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comment by ThurberMingus
ThurberMingus  ·  284 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: I don't like bonsai but I like this tree . . .

Just curious - but why don't you like bonsai?

I've liked them as long as I can remember. Nature art and ornamental gardening combined. Don't have any of my own though.

user-inactivated  ·  284 days ago  ·  link  ·  

There are some things I like about it. The aesthetics, obviously. I can also appreciate the amount of knowledge, skill, and patience that's needed to cultivate a good bonsai tree as well. As weird as it sounds though, I find the act of stunting a tree's growth, to keep it from becoming what it's biologically driven to become, kind of cruel. Even though it is just a plant.

ThurberMingus  ·  284 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I really don't know what to say to that. Everything about about agriculture or gardening or domestication is changing or at least redirecting biological drives to suit our purposes better. That can be done in a cruel way, but I don't think it is an inherently cruel activity. I'm not sure when I would call doing something to a plant cruelty.

A bonsai at least a mature tree that goes through is whole life cycle, just dwarfed by pruning and limited soil.

user-inactivated  ·  284 days ago  ·  link  ·  

No. You've got totally legitimate points and in some ways, I agree with you whole heartedly. For instance, growing trees for lumber or using grafting techniques to cultivate fruit. Also, consider weeding or fighting back invasive species. But I think in both those cases, we're manipulating plants for more meaningful reasons than just aesthetics. I'd be comparing apples and oranges at this point, but I'd liken it to raising animals for meat or hunting. If we raise animals in a healthy or humane manner or hunt responsibly, it's different than say factory farming or poaching. With bonsai, I personally feel that manipulating a tree strictly for aesthetics isn't a good reason. It's pruned in such a way, it's roots cut back in such a way, that it is very unnatural and it goes through growth not because of how it's treated, but despite it. It's will to live, to thrive, is so strong yet we're taking that will for granted.

    I'm not sure when I would call doing something to a plant cruelty.

Well, comparisons don't always hold up, because its apples and oranges comparison again, but I think some of the considerations we give to animals, we could extend to plants. Such as, we should consider its right to live and grow and thrive, its needs for a healthy environment, etc. I always frame the question as "am I being respectful to the fact that this is a living thing?" Sometimes I don't even know.

Like I said, it's a tree, and I don't hold this viewpoint so strongly that I think people who engage in bonsai are monsters, but I also don't think bonsai gives trees the consideration and respect they deserve.

ThurberMingus  ·  283 days ago  ·  link  ·  

It's been interesting to think about it in terms of the respect a tree deserves instead of in terms of human needs or responsibility. Thanks for answering my question.

The aesthetics and art of bonsai are a high enough purpose to justify it for me, though I am probably valuing that and the inherent worth of a tree differently than you.

kingmudsy  ·  279 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Maybe this is a dumb thought, but you've got me picturing an art installation meant to make people feel angry about the poor treatment of a plant. What could you do to engender enough empathy for a single shrubbery (not nature in the abstract) that you could then set it against some act of cruelty or sadism and get a public reaction?

I obviously don't want to build something like that, because even writing it out made me feel like a psychopath...But where does the empathy people feel for plants begin and end? Is there a way to feel empathy for flora without personifying it?

These are just musings. Pay me no mind :)

user-inactivated  ·  279 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I'm a bit fuzzy and tired, so maybe this comes out weird, but here goes . .

    What could you do to engender enough empathy for a single shrubbery (not nature in the abstract) that you could then set it against some act of cruelty or sadism and get a public reaction?

I don't think it's possible, even for the most sympathetic of hearts, to feel empathy for plants. They're just too different, and that's not the plants' fault or ours, we just don't recognize signs of distress from plants on an instinctual level. Me for example, if a dog has trouble walking, a bird trouble flying, a fish trouble swimming, I'd recognize it in their movements and can guess to a good extent how injured they are, if they're feeling pain or showing signs of fatigue, and sometimes I'd even go as far as to assume their emotional states (though I will readily claim that even though I can't tell if a fish is scared or upset, I can tell in a dog). Plants don't communicate distress in ways that I readily recognize, so I pretty much always overlook any potential that they're feeling it, and even when I know plants can signal distress and learn to recognize it, I'm not gonna have the level of emotional reaction I'd have if I were witnessing a puppy in distress. I feel it's safe to say I'm not alone in this dilemma.

    Is there a way to feel empathy for flora without personifying it?

Maybe the goal instead of empathy should be fascination? If we can't appreciate them on an emotional level, we can appreciate them on an intellectual level, and that intellectual appreciation and fascination can lead to an emotional drive to admire them and want good things for them. I wish Hubski had a botanist. I listen to podcasts about plants from time to time and they're pretty cool things. I've always appreciated plants, but learning what I have in the past few years, my appreciation for them has grown in leaps and bounds and while dogs and birds and lizards will always take top place in my heart, affection wise, there's plenty of room for a good tree.

If you really wanna tickle your philosophical funny bone, there are discussions out there from everything from plant communication, to perception, and even cognition. But even more mundane stuff, like how mangroves are super specialized to thrive in brackish waters or how multiple times over, various branches of plants independently evolved to be carnivorous. Wanna really get into things? Read up a bit on root/fungal networks.

Sometimes though, more simply, we can just appreciate that they're often really, really nice.