I thoroughly enjoyed our talk and feel like we barely scratched the surface of such a range of fascinating topics @glyph so I can't wait until we do the next one.
The right moment never arose to open this can of worms, though in my head it was dancing around the edges of my consciousness like some cheeky dryad. I've been discussing with family members about the ethics of cultivation. So with my immediate family if focuses around keeping house-plants. We know that plants are intelligent - they engage in social behaviour (and produce a vast array of chemicals which enable them to do so), they clearly act with intention, they know how to solve problems and they arguably have all the sensory capacities of humans and then some. What is the ethical dimension to keeping and caring for houseplants?
I have a pretty magnificent cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa), which is a cutting from the parent plant (we call her the Mothership) who is over 30 years old and lives in the house I grew up in. This plant has been for so long estranged from its natural habitat. Its likely it was a cutting from another parent plant which had never known its homeland. So for several generations this genetic line of cheese plants has been living in houses, in captivity. But there's not really a fair choice as to what to do with them. I value their lives, they bring me joy, they're well cared for, and its beyond practicality to return them to their native habitat in Mexico. There's not much I can do about it, but I do think about whether its fair to propagate them any more than they already have been. I don't know if I have an answer to that. But there's a mutual dependence, in that they bring me joy, and I feed and drink them.
Thats a relatively straight forward ethical dilemma right. Take it to the instance of small-scale fungus cultivation, and I feel better. Fungi like to be propagated, they spread their spores far and wide, and the more you can encourage them to fruit, the better they will propagate. And I cultivate Oyster mushrooms, which are native, so there is a genuine possibility that the mushrooms I grow will enable dead wood in my area to be colonised by their spores. But when we begin extracting these creatures out of their native environment in order to fulfil a task that will better serve humans and might help prevent / at least slow down the speed of ecosystem collapse. For example growing Quorn. Or training fungi to eat cigarette butts. Its a bit more on the edge of 'whats okay' from an ethical perspective, if we recognise these creatures are sentient. Ultimately we still are dictating their opportunities in many senses when they're in closed systems as opposed to open, so we get to frame the choices they get to make and steer their evolution. I guess a part of me wants to minimise the impact I have on the world, but the reality is we cannot estrange ourselves or abstract ourselves, if I kick on a dandelion by accident, I'm spreading its seed, and actually doing exactly what it wants. Observation and science here are the tools we have at our disposal to be able to decide when its okay to intervene and when its not. I guess I'm making a case for ethical scientific practice.
The third case is where it gets really hairy. I'm building an aquaponics system (slowly mind) and want to keep and cultivate fish and plants as a closed-loop system. And I can see that as a democratised, commons-based community food solution, such systems could be leveraged to really alleviate suffering planet wide - allow river and sea fish-stocks to stabilise and restore balance to ecosystems, to feed humans who are going hungry as drought in certain parts of the world increases. And they can subvert the meat industry, allow people to eat healthy, locally and reliably produced with accountability. This in my mind can even form a cohesive component of building a post-capitalist economy / ecology. And yet part of me feels hesitant. I feel for the fish I want to keep in a 1000L tank. I worry about how I would feel if I grew up in a large white room with 50 other humans and never got the chance to leave. But then I'm anthropomorphising those. How can I know or understand what its like in the body it inhabits along with its ancestral behavioural conditioning?
Argh this stuff is so complex. I guess as long as we try to engage in this stuff with an awareness of suffering, ultimately we have to make decisions in order to balance the scales. It feels like we have too much power. My rational brain builds an answer to such ethical dilemmas / justifies my want to make things better with the 'greater good' argument. But my heart center, my emotional response, is to want to release the fish into the river, to take the cheese plant back to Mexico.
So I guess the question that comes here is, how can we as humans devise symbiotic / generative relationships, that we know to be mutually beneficial (rather than fooling ourselves they are for our own sake) with other species so as to build and maintain healthy and sustainable ecosystems? What does that mean for the future of [phyto/myco]remediation, sustainable food, sustainable building and land design, argiculture, 'rewilding'?