Equity in society and wildlife are inseparable. How?


Robin Through Glass by  Ginny Battson

I’m not sure many people consider the question of equity in human society in relation to how it impacts non-human lives in their complex interconnections. Equity, meaning justice and fairness for all with regard to equal rights to satisfy needs.

This could be quite a monotone subject and, I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to colour it. But it needs explanation.

Do we think a wealthy banker driving his Mercedes has anything to do with robin perched on our wooden bird table? Maybe the car is blue and robin’s breast is definitely ruddy – so, there we go, some colour already.

Human economies depend on the life support system that is Nature, comprising living beings (including our own) and the elements or building blocks of life.

The term social equity describes the idea that ALL members of the human community, local or global, have the same basic needs in order to flourish, and these are satisfied. I’ll also assume an inherent diversity built into the social system (not a safe assumption).

‘Needs’ are not the same as ‘wants’, and ‘wants’ may lead to excesses and further inequities.

Even in asserting our basic needs, we have to make choices with consequences harmful to other species. This is inescapable. It is up to us to decide how to minimise the harm we do and eliminate cruelty (virtue ethics). This is why scientific and ethical discussions are so vital, to give some sense and order to the difference between what we may want and what we actually need.

Intra-generational equity also describes justice among the present population. There is a natural justice to each human having the right to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, energy, access to land and sea in order to participate in the procuring of each, whilst at the same time gaining wellbeing from the mental, physical and spiritual side to this process. This includes downtime and rest (not to be overlooked).

These ‘basics’ and the fulfilment of needs are socially facilitated by economic transactions, currently based on monetary value, but not always in human evolutionary history. They are also based on social interactions, from friends and family to institutional support, and natural resource consumption. All objects bought and sold are formed from constituent parts of the environment, from other species and from primary non-biological resources.

When people have accumulated wealth, they tend to buy more stuff.

When people live out their lives under duress in any of these areas, if not all (poverty), ethical concern for their immediate welfare and Rights overwhelms consideration for long term care of the environment, impeding planning for the future.

And this is how it should be. Poverty is a SUFFERING. Compassion first.

So what are the consequences?

An inequitable market-driven economy embedded within society, with a widening gap between rich and poor and without fair redistribution of wealth, results in skewed utility of environment.

We see further impingement upon wildlife, habitats, water, minerals, energy and intense welfare pressures on livestock, plus further wildlife conflict, in order to meet demands in volume and in cheaper food, et al.

So now we begin to see a direct correlation between uneven distribution of wealth and wildlife.

It’s further complicated by direct and indirect consequences of social and commercial decision-making in relation to:

a. Accumulation of wealth and/or land as opposed to subsistence, to the detriment of equality.
b. Marketing of products and services, which may be detrimental to the overall wellbeing of nature.
c. Fiscal measures to favour the above.
d. The heavy environmental cost of energy and supply transport
e. Dealing (or not), with waste and emissions contributing to climate change.

The wealthy Banker driving his blue Mercedes and the ruddy-breasted robin that perches on our bird table ARE interconnected.

Even the wooden bird table is relevant (it was once a living tree and habitat to other species), and the food that is purchased and supplied to meet demand for it (as opposed to naturally foraged).

How many people can afford to buy bird tables? Would they be necessary if there was enough natural foraging for wild birds? Perhaps, the Banker might also buy one hundred bird tables and copious sacks of food for robins. But what are the environmental costs over benefits? Maybe for some people, feeding the birds seems a need not simply a want, for mental wellbeing, and will find a way to do it even if they have little or no accumulated wealth. They might make their own bird tables and grow their own bird seed. Worthy intent!

We are all interconnected. We all share Earth’s biosphere.

Egalitarian ecological education is one of, if not, the biggest empowering factors we could bring to finding solutions. I’ll write again on this soon and have been invited to guest blog elsewhere.

Further, there are domino effects of inequity from generation to generation. Current inequity can lead to future inequity and worse; conflict. Climate change will add to the burden.

In my view, it’s high time we looked at other ways of organising our economies and redistributing wealth, setting something other than increased GDP Growth as the ultimate aim in future.

For more information, check out steadystate.org and for a strong alternative. I signed the pledge. Maybe you’ll consider doing so too.

Mycelium of the forest floor. And love.


It’s Autumn, and the fungal fruits of the woodland floor appear to resonate more than at any other time of year. To begin to understand fungal bodies and their place within ecosystems, one needs to imagine part of the world beneath the humus and deadwood, where the ‘hyphae’ grow. These are the living thread-like filaments primed to branch out into multicellular fungus. The resulting mat of subterranean mycelium, interconnecting with various plant roots, is a living gauze, where symbiotic mycorrhizal relationships exist between many forest beings. Think of a mycelium as a layer of blood vessels, keeping shape due to hydrodynamic pressure, with a flow of water and soluble nutrients journeying across cell membranes and the forest floor. Mycelium are the wood-wide web of woodland community consciousness.

Hyphae grow from their very ‘finger’ tips, the softest exploration in finding a way to their next interconnection. In a lab, the direction of hyphal growth can be controlled by environmental stimuli, such as the application of an electric field. Hyphae can sense reproductive opportunities from some distance, and grow towards them. Hyphae can weave through a permeable surface to penetrate it.

One may consider the human spirit of love a little like the hyphae, in sensing partners and finding ways to connect and exchange through layers. Love itself, of course, glows in many rainbow colours. Aristotle says love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies. Mycelium may be the soul and unity of the forest, where not just two beings are united, but many, and for the love of the whole community.

Consider our spiritual and mental growth, traveling from the outermost reaches of our minds to the tips of our fingers and beyond. From these outstretched fingers there may come others to warmly embrace and bring substance. Sometimes it takes courage simply to hold out one’s hand, with uncertainty and rejection looming. But when, in the eventual joining of those hands with like-mindedness, there are the deepest existential threads of human happiness (and suffering) to be interwoven.

This Autumn, just when society’s disconnection from itself and from the rest of nature seems to have been framed, yet again, by the overwhelming monetary aspirations of Conservative Party Conference, one might find remedy in simply observing mycelium.

Rilke says, “to love is good, too: love being difficult”.

My goodness, it can be difficult. And just a little bit scary.

Being in love often takes us beyond comfort, and into the fringes of the unknown. But if we risk nothing, we gain nothing. And the planet is need of it. There is a contract, however. With love there is the risk of loss. In union there are perhaps expectations and subordinations. If we see love, instead, as being something other than union, like the mycelium, a passage of consciousness, love may be THE call to act, and a light shining upon not ourselves but those we love. A selflessness.
I was fortunate to have a brief discussion with philosopher A C Grayling at Hay Festival on the love of nature. I asked him, “can nature, or other living species, ever be our friends?” (I perceive much overlap between friendship and love). He appeared to revel in the question and agreed it is possible, with pets or wildlife. He then went further, to also included dead poets and musicians. There, he lost me. I’m big on metabolism. Some may agree with him. Poems and music may have a kind of lingering metabolism of their own and culturally embody the essence of love.

But to love…. the love of life. All life.

Love has had a tough time. It’s hounded out of politics as weak and sentimental. One could describe the rejection of love as an accumulation through time. It’s a pity. Marxian rejection of love was based on it as subjugating, an opiate for women, an instrument of suppression. We see this in materialist scientific world too, often, in an over-emphatic obsession with reducing cognitive bias. But to deny love exists is to deny its potential. Look at the woodland floor next time you are there. Touch the leaf litter gently with your finger tips. The Mycelium. And the love.

Pwllperran Farm

Travel this ancient path beneath lichen.

Worn rock and turf tell of this bow above
where a boy once swung in sun and smiles.

Further on, in a clearing above a gorge,
reticent walls of hand hewn stone
draw around a keen sycamore.

We meet at this hearth, exposed by daylight
where fire once warmed newborn lambs
and a family name.

Names were altered, time again
by a Clergy mouth at a blissful wedding,
or scribed by a mason in high Chapel lands.

Summers were heaven, winters were hell
and the oak fed the flames.
Stand within these reclaimed walls.

Brook roars as it tightens to cliffs and dying elms
where a boy once slipped on ice and drowned.
Leave a foot print in the moss, if you will.

(poem exhibited in a small book of poetry at Derelict Sensations 2003, other artists listed here Derelict Sensations, St Pancras)

Why twisting vines do what they do…

“it seems the actual direction of winding is determined by the plant’s genes and gravity. Japanese researchers (Hashimoto) found that a slight difference in the structure of tubulin, a microtubule protein in cells, determines the winding direction. They chemically mutated a straight growing vine until some wound left (CCW), then looked at the molecular structure of twisting. It was published in Nature. Other Japanese researchers (Kitazawa,et.al) found that gravity sensing cells are indespensible for shoot circumnutation (bending and bowing of the tip) and winding response. It was published in PNAS.So the plant knows which way is up from the gravisensing cells, then the tubulin structure determines whether it winds CW or CCW in relation to up”.

Quinn Smithwick. Cambridge, MA, USA

Twisting Vine. Ginny Battson © 2012

Corbyn and desire


Let me get this straight from the outset, I am not writing about sexual desire in relation to Jeremy Corbyn. Freudians may think sex and power are inextricable but it’s really beyond my remit, I know my limits. Instead, I’m thinking in terms of the want of political power.

Corbyn’s inaugural speech as Labour Party leader this week flowed powerfully across the airwaves with a message of peace, compassion and affirmation of democracy. Just after the broadcast, on my way out for a walk with my dog Ben, I bumped into my new, elderly neighbour. She had listened to the speech, so I asked her what she thought of it.

“Mayor of Toytown”, she replied, “with a big heart, of course. A generous man I think, but he’ll find that utterly impractical in leadership”.

My neighbour, now retired, used to be deeply embedded in Cardiffian Welsh Labour, old style, before the rise of foundation-wearing Tony Blair (she met him once and observed he was wearing make-up ‘for the cameras’). This too before Plaid Cymru broke through some of the loyalty barriers with a renewed vigour towards socialism.

“He will have to try to maintain that integrity, but I don’t know how he’s going to do it”, she added. We discussed the time of day, smiled and parted company. Ben chivvied me for his ramble.

Despite negative punditry by the currently dispossessed Labour right, Corbyn’s speech was a clear rejection of the neoliberal Century of the Self, a breakthrough moment in the prospects of post-capitalism. I’ve since been pondering the man’s motivations. And also that old kernel of a quote by Lord Acton, on power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Will Mr Corbyn, the pacifist, anti-war campaign veteran, self-sabotage simply by being leader?

The rebellious aristocrat philosopher, Bertrand Russell, and fellow pacifist, spoke of human intent in his Nobel Lecture in 1950…

“All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.”

I am imagining, if you’ve been in politics a long time, you might feel compelled, carpe diem style, to seek a leadership position to effect change. It appears generous that Corbyn now offers that opportunity back to the people of his party, moreover, the people of the nation if he’s given the chance.

As I see it, power is not some kind of corrosive agent on a person’s integrity, but more a revealing light, bright, and searing into the depths of one’s character. The process of dying parallels, I am told by hospice workers, in that we all die differently. Our unique personalities, good and bad, somehow intensify as we are exposed to this light from which we cannot hide, just at a time before we fade to black. It is possible, perhaps, to learn in dying, hidden characteristics about ourselves which prime ministers, unless copiously narcissistic, have discovered way before the end of their time.

Jeremy Corbyn is having the light shine upon him. He’s voicing an intention NOT to change as campaigner, and instead sees himself more as facilitator of political democratic process. Sections of the British press appear to be at a loss as to how to approach this. It’s novel. A leader, but not a leader? Instead, a facilitator of democratic process. The default reaction seems to be to diss him. Perhaps the same revelatory torch shines upon their formulaic practices (at last). I’m hoping for change ~ Corbyn the catalyst.

From my own selfish perspective, I find this fascinating. As a student of ethics, I’m wondering whether to sideline my own stances in order to facilitate the pluralistic voices of the many. In many ways, I already try (Carving out the Hollows). I understand there would be inner conflicts and some may burn holes in my conscience. I would, on the positive side, retain my own voice in persuading, but not dictating, solutions. One hopes Mr. Corbyn retains his own voice throughout this process too. I like to listen to him as campaigner. He might persuade others with this new-found platform.

Russell ushered forward a maxim, difficult to argue with… that we all act from the root of own desires, even if those personal desires may be altruistic as an end. At once, he outed a selfish vision of selfishness, where even in procuring a world full of empathy, compassion and altruism towards all life is little more than a deeply personal desire.

Is Jeremy Corbyn bound by moral duty? Or do his inner desires facilitate a more peaceful, compassionate and democratic future and herald a stronger force? Sometimes our moral character is deemed compromised in order to achieve a specific consequence ~ lesser means to greater ends. It is then simply a question of how far we are content to compromise ourselves, and if we can live at ease with these decisions. We have conscience, and we have it for good reason.

Anti-austerity, a voice for the poor, justice and peace, tangible action on environment…

Above all, in Jeremy Corbyn, there appears to be an individual with a perfectly selfish desire that society becomes less selfish. A paradox, similar to the ‘tolerance paradox.’ (another blog). When next I meet my neighbour, I might just mention this to her. Whatever she says will make me smile. I like her and may report back.

Next, less of desire and more of love…