It’s not about “dropping out” of the system or removing yourself in any way. While that’s the end goal we actually need to “drop into” something first. What we need to do is create the things that will replace the system by meet our needs, from the place where we live. Only then will we be able to let the system, and all the damage it causes, go.
I had a small synchronicity leading up to and over the Thanksgiving holiday…
First, I showed up to harvest microgreens Tuesday before Thanksgiving and ended up listening to J. H. Kunstler interview Chris Martenson. Kunstler is a bit of a cranky but eloquent old man, Chris Martenson is behind the Crash Course and has sort of an investor/scientist take on things.
Now, a long time ago I had read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It’s a very good book and an easy read. The premise is an analysis the of the leavers vs. the takers, using the story of Adam and Eve to chart the move from a foraging to agrarian culture. I had forgotten about it but just recently had another of Quinn’s books, Beyond Civilization, show up on the Face, so I checked it out using interlibrary loan for some Thanksgiving reading. This one is a set of simple premises that build, asking how does one exit civilization.
At nearly the same time this Chris Martenson interview with Daniel Quinn appeared on my newsfeed. I’m particularly fond of this quote Chris pulls out from Beyond Civilization:
“If we go on as we are, we’re not going to be around for much longer. A few decades, a century at most, if we’re still around a thousand years from now, it will be because we stopped going on as we are.” – Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization
So taken all together, I’m realizing these are excellent resources. A framing of the entire problem from Quinn contrasted with the mechanics of how it’s playing out from Martenson and a little cranky but eloquent old man thrown in for fun. I think I’m going to recommend this as one of my standard courses of study.
“…Although people deeply involved in a system often know intuitively where to find leverage points, more often than not they push the change in the wrong direction.” – Donella Meadows
This morning I had a realization that having a job is a very important leverage point; there is so much effect that we can create by how we work with this one concept. In the past I had thought that we strive for the “right” job, one that fits our temperament and skills exactly. It would be even better if it doesn’t exploit the environment or people. Perhaps it even did some good in the world. But, what I realized in that moment is that using the word job sets us on a different path than if we say “what we do for a living”.
Having a job implies that you are going to sell your labor to the economy and then in return buy what you need from the economy. It pretty much cements the loss of control, limiting your choices to ones that amount to dead ends. On the other hand, making a living implies that you’re working to live. As we are the person making the decisions about how we provide for ourselves, we have some control over what and how things happen. Having the right job is not going to make change, even thinking of what we do as a job pushes the wrong way. What we need is to craft appropriate lives that match to the reality of our environment.
Now think of all that we have that is dependant on a job. Where we live, what we eat, how we play, transportation, heat, electricity, internet, everything we have. Any one of these would be terrifying to lose. But each is a thing that exploits people and the natural world far and wide and each could be replaced with something more local that we can directly connect to and depend on to live. Any exploitation would be right in our faces, we would be more likely to suffer from our own actions, and we would at least have a chance to deal with it.
So, what is this state of being that we would be moving into? What would this alternative be like? We can imagine but just don’t know exactly what it looks like, as there is little space for that in the existing system. Much of it is illegal, someone with a gun would come and kill or arrest you if you didn’t comply with their demands. And, it’s something that we’re going to have to build from the ground up. Fit into the cracks of the existing order, always looking for new ones to appear, sort of a hybrid world. Keeping ourselves alive with the old systems, while simultaneously building a new world.
The less we identify with having a job, the more energy we can put towards the future.
Permaculture seeks to impose thoughtful changes on both us and the land. Often these changes can require continual upkeep and burden us with chores. Perhaps that’s the lure of modern life, trading many little chores for a job and shopping.
Creating systems that work on their own or very easily cuts down on the to do list. However, it requires much observation and tweaking to get the system right. Perhaps it is a question ultimately of how do we want to spend our time? And also how much do we work on now, how much do we work on the future? It’s almost a stance or intention.
The more more accurate the design, the more it works on it’s own. If an intention is part of the system then we can design for it, make a choice about how we face the world. Set the intention and the rest can follow.
What sort of stance are you taking in your life? How much are you working for the now and how much for the future?
Simple in it’s form, complex in it’s function. The iterative design process (IDP) works recursively and is best used fractally. Fundamentally it is observation of all interacting parties to find leverage points that move us in the direction of goals, the greater the depth of the observation the more accurate the design.
Goals & Ethics
What should the outcome be? What specific things need to happen? Use the ethics to create and check your goals. Write it down.
Resources & Limits
Your resources and limiting factors are your strengths and weaknesses, your in and out breath. Better make a list.
Scale of Permanence
Know how much energy you’re committing and the relative amount of effort and effect. Pick a place to start.
Zone & Sectors
Organize elements by their relative placement and identify incoming or outgoing energy flows. How does your element relate to the whole?
Use the principles to reveal ways that the resources or limiting factors might be approached.
I realize I have left out Action from the process. Take what you have learned through this process and put it into action. The larger and complex your change the more time and effort it will take to stabilize.
This may seem too facile but elementary things build up to make the most complex of systems. This process gets the momentum going.
I’m sure it would be useful to see some examples of it’s use, so here is one:
Rhonda Baird, William Faith, and I used a form of the IDP to start a project that would get us, three regionally adjacent permaculture teachers, together teaching a PDC. We’ve ended up forming the GLPDC and running an experiential design course for 6 weekends that has all the lecture frontloaded with short presentations on youtube and some accompanied reading.
Goals & Ethics
A clear and obtainable goal lead to continued forward momentum. Since the goal is guided by the ethics, it has the complexity to cause multiple beneficial effects. We ultimately want to build up the numbers of people who will have the skills, knowledge, and passion to implement high quality designs within our bioregion.
Resources & Limits
Considering our goals within the context of our resources and limits lead us to use the nature of our lack of proximity as an advantage. We used skype and our recording knowledge to create short lectures, leaving class time as an active experience to increase the student’s momentum. We’ve constructed the course by combining the PINA curriculum with tools from the book “Liberating Structures“, Group Works , and other hands on activities. The experience we have between us gives us the ability to improvise as needed within the framework of our curriculum to give the students the best experience possible.
Scale of Permanence
We know that investing in each of our local bioregions is a long term proposition that can dramatically transform them on a larger time scale. It’s a long hard slog but the result would be worth the effort.
Zone & Sectors
Since the three teachers are up to a day’s drive apart we’re each working in the others zone 5 (the far edge of their influence) but by planning to move each full design course between the three locations we build up a local population of permaculturists, essentially pumping up our combined region with local systems thinkers.
Leveraging our limited proximity to record lectures is a long term process (small and slow solutions), but provides a new format for our current course (obtain a yield & creatively use & respond to change), and makes them available both for future use (catch and store energy).
We have come together as the GLPDC to put on permaculture courses in each of our locals, benefiting from the strength of our diversity being brought to each of our locations.
As we have proceeded the formalness of the design has softened into something more organic. We continue to progress but new patterns have emerged to continue the momentum rather than get it started.
So I’ve been working with the GLPDC to create lectures for our ongoing PDC. We’ve adopted using the permaculture flower, by David Holmgren, as a landmark for each topic but I’m thinking it works differently than we initially understood. Before we thought that a topic, say water, would manifest certain petals of the flower. Now I think it’s the opposite. The whole flower manifests through every topic; it’s why instead of what.
What’s more the flower can be divided into two distinct groups. Things that manifest in the physical world, like buildings, trees, swales, etc. and those that are invisible structures: education, community governance, finance.
Notice that I’ve rotated the flower so that the top three petals represent the physical and the the bottom four are “invisible” as if they are roots below.
So, to take the example of water:
Land & Nature Stewardship
How we take care of the physical water we have.
Dams, ponds, piping, water treatment plants.
Tools & Technology
How we treat, move, and clean water.
While the three above are not exclusively physical, they have very real manifestations in the physical environment. You can go to a place, walk into a building, and grab a tool. You can’t do that with the others. They arise emergently out of the combination of people, physical places and things:
Land Tenure & Community Governance
Regulations and requirements, how we use, or even how we think about water. Who owns it.
Finances & Economics
The business and cost of water.
Health & Spiritual Well-being
Our health in relationship to the water around us or the spirit or life of the water (see Spirited Away for one manifestation of this).
Education & Culture
How we act and communicate the importance, care for, and cleaning of water.
The flower gives us an organization and structure for different aspects of how water can be used and thought of. The same holds true for any other topic in permaculture. We can orient ourselves to the different petals of the flower on a topic, thereby seeing (and then being able to make use of) the patterns of.
A friend of mine got a DCMA takedown notice on his website. This is my respose:
The web works best when it’s creative commons; the mashup of culture can work at full speed. I know it’s hard to shift paradigms, to change. When we understand how things work and use them with their best relationship, we can do more; our leverage is multiplied. I trust free culture and believe it meets the ethics, conversely I distrust the regime of control that copyright represents as it fails the test of the ethics. I think permaculture is best when it is creative commons.
There are many different takes on what real “permaculture design” is. Maps and surveys, hours spent fussing over the contours and placement. Charettes, meetings, and design methods with silly acronyms like O’BREDIMET give us a form and a process to follow.
What actually happens through that process? What do the circumstances tell us is most likely to happen? Why choose one method over another? What is the actual goal of these processes and are there different ways to achieve it? Of course there must be alternatives – as Mollison says, the limits are only those of the imagination of the designer.
What do these processes called “permaculture design” achieve? In their most useful form, they ask us to be one with a place; to be a part of that place and nurture what that place wants to be. They are a meditation on what is, not what our desires are or what we think should be done. It involves letting go of the idea that human life is the most important; surrendering to the idea that we’re all in this together.
Once we’ve done that, we can act in a way to improve the conditions for life. We can make choices that don’t come at the expense of the world around us. Our particular form of self awareness can benefit the whole system. We can allow other forms of awareness to flourish alongside us: the intelligence of the birds & trees, the information imbedded in the heritage of seeds, and the pulse of the seasons, earth, & stone beneath our feet.
Once we’re all in this together then we can move as one, confidently into the future.