Plant-Thinking and the Ethics of ‘Letting Be’

After Thomas Kuhn, we are familiar with paradigm shifts. All paradigm shifts are also shifts in metaphysics. Before, Kuhn it was Martin Heidegger who spoke of such shifts as the destruction of metaphysics. He wanted to destroy the entire edifice of Western metaphysics. Thinking is no longer demonstrative but is paradigm governed and therefore, is edifying, conversational and interpretative. We, therefore, have the challenge to distance ourselves from the frames of metaphysics. This distantiation itself is another form of metaphysics but it does offer us possibilities of crossing the boundaries set by reigning metaphysics. It is from this perspective, that we have both a challenge and an opportunity to think outside the boundaries of our familiar anthropocentrism and embrace a post-humanity perspective.

Post-humanity thinking is not transhuman thinking. It is still human thinking with the humility of giving up the privileged anthropocentric rational mode of thinking. Posthumanity thinking celebrates the Plant-thinking of Michael Marder. Marder makes a metaphysical shift and enables us to think with the plants away from our metaphysical categories, measures and frames. We are invited to encounter the Heideggerian sense of listening to the silent speaking or receiving of the giving of the being in the plants. This means it is letting plants be from themselves and not from the frames of viewing that we have imposed on them. It lets the alterity and differance ( Derridan view) be disclosive. This disclosure is dynamic, continuous and is open as well as closed and occurs independently of the accounts of vegetal life constructed and narrated through human endeavours.

We have the challenge to see together our world and the world of the plants and not objectify the plant world as non-world. We, therefore, can build on Heidegger’s destruction of Western metaphysics and work to build an ontology of/for the plants that has a place for humans and non-humans within it. We have to free the being of plants from the ontic categories imposed by us through our metaphysical lens. Thus, we have to come to what Heidegger called the ontological difference between Being and beings and let the Being of plants Be. In doing so, we may be enabled to let plants be set free from being exclusively regulated by the ‘capitalist agro-scientific complex’ and assert the conviviality of the plants with us and the our non-human others. Mander calls this convivial space a vegetal democracy. This vegetal democracy is ruled by the ethics of ‘letting Be’. This challenge to let beings be will save singularities from the clasp of generalizing abstractions. Thus, the ethics of ‘letting Be’ strives to overcome metaphysical violence that blinds us to the finite and singular life of plants as well as other non-human others. The ethics of ‘letting Be’ does not desire to convert the marginalized vegetal life into a new centre but desires a conviviality of the humans with plants and welcomes vegetal modes of being-in-the-world.

Affirming the alterity of vegetal modes of being-in-the-world does not displace human ways of being-in-the-world. Heidegger says it is only us humans who have a world. Plants and animals do not have a world. He is right to the extent plants do not have a world to have/possess. This is related to their not having or non-possessive way of being-in-the-world. Therefore, the plant world is not absent. It only shows that it is fully other to our world which is marked by having or possessing. This being as having is egocentric and is different from the ethics of ‘ letting Be’. We actually embody this ethic of ‘ letting Be’ deep within us in as much as the plants, roots and fruits that we have eaten can be viewed as having an afterlife in us. The vegetal other has not been fully other to us and hence, we may be able to approximate plant thinking and let it influence our ways of being-in-the-world. This means human thinking about plants have to be de-humanized and rendered plant-like. The challenge, therefore, is to let the logic of our thinking melt into the logic of plant-thinking although our thinking can never really reach an identification with it. This encounter and embrace of plant-thinking is necessary to save our planet at a time haunted by climate change.

To come close to plant-thinking, we have to clear the ground. We have to join forces with Heidegger and Derrida to ‘ destroy/ deconstruct’ the reigning metaphysics. This means we have to put the metaphysical constructions of plants under erasure or in Edmund Husserl’s bracket. Actually, we do not need to do anything special. We just have to drop our blinding metaphysical blinkers and encounter the Being and becoming of the plants. We shall see that the dynamic becoming of the plant mode of being-in-the-world itself deconstructs the reigning metaphysic. We will encounter a lived deconstruction of our metaphysics as well as encounter transvalution of our metaphysical values in the plant modes of being-in-the-world. The plants’ modes of being-in-the-world demonstrate their existentiality. Again we have to transcend existentialists who ascribe existence to only humans. It is in contact with the plant modes of being-in-the-world that we as humans can encounter our limits or boundaries. Awakened to our limited conditions or situations, we may be enabled to rise to the ethics of ‘ letting Be’.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao