Sunday, January 14, 2007


I just finished reading a book titled The Tree by Colin Tudge. As the title suggests, it is a book about trees -- their evolution, taxonomy, usefulness to people and the danger presented to them by people, especially by our current civilization. I recommend it to anyone who likes trees and has a high tolerance for taxonomy.

Here are a couple of quotes I like, from the last chapter, "The Future with Trees:"

Present-day leaders -- politicians and captains of industry -- are wont to suggest that any radical initiative that takes account of the realities of soil, water, and climate is "unrealistic," commonly because such initiatives may inhibit the plans of bullish industries and their governments, and hence inhibit "growth." But the word "realistic" has been corrupted. It ought to apply to the realities that are inescapable -- of physics, of biology -- made manifest in the declining earth, and the creatures that live on it. It should apply to the realities of people's lives -- whether they have enough to eat, and water, and shelter; whether they have control over their own lives, and worthwhile jobs, and can live in dignity. The "reality" of which our current leaders speak is the reality of cash. But cash is not the reality. Cash is the abstraction.

I don't believe the world can get significantly better if we leave politics to career politicians. This is not what democracy means. I also nurse the conceit (for which there is abundant evidence) that human beings are basically good (a belief that I have been intrigued to find of late is fundimental to Hundus). It seems to follow that if only democracy can be made to work -- if the will of humanity as a whole can prevail -- then the world could be a far better place: that it could, after all, come through these next few difficult decades; that our grandchildren can indeed live as they will want to do; and as people should.

A belief that humans are basically good is also fundimental to much traditional Chinese thought. The great philosopher Men Tze has a famous story about Bull Mountain, which illustrates his idea of human nature. The mountain was once forested and had streams, he said. But men came and cut down all the trees. The soil eroded and the streams dried up; and following generations said it was the nature of Bull Mountain to be bare and dry.


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