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November 23, 2007, 4:32 pm

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Nature not as innocent

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Sometimes is the true face of a thing forgotten, when you live in comfort, and are not forced to coexist with it.

(Found in http://www.mises.org/story/2788 - it is actually a quote from the book Satans Bushel from a Garet Garett.)

The setting is a gather of farmers, who are being lectured by a government bureaucrat at the turn of the 20th century. The problem, as they see it, is that farmers were fighting for their livelihoods in an age of rising industrialization. How can they survive? The speaker offered them a way:

"This natural elm," he began, with an admiring look at the tree, "was once a tiny thing. A sheep might have eaten it at one bite. Every living thing around it was hostile and injurious. And it survived. It grew. It took its profit. It became tall and powerful beyond the reach of enemies. What preserved it cooperative marketing? What gave it power a law from Congress? What gave it fullness the Golden Rule? On what was its strength founded a fraternal spirit? You know better. Your instincts tell you no. It saved itself. It found its own greatness. How? By fighting.

"Did you know that plants fight? If only you could see the deadly, ceaseless warfare among plants this lovely landscape would terrify you. It would make you think man’s struggles tame. I will show you some glimpses of it.

"I hold up this leaf from the elm. The reason it is flat and thin is that the peaceable work of its life is to gather nourishment for the tree from the air. Therefore it must have as much surface as possible to touch the air with. But it has another work to do. A grisly work. A natural work all the same. It must fight.

"For that use it is pointed at the end as you see and has teeth around the edge - these. The first thing the elm plant does is to grow straight up out of the ground with a spear thrust, its leaves rolled tightly together. Its enemies do not notice it. Then suddenly each leaf spreads itself out and with its teeth attacks other plants; it overturns them, holds them out of the sunlight,drowns them. And this is the tree! Do you wonder why the elm plant does not overrun the earth? Because other plants fight back, each in its own way.

"I show you a blade of grass. It has no teeth. How can it fight? Perhaps it lives by love and sweetness. It does not. It grows very fast by stealth, taking up so little room that nothing else minds, until all at once it is tall and strong enough to throw out blades in every direction and fall upon other plants. It smothers them to death. Then the bramble. I care not for the bramble. Not because it fights. For another reason. Here is its weapon. Besides the spear point and the teeth the bramble leaf you see is in five parts, like one’s hand. It is a hand in fact, and one very hard to cast off. When it cannot overthrow and kill an enemy as the elm does, it climbs up his back to light and air, and in fact prefers that opportunity, gaining its profit not in natural combat but in shrewd advantage, like the middleman.

"Another plant I would like to show you. There is one near by. Unfortunately it would be inconvenient to exhibit him in these circumstances. His familiar name is honeysuckle. He is sleek, suave, brilliantly arrayed, and you would not suspect his nature, which is that of the preying speculator. Once you are in his toils it is hopeless. If you have not drowned or smothered him at first he will get you. The way of this plant is to twist itself round and round another and strangle it.

"This awful strife is universal in plant life. There are no exemptions. Among animals it is not so fierce. They can run from one another. Plants must fight it out where they stand. They must live or die on the spot. Among plants of one kind there is rivalry. The weak fall out and die; the better survive. That is the principle of natural selection. But all plants of one kind fight alike against plants of all other kinds. That is the law of their strength. None is helped but who first helps himself. A race of plants that had wasted its time waiting for Congress to give it light and air, or for a state bureau with hired agents to organize it by the Golden Rule, or had been persuaded that its interests were in common with those of the consumer, would have disappeared from the earth."

Garrett provides this speech as a warning to producers tied to the land: they must be fighters or die. The warning to all of us is that we must understand that nature is only provisionally tamed. In truth, we live in the wild, and we are only a step away from being devoured by it.



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