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  • Writer's pictureCrone


Updated: Jan 6, 2022

This, I warn you, will be a garble and a confusion. Une melange, un cocktail, si tu veux.

Right, so, I started listening to the rather incredible How Forests Think by Eduardo Kohn. He points out that how we represent the world around us is in some way constitutive of our being. Ethics, like anthropology, takes those attributes which are seen as distinctively human - language, culture,, society and history - and uses them to fashion the tools to understand humans and determine how humans 'should' live. 'In this project, the analytical object becomes isomorphic with the object,' he says, 'as a result we are not able to see the myriad ways in which people are connected to a broader world of life. Or how this fundamental connection changes what it might mean to be human.' He says that this is why expanding ethnography to go beyond the human is so important. I want to say it's equally important for ethics. Instead of looking at humans and animals separately, he advocates exploring how humans and other life-forms relate - it allows us to break out of the circle.

He says that 'morality emerges within not beyond the human. Projecting our morality, which rightly privileges equality, on a relational landscape composed in part of nested and uni-directional associations of a logical and ontological but not a moral nature is a form of anthropocentric narcissism that renders us blind to some of the properties of that world beyond the human.'

Why has this got me thinking?

Well, OK, here's the thing: that emphasis on the error of imposing human morality on a non human world seems like it could offer a way out of the predator-prey thing.

Secondly, I think there's something to build on by trying to explore the beyond human from a beyond human mind-set, as much as it is possible to do so. Or, at the very least, to acknowledge that our ways of thinking and reasoning are tied to language in a way that the ways of being of non-humans may not be.

Language, especially written language, allows you to communicate only one thing at a time, in a progression. That impacts how we conceive of communication... compare it with one of the ways dogs communicate - by peeing. The scent of the pee tells the interpreting dog who was there, when they were there and what state they were in - all that information comes at once. Given layers of older pee, the dog is also sensing who else was there when and how often. Imagine how long it would take to say that in words!!!!

It may also be the case that animals who are sensitive to the scents and body language of others may have a better idea of what the other is experiencing than could ever be communicated in words.

Kohn also points out that interpretation of signals and response to signals happens at all life forms - consider the bacteria - who move toward a stronger concentration of what is food. We share interpretation with all life. I read or heard the other day that trees grow their canopies where they predict that other trees will not be shadowing them in the future. They predict the future growth of other trees and respond to it in the present. How the hell??

This seems critical to me - this interpreting and responding to information. Especially as the interpreting and responding is in the cause of something - life forms interpret and respond in the cause of living longer. At the granular level, there are two shared facts: living things seek to live and living things will ultimately die. We have these in common with every other living being on earth. From slime mold to sociology major.

And here, what was being reflected.

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Jan 07, 2022

I reread this post. And especially like the example of what a dog can communicate. Quite something compared to, say, the language in a text. And the bit about predator/ prey and not applying human morality to non-humans. Good post.

Jan 07, 2022
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Thank you... I'm kind of hung up on predators.... xxxx

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