Michael Marder: Do plants have their own form of conciousness?
by Adam Robbert
Ever since reading Michael Marder’s NY Times Op-Ed Piece “Is Plant Liberation on the Menu?” I have been very fascinated with the philosophical underpinnings of Marder’s work. In particular, his essays on metaphysics and plants are striking insofar as they engage with questions of ontology and the ethology of botanical beings simultaneously. We might call Marder an effective Alien Phenomenologist, to borrow Ian Bogost’s term.
I encourage readers to follow Marder’s work as he continues to publish new material and respond to critics of all stripes. His latest volley is featured in Al Jazeera and can be found here. The essay engages criticisms raised by vegans, Christians, scientists, and philosophers whilst engaging positively with biological sciences and philosophers including Aristotle, Derrida, Benjamin, and Gadamer (thinkers the author has published on previously).
I am particularly interested in Marder’s suggestion that there is benefit to approaching plants within the context of an ethics of difference, an ethics not derived from a proximity or similarity to human qualities or behaviors. Marder is particularly critical of the ways in which our thinking about plants lags far behind our knowledge of plant-specific characteristics and qualities (what I would call plant interiority). Marder writes:
At the moment, our political and ethical thinking about vegetation is lagging behind these discoveries. Most people consider plants to be bordering on machines, wholly determined by external factors. And nothing is more conducive to the deepening global environmental crisis than the complacent and un-problematised equation of trees with raw materials – available for unlimited human consumption.
By linking plant interiority to the global environmental crisis and unsustainable models of human consumption, Marder is making helpful contributions to the field of political ecology, and also extending the field into new areas by making an explicit call to understand that plants, like humans, enact worlds (Umwelts) that are also worthy of political representation. How — and to what extent — to achieve such representation is a matter of complicated political composition and has no clear answer.