On the Revolutionary Potential of Carrots
“The time is coming when a single carrot, freshly seen, will trigger a revolution”
This is a quote by post-impressionist artist Paul Cezanne.
It’s been stewing in the back of my mind for a while now.
What does it mean? How could a carrot cause a revolution?
At first glance most of us look at a carrot and think: “That’ll go nicely in my carrot and coriander soup”.
But what really is a carrot? If I were to push you, then most likely you’d fall back on the physical explanation of our dominant narratives. “A carrot is biological matter made of atoms and quarks” you would say.
But does that really explain a carrot?
Or does it just push the question backwards a little? It obscures the deep mystery of carrots behind a facade of ‘understanding’. It points to atoms and quarks and says: “Here’s the answer. Case closed. Nothing interesting to see here”. When really the carrot is still a complete mystery.
These explanations don’t satisfy me. There is nothing in the atoms of a carrot to explain how it appears to us. The orange-ness of a carrot is not to be found in atoms. Atoms are a useful story we use to predict events in the world. But quickly we come to believe that the story is more real than the carrot.
Carrots are unexplainable. We can use the culinary arts to tell us what will happen when we stew a carrot. Or science to tell us what will happen if we burn it. But these explanations don’t preclude the wondrous being of the thing itself.
What would happen if we started to look again at carrots and see them for what they truly are: unexplainable, mysterious and magical?
And what would happen if we started to look at all of the world in that way? Seeing everything around us, our connections, our body, our emotions as being part of a great mystery?
This is what it means to look at a carrot afresh. It means to look at our existence with new eyes: the eyes of a child. It takes us to an ineffable place before we got lost in our useful but incomplete maps, models and stories.
Seeing the world afresh is revolutionary. Not just for ourselves but for our society.
Most of us are operating in the realms of certainty that our dominant narratives offer us. Given that certainty it makes sense to spend our lives unquestionably following societies beck and call. As the old adage goes: “We work our whole lives to buy things that we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like”. If all that exists is easily explained matter then why not follow it and pursue a consumerist life?
Could we really keep that up in the face of the deep mystery of existence?
I don’t think so. If we could collectively realise the message of a carrot freshly seen: that life and everything in it is a mystery. Then maybe we would realise the craziness of our current ways of life.
In the face of this mystery we spend our lives following societies dictats. We slave ourselves away at our desks in order to buy more things. If we can truly connect with mystery I think we would abandon all that and begin to live lives of play, creativity and diversity.
Mystery also makes life meaningful. If something exists and you can’t explain it, you already have something to be grateful for.
But mystery also asks something of you. You have been given this miraculous gift of life — the gift of the carrot — how will you respond?
Will you respond in a way that lives up to the beauty and majesty of what you have received? Or will you whittle your life away following someone else’s dream?