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The upsidedownness of our world really gets to me. The people doing the most critical work (like producing food and clothing) get paid the least, and the people busy producing crap we don’t really need at all get paid much more, and by an order of magnitude. Worse, the people who produce nothing at all, but just shift numbers around on a screen, capitalising on the work of the afore-mentioned two groups, get paid exponentially more again.



Warning: Don’t play if you don’t appreciate bad language!

Somewhere along the line we’ve lost perspective. We’ve lost our sense of wonder, our recognition of the ‘magic’ of the world we live in — that all the best things in life are actually free — instead overlaying an entirely human intervention called ‘the economy’, or ‘the system’:

It’s a system of extraction — it’s trickle up economics.

Casting off this system is not an easy ask, but most of us by now are acutely aware of the necessity of doing so. It’s not an easy ask simply because in the blind consumer march of the last century, in our quest to escape manual labour and in our misguided hunger for that mirage of a ‘better life’, we’ve painted ourselves into a corner…. Most of us have no land. Most of us are swimming in debt, beholden to the system that now effectively holds our present and future labour as their own asset — to be traded and ‘leveraged’ as a commodity itself.

Worse, the bankers and SuperCorps have also cornered the market on the natural systems themselves, from which all true prosperity flows, and they’re destroying them.

Taking back these natural systems, and sustainably harvesting their free abundance, is the task at hand. If we can accomplish this, the present centralised, extractive economy can be rendered redundant, and a dying biosphere can be liberated — it can give itself up to an army of land stewards once more.

The word ‘revolution’ is being whispered, even shouted, everywhere. But revolution, if violent, will bring only chaos and immense suffering. Although this system is held together with only duct tape and twine, it is still the only thing that separates most of us from immediate suffering, or even death. Unravelling it now, suddenly, while we’re its utter dependant, is madness. The ‘revolution’ we need must be planned. It must be designed.

One of the key elements to orchestrate change, I feel, is a shift in priorities. We need to stop buying the crap we don’t need, and we need to empower the people producing what we do. More, we need to get back onto the land, and we need to press, vigorously, for economic incentives that see able bodied men, women and youth eager to step into the real economy — working creatively with real-time sunlight to create biological surplus. This is an economy that, holistically managed, need have no end.

Cuba, with its premature and politically-imposed peak oil experience, faced our present dilemma, and survived. A key element in its survival is that it encouraged small scale relocalised resilience — it made small-scale farming attractive, as a career, once more:

Today, 80 percent of Cuba’s food production is organic. As of 2006, there were 10,000 urban gardens in Havana and other cities across the nation, according to the CBC documentary, Cuba: The Accidental Revolution. Schools, hospitals, seniors’ homes and even factories grow these “organiponicoes.”

The US/Canadian agricultural model takes 12 calories of energy to produce one calorie of food. Cuba produces 12 calories of organically grown food with one calorie of energy. Urban farmers use as little as five percent of agribiz energy inputs. The nation has also introduced privately owned farms and cooperatives, in effect incentivizing agriculture and making it an attractive career option for younger Cubans. — commonground.ca

Cuba’s ‘special period’ transformed agriculture from an industrial, energy intensive, centralised and state-owned system to a small-scaled, privatised one — one with a far better EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested). Whether state owned or privatised, however, the key element here is scale. With the absence of cheap oil, tractors and other machinery were largely abandoned. By necessity, farms became human scaled. Farmers became gardeners.

In the North, today, we have privatised agricultural systems, and they’re failing — dramatically and miserably. Again, it’s not the system of ownership that counts, but the scale, and the EROEI. These privatised systems are also ‘centralised’, in that the people working the land, by the sweat of their brow, or, more commonly, from the seat of a tractor, are effectively economic serfs, dictated to by the industries that supply their inputs and which purchase their outputs. The land, the seeds, the chemicals — the entire ‘colour by numbers’ agricultural system — is owned by a small handful of corporations. Again, whether state owned, or privatised, if it’s at large scale, the difference is negligible.

Cuba’s shift to privatised land-holdings didn’t result in the more ambitious types working and scheming towards land mergers, consolidation and monopolies — but why? Because of the lack of cheap energy. Without oil, man is the machinery, and the efficiency of that ‘machinery’ was dependent on wits, not oil. The most observant, the most creative, and the most practical became the real barons — but barons over a human-scaled, manageable land area.

Today, large scale agriculture is undermining itself. It is undermining us. The key drivers towards this state of massive vulnerability were 1) fossil fuels, and 2) Norman Borlaug’s so-called ‘Green Revolution’ and the ‘get big or get out’ policies that started in the 1970s, under the then US Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz:

[Butz's] mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm. — Wikipedia

This ‘fencerow to fencerow’ large acreage agriculture was only possible, albeit if temporarily, due to industrialisation and its life-blood: oil. The present and future era of expensive energy promises the undoing of centralised agriculture, and, potentially, centralised control — whether by the State or privatised monopolies. With energy supplies waning, we have one small window of opportunity to regain what the oil era stole from us. And, we have the opportunity to regain a sense of the ‘magic’ and wonder of the natural world we’ve all but forgotten we’re part of, and which by biological necessity we were born to partner with.

37 Responses to “Get Into Farming (video)”

  1. bob tatnell

    if the best things in life are free, it is not necessary to concentrate on those who have and manipulate money
    and if the farmer/gardener has escaped from that trap, his/her relative poverty is only a matter of perspective
    and as his/her intrinsic wealth is immeasurable and his/her life sublime, just keep the permaculture rolling and ignore the ‘reality’ of the world

    Reply
  2. Peter Brandis

    There is a lot I agree with in this post Craig. But there are some important aspects that I don’t agree with!

    You say that the system, held together with only duct tape “is the only thing separates most of us from immediate suffering, or even death” – Unravelling it now, you say is “madness”.

    Now this is a typically western focus, because most people in the world are really suffering, and dying, under the current system. Around 40% of the world’s population are small farmers/peasants, and they have nothing to lose from the unravelling of the system. Similarly most indigenous/tribal peoples have nothing to lose. Not to mention other species and places. And the whole field of nature has nothing to lose! It is only by unravelling the current system, and now, can we alleviate the suffering being caused to MOST people on the planet (and most other species on the planet), and future generations.

    Your article also falls into the usual libertarian trap of focusing on the individual doing the “right thing” – as in “we need to stop buying the crap we don’t need”. As if the whole system is not configured to trap/compel people into consuming. The system only works by growing, and to grow we need consumption. The “we” in this sentence also needs to be deconstructed. Who is this “we” really? It is surely not most of the world’s population – it is really a small percentage (I guess 20%?) – which are consuming the earth. Let’s face it – it is the rich people who consume most, and it is rich people (either in first, second or third worlds) who need to stop (or be stopped) consuming. But more importantly, we need to stop the extractive economy. We need to stop the companies (and governments) who create massive advertising campaigns to convince/compel people to buy stuff. And we need to stop the companies from making the stuff in the first place (no, I don’t know how).

    Revolutionary change, if simply based on a strategy of individual change (we’re all doing permaculture now), will not achieve political change or a change in the systems of power. Permaculture, based mostly on individual lifestyle actions, will be ineffective in making systemic change. Permaculture, in the main, does not confront those in power, nor does it challenge the system of power (else it would not be so tolerated). It is this system of power (corporate power, institutional power, military power, political power) that is destroying people, species and the planet. It is this system of power that has the capacity to undo any permaculture place/project simply by changing the law/regulations (witness the changing food regulations over local food in the US, demonstrated in the movie farageddon), doing land grabs (legal or forced), or destroying our landbase (eg fracking polluting our water). How do you stop these forms of destructive power – by simply creating permaculture landscapes? I wish it were that easy.

    Most systemic change, over the last century or longer, has required more than individuals doing the “right thing”. The key element to orchestrate system change is confronting those in power and demanding change. Even Cuba is more of an example of a country being forced to change, it certainly was not a voluntary shift. It seems to be we need to force change on the system. How do we do that? I wish I knew.

    To finish I would like to quote Frederick Douglass on power – “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

    Reply
  3. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Peter, I actually agree with you fully. Regular readers will know this from countless other posts I’ve put up. One example is here (I hope you’ll take the time to read it):

    http://permaculture.org.au/2009/07/13/the-roots-of-change-in-ourselves-or-government-and-industry/

    Indeed, I get annoyed too often with commenters who keep telling me to stick to topics around cabbages and broccoli, because they don’t want to hear about the need for systemic political/economic/social change. I ‘harp’ on about the need for permaculture design in politics and economics continually.

    Where I was talking about it being madness to just destroy the system, without some planning (transition), it’s in reference to and in the context of ‘revolution’. Historically there have been micro examples of our present predicament played out in localised regions. Think of Chile, Cuba, etc., where mass inequality in land ownership resulted in bloody revolutions. The wealthy land owners were literally chased down and killed. But what was the result? Too often the people taking back the land had no idea what to do with it. They failed to make it work, and then left the land again. We’ve seen similar in Zimbabwe. The people who took back the land had no idea what they were doing. If we just ‘bring down the system’, we’d better well know what we’re doing, and how to replace it. It requires rapid reskilling and education and vision-fed determination. And it requires some degree of critical mass in lucidity.

    See also this:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2010/05/16/letters-from-chile-a-little-historical-context/

    http://permaculture.org.au/2008/10/02/can-permaculture-save-the-world/

    Some people believe we need to only work at grass roots level. Others believe we should only work on changing things at the top. I believe we need to do both. I just don’t subscribe to the belief of some who almost look forward joyously to the rug suddenly getting pulled out from under society, without some transition, as I think they fully underestimate the consequences – they fully underestimate how dependent they are on this system. With the exception of a few villages I’ve visited in the South, I know of nobody who is providing for all of their own needs for food, water, clothing, shelter, etc.

    See also this ten-part series about the world’s largest participatory democracy movement:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2009/09/13/letters-from-sri-lanka-does-sarvodaya-hold-the-secrets-to-systemic-change/ (links to each successive part at the bottom of each article).

    As just one small example of many – consider our justice system. It’s corrupt, but it does still offer us some degree of protection. Just let it collapse overnight, and we’ll quite likely find ourselves in a world of impetuous lynchings and a return to violent feudalism, etc.

    Again, I agree with you on pretty much everything you said, as far as I can see. I just can’t include all of these aspects in all articles.

    Reply
  4. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Actually Peter, when I re-read my post, I think you must have focussed on some bits, and not others. Note I’m talking about incentivising small scale farmers. This is economic change: “…we need to press, vigorously, for economic incentives that see able bodied men, women and youth eager to step into the real economy”. Notice that I’m talking about the Cuban special period, where systemic change was made at political level, etc.

    I think many readers will smile if you inadvertently lump me in with libertarian thought, as many of them have seen me spend way too much energy debating them in comment threads on this site.

    For good measure, see my intro to this post:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2012/06/24/how-sustainability-became-sustained-growth/

    Reply
  5. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Bob – you can’t escape from the trap if you have no land. Ignore the reality of the world, and the world will roll over us. No man is an island.

    Reply
  6. Peter Brandis

    Thanks Craig – I’ve read your articles (again!) – they slipped my memory – and I’m glad we’re both edge-dwellers on this topic! And I did focus on a few bits of your otherwise agreeable article. My main assertion is that the majority of the world will benefit from an immediate collapse, (even overnight) without any transition, and these people (indigenous, peasant farmers, forest dwellers, other species) are already living a permaculture lifestyle (and some of them without even doing a PDC – the cheek of them!) I also realise that an “immediate collapse” will take anywhere from, say, 50 to 500 years. In an historical viewpoint, that is still overnight. And I do wholeheartedly agree that we need to do work top and bottom: 1) system change, (stop corporate domination etc) and resistance and 2) permaculture (self-provisioning, self-reliant, self-governing, localised, nature-based) communities. We desperately, desperately need both.

    Reply
  7. Nick Huggins

    Its people like Bob Tatnell for whom I can only assume have been on the merry-go-round of reality and worked with or have been of apart of manipulators of money. Acquired his Permaculture utopia using the acquired money, checked out of reality and now feel they can sit back and tell everyone else Money is the root of the evil.
    99% of the folks I’m working with and mentoring with http://www.permaculturebusinessworld.com will most likely never see this personal utopia and have to live it through someone else’s dream because of Bobs generation. Its my and others younger than me that will suffer from those who have been before.
    Bit rich when our friend Bob charges $700 week to stay at his farm. Which I think is a fare price considering the location.
    I played my part in manipulation of money. Now its my job to help correct the past and find solutions and guide others..

    Reply
  8. bob tatnell

    what, with consuming plastics- probably 20 items within sight now, and jetting around the globe, heating the house with gas, taking the elevator, and driving your car daily, it is incredible that one has time to remonstrate against fossil fuel extraction and its methods
    as wendell berry says: I fly around and around the world so I can tell you not to use fossil fuels
    and mckibben says: reducing fossil fuel consumption is like entering a movement against yourself
    most change in the world, for most of us, is outside of our personal sphere…. accepting that, one can get on with a low footprint life, enjoy it and show and share with others

    Reply
  9. Joel

    Peter says “Permaculture, in the main, does not confront those in power, nor does it challenge the system of power”. I disagree – in its holistic, “Permanent Culture” definition as exemplified by Holmgren’s “Permaculture Flower”, Permaculture does challenge the system of power, and always has. This can’t be achieved by individuals, but it can be achieved by an organised Permaculture movement that tackles economics and social institutions as well as the biophysical processes for producing abundance. Craig is doing a good job promoting the revolutionary dimension of Permaculture, and this website and the PRI are doing a good job building the critical mass of Permaculture activism that is required for a viable transition to Permanent Culture.

    Reply
  10. Peter Brandis

    Thanks Joel for your comment.

    Permaculture – especially as evidenced by Holmgren’s permaculture flower – aims to build sustainable and autonomous communities, regenerate land and culture, and build productive landscapes – all very worthwhile and badly needed. This work may or may not challenge the system of power. I wonder Joel can you explain how you believe permaculture challenges (or confronts) the system of power (rather than building alternatives to it)? (We may have different definitions of “confront”, so for me the occupy movement was/is very confronting to those in power).

    For me permaculture builds valid alternatives to the mainstream, as a bottom-up or grassroots strategy and I suppose that could be considered “confronting”, but not in my general understanding of the word.

    Permaculture, being “solutions oriented”, and generating an “optimistic, opportunity based response that can empower people to creative action and adaptation in the face of adversity” (David Holmgren, Future Scenarios), does not generate direct political activism and does not confront power, nor does it directly get “political” (nor does the Transition movement) – it adapts to what is, rather than challenging what is, and there are good reasons why it is like this. I am not saying it should do these political, or confronting things. I am just pointing out the limitations of only relying on building alternatives in changing the systems of power.

    Confronting power would, in my view, be something that disrupts, maybe even dismantles, the system of corporate privilege, wealth concentration, political nonsense, maybe even remove the ability of rich and powerful to destroy the planet. This is a top-down approach – and it needs the bottom-up approach to work.

    Even Holmgen, in Future Scenarios, alludes to the problem of relying on a grass roots approach in generating system change by suggesting that people may be suspicious that “distributed power provided by resurgent communities will ameliorate centralised and inequitable structures”. Just call me suspicious.

    Reply
  11. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Thanks for the (re)reading Peter.

    I would agree that many in the developing world would benefit from our collapse. I’ve seen first hand some villages where if the rest of the world would sink into the ocean, they would continue. Indeed, they would benefit in that their youth would no longer get lured away, chasing the mirage of a ‘better life’ (more often than not ending up in situations worse than they could have imagined), and would instead regain their pride in their own resiliency, returning to invest their energy (both physical and mental) in improving their low carbon methods of supplying their needs. The people I write about here are a case in point:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2008/10/14/the-road-to-na-sai/

    http://permaculture.org.au/2010/01/16/letters-from-sri-lanka-sarvodayas-home-gardens/

    But, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ‘most’ of the developing world would benefit. A great many, more than most are aware, I think, have been infiltrated and systemically compromised by modern capitalistic influences and policies. This article expounds on this aspect. If you haven’t read it already, I’d encourage you to do so:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2008/08/09/orchestrating-famine-a-must-read-backgrounder-on-the-food-crisis/

    And for good measure:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2009/01/21/food-miles-or-fair-miles/

    http://permaculture.org.au/2009/05/30/the-peasants-are-revolting/

    One way we can roughly gauge the resiliency of the world’s population is just to look at demographics. We now have more than half the world’s population living in cities. This means that less than half the world’s population have a reasonable parcel of, or any, land.

    http://permaculture.org.au/2012/07/20/its-time-to-re-ruralise/

    People in the ‘developing’ world are moving to the cities faster than anywhere else. And of those still living in rural environs, sometimes they’re still landless cogs in the extractive capitalist machine:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2010/08/26/letters-from-sri-lanka-sarvodaya-and-the-tea-plantation-challenge/

    A decent proportion of this urban demographic are thus captive customers to supply lines outside of their control, and the big multinationals have done a great job of consolidating and controlling these supply lines, and the land that produces it.

    Here’s a passage from the ‘orchestrating famine’ article I was urging on you above:

    Within the past decade in Argentina, 160,000 families of small farmers have left the land, unable to compete with large farmers. GM soya has served to exacerbate this trend towards large-scale, industrial agriculture, accelerating poverty.

    … Argentina is currently the second biggest producer of GM Soya in the World. The countryside has been transformed from traditional mixed and rotation farming, which secured soil fertility and minimized the use of pesticides, to almost entirely GM soya.

    Financial problems for farmers are set to worsen with Monsanto now starting to charge royalties for their seeds, where before, it was allowing farm-saved seeds. Twenty-four million acres of land belonging to bankrupted small farmers are about to be auctioned by the banks.

    Read that last sentence again, and consider that this is happening under the radar worldwide. The IMF, WTO and World Bank have done a rather efficient job of ‘bringing civilisation’ to these places – enforcing policies that have steadily, and in some cases (like Haiti, Niger, etc.) totally undermined what they had before.

    I somewhat think of our ‘system’ as being a bit like synthetic nitrogen applied to the soil. At first you see the rush of growth and come to think of it as a wonder ingredient. You think of farmers who aren’t using it as ‘backwards’ – they’re missing the great opportunity for increased production. After some time, however, the soil gets totally depleted.

    As a farmer who has shot himself in the foot with this approach, what to do now?

    If you stop the nitrogen applications at this point, your lifeless soil will fail to provide you with what you need to keep your family fed and your farm viable. Regenerating the soil takes time. So, you end up either persevering with synthetic systems, and even moving to GMOs and even more chemicals in a whack-a-mole type bid to deal with symptoms, or you start transitioning sections of your land, so you can begin to wean yourself off the synthetic-nitrogen-drug, whilst still providing what you need to avoid sudden loss of income/life, as you work bit by bit to regain what you’ve lost.

    If the system fell over tomorrow due to widespread bloody revolution, the landless in the developing world (there are many, many millions of them), would end up fighting each other for land and resources also. And those who still have some degree of self-reliance might have it taken from them, as some of those many hungry/angry millions ended up on their doorstep.

    Consumer and growth-based capitalism has been the drug of the last century. I sense that people in power today – the politicians and corporate giants – are increasingly aware of the vulnerable position we’re in. And I believe they’re increasingly fearful. They face the decision to let the system collapse (stop using the nitrogen drug – the growth-based, linear-production-line economic model), with a subsequent disaster of having to survive in a landscape that’s not ready to supply our needs, or they persevere, trying to grapple with the ever-increasing array of symptoms of the system’s failure. Unfortunately not enough people, yet, have come to the realisation that rapid transition is really our only option, if we want to halt stupidity in its tracks whilst still avoiding a complete meltdown and a return to the dark ages or a shunt into a high-tech, dystopian future. And the worst part is that so long as ‘the system’ still works for some, those people will always find a reason to postpone that transition. And, of course, the people this system is still working fine for, to one degree or another, are you and me, and perhaps more importantly, and even more-so, the rich and powerful heads of government and industry who have control of the lion’s share of the world’s resources. This means those with the greatest ability to effect change, have the most to lose if they work to effect that change….

    This is where I continually refer to issues such as land-redistribution, re-skilling and education in soil science and holistic management of natural systems, etc.

    http://permaculture.org.au/2012/06/28/hope-for-a-new-era-before-after-examples-of-permaculture-earth-restoration-solving-our-problems-from-the-ground-up/

    I think it will take direct action (the threat of the guillotine) to get the powers that be to stop procrastinating, and to start seriously and holistically looking at the reality of our situation. And one of the first places we can start this transition, is, as I mentioned in the post it seems you’ve re-read, is to change the central charter of responsibility for business, so that it incorporates more than just making money for shareholders…:

    http://permaculture.org.au/2009/07/13/the-roots-of-change-in-ourselves-or-government-and-industry/#heart

    …and I think, repeating myself again, that ‘get small or get out’ agricultural policies and incentives could do wonders to get the ball rolling in the right direction, along with subsidising the development and replication of research institutes that work to spread sustainable food/clothing/building techniques for respective climate zones and cultures. This is the work of the PRI, but it has no public funding beyond intermittant donations – because ‘the system’ is built around profit, not common sense or future-proofing or future-preparedness.

    Reply
  12. Angelo Eliades

    Hmmm… as Bill Mollison says, growing your own food IS a subversive act. When you cut yourself off from your dependency on profit driven agribusiness, you remove your portion of their profits. When you only consume your fair share, you need less to live, and provide less profits to those who desire you to consume more. When you teach others to do the same, and they stop playing the game, they too cut of some more of the lifeblood of the beast. By not having to spend money on food and thinhs you don’t need, you need to work less hopefully, so you spend less time propping up the system.

    Remember folks, the ‘system’ only exists because we allow it to, because we get up every morning and perpetuate it. It doesn’t exist outside of our compliance and permission. If everyone woke up tomorrow morning and said stuff it, I’m not going work in a morally corrupt corporation, they would cease to exist. It all exists because we choose so, and we cling to it thanks to our learned helplessness and extreme dependency. The reality is that most people in modern societies wouldn’t have the skills to stay alive for any reasonable period if the system collapsed.

    Things are more likely to change if you give people the possibility of self reliance as individuals and self sufficiency as communities. It’s all about reclaiming our sovereign right to self reliance, relearning all the real life skills that we’ve lost in our societies, and doing something about it. Permaculture facilitates the process of reducing our dependency and empowers us to fend for ourselves, sounds like a great place to start, and if you want to replace the corrupt corporate world staus quo, no better place to start demolishing it than at its foundations…

    But, what if the world doesn’t adopt this approach? Well, the consumer capitalist beast lives on until it collapses under its own weight, if Rome fell, it can too. When it does, you want the people trained up to be able to build something sustainable in the vacuum left behind, and guess how we do that???

    Reply
  13. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    I agree with a lot of what you say Angelo, but have to reiterate that stepping out of the system is impossible for far tooooo many. If you don’t have a garden and the know-how/confidence to go with it, and if you have debts, and dependents, up in your apartment on the 8th floor, etc., then we’re somewhat forced to perpetuate the system.

    And if we did ALL stay home one morning, and the next, and the next, then pretty soon we’d see major chaos and violence in most places. Most cities have only a few day’s worth of food supplies…. Utilities would begin to fail, etc. etc.

    But having said that, if all the people in this ‘lucky’ situation (with gardens and know-how) were to make best use of it, it would certainly help fast-track a reprioritisation by industry. Gardening would become the business to be in, rather than selling plasma screens, etc. If we eschewed chemicals, and worked biologically, then the tools we need would replace those chemicals on the shelves.

    But, it only works if we gain critical mass! Trying to gain that critical mass is a key part of why I do what I do. If I’m the only one in town saying “stuff it, I’m quitting this system”, then I’ll suffer and die unnoticed, while the machine continues its race towards the precipice.

    Everything gets easier when you’re not swimming against the current. At the moment that’s what permies are doing, or they’re actually flowing with the current and just dreaming they’re swimming upstream. The hard part is to not compromise and change direction, but to turn the whole current around, so it’s going our way! You can’t achieve that if, as some people suggest in this and other comment threads, we just ignore the system. A few people who have, as Nick astutely noted, already made their money (normally doing something destructive) and now have what they need to make a ‘comfortable life in the hills’, might feel they are somehow doing the ‘right thing’, but they’re neglecting to recognise that most people do not and never will have the opportunities they’ve had. When we tell them “just go out into your garden and forget about the system”, they may well turn blue in anger, and drag you with rope in hand to lynch you on the nearest tree.

    We need to change the system to make it possible for legions of people to get trained, and to enable the breakup of the corporate land and market monopolies that are a major stumbling block to meaningful transition.

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  14. Joel

    What an absorbing and sobering discussion! I look forward to finding time to read Craig’s extra links above… Peter, your arguments are very convincing. Permaculture’s ability to challenge power is perhaps as you say a question of definition. I think that providing a truly viable alternative model to the status quo confronts power because a key part of that power is its ability to convince us that “there is no alternative”. As with what Angelo was saying, the system is a very dangerous illusion but it is still an illusion. With enough critical mass of people “not buying its crap” – including, vitally, debt based money, it would evaporate. Of course, as Craig emphasises, it’s not as simple as that- we need an alternative system at the ready or collapse will bring mass suffering and death. And also, we should not underestimate the readiness of the powerful to use violence to protect their interests. Still, they need to convince people to fight for them, they need people to manufacture their bullets, they need petroleum to feed their machines….Their power is ultimately the power we collectively give them, and we can succeed by putting our energy into COLLECTIVELY building the viable alternative.

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  15. Peter Brandis

    Thanks Joel – I am enjoying this discussion – and the spirit in which it is being conducted. Stretching is the word that comes to mind.

    Thanks Craig: I also need to time to absorb all that you’ve written, esp the links, some of which I have read, but I do need to rethink some of my assumptions/thinking. I do appreciate the time you’ve taken to write.

    The question of “most” people is of course problematic, and abstract. But I do agree the many landless people in the world is a big issue if they are to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, land reform seems to get branded socialist and seems to go nowhere in the current system.

    I would say that we are being anthropocentric if we ignore the loss of species and our natural systems, happening now on a drastic scale, which will impact and create greater misery for future generations. The sooner this “upside down” system falls down (or right way up), then the greater chance we have of bequeathing living systems that can provide for future generations.

    But this is a rich and diverse discussion!

    Reply
  16. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    …land reform seems to get branded socialist and seems to go nowhere in the current system.

    Yes, it’s a problem. But, as we both know well, biological systems don’t subscribe to political or economic preferences. It’s a fact that the larger in scale you go, the more compromises you must make with your methods of working the land, and, larger scale is only possible with fossil fuels. If we want to be truly sustainable (i.e. if we want to stop postponing the inevitable), we need people on small parcels of land. Until the fossil fuel era, that’s the way it always was. There’s no real way around that, short of ignoring reality and continuing to beat the dead horse.

    I would say that we are being anthropocentric if we ignore the loss of species and our natural systems, happening now on a drastic scale, which will impact and create greater misery for future generations. The sooner this “upside down” system falls down (or right way up), then the greater chance we have of bequeathing living systems that can provide for future generations.

    Agreed again – but I do have some desire to save my own skin as well, and that of my children. :)

    Personally I’d like to see holistic, biological soil science and permaculture in mainstream education, and now. When people understand soil science – from not just a chemical standpoint, as do the reductionist industrial scientists, but from a biological standpoint – it makes arguments over political ideologies look rather ridiculous, and helps crystalise what ‘format’ the human race needs to take if it wants to survive, and survive with happy prosperity.

    I think reinventing/transitioning the world can be done, theoretically at least, and without sinking into totalitariansim/fascism/feudalism/chaos, etc., but only if we gain a critical mass of understanding, and we recognise our starting point (right where we are now – a consumer based, extraction-oriented society), and where we need to go, and we start to incentivise the right things (‘get small, or get out’, and changing the central corporate charter worldwide – see this as a small start, and here), and start to value the right things, and educate, educate, educate, reskill, reskill, reskill.

    The beauty of natural systems, when you do study them, is that it shows you a ‘format’ that is both cooperative, and yet free. The Anglo Saxon world has focussed far too much on nature’s competitive aspects, and in doing so has failed to notice the overwhelming aspects of cooperation and interdependence that allows for the survival of all elements within the biosphere.

    Thanks for the comment thread. It’s encouraging when I see people being objective.

    Reply
  17. Carolyn Payne

    Do I smell a whiff of revolution in the air? I have been following this site since mid 2008 and have read most stories and comments in that time. Is the status quo about to be flipped like a coin toss and suddenly Craig might be in trouble for not inciting revolution sooner?
    Being in trouble for not trying hard enough is one of the things I fear most, as I know that my friends and relatives who now mock me for my work and future preparedness will come back to me when things are dire in their consumer driven, first world lives and lynch me anyway.

    Reply
  18. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    :) Carolyn, I’ve been trying to incite the same kind of revolution since 2008 – a revolution that runs down up, top down, sideways, and with its basis in education, education, reskilling, reskilling, and sensible policy changes that would incentivise and incubate sanity and transition. Nothing has changed on my part – perhaps just more people are listening now. At least I hope so. Before I started with this site, I was editor for another. I’ve pretty much seen and/or written about every converging woe imaginable, and every proposed solution.

    I hope it doesn’t come down to bloodshed (although it already is in some places), but I suspect it might if people don’t start taking these issues seriously.

    Reply
  19. Caelan MacIntyre

    Coincidentally and concurrently, over at ‘The Oil Drum’, I have two short threads. (Tribe Of Pangaea moniker)
    They mention a touch of my idea– Permaea– and PRI, Craig, and other stuff. Please read and tell me what you think:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9395/910415
    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9395/910346

    A quote from the conversation:

    “Think of, say, permies’, land as nodes of a global mesh. Then, think of a decentralized country that forms from that mesh– hell-bent on ‘Care of Earth/Care of People’ and their surplus fed back into each.

    A ‘glocal meshed decentralized country’ (that at once transcends and subverts old state borders. How are artificial borders any good for earth and life on it?)

    Now, what would happen if it spread? Well that may be the way out. Out of the corporate-state-oligarchy prison.

    So it’s not that the land is owned per se, but that it is acquired to place into a trust, if that’s the right word, back into a commons, and shared…”

    Reply
  20. Joel

    Love it Caelan, love it! A natural holarchical society – anarchy in biological, creative, reality. We and our systems, like all natural entities, are naturally wholes that transcend the sum of their parts, and are in turn parts of further emergent wholes. A cultural organisation that reflects this reality is a natural way to Permanent Culture, where by permanent we also mean creative, emergent and ever changing, as successful living things/systems always are.

    Reply
  21. Carolyn Payne

    Yes Craig, absolutely, more people are listening now. Every day a new person tips over into a new field of thought and examines their life and they search for an alternative, I like meeting those people.
    I know how much you are working to help bring about a bloodless revolution, for want of a better term.
    I have been reciting a similar vision to yours,(as many of us are) in my own words, to my friends, family and community, and I have found it means very little to them coming from me, but as soon as they hear my words echoed out there in society they come back telling me about this interesting thing they heard.
    So critical mass, some sort of saturation point, whatever that percentage is, is the answer.
    I will find it really ironic if at some point, after appearing radical, you will appear moderate, yet nothing will have changed except peoples perception.
    I think I saw a little glimpse of that.
    And thank you so much for that Mitchell and Webb skit, I am learning it off by heart so I can recite it to people, absolute classic.

    Reply
  22. Caelan MacIntyre

    Thanks, Joel, that’s encouraging.
    I decided to pull out all stops and finally write an article about it– at least to touch upon it and simply get it out there so it can be discussed, elaborated on, etc., so that’s what I’m doing. It’s kind of finished already, but I’m trying to think if anything more should be added or if it should just be kept simple to begin.
    I did consider that perhaps the article could be co-written, and/or polished-up such as by whomever might be interested.

    In any case, I’ll check back on this thread over the coming week and try to finish and submit the article within that time and see what happens.

    Reply
  23. bob tatnell

    As soon as Craig Mackintosh gets a sniff that someone is actually ‘doing’ permaculture, they become a target of unreasonable criticisms for not being activists. Craig’s ‘lynching’ comment and his ‘destructive living’ comment border on irrationality.(August 11, 3.57am)
    It is high time that Craig and Nick Huggins did a little research on how Bill Mollison has been knocking back donations of land for 40 years, and learn from that!
    We are putting permaculture into practice, and six years down the track are bordering upon viability; one could imagine that Craig might like to pay a visit sometime, instead of making vulgar comments designed to exclude us from the discussions.

    Reply
  24. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Bob, I am not criticising people for not being activists. I was trying to express that when people don’t have bread, it’s dangerous to just say ‘let them eat cake’. If people have no land, it’s dangerous to just say ‘go into the garden, and forget the system’. If the system doesn’t change, then permaculture will remain the domain of a lucky few, and ultimately they will not accomplish what they could.

    Reply
  25. Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor

    Bob – I just want to ensure you understand me fully, hence this follow-up comment. I think you’ve taken offence that I never gave.

    My comments were based on this initial comment of yours:

    …just keep the permaculture rolling and ignore the ‘reality’ of the world

    I am not attacking you for what you’re doing. Running a permaculture demonstration site is commendable. If I ever have opportunity I would be happy to accept your invitation to visit and potentially profile it. We need millions of permaculture demonstration sites, so I only encourage you in your part of that work.

    What I am just trying to say is that I don’t think we can “keep the permaculture rolling” if we “ignore the ‘reality’ of the world”.

    Consider Person X and Person Y. Person X lives in a ghetto on the fringes of a city in, say, Nigeria. Person Y lives in a high-rise in Tokyo. Person X perhaps makes a living selling things he finds amongst the garbage on the fringes of the city. Person Y makes a living in a factory producing electronic components. Person X has no possessions worth mentioning, but no debts. Person Y has a lot of gadgets, many of them out of necessity, due to where he lives (a refrigerator, etc.), and other gadgets he felt he ‘must have’, and he has a lot of debt, much of it due to his purchase of the high-rise apartment.

    Now, because of how ‘the system’ is currently set up, if both Person X and Person Y want to ‘do permaculture’, they must first get some land. How will they do that? Regardless of their vastly different circumstances, they both have to do pretty much the same thing. They must earn much more money than they do today. This means they must totally immerse themselves into the current money economy, finding, if they’re lucky, some small well-paid niche, and in that niche they must do something destructive repeatedly over an extended period of time, competing with their fellow human beings to earn more than those around them, so they can finally, perhaps, purchase a small plot of land. In other words, they must perpetuate the system, and support it, before they can (just maybe), somewhat step out of the system.

    I say ‘somewhat’, as these people may finally have the freedom to grow some vegetables, but perhaps they have no means to make their own clothing from scratch, and perhaps they’ll have to pay someone to build their home, etc. So to one degree or another, they’ll still have to remain in the system, and perpetuate it.

    Now, if the system collapses before they manage to save for and purchase their land, then the window of opportunity has passed them by also.

    I would like us to imagine an alternative system. One where people are rewarded, not for doing something destructive repeatedly over the course of their lifetime, but instead for doing something constructive. And since biology and the laws of EROEI demand we work at small scale, then I think we need to imagine a system that incentivises and makes possible a steady transition to get people back onto the land, and a system that in tandem provides them with the holistic knowledge base they’ll need to make productive and sustainable use of it.

    I think we need to imagine a ‘system’ that enables people to surive whilst doing something constructive, repeatedly over an extended period of time.

    I don’t know what your day job was before you started doing what you’re doing now, but I’m sure you also had to do something destructive, repeatedly over an extended period of time, before you could (somewhat) step out of the system to do what you’re doing now.

    If we now have what most of the world do not have, I just don’t think it’s a good idea to say ‘ignore the reality of the world’. Doing so means we’re saying, “I’m okay, so screw the rest”. If you’re running a demonstration site, and showcasing it to the world, that’s fantastic. But if the system is such that the billions of landless living in the world today will only be able to get into the situation we need them to be in (on the land) by ratcheting up their involvement (and hence support) of that system, then we’re all screwed. Of course, due to energy and environmental constraints, this ‘involvement’ in the system is going to get increasingly unstable, and nonviable. Indeed, the very ‘involvement’ in the system (the repeated destructive acts in our day jobs) is what is causing the system to collapse under its own weight.

    So I don’t attack you for ignoring the reality of the world, but I do respond in the hope I can stop you from recommending others ignore that reality also. We need more movers and shakers who are dissecting the very chassis of this ‘machine’ we call the present economy, and trying to see how it can be rebuilt from the ground up, along holistic lines.

    People worldwide are getting very angry. They are getting angry because they don’t have any opportunities. There is land there that can be utilised, but they have no hope of procuring it. Telling them to “just do permaculture”, and telling others to ignore the system, is just like saying “let them eat cake”.

    Reply
  26. Angelo Eliades

    Hi Craig,

    Totally agree with what you’re saying. I should have elaborated a bit more! To me, as an urban permaculturalist, painfully aware of the lack of access to land for food growing, my approach is to increase people’s awareness of food issues, educate people about ecology, soil biology, etc, ignite their passion for growing food, and then (and this is the part where more progress needs to be made in general in the whole Permaculture community) create a sense of community which is focussed on reskilling/skill-sharing, and on working together to secure unused public land to grow food.

    Big revolutions start with little steps, and growing food is the first step in my mind – teaching about the benefits, reskilling the public and creating community projects with this aim is a critical first step. When growing food in urban centres on public land through cooperative community effort becomes the norm, the rest is easy. When we get to this stage, a major paradigm shift would have already happened in the public perspective.

    I look at society as a Permaculture design, and if we apply our design principles, we can support the important functions – food, water, shelter and community with many elements for resiliency. The most important primarily is self-resiliency/self sufficiency, which can only be created to a degree through community in urban centres.

    My approach has been to target the message to the mainstream, to increase awareness, to focus on people’s immediate practical needs, to create demonstration sites and provide hard evidence to change perspectives. We’re reaching a a whole lot more people this way. As you mention, when we hit a critical mass, then the behaviour of people collectively will shift in a positive direction, and just as pioneer plants prepare the soil for bigger things to come, I believe such actions will create fertile ground for even bigger social changes. Otherwise, the seeds of social change may wither if we plant them in infertile soil in a climate hostile to their growth.

    But before we can bring any of this into our lives, we must take a few steps back from ‘the system’ to create the space and time to bring something new into our lives. I’m not advocating instant complete withdrawal from ‘the system’. Just as ecosystems evolve or come back into equilibrium gradually, so to can our lives.

    We definitely can’t ignore the reality, but if we increase awareness of what is ‘reality’ and what is unsustainable human-constructed reality, we give people a choice, and having a choice is the first step of empowerment.

    Thanks, great article and discussion!

    Reply
  27. Carolyn Payne

    The word ‘context’ is one which keeps nagging at me when I re-read over these conversations.
    The word ‘reality’ is one which has to be taken in context.
    Most people commenting on this and all the other articles on here for that mater are acting on their own ‘reality’ in the context of their own lives.
    What is ‘real’ for someone might be ‘unreal’ for another, for a myriad of reasons.
    The really great thing about Permaculture design is that we can apply every solution we can possibly imagine, but it only makes sense when we use context.
    The ‘Where are we and What happens here’ is a real definition of culture for me.
    So what I am thinking is, in the context of this site, Craig presents us with every angle he can imagine, and we can all be inspired to ACT, within the CONTEXT of our own lives.
    Everyone doing everything they can, in the context of their lives and location and who is with them, will surely have to bring about the change that is needed.
    Can we get that 100th monkey to understand ‘context’.

    Reply
  28. Peter Brandis

    Thanks Caroline for bringing subjectivity and reality into the discussion. There are many aspects of subjectivity and reality that can either help or hinder a move away from a land and people destroying culture and towards the creation of a culture based on biology, generative practices, and fertility.

    It is of course a truism that we all have our own internal reality, our subjectivity. This is the framework that sustains our action and purpose – the view of the world “from the inside”, structured to sustain the concept of a continuing narrative self. Yes, we remake the world in our own way. We often remake the world as sane, survivable, amenable to hope and resolution.

    However, reality breaks through sometimes – not the subjective reality of the self, but the reality of the world. This lack of fit between our subjective version and reality comes into play in extreme moments in our life. When we experience the world as it is, the subjective self can attempt to protect itself from knowledge that threatens the narrative framework (that’s why changing the nightmare of this culture is so damn hard). We say: “This is not happening. This is a nightmare from which I will soon awake.” This desperate delusion looks like being split apart as the numerous crises and violence of the capitalist corporate hegemony come into focus in more and more people’s lives.

    I don’t subscribe to the belief that “Everyone doing everything they can, in the context of their lives and location and who is with them, will surely have to bring about the change that is needed.” But I do subscribe to the practical implication of that statement – as I do what I can, where I can, with people that I can. But I don’t think that that will ever be enough to change the world. And I think it is naïve to think it will. World changing in this modern, destructive time is a much bigger task. It is good to have a discussion here on this important topic and the role permaculture may play.

    In the reality of the world the 100th monkey story is not true – it’s a new age myth, widely debunked. And we can’t base a revolution on fictional monkey stories.

    It is time we viewed the world from the outside, a world no longer our own, a world indifferent to our individual survival. A world being destroyed.

    Reply
  29. Caelan MacIntyre

    Thank you, Geoff– you too!

    And good points, guys, Carolyn. I’m a big fan of such things as (the importance of) context, and the clarification of, and agreement over, semantics.

    Reply
  30. Caelan MacIntyre

    I echo ’100th monkey’ over at The Oil Drum for what is understood to be perhaps a symbol, metaphor and/or story, etc., for some people for something like what I might interpret as ‘critical mass’ or an effect of ‘the six degrees of separation’ or something like that.
    So it is less than always necessary for me to agree with the “truth” behind expressions per se, but rather maybe to agree with others’ apparent meanings behind their usages of them, their gists and so forth.
    Nevertheless, or at the same time, naturally, human culture is steeped in imagery, feelings, imagination, symbolism, myths, dreams, legends, songs, stories, fantasies, moods and so forth, and maybe there’re some truths or even human necessities/needs behind many of them.
    Part of my point might be illustrated by this song, whose lyrics seem based on native stories:
    Timeless Land
    “…just like the wise man who showed the beauty of the creation time… Watching Mother Nature around me, woman created history…”

    Reply
  31. Carolyn Payne

    Yes Caelan, the 100th monkey comment was a metaphor. I use metaphor constantly in my teaching and I work toward helping people get the jist of what changes they can make in their lives.
    Peter, don’t worry if I appear naive(I make the choice consciously) and perhaps have impractical goals, it keeps me busy. I know in the context of my own life what I can achieve and what I can’t. I pick my battles very judiciously.
    And Peter, I am much more interested in where we agree and have common ground than where we may differ.
    Yours Abundantly
    Carolyn Payne
    Mudlark Permaculture

    Reply
  32. Peter Brandis

    Hi Carolyn – thanks for your response. Metaphors (myths, stories, etc) can reveal things differently and more deeply (and allow for differing impacts-impressions on people), but they can also hide things (what interesting things we can find in stories if we dare to look!)

    I was also saying that I share your belief (re doing what I can, where I can …) and I was wondering if I am being naive in having this belief – I really want to believe it will make a difference, but I am not so sure anymore, given the huge momentum of destruction unleashed by the corporate-political-military-industrial machine. It seems to me that this machine only knows destruction and it seems to be embarking on dirtier and dirtier, more abusive, ways of doing-making things that can-will steamroll our permaculture plots.

    Oh, yes, Carolyn we agree mostly I’m sure.

    Best wishes
    Peter

    Reply
  33. Caelan MacIntyre

    …So I guess we can all be reasonably confident that our good subject in the video doesn’t actually think that eggs come out of their ‘arses’ or that he needs to be informed of this. ;)

    Reply

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