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Thu Jan 26, 2012, 10:12 PM

Better Living Through Permaculture: Building a Permaculture Society, Part One

A few posts back, we started exploring the question “What is permaculture?” The answer I gave was that it was engaging in a dance with the natural world. Let me be clear that this is by no means a definitive nor final answer — I think that everyone exploring permaculture should develop their own answer, and mine will likely change and evolve over time.

But if we’re going to explore this question, it inevitably leads to exploring what a true permaculture society would look like, and perhaps even more importantly, how we can get there. The only thing we can state for certain is that our current society — the modern, industrial society — is NOT a permaculture society. It is a highly inefficient and wasteful one that seeks to control nature in order to strip-mine it of useful assets instead of one that fully respects and seeks to integrate as just a part of it. In my Permaculture Design Course (PDC), we have looked at this question and one of the closest parallels that could be drawn were the Native American societies on the eve of European exploration. I haven’t read it yet, but one of the books that several other participants in my PDC mentioned was 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles Mann. Mann describes these societies as incredibly complex, and rather than living off of the wilds as hunter-gatherers, the natives consciously “tweaked” their natural environment to their advantage, acting as a true keystone species.

I think that there is much that can be learned from this as well, but at the same time we can’t instantly go to living that kind of life in the midst of an industrialized society — both because the dominant institutions of the society won’t allow it (more on that later), and because those of us who have been born and raised in an industrialized society really aren’t equipped to carry out such a project.


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