Plants Being Metaphysics
by Adam Robbert
What does metaphysics have to do with plants? What can this group of heterogeneous beings, as different from one another as a stalk of wheat and an oak tree, tell us about Being ‘‘as such and as a whole,’’ let alone about resisting the core metaphysical values of presence and identity that the totality of Being entails? A pessimistic answer to these questions is that the bewildering diversity of vegetation is reduced, at bottom, to the conceptual unity ‘‘plant’’ in a signature gesture of metaphysical violence seeking to eliminate differences, for instance, between a raspberry bush and moss, a mayflower and a palm tree. The plant cannot offer any resistance to metaphysics because it is one of the impoverished products of the metaphysical obsession with primordial unity, an obsession not derailed but, to the contrary, supported by the scientific systems of classification that, from antiquity onwards, have been complicit in the drive toward identity across hierarchically organized differences of species, genus, family, and so forth. The ontic manifes- tation of this ontological consolidation of the plant is the ‘‘monocrop,’’ such as sugar cane, which increasingly displaces varied horticultures all over the world, but, especially, in the global South. Metaphysics and capitalist economy are in unmistakable collusion, militating, as they do, against the dispersed multiplicities of human and non-human lives; economic rationality, which currently treats plants as sources of bio-energy or biofuel, converts, concretely and on a global scale, the metaphysical principles of sameness and identity into the modes of production and reproduction of material existence in toto.
That is not to say, however, that there is nothing in vegetation that escapes this double objectifying grasp. In what follows, I will argue that, by denying to vegetal life the core values of autonomy, individualization, self-identity, originality, and essentiality, traditional philosophy not only marginalizes plants but, inadvertently, confers on them a crucial role in the current transvaluation of metaphysical value systems. From the position of absolute exteriority and heteronomy, vegetation accomplishes a living reversal of metaphysical values and points toward the collapse of hierarchical dualisms.
- Michael Marder, “Vegetal Anti-Metaphysics: Learning from Plants”