The Royal Oak: Animism under Monarchy

The last time a man named Charles sat on the English throne he first had to be saved by a tree from republican revolutionaries. When he was later installed as monarch, the annual celebration of this restoration of monarchy was named after that tree. The tree would also come to adorn the flag of the monarch’s followers. Recently this tree resurfaced when the descendants of these followers sought to rebrand their centuries long grip over England. The tree again providing a helping hand.

The Royal Oak, early symbol of the Tories.
The Greenwashed Oak, recent symbol of the Tories

Today these followers celebrate the new King Charles whose family tree can be traced back 9 generations to the aunty of the last King Charles. Yet another use of the tree. But why care about the details of English royalty and their longstanding relationship with a tree? Another Charles from England also had help from a tree. This was Charles Darwin who used a tree to explain the order of biological life on planet earth. Funnily enough this use of the tree reflected the local monarchical culture of using trees to map the pedigree of humans and animals, most importantly the royal family tree. And crucially to explain who inherited what properties. Whether blue eyes or the crown.

Darwin’s 1837 Tree of Life sketch
Ernst Haeckel’s Tree of Life, 1879

Hardly surprising then that Darwin like other naturalists of the time saw the world through the prism of a pedigree tree rebranded as the tree of life. A way of organising life that did not challenge but saved the social order through naturalizing it, through arguing that we all have a place that we belong in the tree of life based on three key principles randomness, natural selection, and inheritance. Together they create a story that goes something like this:

An organism has properties that belong to it (blue eyes, white skin etc). And it is by ‘inheritance’ of them that the backbone of life continues. The random invisible hand of mutation occasionally providing the source of new properties that if found worthy by natural selection and consequent inheritance will float to the top and define a group and its progress. As time progresses organisms come to belong in geographical niches or territories where their properties make sense. It is the relatively intact inheritance of these biological properties between individuals and species that designates what properties belong to who and that maintains generational continuity, defining the niche, the wildlife, and the land that you belong to. Giving us the tree of life where we all have a place that we belong.

In short, the idea of the development of civilization as based on the inheritance of private property is reanimated within Darwinian takes on biological evolution, as based on inheritance of intact biological properties. But recent studies have shown that life does not follow these three principles, with whole new fields of biology having to emerge to try and make sense of the unjustifiable state of affairs in orthodox biology. Unfortunately finding themselves either side of a dualism in their attempts to salvage some part of orthodox biology as they try to reform only the part that contradicts the parts they specialise in.

The questions then are why are these three principles so important to uphold? How else might we make generalised statement about biological life? And how does this impact all the other fields of science that depend on them? Specifically those that are employed to help make sense of and address “climate & nature breakdown?” In other words, not so long ago in England, if you resisted the ordering of life set by the pedigree tree, you were dragged along the doomsdale path to another tree.

The Hanging Tree in Vulture City, Arizona.

The dule tree. A big boughed gibbet from which you were hanged. This is the path humanity is being helped along by these other fields of science (e.g. wildlife conservation, forestry agricultural science, population studies etc) as they extend the reach of orthodox biology. It is the dule tree that we face a decision about, it is the pedigree tree we are being collectively hanged on.

The Header Image is of Her Majesty – the largest maiden oak in Europe I visited in Kent

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: