TWENTY QUESTIONS:PLANT OR ANIMAL ?

2 Apr

TWENTY QUESTIONS: PLANT OR ANIMAL ?

Louise Annarino

April 2,2012

We Americans base our social, economic, and political systems on competition. A “winner-takes-all” theory that other democracies cannot quite completely accept, we embrace. It seems to make sense in the sports world. How else do we determine the participants in the NCAA Sweet 16, Final 4, and eventual National Champion collegiate basketball team? Such competition often leads to violence in fans of losing teams tearing across soccer stadiums with fists flying, or college students of winning teams burning cars and couches in the streets after football and basketball games. Those of us living near OSU often hope for a loss to avoid property damage from the mayhem which follows a big win. The increased presence of police and fire protection causes great expense, and results in very few arrests. Television stations downplay such violence as the hi-jinks of “exhuberant fans” and “student enthusiasm boiled over” while smiling and laughing about such violence on-screen.

There is a much different response and on-screen by-play when political rallies turn violent. I have attended enough of these to know the peaceful protesters seldom start the violence. Pepper spray seems to be liberally used, police make efforts to clear the streets, many injuries occur, and there are multiple arrests. Property damage is usually limited to destroyed placards and signs. Community response becomes especially brutal when the social or political gathering involves people of color. Such gatherings are met with tension and outright fear of first responders, rather than the mutual rejoicing which occurs after an OSU football game, while students take over streets beers in hand,chatting with police officers. Newspersons are not smiling and laughing when they report on political events. Does competition foster violence?

Competition is necessary, we assert hour-by-hour and day-by-day, in a capitalist economic system. We forget ours is not a purely capitalist system but a mixed economy of capitalism, and socialism; often a cooperative effort between government and the private sector. We have no problem accepting this when roads, dams, railroads and bridges need built. We also seem to welcome private contractors/government mix when it comes to space exploration and war. It has always been so. Currently, presidential candidates who need financial support from “Citizens United” PACS funded by private corporations, are forced to ignore the cooperation inherent in a mixed economic system, demonize socialism in any form, and label “weak” any leader in either party who acknowledges the need for cooperation. Attacking an opponent for ultimate victory is not new in a competitive political campaign. The amount of money, the source of the funds, and the lack of transparency or accountability for those generating the cash is new.

Many countries have a parliamentary system which affords an opportunity for multiple party participation; unlike our more direct presidential system in which a third party becomes the “spoiler”. While the need for cooperation and compromise is more obvious in a parliamentary system, one must after all somehow form a government among so many winners, the need for cooperation also remains strong in a two-party system. Somehow, we have fooled ourselves into a belief that “winner takes all” means cooperation is not only unnecessary, but self-defeating. It seems wrong to win the prize, then share the win with the “other side”. This is the danger: a belief that the other side is a social truth, not a mere political fiction. This leads to civil war. It has happened before in this country. We are watching it happen all over the world, especially in emerging democracies who are guided by what they see of the world’s greatest democracy, the United States of America. How we live our democracy at home affects democracy around the globe.

Did you play the game “20 Questions” as a child? One can ask twenty questions calling for a “yes” or “no” response; narrowing the possibilities until one can name the “thing” the respondent is thinking of. One of the routine questions is “Is it an animal?”, or the corresponding “Is it a plant?”. Either question provides the same information. Does it matter which we are, animal or plant? Are we not genetically both? We have accepted that “survival of the fittest”, is a truism of both classifications. It is that belief upon which we base our “winner takes all” philosophy. When we teach the Constitution, we teach that it was based upon an understanding of the natural order, including the concept of “survival of the fittest”, upon which we base our electoral system. What if our insistence that “winner takes all” is not necessarily a universal biological truth? What if nature has found a better way for species survival? The better way is cooperation, recognizing our interconnectedness.

In the 60’s every high school biology text suggested an experiment in seed germination. Most student chose to germinate bean sprout. It was easy and quick. Put seed and water in a petrie dish and within 8 days, voila’, a sprout! I chose cantaloupe seed germination because I liked cantaloupe better than beans. After 3 weeks, I still had no sprout. I did have moldy seeds. While my classmates quickly wrote and submitted their findings, I was forced to spend hours at the Denison University library researching why I got the results I did. I learned a lot about plants, especially dry horticulture and desert plants. Unlike what I was taught about the animal kingdom, the plant kingdom stresses cooperation. Nowhere is this more clear than seeds germinating under dry conditions. If lack of water allowed only the strongest plants to survive, in dry spells every plant would die, even the strongest plant. The plant kingdom, instead, opts for cooperation between seeds. All seeds wait to optimize their personal growth by sharing resources as they become available. All seeds grow at the same rate, slower or faster, as a group. For any species of plant to survive, the plants are willing to cooperate with one another, ESPECIALLY when resources, or economic indicators, threaten the plant society’s optimal growth or even survival. Watch how your garden grows, plants steadily reaching up to the sun together, closing their leaves to the cold together, slowing down growth together when the rains slow. Plants are in this “together”. The plant world is interconnected.

Are plants socialists? Or capitalists? Or both? Is the plant realm a mixed economy, like that in the United States?  Each plant seeks maximum growth and productivity; but, it recognizes its interconnectedness to every other plant and the need for cooperation in order for any plant, or community of plants, to survive and thrive.

Perhaps this cooperative model is also true within the animal kingdom. Within the last few days, an interesting story with photo has been circulating on Facebook. What compels this story’s momentum is “ubuntu”, a Bantu word. The photo is that of a group of perhaps 20 children sitting outdoors in a circle, the feet of each child touching the feet of the child on his or her left and right. The image is organic. At first it looks like a flower, each child a petal. The accompanying story describes an “experiment’. The children of a village in Africa were told that a bag of candy had been placed on a branch of a distant tree. On the signal to run, whichever child reached the tree first would get the entire bag of candy, “winner takes all”. When the signal was given, the entire group of children clasped hands and ran to the tree together. One child grabbed the bag and immediately shared the entire bag with the group. When the children were asked why they shared the candy when the instructions were not to do so, they answered they could not enjoy the candy unless everyone had candy.

Rev. Desmond Tutu explains such cooperative behavior in a 2008 interview: “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” “Ubuntu Women Institute USA (UWIU) with SSIWEL as its first South Sudan Project”. http://www.ssiwel.org/ [Note: This web page no longer exists.]

Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu in an Experience Ubuntu Interview: “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve? File:Experience ubuntu.ogg

Animal or vegetable? We are both. Our community is organic,planting seeds seeking the life-giving sun, unfolding our individual potential, amid a productive garden of growth. We are interconnected in ways we need not imagine. Examples abound within the plant and animal kingdoms. It is time we got in touch with our nature as human beings, and with nature as a whole. It is time to play 20 Questions with our politicians.

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