Discover more from The End of the World Almanac
The Human Farm
The Almanac Guide to Our Growing Monoculture
There’s something about standing in a forest that’s different than standing atop a mountain or swimming in the sea. The ocean is a mystery, and a mountain impenetrable, but a forest is a well of being. They’re in constant metamorphosis. They breathe. They grow old. They transform with the seasons. They rejuvenate us in daytime. They terrify us at night.
Forests wear all the faces of life. Old stand side-by-side with young and both over the seedling and the dead. They are all there together, and there is room for all kinds. Trees, even of different species, do not compete like men. They could thrust their branches into each other like spears, but they don’t. They stop inches apart, leaving gaps for light to shine.
We used to live like that, like the trees. In a village, the very old and the very young were always at hand, and everyone stood guard over the newborn and the dead, who were buried underfoot.
Now, both children and trees are relegated to nurseries and the elderly to retirement homes or hospices. Unless one makes a point to keep them, it’s entirely possible to go weeks without encountering either.
Mankind makes a monoculture. We burn the forest to plant lines of palm oil or corn or sugar cane. In that same way, we sow neat rows of students, each kept to a class and away from the working-age adults, who aren’t allowed to encounter anyone in their toil. We segregate rich from poor, men from women, boys from girls, and people of color “for safety.”
A monoculture of humans—like with like in long, evenly-spaced rows.
The theory is that lets each of us thrive. Each gets equal sun. Each gets equal water. But is that really why? Do we plant corn that way because we dearly want each plant to thrive… or because it’s easier for the machines to harvest the fruits of their labor?
And so for us.
What would it be to live like the forests again? I don’t think any of us wants to. It’s not in our nature to tolerate our neighbors like it is for trees. We want the monoculture. We don’t want to deal with other people’s children. We don’t want to suffer their distasteful opinions. We don’t want to waste an easy Sunday morning burying their dead.
Life is much easier when, like a field of corn, everyone stays in their lane.