• Nathan

Oppression is a monoculture

When I was younger, I understood that monocultures were harmful to all plant life other than the plant intended for cultivation. But I thought: Maybe this is what is needed to ensure the success of that plant.

Then I grew older, and began to study science.


Western scientists have known for a very long time now that plants are commonly commensalists.

What this means is that their growth and health depend quite exquisitely on being in balance with other plants, and with other non-plant lifeforms, like bacteria and bugs and fungi, that live on, in, and under all those plants.

These plants and non-plants exist in a homeostatic cascade of nutrient cycling, predator regulation, and genetic exchange. Each component feeds and protects the others. They all help each other survive.


When you take one of those plants - whether maize, or tulips, or whatever else you wish to grow - and turn it into a monoculture, what you are doing is wiping out most of the necessary diversity in that ecosystem. This means that your plant of choice has now been stripped of the entire nourishing web upon which its flourishing once depended.

Now, instead of a small number of very healthy, safe, nutritionally dense plants, you have a hundred times that many sick, inbred, mortally vulnerable plants, each a hundredth as productive. You've gained nothing, Jon Snow.

If you think of each plant as a person, you may think you've turned a small town into a bustling city.

But you haven't.

You've turned a healthy town into an intensive care unit crammed full with the population of a city.

Every one of those plants is on the edge of death from the moment it is born.


Now, just to keep these mortally sick plants alive, you must kill other species constantly to defend them from the pests that their former ecosystem would have protected them from just fine. That means using insecticides, and herbicides, to wipe out whatever tiny portions of ecosystem survived your initial devastation, when you made the monoculture in the first place.

You also have to give your field of mortally sick plants the nutrients that would once have been provided by their former cohabitants within the larger ecosystem. That means massive amounts of fertilizer, including human sewage full of microplastics and toxins that really shouldn't be going on our food crops. Most of the nutrients from this fertilizer are not absorbed or used by the plants. Instead, they pass straight through the sickened soil into streams and rivers, and from there to lakes and oceans, where this massive artificial influx of wasted nutrients generates algal blooms larger than entire states. These blooms kill off or drive away nearly all forms of life within a geographically enormous area, disrupting freshwater and marine ecosystems so thoroughly that our land-based ecocide is paired with a literally downstream water-based ecocide.

Quick aside: What a genocide is for one group of people, an ecocide is for an entire ecosystem, containing perhaps thousands of species.

Horror stretched from sea to shining sea

So now, after all this, you may see your field of golden wheat stretched sea to shining sea and think "What a bounty!"

Yet you've gained nothing, except perhaps the convenience of machine planting and picking, because the one plant that isn't dead grows now in endless convenient rows perfect for minimally flexible machines.

And you have lost so, so much in exchange.

As I learned this horrible truth of the European scientific model that rules all aspects of our Western lives, including our food production, I simultaneously learned that the very same European science which had given us monocultures had already learned and understood for full decades now the inherent interdependence of plant ecosystems that I mentioned earlier. This means our society was continuing to perpetuate monocultures even though we already knew they are doomed to fail.

Western science: A legitimizing force for human suffering

I was raised as a boy and socialized as a man in hyper-aggressive subsections of an already thoroughly patriarchal culture. Part of this upbringing was being taught to think of concepts like harmony and balance as silly, unscientific, and contemptible. When words like these appeared in cartoons or movies - always from the mouths of female characters - I was socialized to roll my eyes, to laugh, to mock.

Yet all this while, the European science undergirding my society's brutally maintained system of ecological horror had, itself, known for longer than I'd been alive that these very same concepts of harmony and balance, so mocked by men when they appeared in Disney films and Broadway musicals, were in fact the very same things we needed to survive - just like the cartoons were trying to tell us. We had fatally stolen from our own food production the very necessary and critical components of life, health, and productivity that our food required in order to keep us alive.

And the ones in charge of the monocultures knew this. The capitalists who own the giant, destructive farms that force so many family farms into bankruptcy, that exploit immigrants and prisoners in modern-day slavery, that destroy entire ecosystems so they can grow too much corn and then destroy entire economies so they can ship it overseas - these capitalists all knew. Just like they did with cigarettes and cancer. Just like they did with oil and global warming.

Human-shaped dragons

And we let these capitalists blame us for their evil. We let them blame us for our own destruction, inflicted on us by them. We let them convince us through expensive (yet somehow always incredibly cheap) television ads and public campaigns that if only Americans weren't so greedy and fat, and also such wasters of food at our opulent dinner tables - nevermind the millions of us who are food insecure - if not for all that, we wouldn't have a worldwide hunger crisis. That was the message: That we, the people eating to stay alive, were responsible for the horror we had been forced into, intentionally, by human-shaped dragons that call themselves CEOs, who sit on piles of broken lives and chew on our debts until we are dead.

Here is another thing I learned: That this new European scientific knowledge, this revelation about the critical importance of ecological harmony and complex balance to food productivity, was not actually new. It was new in the way that America was new when Columbus "discovered" it and raped, genocided, pillaged, and plagued his way to fame.

In fact, this "new" science had already been known by Indigenous scientists for thousands of years. But we had to "discover" it again centuries later, Columbus-style, because when we genocided those much older societies and their scientists, we made sure to mock and destroy their science, too - simply because we could not risk the remnants of either the people we had killed, or their knowledge, reminding us of our own still-beating, all-burning evil in the colonial creation fires or the capitalist embers that followed.

Oppression is a monoculture

The heights of capitalist production, such as they are, are predicated on deep, deep chasms of labor exploitation and social reproduction. For every CEO of Monsanto living the capitalist dream, there are literal fields of slaves living the capitalist nightmare - and for every slave, an entire family trying their best to care for that slave, each yearning painfully for days spent together and nights spent without fear.

By now, the analogy should be clear: Capitalism is a monoculture. But we don't have to stop with capitalism. Every system of oppression is a monoculture.

Patriarchy is a monoculture. Though clearly detrimental to every other sex or gender of person, you might think that at least one kind of person - specifically, heterosexual cis-gendered men - would be better off under patriarchy than they could ever be under another system.

That is as much a lie as the health of any monoculture, and the history of Western science is as rife with proof as it is rife with patriarchy and lies.

Behind every Albert Einstein there is a Mileva Maric. Behind every Otto Hahn, a Lise Meitner. Behind every Watson and Crick, a Rosalind Franklin. For every solitary genius man in the spotlight, a collection of harmed women in the shadows - the collateral ecocide to the production of a needlessly sickened, endlessly homogeneous crop that was never supposed to be solitary at all.

And we all pay the price for that. Changing nothing else about our society, how much sooner would we have achieved each of our technological heights had non-men been allowed the same opportunities as men to study and seek reward in science? How much more advanced would our medicine be? Our phones? Our water purification technology? Our agricultural sustainability? Our responses to our piles of trash killing the planet? Our defenses against climate change? Against pandemics?

What we have instead of this beautiful lost potentiality is the broken, unsustainable product of a monoculture. Kill and suppress everything that is necessary, reap the progressively worse rewards, and call what you have done necessary, or even a success - the is the logic of capitalism, of patriarchy, of racism, of ableism, of xenophobia, of homomisia, of every single system designed to feed the human-shaped dragons at the expense and suffering of an entire world.

Humans are commensalists

We see clearly that a society intended to nurture capitalists, or men, or white people, at the expense of everyone else, cannot possibly be sustained. We are communal creatures and always have been. To construct our societies as monocultures is to doom those societies to collapse.

Plants need each other. People need each other. Monoculture is universal death. Oppression is universal death.

Our world cannot afford monocultures, and it never could. It is time to burn them all down. We will grow something complex, healthy, interconnected, commensalist, and beautiful from the ashes of what never should have been.

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