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Iridium's picture

       “Do we take plants’ rights into full account?”

       During my seminar class when my professor asked us to discuss about plant life, I just came up with a comparison between the ways we treat animals and plants. Last week in New York City, I met with my high school friends. One was in Canada Goose coat, and another friend was going to buy the same brand that afternoon. In the same day, there was a protest against Canada Goose held by animal rights protesters in Manhattan as well. When consumers are thinking about which style of goose down coat to buy, some people are arguing it is cruel to pluck feathers from geese. In class, my discussion partner Kat also raised an example of vegetarians that some vegetarians think killing animals and eating their meat are very cruel so they choose to eat vegetables only. My aunt believes in Buddhism, and she chose not to eat meat and eggs years ago because the first precept in Buddhism is not killing other beings.

       Beings? In common sense, plants are not counted as members of beings though. We feel bad for animals because they feel pain and cry out, but we usually do not feel that way for plants. The record of plants’ crying can only be found in poems and some else academic works. And the reason for the academic appearance is the authors’ imagination. Furthermore, sometimes it is more a crying for the author self than sympathy to the killed plants. We commonly think plants are not sentient. As a result we do not need to care about their feelings when we are going to hurt them, such as eating vegetables or chopping down trees. But scientists have detected different electricity inside the plant body when they are playing different music. Learning this news, many people felt it was interesting at the first sight but kicked it out of the head soon because there is no research showing that plants are hurt when they get killed, and there are not as many people, regarding plants as pets, as people who regard dogs or cats as pets. However, since there is already a research showing plants have reactions to the outside world, why the saying “plants might feel miserable when they are killed” does not get on the stage?

       Why we give more attention to animals but not plants? Plants play much more essential roles in our life than animals do. Not only eat them as food, in daily life, we read in papers, use desk, and dress in clothes fabricated of plants etc. We can live without pets but we cannot live without plants. Far back to ancient time, only when there was enough oxygen and resource for food can we Kingdom Animalia survive and thrive until now. Before this discussion, I have never thought about the respect to plants and never realize how much important it is for human beings. We were taught in childhood that we should always show our gratitude to our parents, our teachers, and whoever had given hands to us. So as the main members of the tropical level, shouldn’t plants receive most of our gratitude? We favor our pets the most among the whole natural world, and then normal animals, and plants are ranked at the lowest level (microbes are not taken into account because they are not easy to notice in our daily life). In my opinion, we should tend more to see our relationships with different species not at our own position, but get out of our material bodies and view them universally and critically. In this new view, plants has given us so many things that they should be honored as the noblest; normal wild animals are competing with us for resource, but they can also be used as our food resource so they are the second noblest; our animal pets never help with our basic needs and ask us for resources so they are put at the lowest level. Everything is exactly subverted in the new view.

       Why are plants supposed to fear us if they are sentient? Because we have no respects to them as we do to our peers. We see them as tools and food, either we use them or we still use them. The way we see them has already put them into a position where things are all we can take full advantage of without hesitation. “He looks at you as if you are already dead.” It is a very popular expression used on killers in wuxia novels. We are very similar to this ‘he’; though our attitude maybe not like this all the time to every plant, we must have done it once to any one of them.

       In LeGuin’s work, the team concludes that the plants on the planet are isolated. Like those plants, who are the owner of the planet, we are isolated, too. One of the character in the novel, Mannon, said, “it has no peers. No enemies. No relationship with anything but itself. One alone forever” (LeGuin 173). We see us human as the most intelligent living beings on the earth among all the known animals. We develop technologies. We build up reservations for animals and plants to live, and we make the rest of the land as our own. We are even more isolated and less solitary than the plants in the novel. At least they see themselves as a whole, but we only regard our human as friends who can share equal rights with. As for other species living in the world, we always assign money-related value to them. We protect rare species because they are precious and hold economical values. In the other side, we grow common species, because they can be directly utilized for economical values. Not only to other species are we isolated, but we also have cracks over the whole community. Wars, violence, bitter quarrel, and bullying are all strong evidences.

       We have not solved our interior problems yet, which is just because we are the most intelligent living beings on the earth. We cannot stop our own problems because we are so thoughtful that we develop each personality so differently, and we can even isolate one individual from others.

       We agree with animals about the formation of groups and election of leaders. Similar activities and habits make the route where we receive our empathy boarder and more accessible. Besides mourning for lack of respect to our contributor-plants, we need to explore our empathy with plants. Therefore, despite we are gradually unavoidably losing connections one by one with nature world, we can create a lot more connections than we have lost with the nature world when we figure it out.

       “After having moved from the closed cosmos to the infinite universe, we have to move back from the infinite universe to the closed cosmos” (Latour 4). When we see how high our position is among all the species, we should return from “mountain’s peak” to “mountain’s foot.” Only when we share equal rights with all species can we learn about the world around us and improve ourselves.

       But how could this happen? How could human evolved into the next stage without any dramatic change to force them?



Work Cited

Ursula LeGuin, Vaster than Empires, and More Slow.The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Short Stories.New York: Harper and Row, 1975.

Bruno Latour, "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene." New Literary History 45, 1 (Winter 2014)


Anne Dalke's picture


I’m appreciating the thoughtful way you reflect on the implications of our class discussion about plant, and glad to see the questions you use to “open up” your paper @ the end. Coupla spots I’d like us to discuss in conference:
“get out of our material bodies and view them universally and critically”:
“At least [plants] see themselves as a whole.”

The big question, though, will be whether this paper has a place to “grow” (and so you will make it your final revision, or whether you’d like to return to an earlier paper that still intrigues/that you could open up with other material…
I look forward to hearing (oh! and also to reviewing citation form ;)