WILD ECOLOGIES - Featured post #1: Here Steve Duplantier offers some personal perspective on biodiversity, 
Proudhon and the bewildering complexity within that defies any anthropocentric appeal to a distinction 
between anarchy and order.


by Stephen Duplantier

Speculative, more-than-human turns in both weather and philosophy are best examined locally. Here goes. I live in Costa Rica squarely on the edge of an ecotone with the Bosque Nuboso Los Angeles cloud forest on one side. Moist air blows into the central valley over the Tilaran cordillera from the Pacific and this moisture condenses as clouds and paints us every day with wetness. I am sitting in a dense white-out as I write this. The rainy season began in earnest a few days ago and will add to the daily horizontal rain that we get from the clouds as they sieve through the trees.

Naturalists studying the Neotropics of the Americas are bewildered (a perfect word choice) at the number of species they encounter. It’s not just the naturalists out in the forest seeking new species who run into the biodiversity.  Usually not a cloudy day dawns that I am not able to find tardy insects from the night before who stayed past their curfew. Almost always, I see something I haven’t seen before and will likely never see again. I am friends with Angel Solís, a beetle specialist at the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad. During a visit to the Institute’s collections, he showed me the cabinets full of insects, and especially all the ones discovered and named by him. He has named them after himself, his wife, his children, but at this rate, he doesn’t have enough offspring to continue his family-based nomenclature, though somewhere nearby he surely has enough cousins and kindred.

In the temperate zones, a patch of forest may have several hundred species of all types. Here in the Neotropics, the same-size patch may have tens of thousands of species. A few meters from my door are trees I have not been able to identify below the genus level which receive the daily and nightly moisture from the blowing mountain clouds. Nearly every branch and branchlet of theses trees is festooned with living things—epiphytes, lichens, mosses, fungi, liverworts, cacti, ferns, bromeliads, and orchids. These usually small plants are attached firmly to the branches trapping dust particles and moisture forming a living raft of small scale bewilderment. These branch-sized biospheres can be thick as a few centimeters and much thicker on the older and bigger branches. There are even epiphytes growing on the epiphytes creating impossibly-complex miniature forests in what seems like a limitless fractal repetition of forms with a bewildering—that word again—mutually assistive assortment of species. The ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon live on vibrantly in the rain and cloud forests. Property may be theft, but what is it when things grow mutually on top of something, and something grows on them? Usually the layered growth is commonly beneficial. I haven’t even considered insects and the other phyla found throughout the epiphytic environments, but they are in there, helping, maybe eating some leaves.

The experiences of naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace in 1895 in the rainforests of the Americas led him to observe that when noticing a particular tree species and wanting to see more like it, it might not be possible to find one, even with searching the area. He might find a similar one, but on closer examination discover that it was very likely distinct. He was adrift in a forest of singularities. Darwin wrote, “The land is one great wild, untidy luxuriant hothouse, made by nature for herself.” Forgive Darwin’s personification of nature: his point shines through about a more-than-human feeling and experience. This is the “tangled bank” he described which seems to care not a strangler fig about soft-fleshed naturalists penetrating its thickness. That  tangled wildness which ignored passing naturalists, even one as great as Darwin, is today entangled with others of Darwin’s species—those now-ubiquitous bipeds dragging Anthropogenic dread behind most everything they do.

branchBack to the branch. The order/anarchy distinction makes no sense on the branch of a tree in a cloud forest. The anarchy is the order.  Each tiny plant is a singularity for all practical purposes, following the primary biodiversity rule of occupying all available space and multiplying species as much as necessary and possible. The tree is filled with branches of miniature forests such that it is hard to see the tree for the tiny forests encrusting the branches. Where the branch ends and the epiphytic community begins is not easy to determine. But the tiny epiphyte community is bigger by one large biped when I look at it. My interest in the branch and the tree hooks me into a tiny corner of that biome in what I want to be a friendly way. But the contact is complicated by my human entanglement and seemingly inextricable backstory enmeshment in the Anthropocene. I have a car parked not far away. Doesn’t it seems like the epiphytes have a not-so-friendly neighbor—me! It’s not personal. I am happy to have these tiny complex neighbors. But it is me who is bringing the epiphytic neighborhood property values down.

The high species richness across many taxons with individual phenotype rarity is the tropical pattern worldwide. Costa Rica has more overall species richness than is found even in Amazonia, counting epiphytes, herbs, shrubs and trees. Why so much diversity in Costa Rica? There is no one simple answer since interrelated ecological forces are operating, but a short answer is that if conditions permit it, diversity happens. Two main factors apply here: given abundant resources resources and the absence of killing frost, high biological diversity will occur. This is the multiplying singularity and order found in wild anarchy for free.

An unheralded consequence unleashed by the anthropogenic liberation of carbon and the effects of the greenhouse gases warming of the oceans and raising world temperatures will be less frost and therefore more biodiversity. Less frost will catalyze more successful speciation and evolution. Warming trends equal accelerating diversity trends. In the human-scale sphere, can this trend continue? Singularities are primed to increase in anarchies of oneness. Wild ecologies emerge when anarchy is free and abundant. At least that’s what my branch told me this morning

25 responses to “Bewilded

  1. I enjoyed your essay. Thinking about the biodiversity of the hotbed realms you live in reminded me of something E.O. Wilson recently said: “Humanity is a biological species in a biological world. In every function of our bodies and mind and at every level, we are exquisitely well adapted to live on this particular planet. We belong in the biosphere of our birth. Although exalted in many ways, we remain an animal species of the global fauna.”1

    A lot of young philosophers have taken up this notion of the inhuman, etc. Sometimes I want to reach back out and tell them: “But, we, too are in our core “inhuman”.” What I mean is that this whole notion of the Anthropscene ideology or present smells of the false dichotomies that have plague philosophy from the beginning. Against such separation of humans from the natural realms I’ll reverse it and say again: humans are part of the natural realm, not artificial constructs that have become alien to its encompassing shadows.

    What your implying is that it is the very unleashing of the human from its roots in the natural that is bringing about a replenishment of biodiversity rather than its demise. That with global warming things will actually become much better for the lifeforms in this lifeworld of our surround. I like this. It sounds right. Life hates the cold (“frost”). And, anyone who has studied the ice ages during the differing billions of years realizes that life fluctuates and then replenishes itself periodically through these vast cycles. Who are we to presume that our little technological accumulation and overpopulation of the planet will have such dire consequences, when in fact as you’re suggesting it might be just the opposite course that transpires.

    As Andrew Revkin who coined the term originally stated: ““Two billion years ago, cyanobacteria oxygenated the atmosphere and powerfully disrupted life on earth,” he says. “But they didn’t know it. We’re the first species that’s become a planet-scale influence and is aware of that reality. That’s what distinguishes us.”

    Maybe that’s the point: we need to not only be aware of how we are influencing the planet on a macro scale, but we should start in our own backyards and begin to see our effects in the singular microworlds of our own jungles. Maybe we might see the we are not so unique after all.

    1. Wilson, Edward O. (2012-04-02). The Social Conquest of Earth (Kindle Locations 4332-4334). Norton. Kindle Edition.

      • hey m, when you say “from here” do you mean on this blog (and if so are you asking how far can/should we push the shock of the new?) or something else?

    • Coincidentally, today, May 22, is international Biodiversity Day. We are encouraged to understand and preserve biodiversity. Perversely, we may be doing much more than we know by having ushered in the Anthropocene and finding ourselves unable to do anything significant about it.

    • “we, too are in our core ‘inhuman’.”

      This is the unrelenting truth of it. So many philosophical possibilities follow from this insight – based, as it is, on a much deeper (and darker) phenomenology that transcendentalists would have us believe. We, singularities of experiential (im)position, are ‘of’ and ‘in’ this world in ways that radically defy the Cartesian dreams of rationalists, psychologizers, and even so-called materialists like Zizek. The “gap” that is said to occasion subjectivity is only a distal (emergent) phenomenon generated out of the chaotic (anarchic?) potencies and unfolded organization of material assemblages, and NOT an absolute or ontological split in reality as such. Our way in (epistemically and practically) is through our inhuman natures – the transcorporeality of action-able existences. And this is what neo-materialisms can resonate for us.

      That this has yet to be adequately addressed is demonstrated by the extreme anxiety with which our young philosophers project and draw their conclusions about our actually existing experiences and abilities to know. Far from being aliens to this realm we are its aberrant progeny.

      But all of this is just to say that our humanity uniformly relates to our inhumanity, and immanently so. Individuals, groups and species are a temporal occurrences generated in the open, incomplete matrix of Nature. We are in the mix. But the question remains what kind of mix might we desire that allows desiring to continue to be a thing at all?

      • In some ways if you think about it we’ve been immersed for a few centuries in a deprogramming (i.e., the de-sacralization project of modernity etc.) project that was slowly freeing us of the human… but has stalled, and the re-emergence and re-sacralization or theological turn is trying to reinstall us and colonize us with its control systems. What Lacan and Zizek after him term the big Other or Symbolic Order is nothing but these systems of control that through parents, educators, and the blind inertia of cultural frames and enframings trap us in false mental worlds.

        Think of those deprogrammers during the 70’s and 80’s who would kidnap young people out of certain religious cults and deprograming them through a series of disassociational techiques and other obviously strange tactics and strategies (some of these have since fallen into felonious victimage, and certain originators of such techiques jailed on various charges of kidnapping, abuse, etc.).

        What I’m really getting at is from the moment we’re born we are indoctrinated into our belief systems by parents, educators, and the wider spectrum of the mediatainment networks that surround us. Our lives denaturalized from their inhuman core are colonized and reappropriated into the networks of control (Foucault) without our ever having any say. Some of us as children begin to question these symbolic controls and seek alternatives… my point is at the late date in human history we barely even understand the implication of this inhuman core much less have access to its dark layers. Obviously when it irrupts within the chinks and cracks of our psyches we experience it as psychosis, hysteria, etc. But these very categories and medical terms seek to trap us again through the strictures of Reason, finding ways to fold us back into the symbolic order rather than to help us regain our inhumanity. Is such a transcorporeal therapy possible that would bring us to a knowledge of our inhuman core without blowing our psyches into a thousand shattered pieces? And, even if we attained this inhuman core would we discover after all it was a terrible journey into becoming monsters?

      • Yes, programmable immersion: a long his-tory of (in)fantasy. We have become so enamored by and in our mythologies for so long we believe it ‘natural’ to be doxified. We have cleared away some of the brush over the years, as you indicate, but the struggle continues to deprogram – or, as Rushkoff would have it, to counter-program in an effort to divest in the Symbolic and begin organizing our intensities differently.

        For me this is where nihilistic intelligence factors in. By embracing the cluster of associations and signifiers swirling around the notion of Nihil we can adopt a deflationary stance that reorients experience enough to begin to re-weigh our sense-ratios such that we become less disposed to succumbing to the re-installation attempts of pernicious systems. De-doxification.

        That said, I don’t think we can avoid human phanstasy as thetic association and imaginative extension. We are cognitive and communicative beings who ‘externalize’, or tokenize, our hallucinations as part of our general coping-mechanics. The externalization or institutionalization of phantasy generates the self-constituting reality of what Lacan termed the Imaginal and Symbolic respectively. This ongoing public phantasizing is characteristically human (although other animals do it to their specific degree), and generates what I call ambient orders: the semiotic and media ecologies with which we attempt to cope and adapt on this planet socially. The Symbolic thus being a major aspect of the ‘ambience’ our habitations and our project’s projections. If there is signification and communication there will be Symbolic aspects effecting any of our formations with-in the generalizable ecology.

        The crucial leverage point being, then, finding techniques and strategies (praxis) that deflate the big Other enough to reorganize the Imaginary, and Real elements in ways that more adequately facilitate what we might want to facilitate. The hyperreality of any given mix of actual SRI terrains cannot be avoided, only worked with-in, and perhaps re-designed, in more creative and adaptive ways. Hence the practicality and immediacy of infrastructure, broadly and ecologically conceived, as operational platform.

        And, with all of that, infrastructures that automatically prime us for more adaptive rationalities by generating the conditions (material assemblages, flows, practices and bodies) for ecological (inter-species, inter-biotic, and human-to-nonhuman) mutuality, sustainability and perpetual innovation.

        Figuring how we might get there is the problem… A lot needs to be torn down or let die culturally and infrastructurally before we can (re)build.

    • Human beings may not be homogenising biodiversity everywhere and at every scale (that is impossible) but the magnitude of the ongoing extinctions shouldn’t be downplayed for the sake of anti-anthropocentrism. Also, while ecologies on land may prefer warmer climates to some degree, life in oceans overwhelmingly prefers cold temperatures. Tropical waters are often more or less deserts because of the way that warm water refuses to mix with cold and nutrients thereby do not circulate. The polar regions are abundant with life below the ice.

      That said, a beautifully written post. Where would you place rewilding within this anarchoscape? In some iterations (much like the Anthropocene) it’s proposed as a kind of dominance (engineering the garden we want) but in others (and most, in fairness; e.g. the British journalist George Monbiot) it’s about rediscovering wildness (for humans as well as other species) and *letting go* rather than controlling.

      • Just realised I’m mixing up comments on the comments and those on the main post. It’s early. Anyway, you get the idea.

        Also agree on the fetishisation of the ‘inhuman’ in this pseudo-nihilistic fashion (usually underdeveloped as such in theoretical terms). Saying ‘more-than-human’ has this same connotation for me. As though we need to be ‘put in our place,’ ‘cut down to size’—of course we do but this has the effect so often of re-exceptionalising, only in the opposite direction.

      • I want to agree, but when I think of the hard issues surrounding economics, scarcity, migrations of humans … etc. I realize this whole conception of rewilding smacks of too much Idealism. As if we could stop what’s fairly well certain to be already too late, too little… At 62 I’ve watched the gamut of environmentalism from the 60’s onward… and seen how little has been done with all the militant pressure from various organizations… either we build up collective actions or it want happen. I’ve always been a fan of Murray Bookchin but have over the years realized in his own militant bid that his notions make sense: the radical Earth first groups and others based notions on false Rousseauean conclusions about the Natural world…

        I’ll agree that command and control, and dominion as we’ve seen through Western Civilization and its reliance on a form of Idealism in Science: Objectivity is an Idealism. That the hierarchical world view as documented by Bookchin and others isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Sadly, short of real revolt… we’re going to go the way of many other species. The Earth will go on without us. I’m still hopeful, but not to a great extant. Yet, I want give up either… if we don’t struggle against the inertia we’ve given into the enemy without a fight… and, I’m a fighter.

        • Yes, indeed. Life will go on without us (although the same does not necessarily go for various species). On that note, I do feel that The Three Ecologies actually gets off to a very bad start:

          “The Earth is undergoing a period of intense techno-scientific transformations. If no remedy is found, the ecological disequilibrium this has generated will ultimately threaten the continuation of life on the planet’s surface.”

          What an antiquated first two sentences! Not only from another century, these words are from another era altogether.

          I’m under no illusions that rewilding might be the or even part of a solution. I am a pessimist, although I try to keep that to myself (act for the best, expect the worst). It’s interesting to me in that it broadens the appeal of environmentalist goals beyond the kind of narrow-minded EF!-ism that will never appeal to anything more than a thin sliver of the mobilisation required for such a revolt.

          • Yes, of course he wrote that back in the late 80’s … published I believe in 89? This was the era before the massive influx of ICTs etc…. but what he meant by this vast techno-scientific influx and what we now know are obviously two separate things… For me I kind of agree with Guattari’s notion of microinterventions rather than some global macrorevolution… if one studies the environmental movement from its beginnings… the smaller microinterventions onto specific things: like right now over the tar-mining fields in Canada and the pipeline protests, combining the indigenous peoples of the localized are with radicals, etc. seems to be working…. one could speak of other things in the past 60 years as well! To me it just needs a sort of wider network, and affiliations… there needs to be a defining narrative: so in that sense I disagree with the postmodernists who broke up and dispersed the grand narratives…. with out some form of larger historical narration most people do not see 1) how we got here; 2) why we need change; and, 3) (as in Lenin) What to do?

            And, whether we like it or not: we need a core avant garde, a militant group of artists, writer, activists that are willing to continue the basic interactive disruptions and anarchic fights that keep things stirred up… the eye on the ball so to speak. By that I do not mean terror, or bombs in the street… I mean performative art, interventions at specific environmental sites, political disruptions, organized protests, etc. These things did work in the 60’s … they can work again! Most people are so passive and hooked to the system: sleepwalkers afraid to rock the boat that unless one has the small cadre to lead the base programmatic responses and activism it will never continue…

      • yeah i’m with brer noir (s.c.h.) on this one, the only rewildng we will continue to see is folks pushed into feral lives of scraping by:
        and yes to micro-interventions but there have never actually been master-narratives (how would we all come to make a common/unified use of such a thing if we even desired it and i certainly don’t) and unless we somehow transcend our buggy/kluged bodies there won’t be such codes but that’s fine all we need are handy prototypes to employ/hack.

  2. I like the emphasis on the immediate surroundings of the writer, so that the voice does not come from nowhere. We are always already (as living bodies) enmeshed in ecologies of other bodies both around and within. The boundary disruption gives the reader a sense of life (at the three levels Guattari wrote about: continually reinvented environment, mutating socius, nascent subjectivity) is not so locally fixed, yet not everywhere at once either.

    I want to offer a mere warning about the kind of ‘presencing’ that Tim Morton wrote about in Ecology Without Nature and Guattari wrote about ~20 pages in. It’s a kind of black hole we can fall into in ecological writing that situates us as present in a place – fully grounded and assured. Guattari:

    “Pure creative auto-reference is impossible in the apprehension of ordinary existence. Attempts to represent it can only succeed in masking it, travestying it, disfiguring it, making it pass through mythic and narrative myths of reference – what I call metamodelization. Corollary: These focal points of creative subjectification in their nascent state can only be accessed by the detour of a phantasmatic economy that is deployed in a random form. In short, no one is exempt from playing the game of the ecology of the imaginary!”

    It is a perfectly phrased passage (except for the word “random”). It is this word ‘Wild’ and ‘Bewildering’ that I think has some legs on it and can be a kind of touchstone for a phantastic and anarchic political signifier, without being too much of either. My senses have told me it’s already gaining ‘currency’.

    • presencing is indispensable for (en)training our bodies for sensory acuity and thus more realist cognitions. Without the activations of engaged experience we become slaves to the fantasies of a symbolic order that only ever serves to cover up “the wild” of being, becoming and experiencing.

      • But the point is we our present in any case, whether we write it or not, and if we obsess over writing it like good modern philosophers then we end up privileging certain signifiers over others – disfiguring experience with code-words. “No one is exempt from playing the game of the ecology of the imaginary!” Even with all of the excessive textual of someone like Derrida, he and other at least teaches us paradoxes inherent in a philosophy that attempts to write immediate, pure experience and form an air-tight theory of it. Guattari must have been well aware of these perils, which is why he makes or keeps the distinction of scales between subjective, social, and environmental all the while situating them on a single plane where they can mesh it all kinds of ‘fantastic’ ways.

        Words like ‘wild’ and ‘dark’ have their merits that are totally worth exploring in a theoretical context, but the relationship to sensation must be carefully navigated. After all, we cannot *see anything with our body’s eye without light. A dark ontology would be one that must de-emphasize human experience – and that is probably what we need to do. I only worry about the repetition of ‘the inhuman’ reaffirming, albeit in a negative way, our human experience. As a possible panacea, I think Deleuze and Guattari went farther than anyone else in developing truly non-human philospohies, hence the relabeling ‘ecosophy’ and ‘geophilosophy’. ‘Of the Refrain’ and ‘The Geology of Morals’ from ATP are powerful reads.

      • i know it still surprises me in the moment even tho after reflection i know that’s the overwhelming norm.
        it’s tragic and i still struggle daily to come to terms with these kinds of things…

        • Yea, it’s as if there is this in-built blindness in the human animal, a blindness to the possibility of extinction and annihilation. As the very notion of utter and complete erasure of the earth of life is just a another meta-fictional postmodern narrative cooked up by political and avant guardists of the ecological front seeking to put one over all those conservative pundits who seem bent of believing the whole thing is a lie. Sad…

      • i agree that there is a cog-bias/aspect-blindness (likely a whole slew of related kluges that vary across individuals) but i think it is more brutish than that as we have come to be embodied to expect our surrounds/unwelten to more or less continue as usual, part of the uncanny shadow world at a remove that some folks who suffer jolts of tragedy/loss experience as everyone around them continues on as if nothing has changed, even most of those folks (as scarred as they might be) eventually fall back into their grooves.

        • Yea, I think D&G would have seen it as breakdown and reintegration into the oedipal machine, rather than breakthrough and exiting of the oedipal into the schiz-machine. 🙂 lol

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