Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I was briefly infatuated with Richard Powers listening to this interview:

spotify.com – Ezra Klein – This Conversation With Richard Powers Is a Gift

I was so infatuated that I started looking for the transcript of the show and noting the parts of the interview that struck me as I was out on a walk listening to it. I mistakenly published my notes at some point during the walk, and then just left them published because it was too much work to figure out how to unpublish it from the mobile interface. It’s been sitting at the top of the blog for days now, still only partially finished. My apologies.

Capitalism

Commodity mediated, individualist, market driven human exceptionalism…

…I had this sense that to become a better person and to get ahead and to really make more of myself, I had to be as productive as possible. And that meant waking up every morning and getting 1,000 words that I was proud of. And it’s interesting that I would even settle on a quantitative target. That’s very typical for that kind of mindset that I’m talking about — 1,000 words and then you’re free, and then you can do what you want with the day.

Richard Powers

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

I had heard of Suzanne Simard long before this episode of Ezra’s show. Way back when I first started listening to podcasts. During my binging of the back catalog of Radiolab, I ran across this episode:

Radiolab -From Tree to Shining Tree – July 30, 2016

To summarize the part of her work that is covered in that episode, trees feed each other through the network of fungi that fill the ground around them. The forest is more than just the trees. The forest exists for its own purpose. A purpose that has absolutely nothing to do with us.

If we see all of evolution as somehow leading up to us, all of human, cultural evolution leading up to neoliberalism and here we are just busily trying to accumulate and make meaning for ourselves, death becomes the enemy. When we enter into or recover this sense of kinship that was absolutely fundamental to so many indigenous cultures everywhere around the world at many, many different points in history, that there is no radical break between us and our kin, that even consciousness is shared, to some degree and to a large degree, with a lot of other creatures, then death stops seeming like the enemy and it starts seeming like one of the most ingenious kinds of design for keeping evolution circulating and keeping the experiment running and recombining.

And to go from terror into being and into that sense that the experiment is sacred, not this one outcome of the experiment, is to immediately transform the way that you think even about very fundamental social and economic and cultural things. If the experiment is sacred, how can we possibly justify our food systems, for instance? It’s only the belief that we share no significant kinds of meditation or emotional life with cows that allow us to run the kind of food system that we run.

Richard Powers

I am not nearly as impressed with Neil Postman as both Ezra and Richard Powers are. When I got to that section of the interview, my infatuation with Powers waned significantly. I have some pointed thoughts about Neil Postman, some of which may eventually appear here after I finish working through the two books of his that I’m on again, off again, listening to. In the meantime, here’s a link to the other true prophet that Ezra mentions:

The Essential McLuhan by Marshall McLuhan

Richard Powers’ books:

Author: RAnthony

I'm a freethinking, unapologetic liberal. I'm a former CAD guru with an architectural fetish. I'm a happily married father. I'm also a disabled Meniere's sufferer.

Attacks on arguments offered are appreciated and awaited. Attacks on the author will be deleted.

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