This afternoon, coming back from Denton where I got a new prescription for glasses, I was listening to National Public Radio as a story came on about revitalizing parks in the DFW metro area. It was an interesting piece, and towards the end, the individual being interviewed noted that he liked trees. I was right there with him – nodding and agreeing. And then he made a statement that made me realize that we were not compatible people at all. “Trees are wonderful machines. Look at all the output that they provide on so little input.” At least that’s what I think the rest of his statement said. My ears stopped hearing him after the likening of trees to machines.
In a manner of speaking, I understand the comparison. Trees output to the world around them in the cleansing of air, providing fruits (some trees) that people can eat, and their wood can be utilized for a whole host of corporate things from buildings to paper, to heat for the home, to cooking fires…blah, blah, blah. And I have heard similar comparisons made to human beings, how we are efficient machines for the output that we manage, in so many creative and innovative manners. But, a machine.
For me, machines are cold, lifeless devices. Items pieced together to make labor-intensive tasks easier or to provide some creature comfort. However, in a manner of speaking, that challenges a perception I have towards Animism. Everything is alive. And part of the way I came to that concept was through the John Travolta led movie Phenomenon.
That one scene in the movie, along with several other moments, were helpful in my understanding of how alive the world around us is. Food, in many of its forms, provides us energy to do the things that we do with our bodies and our minds. Electrical current feeds our homes with energy that gets turned into lighting, computer use, the running of appliances, televisions, heating our water, cooling homes in the summer, and heating those same homes in the winter. Utilizing that process, that extremely simple understanding of the way that the energy of atoms in motion, could I not see the meaning of how a tree is like a machine?
I really needed to dig deeper into the reasons that I felt so “put off” by this statement, why such a logical analogy could leave such a difficult feeling for me. As I thought through it, I kept getting pulled back to the cold, unfeeling aspect of a machine versus a tree, which can react as a living entity to the stimuli of the environment around it. Perhaps, there was something in this perception that I needed to focus on a little bit more. Maybe, where I was getting skeeved off was that there was no acknowledgment of the tree as a living entity. That the tree was just there for our use. That, perhaps, I was reading intent into the individual’s statement that the earth was set here for our use, as is seemingly espoused within Christian Dominionist circles. That kind of attitude and perspective tends to set me off pretty quickly. But am I correct in this assumption, based off of a single statement in an interview with a guy who wants to create more gorgeous green spaces within my surrounding communities?
I am probably not correct in that perspective. In fact, thinking this through, I am likely broad-brushing a knee-jerk reaction on my part onto this poor fellow. And to be frankly honest, I am a bit disappointed in myself for making that step so easily. Perhaps I should turn in my Paganism membership today? Gather up my Pagan books and burn them in the backyard? Because in allowing myself to make such a rash judgment, I should never consider myself to be a Pagan, right?
Ok, time to talk me down from the proverbial ledge. Not that I really was there, but let’s face it – everyone has done this at one time or another. Sometimes over an interview that they read or watched on tv or heard on the radio – or even from a face-to-face or online conversation we have been holding with someone else. We take some big steps in our perceptions, add a touch of assumption, and voila! We are creating our own version of the boogieman for the sake of the moment.
I think this is something a lot of folks in the world need to take a long, stark look at in themselves. We live in a society that is driven by the focal idea of adversarial perspective. We need someone to be at odds with, we need someone to fight. There has to be a “good” and an “evil” to everything we do. We must champion a cause, find its enemies and crush them. After all, Conan told us that this was all that is best in life: “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And hear the lamentation of their women.” There’s the right side – our side. And then there’s the wrong side – not our side. Trust me, finding that division is easy. Republicans, Democrats. Rooting for your favorite sports team to win the championship title. Going to Dave and Buster’s and playing games against your friends. We are driven by a desire to win, spurred on by the literature we cherish, the movies and tv shows we watch…the perspective of dividing people up is everywhere.
So, did I tap into that reserve of division when I chaffed at the comparison of a living entity of a tree compared to my perception of a cold-hearted, unfeeling machine? Perhaps. I do know that I quickly came to a conclusion that this individual was on one side of an imagined division with myself on the other, using a very small amount of information and a liberal handful of assumption. And digging even deeper into the issue, I found an immediate challenge to my perception created from the conversation to a perspective that I hold within Animism that each item around us – made of atoms – is alive in some perspective, not readily understood or easily perceived by ourselves. That life is a subjective concept, not easily defined in an all-inclusive manner.
But I still do not like the comparison of a tree to a machine…just sayin’.