The Man Who Planted Trees

Too many have a skewed view of both economics and Nature. Whether it is because they suffer from the naturalistic fallacy, or they have been propagandized to believe in Keynesianism, the mainline public and many political dissidents as well hold several erroneous notions about mankind’s productive ability within the surrounding environment. Often, this is also due to well-intentioned pedagogical fairy tales designed not to appeal to your rational mind, but instead tempt you with the fantasy that your hard-working diligent actions will inevitably have large systematic effects, whereas the truth is that your actions, at best, only affect the people around you.

 

 

As an economic allegory, this French tale does offer some positive insight with regard to how markets work. Homesteading the land demonstrates Elzéard Bouffier’s entrepreneurship as an expression of his subjective value for the land itself, as the narrator tells us that Bouffier thought he had nothing better to do with his life after his wife and son had died. By examining Bouffier’s purposeful action through the lens of methodological individualism, we can see how he exercised his self-determination while living in solitude. Interestingly, both world wars did not affect Bouffier, and neither did his personal encounters with the French government in 1933, 1935, or 1939.

Yet, despite this economic interpretation, this allegory is mainly heralded as being an inspiration tale of environmentalism. Although much of the symbolism thrown in the face of the audience makes this claim difficult to discount at first, such a task is far from impossible. Giono’s story promotes the false hope that primarily by hard work alone, it is possible to terraform the land (although the role of sheer luck in the planting of the acorn seeds was mentioned, it was greatly downplayed). Such is not a miracle of nature, but in fact the enterprising action of one man, who arguably developed the land to be “more natural than nature.” Even guerrilla gardeners have testified that their respective creations were due to their own effort in an attempt to improve nature, not merely acquiesce to it.

Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees is nothing more than a tall tale with some redeemable qualities, which was also made into a 1987 animated short film. Some people who had read Giono’s story had assumed that Bouffier was an actual Frenchman, but such a presumption was finally laid to rest when Giono himself wrote to a Digne city bureaucrat:

 

“Sorry to disappoint you, but Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional person. The goal was to make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable.”

 

This tells us, quite explicitly, that Giono had wanted to emulate Johnny Appleseed, albeit with his own fictional counterpart. Always be wary of stories that attempt to pull at your heartstrings, because there is a realistic chance that the author is trying to distort your sense of reality.

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