Margaret Thatcher said that “there is no such thing as society,” and Ronald Reagan said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” These stupid slogans marked the turn away from the postwar period of reconstruction and underpin much of the bullshit of the past forty years.
We are individuals first, yes, just as bees are, but we exist in a larger social body. Society is not only real; it’s fundamental. We can’t live without it. And now we’re beginning to understand that this “we” includes many other creatures and societies in our biosphere and even in ourselves. Even as an individual, you are a biome, an ecosystem, much like a forest or a swamp or a coral reef. Your skin holds inside it all kinds of unlikely coöperations, and to survive you depend on any number of interspecies operations going on within you all at once. We are societies made of societies; there are nothing but societies. This is shocking news—it demands a whole new world view. And now, when those of us who are sheltering in place venture out and see everyone in masks, sharing looks with strangers is a different thing. It’s eye to eye, this knowledge that, although we are practicing social distancing as we need to, we want to be social—we not only want to be social, we’ve got to be social, if we are to survive. It’s a new feeling, this alienation and solidarity at once. It’s the reality of the social; it’s seeing the tangible existence of a society of strangers, all of whom depend on one another to survive. It’s as if the reality of citizenship has smacked us in the face.
"The Overstory may present an even greater challenge to the sense of exceptionalism we humans carry around inside us. It’s the story of immense, long-lived creatures whom many people think of as little more than simple automatons, but who, in fact, communicate and synchronize with each other both over the air and through complex underground networks, who trade with and protect and sustain their own and other species. It’s about immensely social beings with memory and agency who migrate and transform the soil and regulate the weather and create a breathable atmosphere. As the great Le Guin put it, the word for world is forest."
An ecological understanding allows us to identify "things"—rain, cloud, river—at the same time that it reminds us that these identities are fluid. Even mountains erode, and the ground below us moves in giant plates. It reminds us that—while it's useful to have a word for that thing called a cloud—when we really get down to it, all we can really point to is a series of flows and relationships that sometimes intersect and hold together long enough to be a "cloud."
a flower is not a flower. It is made only of non-flower elements - sunshine, clouds, time, space, earth, minerals, gardeners, and so on. A true flower contains the whole universe. If we return any one of these non-flower elements to its source, there will be no flower.