Sunday, December 4


I recently read The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (no, I don't know whether his last name was the genesis of his interest in plants). A really interesting book on the interactions and relationships between plants and humans, with sections on apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes.

The apple section pays particular attention to the role of Johnny Appleseed in the propagation of apples in the northeast United States. Did you know that the seeds of a particular apple, if planted, will result in a tree with fruit that is likely to bear little resemblence to the fruit of the parent? At least in the case of apples - the apple does fall far from the tree. Or that most of the apples planted by Johnny Appleseed were used to make "hard" cider - the only form of booze sanctioned by the church of the day? Or that a primary reason that marijuana today is so much more potent than it was a couple of decades ago is the War on Drugs (which drove the fairly casual dope growers of my childhood indoors to grow more powerful female crosses between cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, flowering like mad in search of male spores which have been made unavailable by the enterprising growers - who "just say no" to fertilization)? I didn't. Good thought-provoking reading.

But the section of the book which really got me thinking was the section on potatoes, which reprised a story I first heard told by my good friend Bridget about the monoculture of modern potato growing (growing only the Russet Burbanks that McDonald's likes for its french fries). This juxtaposed with the first culture that excelled in potato growing, the Incas, who grew a wide variety of potatoes which had the genetic diversity to be resistant to the vagaries of weather and pests. Monoculture versus diversity. A story I first heard to memorable results in a Law Department meeting - a monoculture environment if every there was one.

Pollan's discussion of potatoes made me think of a Kahlil Gibran quote - Say not , "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth."

It seems to me that so many of our problems result from the very human tendancy to think that the answer for me must be the answer for you. Some examples are obvious. How much better off would be be if religious fundamentalists would be more tolerant? Would accept the possibility that a Christian and a Muslim and a Buddhist and an atheist might each be right. Or if politicians quit saying they have THE answer (for the Republicans the answer is tax cuts, for the Democrats the answer seems to be that the Republicans are wrong), and start trying to solve problems with AN answer. Or if the group within the Bush administration planning the war in Iraq had been more diverse and less quick to conclude that they had THE answer - raising the forseeable problems in that conflict and planning for them in advance (or maybe not starting this mess in the first place).

And there are lots of examples much closer to home. When I started this blog (something I enjoy immensely), I also started one for my close friends of the Train Party. I was confident that everyone would enjoy it as much as I do, because I had THE answer. The Plasticville Chronicle blog has been lots of fun. But it took me some time to understand that not everyone was as interested in blogging away as I am. I'm only hoping my son Peter and daughter Madeline won't post a comment listing the hundreds of ways I think I have THE answer in my role as a father.

So often what we describe as diversity is not that at all. When I worked at Pillsbury, we had corporate "diversity training." But it always seemed to me that the goal was a monoculture that looked diverse in a photo. We were trained to "celebrate" our differences by never discussing them.

It seems to me that if my starting place is, I have "an" answer, and I discuss my answer with others who have a different answer to the same question, there is a pretty good chance that each of us will improve our answer. And we might have some fun in the process.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Sometimes, Stan, you seem awfully smart.