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Mon Feb 6, 2012, 03:26 PM

BLTP: Complacency, Dependency and Servitude... and How Permaculture Helps Us Break Free

This weekend, I had an interesting conversation with a member of my extended family that left me thinking afterward. The topic of the conversation was the current political scene ó namely, the Presidential race. I stated that I really havenít paid much attention to it. Truth be told, I donít really consider such things worth much of my time as they are either spectacles to pull us into passivity, or diversions for our energy into largely unproductive activities. I also said that I prefer to concentrate my efforts on those things over which I have control (such as permaculture), and in the event that I do involve myself in political issues, I look to a much more local level to get involved, because that is the area where we can have the greatest impact.

This was all inconceivable to this person. He repeatedly said that it was a sad statement on our political affairs that if someone who used to be as engaged in the political process as myself (I served for a period of time on the local committee of one of the two major parties and followed politics quite closely) could become disengaged, then that was a sign of how we were on the wrong track. He kept talking about how we needed change. I responded to him by saying that if you want to see change, donít look for ďleadersĒ to make it happen, look in the mirror as the leader who can help bring it about. He dismissed this point of view by saying that ďmost people just want to follow,Ē and after a short period of continued back-and-forth, the conversation eventually fizzled out.

In the time since that conversation, however, Iíve been thinking about it quite a bit. Not necessarily in the terms of national politics as defined by our news media, but rather in the sense that the way we live our lives is inherently political, and what this means in terms of that discussion. Since Iím sure that many of you have similar difficulties in speaking past one another, I hope that some of these insights may help you as well.


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Reply BLTP: Complacency, Dependency and Servitude... and How Permaculture Helps Us Break Free (Original post)
IrateCitizen Feb 2012 OP
Peace Patriot Feb 2012 #1
IrateCitizen Feb 2012 #2

Response to IrateCitizen (Original post)

Mon Feb 6, 2012, 08:02 PM

1. Some definitions of permaculture...

The OP article is well worth reading but it never defines "permaculture" though it uses the word repeatedly. Here is a site that contains several definitions...



Introduction to Permaculture

Steve Diver*
May 14, 1996

The word "permaculture" was coined in 1978 by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist, and his student, David Holmgren. It is a contraction of "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture." Permaculture is about designing ecological human habitats and food production systems. It is an approach to land use which integrates human dwellings, microclimate, annual and perennial plants, animals, soils, and water management into stable, productive communities.

A central theme in permaculture is the design of ecological landscapes that produce food. Emphasis is placed on multi-use plants and the integration of animals to recycle nutrients and graze weeds. However, permaculture entails much more than just food production. Permaculture design concepts are being applied in urban as well as rural settings, and are applicable to single households or whole farms and villages. "Integrated farming" and "ecological engineering" are terms sometimes used to describe permaculture. Though helpful, these terms do not capture the holistic nature of permaculture and thus the following definitions are included to provide insight.

2. Permaculture Defined

From the Permaculture Drylands Institute and published in The Permaculture Activist (Autumn 1989): Permaculture: the use of ecology as the basis for designing integrated systems of food production, housing, appropriate technology, and community development. Permaculture is built upon an ethic of caring for the earth and interacting with the environment in mutually beneficial ways...

From Lee Barnes (editor of Katuah Journal And Permaculture Connections), Waynesville, North Carolina: Permaculture (Permanent Agriculture Or Permanent Culture) is a sustainable design system stressing the harmonious interrelationship of humans, plants, animals and the Earth. To paraphrase the founder of permaculture, designer Bill Mollison: "Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. Designs stress ecological connections and closed energy and material loops. The core of permaculture is design and the working relationships and connections between all things. Each component in a system performs multiple functions, and each function is supported by many elements. Key to efficient design is observation and replication of natural ecosystems, where designers maximize diversity with polycultures, stress efficient energy planning for houses and settlement, using and accelerating natural plant succession, and increasing the highly productive "edge-zones" within the system." Permaculture designs have been successfully and widely implemented in third-world countries, but there is current need to expand these principles in temperate climates, and especially urban areas to create more enjoyable and sustainable human habitats.

From Michael Pilarksi, founder of Friends of the Trees, and published in International Green Front Report (1988): Permaculture is: the design of land use systems that are sustainable and environmentally sound; the design of culturally appropriate systems which lead to social stability; a design system characterized by an integrated application of ecological principles in land use; an international movement for land use planning and design; an ethical system stressing positivism and cooperation. In the broadest sense, permaculture refers to land use systems which promote stability in society, utilize resources in a sustainable way and preserve wildlife habitat and the genetic diversity of wild and domestic plants and animals. It is a synthesis of ecology and geography, of observation and design. Permaculture involves ethics of earth care because the sustainable use of land cannot be separated from life-styles and philosophical issues.

From a Bay Area Permaculture Group brochure, published in West Coast Permaculture News & Gossip And Sustainable Living Newsletter (Fall 1995): Permaculture is a practical concept which can be applied in the city, on the farm, and in the wilderness. Its principles empower people to establish highly productive environments providing for food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs, including economic. Carefully observing natural patterns characteristic of a particular site, the permaculture designer gradually discerns optimal methods for integrating water catchment, human shelter, and energy systems with tree crops, edible and useful perennial plants, domestic and wild animals and aquaculture. Permaculture adopts techniques and principles from ecology, appropriate technology, sustainable agriculture, and the wisdom of indigenous peoples. The ethical basis of permaculture rests upon care of the earth--maintaining a system in which all life can thrive. This includes human access to resources and provisions, but not the accumulation of wealth, power, or land beyond their needs.

3. Characteristics of Permaculture

Permaculture is one of the most holistic, integrated systems analysis and design methodologies found in the world.

Permaculture can be applied to create productive ecosystems from the human-use standpoint or to help degraded ecosystems recover health and wildness. Permaculture can be applied in any ecosystem no matter how degraded.

Permaculture values and validates traditional knowledge and experience.

Permaculture incorporates sustainable agriculture practices and land management techniques and strategies from around the world. Permaculture is a bridge between traditional cultures and emergent earth-tuned cultures.

Permaculture promotes organic agriculture which does not use pesticides to pollute the environment.

Permaculture aims to maximize symbiotic and synergistic relationships between site components.

Permaculture is urban planning as well as rural land design.

Permaculture design is site specific, client specific, and culture specific.

(Source: Pilarski, Michael (ed.) 1994. Restoration Forestry. Kivaki Press, Durango, CO. p. 450.)


Here are my comments on the thrust of the OP, which I will re-phrase like this: "Tending your garden" is a political act.

Throughout history we have seen examples of all sorts of people, famous and not--whether the brilliant Roman general Cincinnatus or our own George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, or the invaded peoples of the Americas, or soldiers almost anywhere, or those who went from the Crusades into monasteries, or certain ancient Chinese sages and poets, or Henry David Thoreau and Utopian Edenists of many kinds--or, in our own era--say, people like Fr. Dan Berrigan who escaped public life as an antiwar activist into obscure charity work, or Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, who quite deliberately became an obscure teacher-- all those weary of conflicts, who have sought to (or were forced to) "retire" from tumultuous times, to "tend their gardens."

The metaphor can apply to literally "tending" gardens or farms, neglected during eras of upheaval, or to deliberate or enforced exile and the writing of memoirs or other works, or to recouping losses of people, treasure, land and spirit, after defeats or other traumas. It usually means, one way or another, giving up public life and taking care of yourself and your own.

One notable example springs to mind of a famous non-violent fighter, Gandhi, whose "retirement" into cloth weaving was very deliberately political, aimed at an exploitative economic system. But those are rare. More usually, the impulse is "to be gone"--to leave debates and tumults behind, and find inner peace in private life and in obscurity.

The OP seems, in some ways, to be an argument for this kind of self-exile. I've been an activist for many years, on a number of matters including the political, and I understand it, and have even advised it. Sometimes prolonged conflict, especially in this era of Corporate Triumph and, also, looking, as we are, at what may well be the "end times" for life on earth, can quite literally ruin your life, your health and everyone around you. The basic problem facing humanity is VERY BIG and NOT solvable by one person's efforts, though activists often delude themselves that their unstinting personal effort will turn the tide.

The argument of the article is that "tending your garden"--according to the tenets of permaculture--IS the solution. It is not a "retirement" from finding solutions, nor a retreat from debate, nor an outright rejection of public life. It is an effort to reproduce, in reality, a tiny segment of the solutions to myriad problems (by going about both agriculture and personal and community life in ways that are directly opposite those enforced by the Corporate Rulers) that WILL--it is to be hoped--LINK UP with others who are also pursuing this "counter"-culture. If you stop killing Mother Earth in your own back yard, Mother Earth has that much more of a chance, small though it may be, to heal herself, and you and yours, and all people--and it might catch on.

But the question that came to my mind, as I read this article, was: Who will speak for the Earth, or for ourselves, in the Councils of the Great, if we do not? We are at a moment of great turmoil, with perhaps the greatest crisis of governance we have ever seen in history, and a simultaneous ecological crisis without precedent. How can anyone "retire" from this crisis merely to not pollute their own little cube of soil and air? Is it not rather a personal luxury to presume that the "Councils of the Great" are stone deaf and that you and a few others growing and eating pure food is enough? What if it doesn't catch on? How do you make good things catch on? How is the rest of humanity faring, while you are doing your permaculture thing, supported by well-paying jobs?

Personally, I feel obligations to both democracy and Mother Earth. Though both have fractal components--and that is certainly an entre for permaculture--neither thing is small. Both are large, complex structures, with macro principles at work.

If the basis of democracy, its people, go silent in public debate, content with "bread and circuses" so long as they have the money to purchase such things, democracy is dead. And if some of them go silent for other reasons--say, focus on permaculture--their silence is merely swallowed up in the black hole of no debate. Debate we must, it seems to me, with so much at stake, even if we feel like "voices crying in the wilderness."

Similarly, as to Mother Earth, the destructiveness of large corporate systems is so great, as to swallow up the efforts of permaculturists like feathers in a hurricane. We must find the way to re-empower the People to stop this MACRO destruction wherever we can--whether it is oil drilling, or fracking, or coal-burning or the spread of frankenseeds. ONLY democracy can do this--and if we give up on democracy, we have given up on life on Earth. We MUST keep trying. We MUST keep speaking, voting and protesting. And we must keep organizing in hope that the greater good can be realized. There is no protection anywhere from the collapse of Earth's ecosystem. The "garden" that you have gone silent to "tend" will be fried or flooded, and/or millions of starving people will descend upon you and you will not be able to feed them. We are looking at the prospect of world chaos and we cannot let the evil powers who have brought this about win the debate. They must be disempowered.

The author of the OP is not silent. I'll give him that. Here is what he says on his "about me" page:


Hi, and thanks for visiting my site! Iím Chris ó a proud father of two who works full-time as a construction engineer and practices permaculture in my (limited) spare time, with the dream of moving it increasingly into a more full-time thing. Currently Iím transforming my 1.3 acre lot from the typical grass lawn into a permaculture oasis. I want to invite all of you on that journey with me, as I chronicle my thoughts about permaculture, the successes AND failures of my projects, and as we work together to build a more resilient, self-sufficient and truly free way of life.


He is most certainly putting messages out there--with both his life and his writings. But his OP vow to avoid political debate and his non-activist posture, as to influencing the bigger world, is worrisome to me. I think of how one nuclear power plant failure could end all that he holds dear, or how Monsanto could move next door and wipe out his organic 1.3 acres with no recourse, and then SUE HIM for having their frankenseeds on his property! They have all the power. He has zero, zilch, none. And what happens when they recruit HIS children for their corporate resource wars? And on and on. We cannot ignore the malevolent forces around us. We must establish solidarity with all who suffer from these corporate monsters and lend our voices and support to the communal human effort to defeat them.

I am not asking anyone to waste their time on political debates designed to disempower us nor to do anything that is useless or stupid. But failing to participate, in view of these great twin crises of democracy and ecology, is a mistaken way to define "freedom." You may be free from frankenfoods, in your personal life, for now, but that freedom is illusory until the corporate monsters who can destroy your little world without a thought are vanquished, by our collective effort. And that means democracy, and that means debate, and that means voting--and getting rid of the 'TRADE SECRET' voting machines--and finding good people and running them for office, and all the requirements and inconveniences of public participation of one kind or another.

I applaud his effort to save 1.3 acres of Mother Earth and to take such principled stances in his own life and work. I think he's right in the main. We all should do this, in whatever ways that we can--reject consumerism, tend gardens. But the "rugged individualist" model--people thinking they are "free" because they've limited the hill they're looking over--are mistaken. The corporate state can march up that hill and take it from you at their whim. That is the problem.

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Response to Peace Patriot (Reply #1)

Tue Feb 7, 2012, 09:26 AM

2. Reply

First off, I appreciate not only you taking the time to read my piece in full, but also the thoughtful response. It is certainly worthy of a response from my end, and my only concern is that my response will be too short or not in enough depth to give yours justice.

I appreciate the links you provided to define permaculture. The piece I linked to is from my weblog, which is primarily devoted to the discussion of permaculture in both theory and practice. I've done a few posts in which we seek to define permaculture, but I don't define it in every post as a habit. However, when just one post is being read separate from the others, I can completely see how this might lend to confusion.

There's a quote from Geoff Lawton that I keep in various places where I have to look at it every day (on the side of a file cabinet next to my desk at work, on my nightstand at home, etc.) which I think sums all of this up better than I ever could. It was taken from Part 1 of a 2 part podcast interview by Paul Wheaton (creator of Permies.com):

I know people who survive on their permaculture systems with 12 hours work a week. Twelve hours. The average industrialized man works, you know, works a 40 to 60 hour week. And what do you have to show for it? Gadgets. You've just got gadgets. You haven't got that clean air, clean water, clean food, sensible housing, warmth, friendship and community. You haven't got that wealth. You've got gadget wealth. And you're time poor. You're completely time poor. Your clock, your time density is really, really weak, and your time quality is really low. When you work in these systems... if you only have to work 10 hours a week, look at all that extra time you've got for family, for community, you know for helping other people, for returning your surplus to your local community. That's wealth. That's real wealth. And that's what we have to explain to the children.

For what it's worth, I recommend listening to the full interview with Lawton. It will blow your mind. But back to the topic of responding to your thoughtful comments....

I think I need to be clear about something here -- what I am advocating is NOT complete withdrawal from the public sphere. What I advocate IS to ignore the bread-and-circuses that is the popular coverage of national politics. I do this for two main reasons. First, the majority of coverage of politics is something that is only meant to divide us. While cheering on everything the "blue" team does while vilifying the "red" team, which is commonly the case in these forums (and a reason I stopped posting anything here for a long time) may find traction in a self-selecting "imagined community" such as DU, the reality is that it does little to affect anything meaningful in the broader world. Part of living in a real community, which has been lost in modernity, is that we do not have the luxury of only getting on with those we completely agree with -- we must negotiate daily and constantly with people who we may completely disagree with. By focusing on permaculture as a way of life, and building things up to the point that I no longer have to live the time-poor life of the "industrialized man", I am then free to act as a member of a real community. I can return my surplus to the community at large -- whether that surplus be actual food that I can extend to provide sustenance to other families, time in which I can teach a local permaculture class to extend these skills to others, or money that I can use to dedicate to expanding materials and programs at my local library. By engaging in these kinds of activities, I am growing the resistance to large-scale centralized institutions.

Second, my previous engagement in social and political activism, as well as following the actual policies enacted throughout my adult life, has convinced me that there is no significant difference between the two major parties. Democrats promise "fairness" and "peace" while they instead allow increased corporate power over our lives combined with increased surveillance and absolute power, along with pursuing the perpetual war of empire. Republicans promise decreased government control over our lives, while simultaneously pushing policies that increase statism and solidify corporate control. With that being the case, I have come to the conclusion (however unpopular it may be on this site) that in the 2012 election it won't make a damned bit of difference whether Obama or Romney wins. They are both in the classification of modern presidents offered by Chris Hedges, either mediocre or venal, or a combination of the two.

The last point I want to make is returning to this "non-activist posture" described in the previous post. The fact of the matter is that right now, the ONLY power I have over organizations like Monsanto or Dow Chemical or the warfare state is through refusal to participate. Jumping ahead to direct action without removing my own dependence upon those systems for industrially-produced food and the spoils of empire is intervening in the system at a level that is almost doomed to ineffectiveness, because it doesn't seek out the most effective leverage point. My goal is to first engage in self-organization (level 3 on Donella Meadow's hierarchy of places to intervene in a complex system), and then move on to paradigm shift (level 1 of the same). Therefore, the approach must be two-pronged. The first part of the approach must be getting my own house in order by decreasing my dependence upon those systems. The second part of the approach is organizing in outward circles more resistance by decreasing dependence. These systems that we both speak of are part of the growth paradigm -- and if they can no longer grow, they will inevitably decline. There is no stasis. For a little more on this, I suggest reading one of my previous posts, Building a Permaculture Society, Part 1.

I apologize in advance for any rambling or seemingly disconnected thoughts in this post, but I am currently pressed for time but still wanted to be sure I gave you a response, because the thought and tone of your post deserved one. And I appreciate your continued passion, even if we don't necessarily see eye-to-eye. Peace!

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