Words: Digna de Bruin
Image Credits: Open Source
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Lawyer, Digna de Bruin describes her participation in the Parliament of Things at Dutch Design Week and her work with Conscious Contracts

What would an animal, plant or thing say about the world as it is right now being shaped by human civilization? The Parliament of Things, founded by Joost Janmaat and Thijs Middeldorp in 2015, is an intriguing new political structure where non-humans are represented as well – and by themselves, no less. A place of dialogue between animals, plants, things and people, a place of conflicting interests and evolving ideas for the future. It is a research into politics beyond man. The term is borrowed from the French philosopher Bruno Latour. In his famous essay ‘We Have Never Been Modern’, he argues we should give rights to nonhumans, to quasi-objects and to hybrids. In 1991, Latour ended his text with the following remark on the Parliament: “I have done my job as philosopher and constituent by gathering together the scattered themes of a comparative anthropology. Others will be able to convene the Parliament of Things.”

In October, as part of Dutch Design week, Janmaat and Middeldorp took 7,000 beech saplings out of trade and claimed custodianship over them. The two custodians were searching for soil to settle this migratory forest. They came to me, a lawyer, for advice.

They had a number of questions:

Can we formulate the interest of a tree or a forest?

Do trees have a right to forest?

Where would they want to settle?

Can we assume custodianship over a forest?

Is there a legal basis for that or references?

Can a forest own itself?

Since forests are grounded, can we put the ownership of the soil in the name of the forest?

My response was strictly legally speaking, no but philosophically, yes. The question then becomes where can we find the middle ground? Our legal system has been created and written from the human perspective; humans decide and rule about “things” such as trees. It is not easy therefore to deal with the interests and rights of trees using a traditional legal approach.

The Conscious Contract however is a new and exciting legal counterpart to the Parliament of Things. Using the principles of a conscious contract a wide circle of stakeholders can agree on how to care for the trees for a longer period of time, for example the next 250 years. They can establish the values underpinning the care of the trees which will provide a structure for dealing with conflicting interests and altered circumstances. In this particular conscious contract, the stakeholders involved are making their own legal agreement which focuses on the well-being and flourishing of the trees.

Read more about The Parliament of Things.

Digna de Bruin is an integrative lawyer (attorney at law, mediator, coach and yoga teacher).  She makes innovative conscious contracts in the fields of care, infrastructure and real estate, and teaches on the subject.  She also acts as a ’tree lawyer’.  One of her sources of inspiration is Christopher Stone’s 1972 essay: ‘Should Trees Have Standing?’.

Read more about Digna and Conscious Contracts here.

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