Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Tall tunas

with 12 comments

This vertical, narrowly cropped, edge-on view of a prickly pear cactus pad (Opuntia engelmannii) makes it seem that the fruits at the top, known as tunas, are standing unusually tall. For whatever reason, I don’t often see spiderwebs on prickly pears, but there’s no missing the silk on this one. Today’s portrait is from September 18th in my hilly part of Austin.

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Here are a couple of paragraphs from “Expanding Your Tribe in the New Age of Conformity,” by Andrew Fox.

[T]he number of ideological activists needed to drive a whole nation into enormously destructive social turmoil and intergroup violence is not very large. The Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 represented a tiny percentage of the overall Russian population. A relative handful of ethnic chauvinist Serbian agitators in post-Tito Yugoslavia managed to incite years of ethnic cleansing campaigns and intercommunal massacres as well as the disintegration of their former state. A cadre of ethnic extremists in Rwanda’s Hutu Power movement were able to infiltrate the military and organize a war of extermination that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

An individual’s sense of identity can be molded around many different types of attributes—ethnicity, clan, religion, place of residence or origin, sex, age, language, vocation, family roles, types of illness or disability, preferred style of music, and favored forms of recreation. Yet recent historical experience has illustrated repeatedly—in Germany, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Rwanda, and Syria, to name just a few—that emphasizing ethnicity or race as the primary, overriding source of a citizenry’s identity, fostering resentments based on both historical grievances and exaggerated contemporary outrages, and dividing a populace into Manichean categories of good and evil, of victims and oppressors, can lead to intragroup violence on a sometimes genocidal scale.

That’s what’s been increasingly worrying me for the past year and a half. You’re welcome to read the full article, which appeared in Tablet on September 12.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

12 Responses

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  1. As a transplanted American in Canada (since 1968 at age 21–the reason is probably obvious), our officially multi-cultural nation has been worried about that development in the USA since 2016 (again, the reason is probably obvious). And those nativist seeds are blowing their way North and finding dangerously fertile soil among those who feel they’re somehow more Canadian than others. The irony in N. America comes in the form of how those who really were here first have been so subjugated and ridiculed and virtually wiped out that their heritage(s) and stories aren’t even able to surface, much less be honoured. This, however, is such a difficult and fraught subject, a few quotes on a website dedicated to local flora will likely only raise more contention and disagreement. In this utterly polarized and poisonous atmosphere the best we can all do is cultivate our ability to listen, and listen without prejudice and/or waiting impatiently until we’re allowed our own chance to deliver more polemic. When I was a boy in NYS, there was respect between political parties, with Senators like Jacob Javits and Everett Dirksen, when compromise was considered the mature way of going forward. Listen to me….’when I was a boy’. Yikes. I never thought I’d hear myself mimicking my father, hahaha.


    September 25, 2021 at 6:44 AM

    • We’re of the same generation and from the same state. In 1967, a year before you, I also thought about Canada, but I decided to join the Peace Corps instead and ended up teaching math in Honduras.

      In fact it was in the Peace Corps that I first noticed how people supposedly discussing an issue didn’t really listen to each other, with each person chomping at the bit to make a point before the other had even finished speaking. From that experience I realized it’s important for people who are about to have a discussion to first lay out the principles they’re operating by and what they mean by certain terms. If people operate on different principles and use words to mean different things, then they’re just talking past each other.

      It’s true that bringing up sociopolitical topics on what is ostensibly a nature photography blog may not accomplish much. I’d have preferred sticking to nature, as I’d done for nine years; the chaos and anarchy of 2020 impelled me to do so. It has alienated some people, but I’d come to feel I had to speak up for things I believe in that are under assault, like free speech and due process.

      On the subject of indigenous peoples in North America and how poorly they fared after the arrival of Europeans, have you read Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies? The germs in the title refers to the diseases like smallpox that Europeans carried and had built up some degree of immunity to, but which the indigenous peoples here had no immunological defenses against. I’ve read estimates that perhaps as much as 90% of the native population here got wiped out by diseases.

      As for coming to sound like your father, that’s probably not a bad thing, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2021 at 7:15 AM

  2. That is an unusual view of the tunas, and it affects me the same way tunas always do; they heighten my desire to get away to the hill country. I’ll do it soon, but not quite yet.

    Although Manicheanism never was formally declared a Christian heresy, it’s tendencies remain, and they continue to affect what’s heard in the pulpit as well as what’s preached by purveyors of certain secular religions. For me, one of the great appeals of Luther’s thought was his firm avoidance of such dualism. For example, instead of dividing people into ‘saints’ and ‘sinners,’ he insisted that every person is both; only the proportion varies, sometimes from day to day.

    The problem, of course, is that once someone is declared wholly a ‘sinner’ –evil, error-ridden, and so on — it’s perfectly acceptable to define them as less than human and cast them into the outer darkness. The distance between Mani’s teachings and the ‘woke’ mob’s convictions comes close to being imperceptible.


    September 25, 2021 at 7:18 AM

    • As you point out, some secular religions have gone whole-hog for a Manichean worldview, especially with regard to race. (Here’s a recent example.) What you say about Luther’s refusal to divide people up into saints and sinners matches a quotation from Alexander Sozhenitsyn that I’ll be including in a post next week: “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2021 at 7:36 AM

  3. I was puzzled by the title until I read your introduction. I agree that we have to speak up about what we believe in – in my case I’m becoming more of an environmentalist. (But when I was very young, I worked for a wildlife trust for free for a while, so maybe I’m just going back to my roots.)

    Ann Mackay

    September 25, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    • Ah, back to your roots, and the plants that grow from those roots, and the animals that live on and among those plants.

      The fact that tuna has two such different meanings can lead to confusion as well as wordplay.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2021 at 3:56 PM

  4. Aloha,
    Loving your macro views, by the way, ouch!
    Mahalo, y

    Yoli B

    September 25, 2021 at 12:32 PM

    • Thanks. Happy macros to you. Ouch is an appropriate caution in Texas, where prickly, needly, skin-puncturing things are so common.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2021 at 3:58 PM

  5. We brought a few cans of tuna with us for sandwiches here in Maine. I wonder how your tuna and ours would be together in a tunas salad sandwich.

    Steve Gingold

    September 25, 2021 at 1:05 PM

    • Actually it might work. Eve sometimes puts raisins in tuna salad to add sweetness, and prickly pear fruits (with all the spines carefully removed, of course) would also add sweetness to the mix.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2021 at 4:00 PM

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