verbalized physical experience), the deconstruction of these bonds and their replacement with a limited set of tools for further continued deconstruction is deconstructing human relationships with the earth.

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The Golf Course at the Rise

Earth deconstructed in the same way that globalization is a synonym for Americanization, with is just a fancy word for the commonplace. A bit of a contradiction in terms? Why, yes, nice of you to notice.

The result is that the earth is invisible.

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Invisible Earth

One sees the shadow, not the stone.

The impetus behind all this activity is honourable: to prevent the renewed rise of Nazism. What do we get, however, in its place? A structurally-based terror, one all-in-the-head rather than all-in-the-body: the Islamic State. What’s more, Nazism was all about nationalism, or considering the German state to be the body of its people and the people manifestations of Germany. The Islamic State, on the other hand, is not a “state” in the sense of being a sovereign country, but “state” or a “condition” of Islam, with fighters drawn to it from around the world. Not the “real” Islam but a condition or state of it, in the way a hospital patient is said to have a certain condition. It is, like deconstruction, a force against the commonplace, daily lives of people and a replacement of them with intellectual, structural concepts.

P1530744 Grape Vines and Birds Separated By Force

If this were done by humans to humans we’d have a “humanitarian crisis”. A “bird crisis” doesn’t register in the same way. Weird!

 I am in no way suggesting that there is anything evil or deadly about deconstructionism, as there is about the Islamic State, but I am suggesting that dominant ideologies become environments, which cast up mirrors, not all of which are complementary.

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$550,000 House with Eastern Canadian Maple Tree

We humans are not making ourselves look very wise.

Disturbingly, such a condition of eternal revolution and states of mind becoming physical states exists in contemporary Germany. It is called “the National Liberated Zone” and consists of all areas, even if it’s just one skinhead’s head or his apartment in a suburb of Cologne or some small town north of Dresden, which are controlled by nationalists (i.e. by neo-Nazis.) You can’t find this state on a map, but it is there.

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Anarchist Street Art Infiltrating the National Liberated Zone, Naumberg, Germany

This is war in the post-human world.

Where does this all lead? Well, to reiterate what I mentioned above: what is missing in all of this is the earth. Human society is about human society. If we, as humans, wish to survive, we will have to either continue the process of deconstructing ourselves into silicon chips, and accept the continued degradation of physical and human-social environments that logically comes with that, or we will have to include the earth as part of our social group.

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The Human Earth

Bobbling antennae and all.

Deconstruction won’t get us there. Only reconstruction can do that. It’s anathema to deconstructionists, of course, but it might very well be that to survive and to pass on the remaining knowledge of life on the physical earth to those who follow us so they can build living structures and relationships from it, we might have to develop an understanding that deconstruction is a tool that works within certain boundaries, while reconstruction is an equal and corollary function, working within others.

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Red Osier Dogwoods in October

Reconstruction works here. Deconstruction does not. This plant is part of the humans social group, or we are dead.

Given that social media devices are so powerful and so ubiquitous, it’s not likely that they’re going to disappear any time soon. Accordingly, the challenge is to construct modes of using them which open up earth-based experience in ways which cannot be fully understood using human-based or machine-based social or intellectual modes.

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Vineyard in the Fog, Bella Vista

Not to be understood with a smart phone. Sorry.

It used to be that a spiritually-enlightened human had to transcend the self. Maybe he or she could become a saint. It might be that he or she might now need to transcend the machine and that the enlightenment might not be intellectual or divine knowledge but the commonplace — not the machine-tainted commonplace of the Third Reich or the anti-barbarism stance of the deconstructionist resistance, but acceptance. One might just have to put down the cell phone and plant a potato, tend for its plant, pick it in the fall, make a bowl of soup and share it with a few friends.

Okanagan Okanogan Plants Some Spuds

Yield, four months later: 450 pounds (>200 kilos)… whew!

We can’t escape the social structures we live within, but we can extend them with generosity, and we can transcend them.

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A New Apple Discovered

Transcendence looks like this sometimes.

Art is one means of doing so. Science is another. Agriculture is another. Foraging is another. Whichever one it is our individual gift to give, the earth must be part of the generosity and the transcendence, or all of our physical technologies (which are only extensions of our intellectual technologies) will make us poorer rather than richer, because they will lead us away from the earth and we will be unable to see her.

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Garter Snake, Catching a Breath After Some Underwater Fishing

Her.

And if we can’t see her, we can’t see ourselves. Humanism, you see, isn’t enough. The “human” is safeguarded by giving it away.

Teleportation, Anti-Gravity and Art

Defying gravity?P1540796

It’s a trick of light.

bright If the sun had moved its substance to earth physically, there would be no water and no life.

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Reforming itself in a new form, that’s the trick.

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The process of the sun transferring itself is not finished.

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At the moment, it is both here, and there. Look at it caught in this old, exploded star that my ancestors call, variably, water and Wasser and wetter and wody.

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It is the sun, defying gravity and moving itself across space by turning itself into energy, and then, through the lens of the earth, turning itself back.

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Art matters.

 

The Art That Insects Make

In the summer, light strikes the leaves of the dogwoods unevenly, as they flit about in their environment of light and shadow filtering through other leaves that move and shift with sun and wind and the turning of the earth through its days. Look at the result!P1540244Amazing!

P1540242There’s more to this story than just sun and light, and I’ll get to that in a sec, but for the moment look at how small patches of some of these leaves are delayed from maturing and shutting down photosynthesis in preparation for fall.
P1540241Frozen in time, that’s the thing.

P1540239Now, here’s the other player in these beautiful game. See the aphids on the underside of the leaves below, below the fruiting cluster?P1540233They are very responsive to light and growth and settle in the choicest spots, and then, as they divert the sap flow through their own digestive systems, they change everything. In effect, they become part of the plant, and the plant’s living processes are blocked and re-routed by the intervention of the insects and the whole year’s worth of redirected minerals.P1540227Aphids, light, shadow and the mysteries of an earth continually in motion.P1540224The scientist in me thinks this process could be put to use. The farmer in me knows it can. The poet in me is in love with the earth. The artist in me is just plained thrilled to see his body alive in the earth like this, down to the tiniest thing.

 

How Universities are Causing Global Warming and What to Do About It

I would like to show you the little valley I live in. I think the future depends on what we see here.view

 

Vernon Creek Valley, Okanagan Landing.

Okanagan Lake is to the right of this image. Downtown Vernon is to the left. My house is just off the right of the image, in the settlement of dark trees halfway up the image’s border.

Now, I don’t know what you see, but I’ll give you some context by turning you around gently. Look again. Different light, different colour in the grass, same hill.

P1520181Plus, there’s less cheatgrass (red) when you get this high. And what if we look more closely?

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At the top of this rare bit of remaining grassland, there’s this:

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So, that’s the context. So, let’s look at the valley again. I want to show you the ideal university of the future. It’s in the 33 acre abandoned orchard below the sagebrush hill, in the middle of the image, between the two 1970s-era subdivisions with their dark evergreen trees, and below the yellow splash of choke cherries in the ravine and the blob of dark poplars along Earl Grey’s old irrigation canal. Yeah, the tea guy. That’s right.

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I envisage it as a large outdoor classroom and laboratory, teaching farming, innovation, plant breeding, plant propagation, new plant species, new water regimes, new food processing opportunities, land-reading, agriculture (the intellectual version) and its appropriate spiritual components, along with appropriate engineering, mathematical, geological and artistic opportunities and interventions, as it supplies food for people and extends the deepest traditions of human culture forward in step with the earth. This is a form of Enlightenment, which was the process by which pre-industrial society in Europe was reformed along industrial and intellectual models. Some stuff was left out, for no good reason. The earth of today is a mirror of that process of leaving out. Here’s a cottonwood tree that was left out. In its place are some uses for cottonwood trees and some methods of observing cottonwood trees, but not ones which start from the actual energy of cottonwood trees.

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Cottonwood Tree on the Grey Canal

Hence, my farm university, or my university based on touching the earth.

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Earth Language. Repair Needed

Here it is from the golf course (to the right of the subdivision like a green island of trees).

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Unfortunately it is selling for $1,900,000, a price set by the standard of the golf course developers who have bought the hillside we’re standing on. It’s not a farming price. It’s a luxury price, set by the value of oil in the tar sands in Alberta. It’s a social price, which the retired farmer deserves, given the social context in which she must live. The culture that scars the boreal forest for oil, however, and sets such prices, is the same that uses the lake in my valley as a playground. Here’s an image of the lost wetland in my valley bottom, in the approach to winter. Forget this as an image of fall…

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Carving Pumpkins (Recreational agriculture.)

… this is the real image of fall in the valley:

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The golf course is not doing well, by the way. There might be a lost boreal forest behind it and a lot of aerial carbon and a lot of wealth created by this transformation, but, socially and ethically, the money created by it doesn’t flow very well. It’s like bitumen in a pipeline at times. They can’t even fix their road. Look.

P1510641This 3-metre deep gully was 10 centimetres deep 3 years ago. This is runoff from the golf course road.

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Our little gully is behind the dump truck up above. It is being filled with crushed “mantle”, or the ancient bedrock below its overburden of seabeds and volcanic flows and glacial till. They ignored the ditch (a metre deep at that point). They had some decorating to do instead…

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Crushed Mantle as a Decor Element

This is a replacement for landscaping with living things. This is called being “water smart”. It is called being ethically responsible.

Three years ago, one of the bankers holding the whole hillside in receivership could have fixed the gullet on a lunch break, by taking a bag lunch, driving up the hill with a shovel in the trunk, moving gravel for 1 minute, or even less, eating the lunch, and driving back to work, but, no. That didn’t happen. Now it’ll cost a few thousand dollars, with back hoes and dump trucks and what-have-you.

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What a waste. Now, a politically-correct and academically-correct (which means scientifically-correct) stance towards this bit of human self-absorption is to approach it neutrally, which is to say to observe it but nothing more. Here, let’s try that:

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Hmm

There’s an issue at play here. Humans, who do this observing, are social creatures. If they’re going to look at the earth, they’re going to see social stuff. This is social, for instance:

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Weedy Grassland Along the Grey Canal Trail

Observation works for social relationships, but it doesn’t mean that they develop into healthy ones. The gulch above is an unhealthy social relationship. Now, let me show you another unhealthy social relationship.

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The Green, Green Grass of Autumn

This cheat grass is growing on a deer trail. It takes all the water from the spring earth, reducing the earth’s ability to store water for an entire season, transfer it to the wetlands below, and support hundreds of species along the way. It reduces the ability of the land to support human populations, or any others. Socially, its presence is heavily tied with a crazy colonial social idea that things sprout in the spring and mature in the fall. Cheatgrass is smarter than that. In its social relationship with humans, humans are not. They don’t adjust grazing patterns or land use patterns to cheat cheatgrass out of its cheat. Ideology stands in the way of that, as does a cultural insistence on raising children in different environments. Concrete ones, for instance.

Forty auto minutes south of this point there is a university that trains thousands of students in the set of disinterested observational skills I mentioned above, extends those concrete worlds, and embodies some unhealthy social relationships. The result is this.

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The Enlightenment Botanical Garden Becomes Decorative …

… and then invisible. Not only is the earth, at this university that prides itself on ‘green’ values, a decorative element, but it’s mis-treated as well. What a change in 200 years!

I think it would be fair to say that this university represents a culture that has turned from the earth. I think it’s a powerful culture. I think it has many strengths. I also think it has a tragic flaw. I also think we can turn this thing around. To do that, let’s look at the set of intellectual approaches it has laid over the earth. First, the valley again …

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… and now the annotated version, showing a little of what I see here…

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I suggest opening the image in a new window (or just clicking on it) to see the details. When you do, I hope you will notice that barely one single thing here, short of the deer, coyote and bear trails squeezed up onto a hillside where none of them belong, represents an ability to work with the earth. Even the grazing lease and the no trespassing areas are heavily compromised and nearly non-productive. There are a few remaining farms, although heavily industrialized and producing petroleum-dependent and nearly-unaffordable food, and the habitat in the ravine and in the subdivisions is important, but beyond that? There’s a tiny riparian area winding through the stream in the residential areas on the far side of the airport, and a bit of weedy grassland on the hills across from us. I hope you will see as well that all this stuff represents an application of university culture, or, rather, the culture the university serves, and which we need it to do a better job of challenging or re-imagining. That’s where that $1,900,000 farm comes in. It has the potential to change everything and to build, on a rigorous foundation of practical, scientific and artistic work, a new paradigm, and, in a century, a new valley. Here’s the current state of affairs…

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Still Fixable

From foreground to background: deer fence, weedy grassland, vineyard designed to raise house prices, two abandoned orchards, a productive ravine full of coyotes and hawthorns, and just the hint of the beginnings of the city housing in the wetland below.

We can do better. We must do better. It’s a matter of ethics, and survival. The university’s stance, of ethical disinterestedness, has lead to powerful technical science (in this sense, psychology and the arts are powerful technical tools as well) and an ethical situation that is far from disinterested. Here, let me show you. The depth of magenta in the image below indicates the depth of ethical compromise present in the land. Notice that the closer one gets to water, the more compromised, ethically, land use becomes. Notice as well the green areas.

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The green oval is Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park… the only piece of permitted human habitat in this scenario. Even there, however, the grasslands are being heavily taken over by trees and park staff spend their time making urban social amenities (paths, picnic areas, shooting cougars, and so on).

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Kalamalka Provincial Park: In a Grassland, Trees are Weeds

It’s a strange kind of “nature” or “wilderness” that allows the replacement of the only habitat for butterflies, succulent plants, edible bulbs, and hundreds of other species, to be replaced by over-crowded, fire prone groves of low-value trees and only a handful of other species. This is actually called desertification. The only ‘nature’ it displays is ‘human nature’ and the ethical stance it displays is ‘disinteredness.’

But, again, our ethical valley.

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The green line in the foreground is the only allowable natural animal habitat outside the land use grid. Note how it dead ends, without access to the water it leads to (the water goes underground from there, but life doesn’t follow it.) Every scientific approach and attitude is an ethical decision. Every view of the land is ethical at heart. The current university teaches young people how to benefit from and fine tune the predatory land use shown above. It is a form of schooling, in, I may add, an attitude that has an end date. Predatory? Yes. Humans are predating on the earth. And, may I say, also on themselves and their ability to form social bonds with the earth. Here, this is another social image:

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On a  healthy planet, it will be recognized as having equal social value to humans as inter human relationships. Instead, it is called “nature” or “art”. That’s a start, but after a couple hundred years of separating that from scientific procedure, it has led to an overly-disinterested science, so technically powerful that its power has blinded it to all of which it is ignorant, including that “nature” or that “art”, and because it is all-powerful, those unseen elements become obliterated.

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Road Overspill

This is the best that environmental science can do to save a riparian area in a dry grassland hill.

I think a correction can and should be made. Opposition to the blind spots of disinterested science is why I have been arguing for a different kind of science, not to replace science but to rebalance its abilities to allow for outcomes that include the earth and the wealth of resiliency, and why I propose a different kind of university. It’s time to remake the earth. Remaking it, and ourselves, in the image of an android phone is a dead end. That path leads only to the replacement of humans and this …

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… with robots, or at least with robotic intellectual tools, which, ethically, is almost the same thing. That work is nearly complete. Global warming? Well, when one removes the ability of the earth to utilize solar energy and translate it into cooling ecosystems, what do you think is going to happen? Oil is not the cause. It is the symptom. This is global warming:

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Eroding Vineyard Hillside

Ten years ago it looked like this:

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Ten years ago it stopped water and the sun in their tracks and turned them into life. We can still repair that loss.

 

Of Bears and Men and the Stars

Bears build their highways in the shade.

P1510732Look at the planetary forces they live in. You’d think they were creatures of the stars.P1510792

 

Now, here’s a golf cart highway up the hill to the left.

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And the view?

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Hail on the last day of September. More of that life among the stars thing. Conclusion? We have a lot in common with bears.

P1510826North

Yet treat the earth as if it were ours.

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 South

Bears, though, share, with us…

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… while we build alien landing strips.

P1510810Note the blue rocks!

 

 

Putting a Face to Nature

This is not nature.

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It is a shrub. This is not nature.

P1500096 It is another shrub. This is not nature.

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You got it. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500160It’s grass. This is not nature:
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It’s choke cherries at the end of the season. Yeah. Another shrub. This is not nature.P1500653It’s wire weed, reclaiming a road shoulder, with a beautiful disrespect for gravity. What then is nature? It’s a human concept. These things aren’t. But, you see, there’s a trick here. Look again. This is human.

P1500105This is human.

P1500096 This is human.

P1500083 This is human, too.

cc And this. It’s you.

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Yes, you. And even this.

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By nature, a specific kind of human attention must be meant. Otherwise the term is just no use at all. Unless, of course, you believe that you are not of this planet. If that’s the case, then you can use it. If you do, however, this is not human…

P1500105 This is not human…P1500096 Nor this… P1500083 Nope, not this, either…,cc… nor this…P1500653

… but this is, perhaps…

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Grassland Artifice

This grass was humanly sown to stabilize a slope after road construction. It has replaced a rich, living landscape with a single species.

This is how profit is drawn from the earth and turned into human economies. The life of a thousand species is concentrated down to one (humans). How could it be otherwise. It’s the mirror of human economic organization under the current world economic model. All discussions of the earth are ethical discussions.

 

Earth Talking: The Language of Science Part 4

There are many ways to talk about the earth. One is to speak about it in its own terms. Take the word height, which means hill and head all at once. It’s related to the word stick, which means point, and gives us spear, tip, spike, spit, stalk, stake, and so on. All these “meanings” branch from the same root, which is a sense of rising up in a manner both physical and spiritual at the same time.

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Height Attracts Height

American Gold Finch (with a head) on a Sunflower Head. Note that the goldfinch’s head has a head (tip, point, beak) of its own, as does its wings, as do its feet. It is all height. Is there any wonder it takes to the air?

These are ancient ways of seeing embedded in language, but still alive for all that and worth dwelling in for a moment. If, for instance, we add the word open to that height, we get a rowan tree, reaching for the light.

P1490467Rowan at Height

Note that it has reached past the light into the dark centre of the sky. This is an effect of a fall day (which places more light at the horizon than up high) and signifies the beginning of the tree’s new balance with light, with is commonly called Autumn or Fall. As the light falls to the earth, so do its representations on the Earth, the leaves.

It pays to state the obvious when speaking of the earth with the earth. Notice how the rowan above has leaves that open off of its tip (aka head, stick, stalk, prick or spike). They form about half of the volume of the stalk. They will be shed with the cold.

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Cold Rowan

Most of the leaves are gone.

The next year, the buds at the bases of the leaves (which are the year they have condensed out of the year and which they pass on to the next which is the same year again), will open and branch into other stalks (They have, in effect, the same independent life as the previous stalk — just rising from the ones that came before, that’s all. This, by the way, is not the same as passing time. It is growing time).

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Time, Growing

Note how it expresses itself at different heights and intensities through the differing bodies of different species, such as the saskatoon bush here,the yellow balsam root flowers, and the blue-green big sage.

Note as well that the word branches signifies a spiritual force, not the physical object (branch). The physical object is the record of the spiritual event, as much as it is an event, or presence, in its own right.

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Apples Hanging Off of Markers of Spiritual Events

This is what time looks like in the language of the earth.

This ancient conception, that trees branch independently of the endless, unbroken time in which they stand has long been superseded by clock time, as humans reckon these things. Nonetheless, we still use the words that identify trees with being itself: bough, branch, Baum (in German), and even bud are delineations of particular manifestations of the word being. Clock time or not, for any moment of being-with-a-plant on this earth, an experience of such time is invaluable.

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Point, Branch and Bud Intersecting with Gravity and Light in a Cottonwood Tree

Time.

The point of balance (the opening bud, or the previous year’s stalk following the light again) in any tree will move outward into the growing (i.e. rising in intensity) light. This point of balance is commonly called spring, a term which signifies life force itself (a spiritual term, not a physical one, it’s worth remembering).

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Staghorn Sumac Springing

Of course, the year is not all within its spring, and not all buds and branches drive upwards to a head. Others become lateral, and others hang down. This full expression of a tree’s being with light, gravity and memory (those branches) is driven by fruitfulness, in general, and the hormones laid down by gravity, specifically. You could thus call a rowan a plant that turns gravity into fruit.

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Fruiting Rowan

Each berry is both sun and earth at once. This is not a metaphor.

The fruit in turn bends the branches, which then collect more hormones and become more fruitful. You could say that this is a plant that mines gravity to reproduce. Here’s one that reproduces by harnessing the lack of gravity (the wind).

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Salsify

The plant force that expresses itself in such patterned petals (the entire branching force rising from one point) eventually closes and then opens again. It opens in the same energy as before, but transformed by branching. This is the spiritual power of the flower. It is not be underestimated.

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Salsify Ready to Catch the Wind

Soon there will be wind. Here are a couple of salsify stalks after its seeds have used the wind to escape gravity.

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Salsify, After Its Seeds Have Flown

For this plant, branching takes place at the core of the flower. Accordingly, for it time is not laid down in branches. It is laid down as an expression of wind.

So, there you have it, a small journey through an alternate form of language, which allows for alternate sets of observations about plants and environment than those of conventional scientific thinking. To restate the obvious, if we are to have living relationships with a living earth, such living language, built out of the processes of the earth itself, must be one of our tools.

Asparagus in Glory: Science and Language Part III

The other day I was discussing how the language of science influences the world that scientific exploration and method allows us to see. Behind that is the observation that if the language of science were fundamentally changed, the world that humans could perceive would be changed. I will be speaking more about the nature of such changes later in the week. For the moment, let’s work towards those observations step by step. First step, the lowly asparagus.

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Female Asparagus in Her Glory

Remember her from the springtime?

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So, that’s a pretty basic shift, eh! Each of the bud scales on the young asparagus stalk above will open into a fern stalk, which will open into ferns, flowers, and ultimately berries, seeds, and spiders.

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Which is the real asparagus? The white shoot, below the ground, that the Germans eat to honour life sprung from the dead land (a truly ancient practice)? The green shoot that Canadians eat to honour spring life? The fern? The spider? They are all the asparagus, of course. The entire cycle is the asparagus. Human time-biases, however, encourage human observers to label the plant by its best-known form, as food, such as these wild stalks I picked and brought home in the spring…

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Those are, however, no more than asparagus than is this…

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spider1It’s an important point, actually. As humans, bound to time, we tend to see events unfolding along a line, from spring to fall, so to speak. It’s harder to see them opening up into themselves, passing through a set of stages (openings, really) , each of which holds the others in completeness, or at least in complete potential open to chance. It’s also hard for us to see individuals (such as this asparagus) achieving full life by becoming part of a community, as this plant does with its spider and the fly it has caught and the deer that grazes it in the spring (or the poet who cuts off one of its stalks for a spring dinner,) but it’s not that hard. In fact, once you’ve experienced the plant in that way there’s no going back — which suggests that it’s not hard at all. In scientific nomenclature, asparagus is classified, as are all plants, according to its origins, its descent from a primeval form. It could, however, be classified according to its ends, the point at which it reaches in completeness — its ability, for instance, to host spiders and attract the flies on which they feed. That particular classification system might not be terribly humanly useful, mind you. One, however, that classified it by the compounds in its berries might, and might give it such unexpected friends as apples, cranberries, bearberries, and so forth. In such a classification system, the harvesting of young asparagus stalks would not be seen as cutting a crop in its prime, but cutting it in a juvenile stage. The pressure to leave more of the plant for full, mature development would be strong under such a system, and environmental protection would be furthered … by nothing more than a chance of language. This is just one small example of what is possible, and what is currently being ignored. Without it, it’s no wonder the environment is separated from what it needs to survive.

Tomorrow: Varied forms of nomenclature and their benefits. After that, we’ll get into social effects of all of this, because humans, the social animals that humans love to speak of, are part of this story.

Ethnobotanical Knowledge: The Language of Science Part 2

Remember? Yesterday I pointed out that each of the plants below, although far apart in botanical class-action, share the power of redness, which arises at different points on each plant, stem, leaf and fruit, at different intensities, at different times, and in different ways. Here they are again.redsstuff

To refresh, the various points at which the colour red are manifested take on significance and can be developed into technologies. Two observations.

1. This was once common knowledge. Indigenous plant usage, especially medicinal plants, did not come about by trial and error. People could once read the natural world in its own language. In other words, they could read this with the ease with which people today read their smart phones.

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Staghorn Sumac (Female)

Have you ever wondered why universities don’t teach this stuff?

Most new pharmaceuticals come from harvesting substances found in indigenous plant materials, patenting them, and then marketing them. Think of it. The scientific tradition, with all its wealth and power can often do little more than refine discoveries already made, and then profit from them. I bet your local pharmacist would have difficulty reading the image above. Or this one:

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Staghorn Sumac Opening into the Light

2. The progression of plants into and through the colour red is much like the variations of plants themselves as they respond to different environmental zones. I used the example yesterday of two red osier dogwoods with degrees of redness differing because of their particular growing situations. Here’s the redder one:

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The redness of this plant is the result of shutting down photosynthesis — not because of a decrease of fall light, but because of a decrease of fall light in relation to leaves that have grown in great drought and heat. If the red appeared because of fall conditions in and of themselves, then the neighbouring red dogwoods wouldn’t look like this:

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These colour differences encode very specific differences in the efficacy of the medicinal compounds in these plants. Magic was once based on such readings, to various degrees of accuracy. Science largely set it aside. Pity. Perhaps these plants could all be classified according to their degrees of redness, rather than according to their genetic lineages. After all, there is nothing particularly special about genetic lineages. Their use as a classification system is purely random, yet has profound results. In terms of genetics, however, those red pigments come from common sources, and thus form very alternate genetic lineages of their own. What those are remains unexplored. That is an effect of language. If one says that the shape of a leaf and the manner of fruiting are the signifiers of a familial relationship, then it is so, and other relationships are seen as adaptations arising in parallel, but subordinately to the main genetic line. That might, actually, not be the case. Take, for instance, the lowly pinot (little pine) grape.

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Pinot Noir, Meyer Vineyard, Okanagan Falls

This is the wild grape of Southern France, which has thousands of variations, all farmed, and even appears with differently coloured skin (pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot auxerois), with all of their different flavour characteristics. This is not a matter of breeding. The genetic material of this ancient plant changes to fit environmental conditions. In fact, change is a major characteristic of the plant. The point here is that within the plant there exists a huge potentiality for variation, which manifests itself in different conditions. It is a lesson to remember when looking at any plant. Here are three variations of mariposa lily growing on Turtle Point in Kalamalka Lake…

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That’s not all. In most places where this exquisite grassland lily (and vital food crop) grows, it isn’t this colour at all. It’s usually white, but, well, not exclusively so, and not without variation…

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If you travel through the northwest, you will find the same thing with Indian Paintbrush, as it varies geographically from pinks in the John Day, up through whites and scarlets in the Columbia and the Methow, to crimsons in the Okanagan, deep crimsons, almost purple in the Cariboo, and Oranges up against the shield volcanoes in the West Chilcotin. If you travel across the land with a system of scientific nomenclature in hand, you will be able to record those differences, but you might just miss the story, that there are qualities in the land, and in the plants response to it, rising from an original potential essence, that are causing the changes, and that they show up in more than just lilies. If you travel with the system of scientific nomenclature, you might find it a little to easy to claim that the differences are the result of random variation. It’s the same thing, but it misses the answer to the question of why. People used to be able to answer those questions! They wrote them up in complication systems of spiritual belief, that looked like this sometimes:

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Part of a Reconstructed Map of Giordano Bruno’s Memory Theatre

All areas of knowledge are codified under the influence of various gods and astrological signs.

Sound Whacky? Sound like those rolled-up astrologies you can buy for a buck at the drug store and that look like candy cigarettes? Maybe, but the gallery of the Abbey of Saint Gallen in Switzerland, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, and a top listed UNESCO world heritage site, is arranged precisely like this. And those were the monks who created handwriting and attempted to recreate the world as a book and thus restore God’s creation to its original form (Eden.) Putting all the religious stuff aside, they were trying to find a kind of ecological or environmental balance or unity. Aren’t we all.

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Sankt Gallen Stiftsbibliothek Source

There’s a bust of a goddess (Agriculture, Physics and so on) above each stack. The volumes in the stacks are not “books” but bound manuscripts.

Shakespeare was in on it, too. His stage was a room in which memory was organized in much these ways.

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And so was an alchemist’s workshop.

olaus worm bigger2 And so are early scientific collections. I’d show you the amazing ones in Gotha, but I lost my photos. This will do…

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Science is a continuation of this process of editing, collating and organizing. The how of the organizing is a language, and that language means that some things get spoken and others do not. This, for example, gets left out:

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Japanese Red Maple in the August Sun

I read the colour and the sun here, with the ability to reach deeply recessed parts of the human body and psyche that are probably codified on someone’s zodiacal chart somewhere and rejected as fanciful nonsense.

Of course, much of it is. A series of principles for sorting alternate spiritual systems out would be most helpful.

Tomorrow: Other organizations.