, 2020 on Twitter:
The history of Nazis holding rallies in left-wing areas of Weimar Germany, instigating street fights, and then telling the press that only they could save Germany from the “violent communists” seems like an important thing for people to be studying right now.
Lee Jin Carter (born June 2, 1987) is an American politician who has represented the 50th district in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2018. He defeated Jackson Miller, the Republican House Majority Whip, to win the seat. Born in North Carolina, Carter is a member of the Democratic Party, an IT specialist, and a former Marine. Wikipedia
“Triumph of the Spirit” blog by Phil Bolsta
I like the way Eckhart Tolle explains why life becomes a nightmare when we limit the boundaries of who we are to the confines of our mind and body. Here is an insightful excerpt from his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
FROM DESCARTES’ ERROR TO SARTRE’S INSIGHT
The seventeenth-century philosopher Descartes, regarded as the founder of modern philosophy, gave expression to this primary error [of the illusion of separateness] with his famous dictum (which he saw as primary truth): “I think, therefore I am.” This was the answer he found to the question “Is there anything I can know with absolute certainty?” He realized that the fact that he was always thinking was beyond doubt, and so he equated thinking with Being, that is to say, identity—I am—with thinking. Instead of the ultimate truth, he had found the root of the ego, but he didn’t know that.
It took almost three hundred years before another famous philosopher saw something in that statement that Descartes, as well as everybody else, had overlooked. His name was Jean-Paul Sartre. He looked at Descartes’ statement ” I think, therefore I am” very deeply and suddenly realized, in his own words, “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks.”
What did he mean by that? When you are aware that you are thinking, that awareness is not part of thinking. It is a different dimension of consciousness. And it is that awareness that says “I am.” If there were nothing but thought in you, you wouldn’t even know you are thinking. You would be like a dreamer who doesn’t know he is dreaming. You would be as identified with every thought as the dreamer is with every image in the dream.
Many people still live like that, like sleepwalkers, trapped in old dysfunctional mindsets that continuously recreate the same nightmarish reality. When you know you are dreaming, you are awake within the dream. another dimension of consciousness has come in.
The implication of Sartre’s insight is profound, but he himself was still too identified with thinking to realize the full significance of what he had discovered: an emerging new dimension of consciousness.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the one book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.
(Submitted by Sarah Flynn.)
mongchilde Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall Lifted from “Pink Floyd The Wall” film, this video is actually comprised of two songs: “The Happiest Days Of Our Lives” and “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2” This video became the official video of “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2” after the release of the film in 1982. This single is by far Pink Floyd’s greatest ever mainstream success, instantly attaining classic status, and is perhaps their most famous piece of work. ABINTW Pt. 2 even became the protest song of a group of South African students during the apartheid regime, the song was subsequently banned in South Africa. The song itself is a protest against the rigidity of British schools, and in particular, the boarding school system Waters would have been part of as a young boy. The poem read out by the schoolteacher is a direct reference to “Money” The schoolteacher in this video was portrayed by the late, great, Scottish actor Alex McAvoy who passed away in June 2005. If you haven’t seen “The Wall” I would Highly recommend you to do so.
Suggested by Pink Floyd
Music in this video
Roger Waters, David Gilmour
Licensed to YouTube by
LatinAutor – PeerMusic, BMG Rights Management (US), LLC, CMRRA, LatinAutor, Abramus Digital, Pink Floyd Music Publishers, and 19 Music Rights Societies
This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
Your are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.”
― Helen Keller
Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. Wikipedia
August 30, 2020 (emergencemagazine.org)
An Interview with Richard Powers
In this extensive interview, Richard Powers discusses the kind of storytelling in which humans are not separate from the living world around them and how this inspired his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Overstory.
We have to escape the life of commodity and replace it with the life of community. What’s going to be required is a conversion of consciousness. I call it plant consciousness.
All the characters in The Overstory have encounters and experiences with trees that greatly impact them and lead them on life-changing journeys that we follow during the course of the book. As I understand it, the seed behind The Overstory was an unexpected encounter you had with a redwood tree here in California. I wonder if you could start off our conversation by sharing this experience and how it led you to want to write a book about trees.Richard Powers
I’d be happy to. I had actually written on environmental subjects in the past, and in particular, my 2006 novel The Echo Maker took the question of the relationship between the human and the nonhuman as one of its central preoccupations. But I wasn’t particularly tree conscious myself. I guess I was as a small child, as most small children are. The ability to look at a tree and see an animate, active agent is pretty ubiquitous in childhood, and we get that drummed out of us along the way by various means.
By the time I moved to Northern California to teach at Stanford, I had sunk pretty deeply into that kind of myopia that we humans suffer, that is characterized by the belief that we are pretty much the only interesting game in town. Although I had treated the nonhuman in my previous eleven novels, I think I was, without knowing it, pretty colonized by this idea that the human story was self-generating and self-justifying, and it was with that state of mind that I began teaching at Stanford, which is a tremendous technologically oriented school, and probably the primary generator of the phenomenon of Silicon Valley. From my house in Palo Alto, I could easily bike, within just a few minutes, to the headquarters of Apple, and Intel, and HP, and Google, and Facebook, and Netflix, and pretty much the whole gamut of companies that had been so instrumental in creating the present and that were very busy creating the future.
I remember undergoing a medical scare that made me quite conscious of my own mortality. I was in my mid-50s and realized at this juncture that whether or not I had to face a serious health crisis this time around, I would soon enough. It was with that enhanced awareness of mortality that I found myself at a dinner party one night in Palo Alto, and the topic did come up, and we all began sharing. We aging professors all began to share our mortality stories, and there were folks there from the community of Silicon Valley who were saying that it’s a litany there, that we should all just hold on a little bit longer, because if we can make it through the next few years, technology was going to cure all the design flaws of biology, including death. I guess it was that sense of not being sure that this is a future that I can reconcile myself to, and that sense of the oppressiveness of the melioristic and transformative engine of this place, that made me turn increasingly toward the Santa Cruz mountains up above town, between the valley and the Pacific.
And in order to escape that sense of mastery and control—a future in which all things would be managed to our benefit—I would disappear for longer and longer periods of time up into the trails of the Central Peninsula, and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and into the long past. These mountains—you’ve probably been down there at one time or another—they’re covered with second-growth redwood forests and other very interesting forest biomes. It’s hard not to walk through a redwood forest, even a fairly young one, without that profound sense of the spiritual.
You know, these are enormous trees. They’re like the columns of a church. The sense of verticality is immense. The sounds, the scale, and simply the overwhelming, haunting silence of those forests is very sobering. And I guess I wasn’t initially extremely conscious of the fact that these were fairly young trees that were only one hundred years old or so—a redwood can do amazing things in less than a century—they’re still enormous trees.
Walking through this second-growth forest one day, I came across a tree that had somehow, by the accident of history, escaped the loggers that had clear-cut these mountains. If you are impressed by what a redwood can do in a hundred years, seeing what one can do in fifteen hundred years is absolutely mind-altering. And there I was, standing in front of a tree that was the width of a good-sized house, and a football field in height, and almost as old as the Roman Empire. A number of things came clear to me in that moment. One is that these mountains would have been covered in trees that size, and they had all been cut down to build and rebuild San Francisco, to build Palo Alto, to build the railroad that Leland Stanford had so profited from. Essentially, it became clear to me that Silicon Valley was down there because these redwoods were up here, and the story that we tell about the technological transformation of the world—in which we are the central, sole heroes—was not actually telling the whole story, the whole truth. I guess it was also this sense that life was operating on a frame so much longer, and larger, and ingenious than I had previously realized that really kicked me in the head.
By the time I got to the bottom of the mountain, I was on a journey that would last for years and years, and that has continued beyond the publication of The Overstory. And it’s the journey to understand trees, for sure—to see this huge taxonomic category that is so instrumental in transforming the world—but it’s also a journey to reappraise what the human is and to tell the human story in a more complete, robust, and honest way. How deeply dependent we have been upon these communities of other creatures that we have been tempted to treat as mere commodities.
In her review in the New York Times, Barbara Kingsolver wrote, “People will only read stories about people, as this author knows perfectly well. The Overstory is a delightfully choreographed, ultimately breathtaking hoodwink.” And in many ways, that felt true to me. At first you feel as though the humans and trees are deeply intertwined but on somewhat equal footing as characters. And you feel deeply connected to the struggles the characters are going through. But then, over time and as the characters’ stories converge, the trees really feel as though they take over as the central character. Can you talk about your narrative approach for working with and interweaving the human and the nonhuman stories?
I suppose that Barbara Kingsolver is right. There is a little bit of a hoodwink involved, or let’s call it a bait and switch, in the book, in which there is an invitation initially to read the book as a classic work of literary fiction that’s immersed deeply in the lives of individuals who seem to be making meaning in and for themselves. Gradually, using this seduction shifts the readers’ focus to this broader question of who we are inside the larger community of life.
You could also say that there is a kind of hoodwinking in status quo literary fiction that does not attempt to situate us in that larger context. The hoodwink would be the invitation to the reader to believe that there is a separate story called humankind and a separate story called nature. This has never really been the case in world literary fiction until fairly recently, within the last couple of centuries in the post-industrial West. In some ways, what I was doing in The Overstory was trying to return to that time, in those places that knew that you could not tell a human story as if it were separate from the story of all the neighbors. It was a great comfort and a great astonishment, in a way, for me to realize that most of world literature for most of human history and in most places around the globe would not have lifted an eyebrow at the idea of this other kind of hoodwinking, this telling of our story through their stories. It is, in a sense, a return to this more deeply indigenous kind of fiction in which there’s no separating us from the neighbors.EM
You said that stories that expound an individualist, human-exceptionalist, commodity-mediated worldview are a late-day cultural invention, as you just described in many ways.RP
I think that invention starts to happen around the early nineteenth century in Western Europe and in North America, where various technologies and our increasing ability to manipulate time and space seduce us into thinking that we can go it alone, that somehow we’re no longer a dependent member of a community. Within a very short period of time, that seduction has become so complete that it takes conscious effort to see the degree to which we each have been colonized by it.EM
And you’ve also talked about how we need stories that focus on the nonhuman, or the human and the nonhuman relationship, if we are to address the tremendous ecological crisis that we’re facing.RP
Well, in fact, you can understand the ecological crisis that we’re facing as a direct, inevitable consequence of the attitude of humans’ separatism. The idea that we are exceptional and independent and autonomous has created a culture in which these great, teeming, reciprocal communities of living things became nothing but commodities which we could use with impunity, as if somehow the very cycles of interdependence were no longer something that we had to answer to.
But in The Overstory, the characters learned to invest in trees with the same sacred value that humans typically only invest in themselves. And you said in doing so, they violate this individual-centric capitalism taboo. It’s almost like there’s a protest that’s happening in the stories of the characters unfolding.
Most of them begin very comfortably inside that world that we all inhabit, where meaning is private and personal, something that we construct for ourselves—it depends on amassing a certain degree of comfort and power. All the things a person in North America, when asked what would be a meaningful life, would enumerate: the ability to move freely and powerfully through the world, and to enjoy the material comforts necessary in order to reflect, and enjoy, and socialize with other people. But somewhere along the way, something happens to each one of them to trip up that assumption and to yank them out of that sense of a purely personal and synthetic and invented meaning and push them out into not what we humans call the real world—by which we usually just mean the social, the invented world—but into the living world, and force them to take the place that they’re living in as something alive, with agency, and hugely occupied by very specific creatures whose desires are different from their own.
That’s the moment of great awakening. That’s the conversion moment that the book tells again and again through these various characters. It’s one that so transforms individual consciousness that none of these characters can take for granted their own sense of privilege or pride of place in the world. Suddenly, they are forced to a deep reckoning with the degree to which their own existence has always been contingent on the air, and the water, and the soil that these other creatures are maintaining and creating.
You talk about your characters undergoing a conversion, and you’ve also talked about your experience in writing this book as being—I think you actually said—a religious conversion.
Minus the deity, I’m afraid. It’s kind of what Bron Taylor calls dark green religion—it’s the realization that there is a teleology, there is a vital force, and it’s in the form of this self-replicating molecule that has gone through millions and millions of variations and is just out there animating the planet. I guess if you had to name the religion that I was converted to, it would probably be animism.
Trees became so much more for you than the subjects of your book, and I’m curious to hear more about how writing this book changed you. What was the result of this conversion to animism?
Well, I’ll tell you something very specific. This is my twelfth novel—I’ve been writing novels for over a third of a century. It’s the first novel that ever moved me across the country and literally changed my life in terms of what I do all day long, how I live, and where I live. The story is this: I was stunned, when I began to read about the redwoods of Northern California, to discover that of their initial range, somewhere between only 5 and 2 percent of old-growth redwood forest still exists.
As I read deeper into the history of trees in North America, it stunned me, once again, to discover that that same proportion holds true for all of the forests of North America—that of the four great continent-spanning forests that were intact when Europeans first arrived on this continent just a short time ago, only 2 to 5 percent of the primary forests remain. I’m an easterner; I lived and grew up and spent most of my life in the Midwest. And I kept reading that there are almost no old-growth forests left east of the Rocky Mountains. The number is even less than 2 percent. The number of primary forests in the West is slightly higher, and the average comes out to be between 2 to 5 percent. I kept reading that if you wanted to see what an eastern old-growth forest looks like, one of the best places—one of the only places—that you can go to is the Great Smoky Mountains on the boundary between eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. This is one of the largest, contiguous, remaining old-growth forests in the eastern United States and one of the few places you can go to get a feel of what a broadleaf deciduous forest looked like before the Europeans—indeed, looked like ten thousand years ago.
I made a research trip about four and a half or five years ago to come and see the Smokies, because there’s still one hundred and twenty thousand acres of uncut primary forest inside the boundary of the National Park, about a quarter of the National Park. I went into this thinking that I knew what an eastern forest looked like—I’d grown up around them, and I’ve hiked in them all my life.
And indeed, when I started in on this trip to see the old-growth, I was walking through forests that were more or less recognizable to me—they were the regrowth forests, the ones of a hundred years old or more. But when I crossed that threshold from a regrowing forest—recovering forest—into the old-growth, it was genuinely like that moment in The Wizard of Oz where it goes from black and white to color. You don’t have to be forest literate when you walk onto these trails that go up into the old-growth. You cross a threshold, and it looks different, it smells different, it sounds different. I was up at elevation in the middle of a forest, and I was seeing sights, and hearing sounds, and smelling smells that could very well have been experienced at the end of the last ice age, and that would have been everywhere on this continent. It was a moment at least as powerful as the one when I ran into the old-growth redwood in California. I just thought, this is my country—this is the legacy, and endowment, and the core principle net of natural capital in the eastern US. And you have to work hard to see it.
I left that trip really shaken by that experience, and eight months later, I was still thinking about that, and thinking about how I felt, and thinking about what those places look like. I just thought, boy, if I am still obsessed with this almost a year later, that’s got to say something. So, I went back to the Smokies, and I bought a house right on the edge of the park, and I’ve been living there ever since.
What’s that been like for you, these last few years, being so close to that forest and spending so much time in it?
Well, that’s exactly what I meant when I said it’s profoundly changed my day-to-day reality. Throughout all the years of my career as a writer, since I was a subscriber to that idea that human reality was the reality, and social exchange was the primary way of making meaning in my private life, I had a tremendous sense of literature as commodity and productivity. Each day, I would sit and write until I had one thousand good words. And I did not leave my desk until those words pleased me. Now, I wake up, and I go outside on the deck, and I say, “What is it doing out there? What are my possibilities for discovery and connection?” If the weather is right, I go out. Just as the initial requirement for my day was my thousand words, now it’s like I don’t feel good about myself unless I’ve been present or attentive to some living community that gave me a sense of my own personal place.
And it was the shifting of that work ethic—from a thousand words to four or five miles—that has completely altered my own sense of vocation as a writer. It’s changed my style. It’s changed the rhythm of my days.
The Overstory is filled with myths about trees—Greek, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, and Native American myths—and you’ve said that you are trying to resurrect a very old form of tree consciousness. Could you talk about this and your use of myth throughout the book?
It was thrilling, as I began to do my research, to discover that wherever I looked, in whatever culture, if I went far enough back, trees were right at the center of the foundational stories. In particular, this notion of permeability, this idea that we weren’t really all that separate, that we weren’t as far away from these other creatures as we believed. The great example of that for our own tradition would be Ovid, and the Metamorphoses is a central organizer of the book. It’s almost as if these stories—standing as they do, outside of the human-exceptionalist story, either long before or on the threshold of this notion of setting off into our own mythos—these stories are warnings that call us back to kinship. Again and again, they are about how our destinies, and our bodies, and our souls are contingent and intertwined with trees.
It was also really marvelous—as I dug deeper into the mythologies of transformation, and metamorphosis, and communication, and kinship—to discover how deeply derived cultures are from the plant life of their location. There are somewhere between sixty and one hundred thousand species of trees on the planet, and that number itself is so fluid, and trees have been around for so very long. The basic solution of arbor essence goes back four hundred million years, which is roughly two thousand times longer than the entire history of our own species, anatomically modern human. So that’s a bit sobering in itself, but because that category is so taxonomically loose and so dependent upon the local conditions of geography, the idea of what a tree is, is hugely variable. We know that, in a fairly banal way, to grow up in New England and to be surrounded by sugar maples produces a very different kind of consciousness than if you were to grow up down here in Southern Appalachia and be surrounded by tulip poplars, and hickories, and rhododendrons, and an entirely different experience again growing up in Northern California surrounded by redwoods, or in the Southwest in the shadow of giant saguaro cacti. The plants of an area are absolutely indispensable in the formation of the local character of humanity.
Part of the technological myth—part of this seduction of the huge leverage that our prosthetic tools have given us—is that we can globalize and become a kind of single culture, independent of where we live. So much of the push of post-industrial North America has been toward homogenizing place. You can think about this as you travel, how much of the world that you’re traveling through has been redesigned in order to comfort you with this illusion of familiarity and continuity. To sit in a Comfort Inn, or a La Quinta—or in some interchangeable place on some interchangeable interstate, watching some interchangeable cable program in this interchangeable culture that we’ve created—and then, to look out the window and see that remnant of native life that reminds you, oh wait a minute, I’m not in Kansas anymore, or California, or Tennessee. It is quite a remarkable moment to remember just how badly deformed we’ve come to think about place and how amnesiac we’ve become about the power of place to be something different, everywhere.
The myths offer opportunities for remembrance and kinship, as you describe. But they also do a remarkable job of creating awe and wonder. And one of the things that really struck me in reading The Overstory is how instilled with a sense of awe I was as a reader, not only for trees but for the broader, living world. And it seems that instilling a sense of awe and wonder is key if we are to build respect and reverence for the living world and respond to this ecological crisis from that place of respect and reverence, and that stories have a key role to play at this time. Could you talk a bit about that?
You’ve said that very beautifully, and my initial feeling is that I’m not sure how I can enhance upon what you’ve already described. I do have to say that there are components of awe that make it a difficult lesson for 2020 North Americans, because awe as an emotion is close to other emotions that we’ve been taught to be deeply uncomfortable with. Awe and fear are not that far from each other, and our whole culture is based upon the attempted annihilation of fear, the myth that we can somehow make ourselves safe.
Going all the way back to what I was saying about Silicon Valley, where if you just hang on a little bit longer, you won’t have to die—that little myth is really insidious in the way that we live, that somehow we can avoid pain, we can avoid loss, we can avoid mortality through the power of our technologies. We’re not comfortable with fear. The other emotion that awe is very close to is humility. The realization that there is no separate mode of existence, that our very lives are dependent upon the lives of others, over which we can have no control, and the renunciation of control is something that does not come easy to us. It’s not simply sufficient to be appreciative or amazed or delighted by the immense diversity and fecundity and ingenuity and inventiveness of other living things. To be truly filled with awe, you also have to be aware of your own transience, your own ephemerality, your own relative insignificance in this huge community. Those aren’t easy for us—to go from the lord and master to just another member of a big community. That’s a tough lesson. That’s a tough step.
The different relationship to time between humans and trees is a theme that runs throughout the book and is beautifully illustrated in the opening chapter about the Hoel family’s relationship to a chestnut tree. John Hoel, whose father planted the tree, decides to capture the tree and see what the thing looks like sped up to the rate of human desire by taking a photograph of the tree in the exact same place each month, and this then continues for several generations. I’m curious how your relationship to, or your understanding of time has changed through the course of writing this book.
It was really the great challenge of the book to try to find literary devices that would allow me to put trees and people adjacent to each other as characters, because of this profound difference in their scale of time.
The time-lapse photographs, or the long project of taking individual photographs and then turning them into a kind of flip-book of a century worth of still photos, was one device that I use to translate tree time into human time. And then there were others: for instance, there’s a moment when Douglas Pavlicek is falling out of the sky—his plane has been shot down in Southeast Asia. The narration, which is operating on the time frame of this guy who’s accelerating at thirty-two feet per second per second toward the surface of the earth, is suddenly interrupted, and the story backs up a couple of centuries and starts telling about how a banyan tree on the ground beneath him has unfolded, having been pollinated by this one unique species of wasp that corresponds to the one unique species of fig. The banyan unfolding into a multiple-trunked, small, village-sized tree over the course of centuries is handled in about a paragraph or two, and then it cuts back to Douglas, who now lands safely in the branches of this tree that conveniently has taken the last couple of centuries to grow up just underneath the spot where he’s falling.
I use different kinds of devices like that to try to playfully translate human time into tree time and vice versa. But it’s an immense challenge, because tree time—either at the level of the individual, or the level of the communal organism, or at the level of the species—just dwarfs everything that we can think of when we think of duration. A tree in the Great Basin in the White Mountains of California, the bristlecone pine, where individual bristlecone pines can live to five thousand years or more—who knows, we haven’t found the oldest one. Even five thousand years is mind-blowing, because you’re starting to go back to the Great Pyramids, you’re starting to get back to that moment where humans invented writing, and to think that individual trees were alive when we were blundering toward those first technologies is really mind-blowing.
There’s also a moment in the book where Patricia Westerford stops in a place in Utah to visit an aspen clonal colony. One of many amazing things about aspens is that the individual trunks of a grove of aspens might only be sixty, seventy, or eighty years old, but they’re connected to a root mass underground that has been spawning for tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of years. Patricia is meditating on this difference between the time above the ground and the time below the ground. And when you start to think about an individual organism that has been growing out of the same root mass for as long as the human species has been extant, it’s tough to put those stories in juxtaposition with each other because of just how profoundly different their narrative frames are.
Did you end up feeling smaller as a result of being dwarfed by this new sense of time that you were connected to?
It depends on what you mean by “you.” In the sense that we’re most familiar with it now—that kind of private individual—sure, humility and fear and insignificance were all feelings that I felt as I made this journey, but that’s not a genuine or legitimate perception of being. It’s a cultural illusion, and if you allow kinship, then the question of you becomes more permeable. What happened to me along the way was I began to identify across species boundaries. I began to feel like the journey is so profoundly imbricated and knotted together that my own destiny and the destiny of these other things were not anywhere near as separate as I thought they were when I started the journey. So, did I become smaller and more vulnerable? Yes, but I also became larger. In a Whitmanesque way, I started to contain multitudes, or they started to contain me.
In the history of the mainstream environmental movement, the idea of saving the world has been a dominant narrative, one that you could say perpetuates a human-exceptionalist worldview and often ignores the deeper roots of the ecological crisis. And as several of the characters in The Overstory realize, it’s not the world that needs saving: it’s us. This seems to be a realization that more people are coming to, and perhaps one reason why The Overstory struck such a chord with readers. How do you see us being saved? And do you think it’s possible, collectively?
In the shortest imaginable formula, we have to escape the life of commodity and replace it with the life of community. We have to give up this notion that human destiny is to manage and control and to dominate, and replace it with the idea that human destiny depends—as all other destinies do—on making ourselves better at adapting to the environment, because the environment is 99 percent living things.
What’s going to be required is a conversion of consciousness. I call it plant consciousness. We have to—one by one, until we reach a certain critical threshold—begin that journey into interdependence, into reciprocal communal existence. There’s a beautiful line in Thoreau. He says, “Breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruits. Live in each season as it passes. Resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
We need to change the human program from one that says, take control of the seasons, to one that says, belong to them in the most ingenious and leverageable way. How did we ever think that we could do anything else? Well, I know how—we got this incredible principle inheritance in the form of petrochemicals, which, incidentally, are the legacy of four hundred million years of plant life. We got this immense fortune that gave us the illusion of autonomy. And we began to live as if we did not have to belong to the cycles of living things. The immense power in that concentrated energy was so enormously leverageable and so enormously seductive that we truly forgot that all forms of life are accountable to the basic cycles of energy exchange on this planet. Like any kid who gets an inheritance and squanders it, we’re now coming to a reckoning. We’re now realizing the finite nature of that kind of life and the immense costs involved in having lived that way for so long.
One of your characters, the scientist Patricia Westerford, makes discoveries about tree communication that echo the work of Suzanne Simard’s groundbreaking work revealing the complex layers and levels of communication and nutrient sharing between trees, the kinship that’s present there in trees and forests as a whole. It seems that these scientific revelations point to a need to rethink how we understand natural selection and survival of the fittest and how we perceive the relationship between competition and cooperation. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this.
Let me start by saying that Simard’s work is truly extraordinary, and she was a voice in the wilderness, and she did suffer a lot of rejection along the way, in a way similar to my character, Patricia Westerford; but she actually isn’t alone. There were many researchers, even a generation or more before Simard’s work, that were laying the foundation of this whole new understanding of tree interdependence and communication. It began with research into over-the-air communication, the way in which an individual tree under assault will begin to pump out chemical signals that have the effect on nearby trees of making them begin to preemptively produce insecticides—chemicals that are unpleasant to ruminants, for instance.
In other words, the trees are sharing a vast immune system, where the damage to the forest as a whole is reduced because individual trees produce signals that alert other trees. Underground sharing is equally astonishing, especially now that it’s been demonstrated that it crosses the species barrier, so that fungi in trees that are in a mycorrhizal symbiotic relationship—where the tree supplies sugars and other hydrocarbons to the fungus, which can’t photosynthesize for itself, and the fungus reciprocally sends secondary metabolites from the soil back up to the trees—is, in itself, remarkable enough as an example of just how deeply seated symbiosis is in every ecosystem.
But the fact that a Douglas fir and a birch might be sharing resources through fungal intermediaries really blows away this idea that we have, the sort of crude public understanding that it’s a jungle out there, by which we mean it’s every species for itself and every individual inside that species for itself. Once you begin to see how deep-seated cooperation is in the heart of all ecosystems, it’s almost embarrassing to have to own up to this idea that has filtered into social understanding, where competition is the only engine that’s going on out there, which of course would be ridiculous. I mean, to compete to the exclusion of the other living things in your ecosystem would be to die a very lonely death.
The fundamental notion of natural selection is still intact. But what’s the new appreciation, the ways in which the new appreciation has transformed that formula? It has to do with the realization that fittest for the environment doesn’t mean fittest for some sort of static set of energetics, a finite pool of energy that’s coming into a fixed system. The environment is other living things. So, the fittest organism for an environment is one that’s most fully and robustly and sustainably intertwined with the other living things in its location.
If anybody ever comes back and says, “Well, yes, symbiosis in all its forms is a deep component of ecology and a deep element in natural selection, but you can’t make a claim that it’s the dominant one”—I think the answer is to remember that every cell of every complex multicellular organism is itself a symbiosis. All complex cells resulted from this endosymbiotic event in which two simple cells—instead of one digesting the other—began this system, this barter system whereby their inputs and outputs became inseparably linked. There is symbiosis at every single level of living things, and you cannot compete in a zero-sum game with creatures upon whom your existence depends.
In Neelay Mehta’s story—the genius computer programmer and game designer who, like you, had a powerful encounter with a redwood in the hills above Silicon Valley—you seem to be exploring the relationship we have with technology as a tool to either help or hinder our efforts to learn how to live in relationship with the natural world. In an interview with the L.A. Review of Books, you said, “Will we double down on the great migration into symbol space, our decampment into Facebook and Instagram and Netflix and the World of Warcraft, the road that we have already traveled so far down? Or will Big Data and Deep Learning allow us to grasp and rejoin the staggeringly complex processes of the living world? The two possibilities are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they’re inseparable aspects of the new ecology of digital life.” I wonder if you could talk a bit about this new ecology of digital life.
As you were framing the question, I was thinking, to look at the affordances of the digital is not entirely different from looking at the affordances of any technology. Every time we come up with one of these prosthetic leverages, there are, all of a sudden, a whole raft of new pathways that can produce both extremely positive valences for the future of society, and by the same token, extremely dangerous and destructive and negative ones.
Think of a knife. I don’t know at what point in human history knives were invented, but there was probably a discussion—you know, oh my God, that thing is dangerous. Well yes, it is. And it’s a deeply sinister technology. It’s a deeply beneficial technology when you use it to go hunt and to cut vegetables, and a deeply sinister one when you use it to kill other people.
You can look at Plato and read Socrates’s objections to writing—all the bad things that are going to happen with writing, how it’s going to destroy our memories and depersonalize the world and make possible the leveraging of incredibly dangerous ideas—and all that is deeply true. Writing has really unleashed a whole can of worms that we haven’t caught up with and that we haven’t really seen the end of. To look at digital space and to wonder about its positive and negative affordances is a deep question and a complicated one.
There have been people who have read The Overstory and who wondered why the Neelay story is in there at all. You know, what does the world of digital technology have to do with an ultimate vision of conservation? And my answer is, everything. We wouldn’t even have a science of ecology or a science of environmental studies or the ability to handle or model complex systems, to even understand what complex systems are, without computation and without complex digital models. Like it or not, it’s the way that we have extended our imaginative capacity into the living world. Has it also produced these incredibly negative affordances of depersonalization, of increasing removal from the material world? Beyond a doubt. It’s a great theme in science fiction, by the way, and I look to science fiction as a kind of antidote to the myopia of literary fiction that doesn’t take the nonhuman seriously.
Sci-fi has always taken the nonhuman seriously in all its guises, including the cybernetic, and I was thinking specifically of Greg Egan and a work of his where all of culture divides into the innies versus the outies; and the innies are perfectly happy going down into symbol space and living these virtual lives and waiting for the singularity and uploading their souls into these dynamic places which can become wildernesses again. They are completely untroubled by the replacement of materiality with virtuality; and the outies, of course, are horrified by that and want to continue outwards into the material world and all its complications and ramifications and look upon anything short of living fully embodied in the physical world as a betrayal of this incredible legacy. The thing is, both the innies and the outies depend upon computation, and that’s the crux of this little two-edged sword that we’ve created in launching this digital evolution.
A lot of the readers of the book seem to have been awakened not only to trees but to the urgency of the ecological crisis and are inspired to take action in some way. Was this something you wanted to achieve, and for those readers who are compelled to do something, what would you tell them?
I’ll say first that it’s absolutely the most gratifying response that I can imagine getting to this book, or to any book, when a reader writes or says to me in person that they are looking at the living world around them in a different way. There is no better response to the book.
When a reader says, “I’ve been living on this street for twenty-five years, and passing this tree for a quarter of a century, and only after reading your book have I been electrified to stop, and be present to, and discover what that thing is doing and the amazing, strange structures that it’s producing throughout the year.” To me that’s like, what more could a writer possibly hope for than to hear from some reader that the story of the world has become more interesting to them? That journey was one that I, myself, made in writing the book.
The book took five and a half, six years to make. And I went from being a virtual tree illiterate to a person who will pull off randomly on the road when running a timely errand in order to stop and see something amazing. I would say, that with regard to the question of activism, there have already been cases in towns, in municipalities, in regions in this country and in other countries, where people have said that a collective action was given leverage by people reading the book. And the book encouraging ordinary, non-political people to take stands to protect the place where they live from the homogenizing processes of capitalism, that’s deeply gratifying too. But I think it bears pointing out that short of chaining yourself to a bulldozer or joining radical protest movements out in the trenches, there is an important step of defiance and transformation and resistance that happens simply at the moment of committing to attentive plant consciousness.
It starts in this idea that your own vision of meaning has changed. Through awe, through fear, through humility, you have become someone who sees the need to return to community, and all other actions will follow from that. That initial first step—of saying, “The world is a living place, and I am not the lord and master of it”—is a necessary and sufficient precondition for everything that follows.
And it’s interesting, I got this figure from people who were writing about the broader climate movement. They have studied social transformations in the past, in particular, these kinds of things that have happened in the last few decades that would have surprised me profoundly if you had asked me to predict forty years ago. Like for instance, LGBT. Will there ever be same-sex marriage recognition in the United States? If you’d asked me that in 1980, 1990, even 2000, I would have said, “I sincerely doubt it.”
From one year to the next, a long-standing, widespread movement of insistence and resistance tumbled into the mainstream. The people who study this say the threshold of that transformation—almost an Ovidian metamorphosis—happens at a much lower number than you think. You only need about 3.5 percent of a general population committed, ideologically, to the revolution in order to trigger that transformation where the ordinary mainstream person says, “Hey, that’s right, I can do that. I’m with you on that.”
We’re going to hit 3.5 percent in this revolution of returning our species to the community of living things. The question will be how much suffering we will have to see along the way before we hit that number.
Well, Richard, I think that’s an apt place to end our interview. Thank you so much for the richness of your work and our conversation today. It’s been a real pleasure.
Thanks for the conversation. I’ve enjoyed it as well.
Translators: Mike Zonta, Melissa Goodnight, Hanz Bolen, Sarah Flynn, Richard Branam
SENSE TESTIMONY: People can be lied to and misled by deceitful power brokers.
5th Step Conclusions:
1) Person is Consciousness Being, the True Personhood, the Real deal; It is the sole Speaker and all that is every spoken, all that is ever heard, guiding Itself in ever-harmoniously Truthful movement, always obeying Itself, always in step/cadence with Itself.
2) One harmonious consciousness is the only Truth that can be, the only path there is, always whole, complete integrity, the only one omnipotent source taking and giving I amness.
3) There is always only One Infinite Consciousness embodying in every possible individuation — and thus revealing/exposing/unveiling the boundless performing capacity and limitless causative agency, that is Being, the whole and perfect Truth.
4) The God Self Identity I am is Consciousness, the one all -powerful knowing presence the only attachment, bound only to Principle expressing a mission, of Self Evident clarity, abundance and harmonious innate value in and of all there is.
5) Truth is One infinite Person, identity, Being Androgynous relationship, innately designed as pertinent intention, determined value, the Ultimate Cause, significance, this certain construct, empowerment for the good of the commonwealth.
All Translators are welcome to join this group every Sunday at 7 p.m. Pacific time. Zoom link:
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Frank Fools Crow (circa 1890 – 1989) was an Oglala Lakota civic and religious leader. ‘Grandfather’, or ‘Grandpa Frank’ as he was often called, was a nephew of Black Elk who worked to preserve Lakota traditions, including the Sun Dance and yuwipi ceremonies. He supported Lakota sovereignty and treaty rights, and was a leader of the traditional faction during the armed standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973. With writer Thomas E. Mails, he produced two books about his life and work, Fools Crow in 1979, and Fools Crow: Wisdom and Power in 1990.
Fools Crow was born near Porcupine Creek on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on either June 24 or 27 between 1890 and 1892. His father, Fools Crow, who was also called Eagle Bear, was the Porcupine District leader. His mother was Spoon Hunter, who died four days after giving birth to him. She was the daughter of Porcupine Tail, for whom the community was named. His paternal grandfather, Knife Chief, fought with warriors who defeated Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn, and his great–grandfather, Holds the Eagle, was a medicine man and holy man, or Wičháša Wakȟáŋ. Raised in the traditional way by his father, aunt, and stepmother Emily Big Road, he did not attend “the white man’s school” as his father did not approve. This is why he did not speak fluent English. As a young man he traveled around the United States with the Buffalo Bill Cody‘s Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. He spent much of his life serving his people as a medicine man, healer, and teacher. 
“Go to Wounded Knee … “
On February 28, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement, with their allies and supporters, including Fools Crow, seized and occupied the village of Wounded Knee. It was here, in 1890, that the followers of Spotted Elk, another, earlier traditional leader, had been massacred by the United States Army‘s 7th Cavalry Regiment. Two weeks before that, Sitting Bull himself had been killed, by police acting at the behest of these new rulers. Thus had begun the relentless suppression of the Lakota nation: their institutions, the religion, and even the language. Each decade since that “time of great melancholy”, when hopes for sovereignty had “died in bloody snow”, brought renewed demands for more Lakota land, always in violation of treaty agreements.
Today my people, and all native people of this continent, are changed —degraded by oppression and poverty into but a semblance of their former being; health is undermined by disease, and the moral and spiritual life of the people deadened by the loss of the great sustaining forces of their devotional ceremonies. — Luther Standing Bear, 1933
Dick Wilson had become chairman of the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1972. A heavy–drinking bootlegger known for corruption, he favored giving up more Lakota land, even the Pahá Sápa itself. He soon used federal government funds to create his own private vigilante “goon squad“, with which to terrorize his adversaries. Those who opposed Wilson and his regime formed the “Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization”, led by Pedro Bissonette, and worked to impeach him. One petition to impeach Wilson contained more signatures than the number of people who had originally voted for him. Wilson postponed impeachment hearings which were scheduled for February 14. Immediately thereafter, federal forces moved into the area, including a counter–insurgency “Special Operations Group”, which set up and manned sand–bagged machine gun positions at the BIA building. On February 23, thus reinforced and without a proper tribal council quorum, Wilson was “exonerated” and quickly banned “all public meetings and demonstrations” on the reservation.We called our brothers and AIM to help us because we were being oppressed and terrorized. They answered our call. 
—Frank Fools Crow
The night that the occupation took place, the leaders of AIM met with the traditional Oglala elders and leaders.One by one, the Oglala Sioux Chiefs stood up, and their names will come before you … Names like Fools Crow and Crow Dog, names like Catches … 
As senior elder, Fools Crow spoke to the young leaders in his native Lakota language (he never spoke English in public) and said to them, “Go ahead and do it, go to Wounded Knee. You can’t get in the BIA office and the tribal office, so take your brothers from the American Indian Movement and go to Wounded Knee and make your stand there.”
A few minutes later the meeting at Calico ended, and the caravan, fifty–four cars long, rolled through the winter night; old people and kids and tough guys and aunts and uncles. … Dennis Banks rode in the lead car with Chief Fools Crow, and on arrival at Wounded Knee, a hamlet of around one hundred residents, people from the car gathered at the mass grave for a prayer with movement spiritual leaders Pete Catches and Leonard Crow Dog.— Smith & Warrior, Like a Hurricane, page 201
On the list of demands presented to the Justice Department, Fools Crow was listed along with other chiefs and medicine men as supporters of the movement. After the occupiers declared themselves to be the “Independent Oglala Nation”, Fools Crow traveled with Matthew King, his interpreter, and Russell Means to the United Nations to make a speech. Though no official transcript of this speech remains, there is no doubt to its significance.
The occupation lasted for 71 days, until an agreement was reached between federal officials and a Lakota delegation, which included Fools Crow. Hank Adams, the personal representative of the President, arrived with an agreement to the proposal that the chiefs had sent to the White House on May 3. Adams met Fools Crow and a hundred others near a fence around the property. Adams handed a letter through a barbed–wire fence to Fools Crow, who was wearing the traditional attire of buckskin and a headdress. The letter appealed for the occupation of the village to come to an end. Fools Crow and the other leaders accepted the proposal, which stated that the White House would send representatives to Pine Ridge to discuss a treaty in the third week of May and would “get tough” on Dick Wilson, the unscrupulous chairman of the reservation. Fools Crow and the other chiefs delivered the letter to the AIM leaders and told them that he believed that it was time to end it.
Buddy‘s death, which saddened everyone, convinced Grandpa Fools Crow and the other elders that there had been enough death. Since we were too few to fight and too many to die, Fools Crow asked the Wounded Knee leaders to try to find a peaceful resolution. On May 2, a Department of the Interior negotiator stated for the record, “I do have the authority to insure that the Government of the United States, and probably Congress, will discuss anything with your chiefs, anything and everything you want to discuss about the 1868 Treaty…. I have the authority to tell you that any and all criminal violations against you by any outsiders will be prosecuted. I do have the authority to tell you that members of the tribal government will be prosecuted.” … Once again, we Indians had accepted the white man’s promises —just as our ancestors had. Once again, the government of the United States of America had lied.— Russell Means, Where White Men Fear to Tread, pages 292 & -3
After the murder of Frank Clearwater at Wounded Knee, and because the U.S. government would not allow his body to be buried there, his wife agreed to bury him on Leonard Crow Dog‘s property on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, and had the wake at Fools Crow’s house, where the body was placed in a tipi and covered with a blanket for mourners to come to pay their respect.
In an article in The New York Times on May 8, 1973, the negotiations were said to have taken place at Fools Crow’s house around the third week of May. In an interview, Dick Wilson said, “My people know that Fools Crow is a zero,” plainly showing that he had no respect for the traditions that Fools Crow stood for. In Washington D.C. on May 17, The Oglalas had their promised White House meeting, and Fools Crow was present. Of the five promised White House aides, two were there. Fools Crow was told that the historic treaties were dead.
Fools Crow spoke at a congressional hearing on June 16 and 17, 1973, following the conclusion of the Wounded Knee occupation; he only spoke Lakota, as was his way, and used an interpreter, Matthew King, to translate for him. He gave his reasons for the occupation, the main reason being the removal of Dick Wilson. Senator George McGovern said that he would try to remove Wilson, but was not sure if he had the power to do so. Fools Crow asserted that McGovern had promised earlier to remove Dick Wilson, yet the violence continued.
In the dark month of March 1975, at least seven people, two of them young children, perished in the AIM–goon warfare on Pine Ridge. … Meanwhile, harassment of traditionals continued. Bullets were fired through the house of Matthew King, an Oglala elder and interpreter for Chief Frank Fools Crow, and Fools Crow’s own small house in Kyle, with a lifetime’s belongings, was burned to the ground; both old men were threatened with death by marauding goons.— Peter Matthiessen, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, page 133
Prayer before the United States Senate
In August 1975, thirty activists, including Fools Crow, traveled to Washington D.C. to discuss the 1868 Treaty, sovereignty, and the continuing violence and civil rights violations. On September 5, Grandfather Fools Crow gave the opening prayer for the United States Senate. This is believed to be an accurate translation of his words:
In the presence of this house, Grandfather, Wakan Tanka,
and from the direction where the sun sets, and from the direction of cleansing power,
and from the direction of the rising, and from the direction of the middle of the day.
Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, Grandmother, the Earth who hears everything,
Grandmother, because you are woman, for this reason you are kind,
I come to you this day to tell you to love the red men,
and watch over them, and give these young men the understanding
because, Grandmother, from you comes the good things,
good things that are beyond our eyes to see have been blessed in our midst
for this reason I make my supplication known to you again.
Give us a blessing so that our words and actions be one in unity,
and that we be able to listen to each other, in so doing,
we shall with good heart walk hand in hand to face the future.
In the presence of the outside, we are thankful for many blessings.
I make my prayer for all people, the children, the women and the men.
I pray that no harm will come to them, and that on the great island,
there be no war, that there be no ill feelings among us.
From this day on may we walk hand in hand. So be it.
During the same morning as this prayer, the FBI staged a massive paramilitary raid on the property of Leonard Crow Dog.