Update Now with new and improved title! (Title writing is a talent which your humble author possesses not.)
In the classic 1978 documentary Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! we watch as a bushel of plump Roma and muscular beefsteak tomatoes become self-aware and then take their revenge on hapless representatives of a pasta-sauce-making species. The carnage is indescribable, the horror unspeakable, the irony indisputable.
Yes, irony, for that red-soaked massacre, or something like it, must have been in the mind of Michael Marder, an academic philosopher, and author of Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. In this, his masterpiece, Marder wrote that we had better make a move for “plant liberation” before brigades of rutabagas flanked by Swiss chard take up arms and wreak havoc.
I’m kidding about the rutabagas, though the future of pasties is unclear if Marder, who also wrote “Vegetal Democracy: The Plant that is Not One”, is correct and plants have “rights.” And Marder did invent the slogan “plant liberation.”
Now, when you boil or fry a spud, it kills it. But it also makes it into a traditional accompaniment to Thanksgiving dinner or a tasty snack to have with beer. Problem is, making beer slaughters acres upon acres of barley. And Thanksgiving, well, this still politically allowed holiday (in most jurisdictions) sees its share of turkeys with their throats cut.
But if we human beings don’t partake in these murderous repasts—that is, if we don’t take the lives of living things—then we whither and cease. As Yours Truly has pointed out before, you must to kill to live. This is an inescapable logical conclusion. How does Marder fit this into his philosophy?
According to a quotation lifted from NPR, which treats ideas like “The Right Of Plants To Evolve” sympathetically (on your dime):
“[T]he commendable desire to ameliorate the condition of animals, currently treated as though they were meat-generating machines, does not justify strategic argumentation in favor of the indiscriminate consumption of plants. The same logic ultimately submits to total instrumentalization the bodies of plants, animals and humans by setting them over and against an abstract and rational mind.”
Therefore, he concludes, “the struggles for the emancipation of all instrumentalized living beings should be fought on a common front.”
Notice his incorporation of militaristic lingo (strategic, struggle, front): I told you he had those tomatoes in mind. Marder forgets, or is unaware, that farming is precisely breeding meat-generating machines. I have no idea what “instrumentalized living beings” are. Do they include e. coli, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, weeds? Probably. But these niceties we can ignore. Let’s get to the good stuff.
What Marder is really against is the “indiscriminate consumption of plants.” Presumably this means if you already downed one side salad you should not have another, or should at least skip the croutons on the second.
And there it is: Marder thinks people are eating too much. Progressives don’t like fat people and are determined to do something about it, including going to extremes like “discovering” “rights” in plants. Of course, he just can’t say straight out that blubber bothers him. He has to mask it in academese or it will never be published in peer-reviewed journals.
In a New York Times piece, he says this:
[B]oth Western and non-Western philosophers have been aware of what we may now call “plant subjectivity” for millennia. Most famously, Aristotle postulated the existence of a vegetal soul with its capacities for reproduction growth, and nourishment, as the most basic stratum of life. To Aristotle, all living beings, including animals and humans, are alive by virtue of sharing this rudimentary vitality with plants. Other levels of the psyche — the sensory and the rational — then presuppose the presence of vegetal soul for their proper functioning and actualization.
Aristotle did no such thing. Or rather, he did, but he didn’t mean by soul what Marder says. Quoting from Stanford’s Plato:
As Aristotle says “by form I mean the essence of each thing, and its primary substance” (1032b1), and “when I speak of substance without matter I mean the essence” (1032b14). It is the form of a substance that makes it the kind of thing that it is, and hence it is form that satisfies the condition initially required for being the substance of something. The substance of a thing is its form.
Join essence to matter and you create the form of asparagus. Aristotle never implied plants have ghostly souls that strum harps on clouds after they have been heartlessly julienned by some chef. So there is, if you do or don’t pardon the pun, no meat in this argument.
His next attempt is to say “researchers” have witnessed “deliberate behavior” in plants, which is patent nonsense. to deliberate means to reason. Sure, leaves turn toward the sun, but the plant’s soul is not informing the plant which way is east. The process is dumb chemical reaction, nothing more. Marder knows this and must admit “plants are not capable of deliberation or of making decisions in the human sense of the term.” But that’s only to soften up weak minds, because directly after he writes, “But they do engage with their environments and with one another in ways that are incredibly sophisticated, plastic and responsive — in a word, intelligent, though not perhaps conscious.”
It’s a word, all right, but it isn’t intelligent. A more apt choice is the one that’s been coming out of our heartbeat-away Joe Biden: malarkey. Intelligent implies intellect, and plants haven’t got one, period. Plants are unthinking machines. But Marder says this “plant-as-machine” bias, in his own inadvertent use of a pun, is so “entrenched that it is difficult to digest evidence to the contrary.”
As evidence of “intelligence” he cites “a report on the enhanced ability of common pea plants, recipients of biochemical communication, to withstand drought, even though they did not directly experience this abiotic stress-inducer.” But this is like saying a rock teetering on the edge of a cliff “decides” to fall, or that it “experiences” gravity and “chooses” to leap.
Still, Marder will have “respect” for “vegetal life”, a respect which includes eating plants. Not in great quantities, but respectfully and in awe. We must not “reduce plants to storehouses of carbohydrates and vitamins or to that other source of energy so widely applauded today, biofuel.” And we weep when we realize it “is especially pernicious to grow plants from sterile seeds, already robbed of their reproductive potential, patented and appropriated by profit-driven enterprises.” We must eat only free-range plants. His philosophy thus resembles a bad James Cameron movie.
And here is another progressive boogey man: profit. Such a disquieting word. Farmers, claims Marden, are “forced to buy seeds from multinational corporations.” Forced? One imagines he wrote this piece, which is displayed on a multinational-corporation-owned website, on a multinational-corporation produced Mac. But we do not expect consistency from the Left.
We recall the killer tomatoes again when Marder writes “Violence against plants backfires, as it leads to violence against humans and against the environment as a whole.” He never defines what he means by “violence against plants”, but perhaps it is when dull knifes are used to dice celery. Unsharpened blades, you see, slip easier and commit violence against their human wielders.
No progressive philosophy is complete without a movement, which naturally leads to a government program and thus to employment of progressives. Marder’s cause is “the project of plant liberation” This, says he, “would allow plants to be what they are and to realize their potentialities.” He allows that we “cannot subsist on inorganic matter alone, as plants do, but we can critically question our dietary choices without prescribing a perfectly violence-free and universally applicable eating pattern.”
Will the citizenry march to the banner “All plants to be what they are!”? Will a majority cry out, “Up with universally applicable eating patterns!”? Perhaps not. But since we have seen the impetus behind this goofy philosophy is really new ways to control the choices of the lesser-credentialed, we may yet see it foisted upon us.