Seeing The Neglected Ones
A Contemplation on The Being of Nature
Trees have been a powerful metaphor for the representation of life in its purity, the bedrock of nature as a whole. Since the dawn of our species, they have been our silent companions, the beholders of our history and stories. Yet rarely is it that in a consumerist culture and among the maddening volumes of social media and celebrity culture we agree to see it as such.
And now when we, as the most advanced species, are hell-bent on nature’s maximum and brutal utilization for our pleasures via our technologies, are we moral in our action to view it as a mean for our goals?
Immanuel Kant however influential in the philosophical field of morality excluded them among others from his second categorical Imperative — “always treat others as ends and not means.” For him, this deontological moral rule was to be the case for rational beings alone. And, of course, from his view, only humans qualified for that.
Many modern philosophers have successfully disapproved of this view in regard to animals with the help of scientific insights into animal lives, the sense of suffering they suffer from because of our untapped brutalities. Countless words and movements have contributed solid foundational stones in the same regard to minimize their harm. But still not enough have explored where one of the controversial and important philosophers of the 20th century, Martin Heidegger did. Into the being of nature.
As a slight detour in an effort to make it gradual, it reminds me of the widely followed Japanese ‘Shinto’ tradition. Which contrary to our consumerist culture sees the interconnectedness and relationship between humans and nonhumans on its own issue as divine and mysterious. The tradition considers nature to have its own spirit ‘Kami’ that thrives and nurtures us among others. Our existence is owed to its blessings.
To get an idea of the concept you can watch the two movies by great Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Princess Mononoke’ (And if you have already watched them you might understand the gist).
But even if this intervening muse grounded in something called ‘faith’ can be rejected in a rational discussion, there can be put forth the argument of consciousness and being.
Indeed plants and trees have consciousness and thus a rational tool. Consciousness appears in lowest to highest forms in a spectrum of living entities, and because we are at the top we see things from the same. And thus look down on ones we consider inferior.
Forestry science has revealed that the community, communication, and altruism takes place in deep forest networks below the ground. Where trees share nutrients and information necessary for the survival of their generations. Almost like families they nurture the sick ones, work in collaboration and identify their children and competitors.
One single tree, as we plant by uprooting the forest, is like an orphan, at the mercy of cruelty of weather. As German forester Peter Wohelleben explores in his book ‘The Hidden Life of trees, What They Feel, How They Communicate’, together they create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of hot and cold, stores a great deal of water and generates humidity.
This makes a protected environment allowing them to live to be very old. If everyone looks after himself, for instance, summer heat would reach the forest floor and dry it out. A tree can only be as strong as the forest that surrounds it.
Heidegger too helps to understand it in a different light: we have failed to recognize the ‘being of nature’ itself in its own issue, apart from our subjective practical standpoint. We have lived and perceived in an inauthentic way as our tastes and interests have been dictated by masses that dominate in our everyday life.
We rarely seem to resist it when technology and an emerging superficial culture reveals the world before us as “standing reserve” that is “on tap” for humankind to exploit. “The earth reveals itself as a coal mining district, the soil as a mineral deposit”, the Rhine as both a “water power supplier” and a tourist attraction. The forgetfulness of being has suffused our minds. For, with the world experienced as stuff for human use, all sense of its source in something mysterious and beyond human control is lost.
So, “are we moral to eradicate those gigantic organisms and in lieu planting analogously orphan trees in tidbits around our newly established places?” is a question I leave for the readers to answer.
We have a rather insufficient momentum to shake off the technology-laden view that reveals nature as a mere reserve available to be exploited. The poetic fantasy of a gnarled bark of a tree holding years of stories to be seen and perceived, the leaves whispering a secret song are the fictions not strong enough yet to change our kind for good.