Stop the Humans

Reality is under attack. Humans are creating a Voodoo Doll of Earth

When I was a child I had a book about flowers that my parents had given me as a present. It was essentially a guide for identifying wildflowers across Greece: fully illustrated, with real images of rare flowers in their natural settings, which various lucky amateur or professional botanists had come across over the years. Below each large blowout image there was useful information such as which regions each flower may be found in, and at around which month of the year it tends to bloom. In some cases there were even pictures of what the plant looked like when it was not flowering, so that it can be identified.

But what I was particularly drawn to, always, were the flowers that were marked as “extremely rare” or “endemic” to a particular area, such as a small island, remote mountain or other genetically isolated region. The more rare and exotic the flower was, the more prized it was to me: the more mesmerised I became looking at its photo, closing my eyes and imagining the moment that the photo had been captured, imagining that I was the lucky one coming across one of these rare, often believed extinct, flowers. Some of the pictures were really old, with notes indicating that the flower had not been seen in many years and that this picture was one of the few records that ever existed.

I had seen every page of the book hundreds, thousands of times, so many times that I felt I knew each flower personally. I had memorised every picture, every petal, even the blurry background of the photographs: a generic meadow, a cliff, or just soil, earth. Sometimes I would take the book with me to family excursions all over the country, hiding it in my pocket like a treasure map that I didn’t want anyone to know I was in possession of. Occasionally I would disappear during mountain excursions, in my obsessive search for strange and rare plants deep in the forrest. My almost Darwinian obsession with collecting and cataloguing life forms had started very early in life with a seed collection, a type of “Noah’s Arc” for plants, much like the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway that I found out about 30 years later when I eventually became a plant molecular biologist. The Global Seed Vault is humanity’s only comprehensive seed bank in case of an Apocalypse, built underground and into the permafrost layer where temperatures are stable and seeds can be stored for tens, sometimes hundreds of years. Go on, google it.

The Voodoo Doll

Photo by Franck V.on Unsplash

Since the days of treasure maps, flower encyclopaedias and card catalogues, we have come a long way in recording and cataloguing everything around us. We “database” everything from seeds to books, from weather data and traffic patterns to our own genetic material. Almost everything that exists in the physical world is being digitised and converted into data: from high-resolution flower pictures to fully sequenced flower DNA. Our entire world is being watched by cameras and catalogued on a continuous basis and to a level of detail that Google, BlackRock and the NSA are unwilling to even admit to us. The databasing is happening on a new scale, on another level, and with different objectives than before. The objective is not to understand or to catalogue specific things. The process is not selective anymore. The purpose is to record everything, to own every piece of information that exists in the physical world, and digitise it. To create a parallel universe, an exact copy of our entire world, almost like a voodoo doll of Earth itself. Those who own the voodoo doll get to own and control the real world and the people in it. Or at least so they think.

But the boundaries between the real Earth and its voodoo doll are becoming blurry. The prevalence of data in our lives means that our civilisation is not just increasingly focusing on data, it is literally becoming data, including the people that live in it. We are turning into data, converting ourselves into online avatars and meticulously curating our online social and professional profiles. Rather than living beings with flesh and blood, we are increasingly existing as electrons, travelling multiple times a day around the Earth through millions of miles of hot cable wire wrapped in plastic that never sees the light of day. Reality is under attack as we begin to live more and more of our lives in this endless underground cavern, every time we expose ourselves to our smartphone screens. The problem is that, in this new world, we don’t own ourselves. Someone else owns us. We are slaves. Like a rare flower that has been discovered, we have become a precious collectible for companies and governments who want to know where we are, what we do, who we vote for, what we bought and when.

The Bible of Cursed Treasures

It was a beautiful summer in Greece and I was just coming on to my early teenage years. The book’s edges were beginning to get fuzzy, and some pages were completely loose. But I still held on tight to it. We took the car to one of our favourite summer spots up on a mountain, where we would collect wild blackberries, strawberries and raspberries to make jam for the winter. But I had never stopped being a restless young aspiring botanist, and my father followed me in my passion, stopping the car in interesting places and letting me explore dark parts of the forrest, interesting habitats and locations where unusual plants could be found. 

On one of these random stops along the road, I followed my instinct to trek down a valley that was clearly inaccessible to humans. Heavily covered in thick vegetation and without a walkable path, the valley was calling me. We slowly descended through the dark forest and eventually reached the bottom of the valley, and into a small but bright sunlit clearing. There were bright green giant ferns all over that grew almost as tall as us. And there was something else: emerging from the fluorescent green ferns the most beautiful and strange flower I had ever seen. It was a rare black lily in full bloom, almost as tall as the ferns, which I immediately recognised from my book. For a minute I thought I had actually fallen into the book and back to my early childhood. My heart started beating loud with excitement and I could feel the blood pulsing on my face as I realised I had made my big discovery. As I approached the rare specimen, I was immediately captivated. Its strange, shiny curved black petals were hairy, almost like an animal, something I was never able to see in the photos. My father urged me to hurry up as it was soon getting dark. We got the shovels out and picked up the plant to carry it back home. 

The wild lily was well cared for, or so we thought at least. But even if it was well cared for, it died in slavery. It died after a few weeks in a pot out in our balcony, surrounded by concrete and the salty breeze that was a far cry from the nourishing morning summer dew of the mystical valley. But as long as it was in the pot, in my house, not in its own house, I was happy. I had owned it. I had finally found my rare specimen. I quickly forgot about it aside from watering it every once in a while. It withered and eventually its bulb dried out. It died.

Databases are vast Cemeteries

Our obsession with keeping data is blinding us to whatever it is we are even collecting. It was never about the wild lily. It was all about me. I wanted to have ownership, power, control. Even if I had managed to keep it alive, I could never have an appreciation for the wonder that it was. The sunrises and sunsets it had seen in the forest as it drew from the power of the sun to grow and thrive among the ferns. Or the many insects that its curled flowers had sheltered from time to time, allowing them to sleep over. The dewdrops that formed and evaporated. None of this can ever be captured in a database. Because it can only be felt, experienced.

Earth’s Voodoo Doll is a prison that we are creating, an endless, lifeless desert where things, people, animals become data, vanish and die. We are becoming zombies, falling into a dream that humanity is unable to wake up from. The more we try to capture and control, the more we are destroying the planet. Even the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is now under threat. It is melting, because of climate change, too hot to preserve the seeds into eternity. Because of ignorance, greed.

If flowers could talk, they would all scream in one voice: “Stop the Humans”. 

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