Fungal Politics

For mycophiles, it is a point of fact that small things matter, and that ‘smallness’ itself is very much a matter of perspective. The enormity of the largest organism in the world was  concealed by the limits of human vision and common-sense. In part, the forests of the world are a construction of organisms whose contribution has been largely invisible and unquantifiable.

There is a commonality between the tiny labor of the fungi’s and the position of the mass worker in capitalist society, in that the enormous aggregation of tasks performed in the course of our lives gives substance to a world of forms that seems somehow greater than the humble parts of the sum. So we have that in common: The things we do can’t be seen, and our contributions get put down to good fortune for the structures around us.

Perhaps I like them because of their humility. Mushrooms don’t brag – there’s no appearance of stability to them, like vascular plants, or extensivity, like animals. More often than not they are concealed, hiding behind or below, doing the important work of eating shit and death. 

For people who believe in social justice, there is an apt metaphor to be drawn from the work that mushrooms do: We should not forget that small things matter. That ephemerality of appearance is not an indication of absence. If there is a lesson to be taken from the present period of post-Arab Spring, post-Occupy malaise, it is that we should not forget that small things matter. We live in a time when we begin to realize the enormity of the small things done by small creatures. Where network effects and nano-forces conspire to make huge changes, and where seemingly isolated events are connected through branching threads that travel underground.

Let us not forget the importance of the impulse- the flash of pain that precedes the massing of social forces. It is politically naive to credit the acts of single people for the outbreak of mass protest, but it is equally politically naive to ignore the network effects that connect to single acts, and that fact that the nodes of these networks are more accurately conceptualized as the branching threads of the mycelial network.

Paul Stamets, in a widely circulated TED talk, asserts that mushrooms will save the world. This is quite a responsibility to pin on an order of organisms that played no part in bringing us to the present ecological crisis, and somewhat mis-states the problem in that, in point of fact and in emphasis of the talk, it is not the world that needs saving. It is human beings. We need saving from ourselves. More specifically, we need saving from the society that we’ve created.

Despite the impulse of a bitter, reactionary environmentalism to banish human beings to ecological uselessness, and the incredible trauma inflicted upon the non-human world in the industrial period, I feel it would be a damn shame were the species, or the technological achievements of the species, to expire from the planet.

The gravity of the task that the mushroom undertakes in ecosystems parallels the importance of the social movements: To decompose those structures that have ceased functioning. To invade them, break them down, and make something useful of them. There is also the task of the symbiotic mycorrhizal species, which is to form relationships of mutual dependence and to fulfill them.

We are everywhere.

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