Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ontological Status of Plants

My friend wrote, "I love animals, which is why I don't eat them. As a culture we have a lot of room for understanding on this issue, when even people who call themselves vegetarian can't agree on what is or is not meat.I call on animals and they come to me and we talk. They point the way."

Her words inspired me to ponder on historical differences in the ontological status of plants and animals.

I just wanted to add an interesting perspective from my studies of how Lakota and other Native people most likely thought before Christianity and modernity. As best as I can tell, animals, vegetables, and minerals had equal ontological status. The logic behind your argument wouldn't have worked for them because of that different assumption, though it does work in the modern way of thinking, because we give animals higher ontological status than plants. We have a hierarchy of status -- humans are highest, primates next, then furry four leggeds that are cute, then animals that are less cute (rats are way down), then reptiles, then plants. I don't think we even think about status or hierarchy among plants. And, as you probably know, the world's largest living single organism is a fungus that is about 30 km wide and 80 km long in the Pacific Northwest. We don't really think about the status of fungi -- they're just so low. I think the notion of being embedded within nature as a part of nature requires less hierarchy than the Judeo-Christian notion of humans being above nature or in control of nature (though the locals of this continent did an amazing job at shaping nature to fit their needs through controlled burns of forests and prairies and other environmental engineering feats. So as an exercise (I don't actually have an investment in what you eat), try thinking about plants as being equal to animals for a week. Would that change your perspective? What if plants had equal consciousness to animals, just different. A fungus rapidly migrated through a labyrinthian maze, choosing all the correct passageways, to get to some food at the end of the maze. How did it do that? Just some ideas to bat around.