The Truax, The Falseax, The Lorax

Disclaimer: Although it was not technically assigned for our class tomorrow, I couldn’t stop myself from reading Truax. It does tie in with the critical essay we were assigned and obviously The Lorax itself, however, and so I thought that it would still be relevant to the discussion. If you’d like to read it yourself, here’s a link.

Disclaimer Part II: This may get a bit rant-y.

Firstly, I’d like to start with a quote from The Lorax. It has inspired me ever since I was a young sprout (intended).

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Secondly, as someone who does care a whole awful lot, I felt as if it were appropriate to dissect Truax to its very core.

If you don’t want to read the story, it’s basically just a (one-way) discussion between a logger and a creature named Mr. Guardbark. Mr. Guardbark represents all the bleeding-heart, quick tempered, irrational environmentalists that unjustifiably attack the logging industry. Let’s take a look at all the logging industry does for the environment:

The logger tells Mr. Guardbark that for every tree he cuts, he plants five more. He goes on to reassure the guardian of the trees that the planet relies more on young trees to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

He also makes the following claim in response to Mr. Guardbark asking about biodiversity “Then what would happen after a bit of time passes to the animals that live in the shrubs and the grasses? With no opening up of the dark forest floor, there’d be no new habitat for them anymore.”

Hold up. It’s time for science.

1. Trees are photoautotrophs, meaning that they rely on photosynthesis to synthesis the energy and nutrients that they need to undergo the necessary functions of maintaining life.  The main reactants of photosynthesis are carbon dioxide, water, and light. Leaves, which contain chlorophyl, are specialized structures in which most photosynthetic reactions occur. The older a tree is, the more growth it has, and subsequently the higher the carbon intake will be. It is completely inaccurate to say that young trees sequester more carbon from the atmosphere than old trees.

2. Rainforests are the most biodiverse biomes on the planet, with over 50% of extant species living within them. The author of Truax is attempting to claim that cutting forests allows for more biodiversity as the creatures that live in shrubs and grasses need places to live too. This is by far one of the weakest arguments I have ever heard in my entire life. It is saying that by destroying the habitat of an already richly diverse environment, we make way for other species that are nonnative to that particular area. An area that has been logged is immensely less habitable for any species, let alone those that live in “shrubs and grasses”.

I could write a full length essay on this one particular parody of The Lorax, but for your sake I will digress.

The main reason I wanted to bring up this particular story is how it relates to the Trees Are What Everyone Needs article.

One quote from this article in particular stuck out to me:

“Nature forces us to realize that we are a part of it; however, it doesn’t tell us what we are to make of that realization.”

The Lorax and Truax represent the two forms of which this realization can take. On one hand, it can be self-aware and constructive. Rather than trying to justify our actions, we take responsibility for them in order to prevent the issue from escalating further than it already has. On the other hand, we can be faced with the reality of what we are doing to the environment and quickly try to justify our actions so that we may continue to do them for the sake of profit and our own personal benefit. Truax is quite ironic in the way that it only solidifies the message of The Lorax rather than disprove it in any way.

The Lorax itself sheds a painful truth that is beautifully articulated by the critical essay:

“Our understanding of ecology – like the understanding of the Once-ler and like the Lorax himself, who has sprung from the first wound which the Once-ler inflicted on the Truffle forest – is largely a direct result of our destructive interactions with the environment.”

We only realize that we are a part of nature when we have done something to harm it, and only then because it subsequently harms us. It is a harsh truth to swallow, but it is true nonetheless. This essay in particular fits in perfectly with our overshadowing theme of dark ecology. We are all eventually forced to realize that we are not connected to Nature, but to nature. Humanity and nature are two entangled entities, neither of which can escape the other but in which neither can fully belong.

The Curse of the “Big Brain”

In Galapagos, we are presented with a story of a set of humans who go on a cruise ship to the Galapagos, only to never return. They begin their own revolution and eventually become the ancestors of all human/humanoid kind a million years in the future.

Millions of years in the future, this story is told by a human who is (was?) of our current time period. Although he was essentially ‘one of us’ he talks of us as if we are a embarrassing mutation, a genetic mistake; one that existed in just one small blip of time in Earth’s vast history. The narrator then draws a great deal of attention to our “big brains” in particular, even admitting that one of two of the central themes of the story he weaves is that “the brain is far too big to be practical.”

The discussion of the humans and their ‘big brains’ caught my eye significantly throughout the reading. It has a multitude of implications. Firstly, it implies that humans, or humanoids, or whatever species descends from our present day homo sapiens adapted and eventually evolved specifically to have significantly smaller brains. It begs the question; why is this more practical?

Perhaps the answer can be found in a man who never lived to see the end of humanity as we know it, or even to set sight on the islands themselves: Roy. One of the final few phrases he utters on his deathbed is to his wife Mary:

I’ll tell you what the human soul is, Mary,” he whispered, his eyes closed. “Animals don’t have one. It’s the part of you that knows when your brain isn’t working right.”

He goes on to admit that he knew something was wrong all along but that there was nothing to be done about it. Is this the flaw of a “big brain”? Knowing that we have the capacity to be wrong and yet arguing to the very end that we are always right; that we are superior because we have intelligence matched by no other?

I believe this to be the fatal flaw of humanity: we are too “smart” for our own good. We mistake intelligence for always doing what is best. It cannot be denied that we are the brains that invented modern medicine. We are the brains that can cure a plague that once killed millions of people. However, we are also the brains that created nuclear bombs, and guns, and have been single-handedly responsible for the death of just as many human beings, among other species.

We are too intoxicated by the power of human intelligence to admit that even it does not hold all of the answers. This novel brings a fresh perspective to ego and the anthropocentric lifestyle that is a central concept in dark ecology. I am curious to see how far the narrator and ultimately the author will go with this idea of “big brains” destroying our fitness and being replacing it with a far “simpler” central nervous system and how by destroying humanity as we know it, we ultimately save it.

Ethics of Environmental Manipulation

Oryx and Crake is set in a selfish, selfish world, not totally unlike our own. Some of the main underlying themes of the novel is the exploitation of others to benefit ourselves. They modify living organisms to the benefit of themselves. They modify the world around Oryx and Crake is a novel cast in a world full of manipulation and modification in all of its various forms–somewhat mirroring our own. Animals are genetically modified for the benefit and convenience of humans. Pigoons serve as a living farm for human organs to grow and be harvested from. Racunks are bred to be a cool, trendy, smell-free pet. It is a social statement to have a hybrid animal as a pet. ChickieNobs are, if you can still call the poor things animals, quite literally all breast and no bite. They have no head to speak of. They only consist of favorable, edible bits that human beings usually harvest from chickens. It has a small beak on the top of its dysfunctional, blobby form for which nutrients can be forced down. Although it is said that these organisms are bred to not feel pain, what part to ethics play in the genetic modification of organisms simply for human benefit?

And who exactly is this benefiting? The top 2%? Humans exploit each other for their own benefit in the form of the promise of youth and vitality in exchange for your life savings. Sure, you can live for a while and look great doing it, but it won’t get you far if you can’t even afford to live.

This makes me curious about our own exploitation of other organisms and our environment. Is this a far too reasonable path for our future? Are we headed head-first in this direction? We already abandon ethics for the sake of self-interest. It is not unreasonable to say that it would go to such lengths. We already have the potential to modify human embryos, though it is currently looked down upon. How long will that last though? How long until we ourselves try to create the perfect human? The perfect species? We already modify animals and plants to fit our own needs. Will our morals halt the progression towards this potential future? Or will we succumb to our ever increasing selfishness and abandon all sense of morality and take the planet and everything living in it down with us?

(I know this is very rant-y as opposed to substantive, I will refine later after I finish this essay.)

Initial Thoughts of Oryx & Crake

So, Thursday’s reading was centered around the first 92 pages of Oryx and Crake. The story was just beginning to develop, but we were given enough information to set up the background of the story.

Jimmy, a young boy, somehow became a scraggy man who went by the name of Snowman. The overall story centers around his transition between these two points and what happened in his lifetime to make the world be thrust into disaster.

As a child, Jimmy was the son of a man who worked for OrganInc, a factory that genetically engineered pig-like animals to grow human organs to be harvested. They were living, breathing, organ farms, and they were treated awfully. Jimmy’s mother, who once worked for the same company, eventually grew sickened by the state of affairs and the overstepped boundaries that genetic modification had become that she fled.

After she leaves, Jimmy makes friends with the most unsettling, chilling, and disturbing child I’ve read about in a novel. His real name is Glenn, but as we know him in the majority of the story, he is Crake. He receives his nickname from a game he once played about the extinction of species, and specifically, the red-necked Crake. The two would watch very disturbing things together on the internet, often along with pornography. Crake would take screenshots of things that he particularly liked.

This is the first introduction we have to Oryx; her face frozen in a snapshot, a cold look in her eye. I am curious to know how she meets Jimmy and Crake, and how Crake essentially causes the destruction of the world. It can be inferred that he becomes consumed by the power of genetic engineering and creates his own humanoid creatures called the Crakers. We see Snowman interact with them in the beginning of the novel, but surely they couldn’t have been the only cause of the world being thrust into this apocalyptic state.

What did Crake do? Just how far did he go?

I am curious to see how the story continues to develop. But also somewhat horrified.

Of Gods and Bees

The Keeper of the Grove: Poem 14

“Devoutly, he trims a hedgerow of elms:
crap apples and sloe-thorns, overladen
with berries; shade-trees, offering solace
to the parched pioneer – likewise, I rest,
giving others leave to praise his estate.
Permit me to portray the great power
that Jupiter hath bestowed on the bees,
all of whom must heed the shrill melody
of the Curetes – the bashers of shields,
calling these swarms, to feed thy deity
honeydew in his cave at Mount Dicte.
Unique be those societies, which spawn
communal children inside strict cities,
each constrained by one law of majesty.”

 

This particular poem is laden with mythology of mixed origins.

Mount Dicte is the fabled mountain in which Zeus was born. His mother, Gaia, kept him hidden away within a cave so that his father would not find him. Cronus was intoxicated with power. It was foretold that one day his children would overthrow him; stripping him of his command over all of existence. He could not stand the very thought of this ever occurring, and so made a vow to devour each and every one of his children so that this would never come to fruition.

The Curetes are another crucial part of this Greek fable. They were warriors who stood guard at the entrance of the cave in which baby Zeus was kept, and they would loudly clash their shields together to drown out the echoes of his cries so that his father could not find him.

The “mixed origin” part of the mythology in this poem is the mention of the name Jupiter. Jupiter is of Roman mythology and is equivocal to Zeus. Jupiter is the god of the sky; the god of thunder; the god of the gods themselves. I am quite curious to know why  the author switched between the two mythologies, but have thus far found no satisfactory answers as to why. At first I thought it might also be an allusion to some symbolism that the planet of the same name has, but all that I found concerning that was that Jupiter was “like a cosmic Santa Claus” which I somehow doubt was the author’s intended symbol.

The last three lines in particular drew my attention. “Unique be those societies, which spawn communal children inside strict cities, each constrained by one law of majesty.” The author is, of course, referring to bees, but it also works in terms of mythology. The society of the gods, spawning children to reside within the cities of the gods, all under the rule of Zeus/Jupiter. And for the bees, they are all restricted to their hives, all kindred, serving as workers for one ultimate queen.

Bees are portrayed as servants of Zeus/Jupiter in this particular poem. Without them, the elms, the crabapples, the sloe, would all perish. His esteemed estate would crumble. Though they are pictured as servants of the gods, it can be said that without them, the gods themselves would cease to exist.

 

The Death of Songbirds

This week I’d like to approach my blog post a bit differently. I’ve noticed that throughout the vast majority of our readings, songbirds serve as an important means of symbolism. In these novels they inevitably die off, and are often some of the very first species to do so. From The Road to Z for Zachariah and now to The Lathe of Heaven, the absence of songbirds signals the end of the world.

When Orr crafts a reality that was hit by a carcinogenic plague caused by overwhelming concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere, it ended the existence of six billion people over the course of fifteen years. The overpopulation of humanity had ended. Hurrah. But Orr goes on to explain that this plague had many other side effects, one being that songbirds no longer existed. This sent my curiosity over the edge. I needed to know the core of the symbolism of the songbird. As a messenger of hope; a representative of the Natural world; as key player in the background music of our lives. They represent peace, beauty, joy, tranquility, and hope. As we’ve seen in Z for Zachariah, the songbirds died and in their place, the antonym of everything they once stood for, is left in their place: the crow. The symbol of death, of sickness, and of despair.

My search started as a burning urge to know if there was any scientific basis behind this recurring usage of songbirds as a signal of the end of the world, or if it was simply a beautiful but admittedly painfully overused literary metaphor.

As it turns out, songbirds are important bioindicators, meaning that their presence or absence in a particular ecosystem directly reflects the wellbeing of the habitat itself. We’ve learned already that birds are sensitive to at least some forms of human made pollutants (note the effect of pesticides as referred to in Rachel Carson’s Silent Springs) but until now, I was unaware of just how much they are impacted by what we spew into the environment on a daily basis.

Noise pollution disrupts the mating rituals and habits of songbirds. Light pollution affects the hunting behaviors of many nocturnal avians. It leaves many species more vulnerable to predation. Air pollution creates a hormonal imbalance and disrupts the processes of their endocrine systems. And these are just a few of the impacts that artificially sourced pollution has had on these creatures. So yes, it is safe to say that this is a very real possibility depending on the direction of our future.

I immensely enjoy that this class incorporates readings that present these topics not only as literary metaphors but also literal occurrences. It is a beautiful and terrifying notion that the future can be written in fiction, and yet, like fiction, is taken as anything but the truth.

The Swill & The Poor

It is no secret that disadvantages communities are disproportionately affect by climate change. Sea level rise, a very real and very current conflict, will inevitably impact those in poorer communities far more than those in richer neighborhoods. When the going gets tough, the rich get going. They can afford to be ignorant when it comes to climate change, because when it begins to intimately affect them, they can just move farther inland where they can continue to ignore the reality right in front of their faces. The poor, however, have nowhere to go. I found this to be an interesting parallel between the Swill and those who, in reality, live in poverty. The Swill are forced into areas that are vulnerable to prevalent flooding as the ice caps have begun to melt. This mirrors the concept of gentrification. The rich flood into neighborhoods, displacing the less rich residents that occupied it before, leaving them with poorer quality living situations. It was haunting to read the story of the Sweet and the Swill as-at least to a certain extent-a very real possibility for our own future. Our very near future.

Those living in disadvantaged communities also tend to be people of color, a factor that was seemingly ignored throughout the book. Race was barely mentioned throughout the book although this is certainly something to be considered when contemplating the future of our cities and our societies as the environment around us changes in increasingly more drastic ways. I just thought that was a bit odd. But then again the author clearly loved enforcing the typical gender roles in his characters so I guess ignoring race shouldn’t surprise me all that much either. These were two things that I just found mildly annoying and unnecessary.

One thing that I did enjoy about this novel is that, in contrast to many of our other readings for the class thus far, it described the descent of the world into darkness pretty well. By that I mean that it didn’t just take place after the apocalypse had occurred, but rather flashed back to when the world was beginning to fall apart. It was refreshing to finally be introduced to a story that explains how the world will end, instead of just being left to wonder and fill in the blanks.

Hell in Paradise and the Question of Doom

Mr. Loomis might actually be satan. He was charming, handsome, and kind when Ann first met him, but he very quickly showed his true colors. He betrayed her trust after she had cared for him for so long, nursing him back to health, saving his life. He attempts to assault her, shoot her, keep her prisoner, and use her own dog against her. He effectively brought Hell to what little piece of paradise was left on Earth (or, as far as we will ever know.)

I have began to wonder; is there any post-apocalyptic scenario where there is any good left in the world? I do not mean apocalypse in the religious sense per say, but I am genuinely curious to know whether or not humanity, when the cause of its own destruction, could possibly have any humanity left. Ann seems to be the last bit of light in this world, and it is so disheartening to see that, while Mr. Loomis at first gave her hope, he also took it away from her. The only saving grace is that she gathered the courage to leave. But it angered me to no end that she was the one that was forced to leave. The one thing she had left in this world after her whole family vanished within the matter of days, her valley, was ripped from her grasp by a selfish man who was too cowardly to face the reality of death. He projected this reality onto an innocent young girl. He told her to act more like an adult and less like a schoolgirl, but that’s exactly what she was. She was only 15-16 during the duration of the book, but she acted far more mature and admirable than that 30-something year old man ever could.

Regardless of my endless feelings for how the novel ended, reading it did bring another question to mind. It has become a clear pattern throughout our reading that it is very much centered around the post apocalyptic world. However, I find myself growing more and more curious about how the world ended. It is clear that in the context of this book, humanity was the cause of it’s own destruction. But I can’t help but wonder; what kind of event–or chain of events–occurred to lead humanity to the conclusion that there is no choice but to end all life. Presumably, these bombings would have been used as an act of war, but what about those fighting the war? What about those who dropped these bombs? Did they not wish to live? Did they wish to truly wipe out all of humanity and most non-human living things? What was their purpose and what was their rationality? If the world truly is to end, what will drive the final nail into it’s coffin?

Portrait of the Past in La Jetee

As Andrey Tarkovsky says, “in a certain sense the past is far more real, or at any rate more stable, more resilient than the present.” The use of still frame photography powerfully illustrated this concept. It reaffirmed the notion that the past is concrete; it is stable, although our memories of it may not be. The instability of our own recollection was represented in the film, although it was not quite as obvious. Every photograph, though capturing a still scene, shakily moved across the screen as they were displayed.

The world that this man lives in is one of utter disaster. War served as the hyperobject in this situation, and the consequent camps that prisoners of war were bound to was it’s disaster. This man knows that he cannot escape death. He is a tool for others to use. There is no world left for him to come to, only the one that exists in his mind. Even that cannot save him. His memories gave him the will to live, but was he truly alive in the world that he existed in? The reality he endured was nothing like that of his past. It can never be regained. Doom has already arrived. Not only for him, but for the world.

It thrilled me to see such an intense, heavy story articulated through the use of still photographs. It served as a far more powerful medium than film could for this concept. It was forced to convey so many thoughts and emotions within singular frames. It forced the audience to pay closer attention to the details within these individual shots. Each frame was a chapter in this visual novel.

Pesticides as a Symptom of a Hyperobject

After reading the selected works from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, one question in particular immediately came to mind; are insecticides a local manifestation of a hyperobject?

My first response to that question would be: absolutely.

As a quick refresher of the concept of the hyperobject, Timothy Morton mentions several specific characteristics that define a hyperobject as such. These properties include: viscosity, nonlocal nature, and interobjectivity. It is viscous in the way that they stick to the beings involved with them; they are inevitable and unavoidable. There is no escape from a hyperobject. It is inter objective in the way that it can be detected through an aesthetic relationship between objects. It is nonlocal in the way that it is massively distributed through time and cannot in itself be realized in a particular manifestation. It may only manifest itself through local objects.

Rachel Carson describes the widespread, detrimental impacts of insecticides, on not only their intended prey but many living organisms. It causes a violent chain reaction. Bees, important pollinators and deliverers of other crucial ecological services, have been known to suffer from pesticides that were not intended for them. If there is a massive bee die-off, there is a massive amount of plants who won’t be pollinated. If there is no pollination, there will be no crops/trees to speak of anyway. Birds may eat insects loaded with these toxins and die themselves. Human children have been known to die from insecticide poisoning. Traces of DDT are found around the world, in most animals (including humans, especially humans). Even remote eskimo tribes are not safe from its effects, as Carson notes in the section Beyond the Dreams of the Borgias.

Insecticides, and pesticides in general have all of the characteristics of a local manifestation of a nonlocal hyperobject. The only remaining question is, what hyperobject does it represent? I feel as if there can be multiple responses to this, and if you are comfortable doing so, I’d like to pose this question to all of you and see what your explanation would be.