Despots in the Trees? Think Kudzu

A lone tree on a hillside covered in kudzu

Photo by Justin Wilkens on Unsplash

We grow up learning particular, specific ways of thinking. 

We learn these from the environment we live in and from our social situation. As General George Marshall phrased it, he learned everything he knew, “at my mother’s knee and other low joints.”

After we learn specific ways of thinking, they become habitual, and it takes effort to think outside those habits. But as freethinkers—and free-formers as Rev. Dr. Je Hooper insists we must become—we are committed to examining how we think. 

Many of us have been enculturated to think of knowledge as a tree. It’s our metaphor for various kinds of knowledge.  After all, one of the foundational stories in our culture is of Adam and Eve and their encounter with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

We have family trees . . . 

We have phone trees . . . 

We have trees showing authority, called flow charts . . . 

After you start thinking about it, we have a lot of trees in our minds . . . but, unlike the actual trees, which help us breathe fresh air, these mental trees can be oppressive. There be despots in those trees.

Two French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in a pair of books together titled Capitalism and Schizophrenia, set out to change our way of thinking, away from hierarchical patterns and into integrated patterns.

You can find lots on this subject by searching online. Which, of course, is a non-hierarchical way of searching. And thus, wherever you start will be just fine; and wherever you end up will be just fine as well. You’ll learn something. And perhaps even change your way of thinking. 

(One of the interesting things about the work of Deleuze and Guattari is that they were publishing in 1980, before the world wide web . . . )

Deleuze and Guattari contrast between “arborescent” thinking—tree-like hierarchical and vertical thinking—and “rhizomatic” thinking—non-hierarchical, horizontal. 

Think about it. Alcoholics Anonymous has followed this model for decades. There are chapters in church basements all over the country. Black Lives Matter follows this organizational model. Community organizers in general follow this model. As a matter of fact, nowadays, it’s common to talk about “leaderless movements.”

Book cover, Starfish and the SpiderOne book on this topic is The Starfish and the Spider: the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. 

Another is The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary.

Another, by the same principle author as The Starfish and the Spider is The Chaos Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness, and Success. 

A New York Times Bestseller at the moment is Call Sign Chaos by “Mad Dog” Jim Mattis, Marine general and Secretary of Defense for a very short bit. Mattis talks about the Marines as at their best when decisions are being made rhizomaticaly.

In our day, as too many people on our planet embrace paternalism and despots, those of us who still believe in liberal democracy will do well to learn from kudzu.

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