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Permaculture advice from Eeyore: "Don't bother. It won't work. You're wasting your effort..."

 
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Disclaimer: I'm not describing a publishing standard or a specific Permies.com rule in this post, just sharing my opinion as one of the many Permies.com volunteer moderators.

There's a thing that sometimes happens where a bunch of wonderful members of this site are collaborating in a thread, brainstorming some sort of difficult or hopeful permaculture technology.  Lately we've had some threads about solar kilns, forges, and similar; these are ambitious and it's far from certain they will ever work.  But people are putting dozens of hours of sweat and toil and skilled craftsmanship into building experimental test beds and prototypes.  Much is being learned.  

Likewise we have dozens of gardening threads at any given time where people are trying to figure out ways to do very difficult horticultural tasks, like growing lemons in Montana or blueberries in alkali soil or anything in hard desert.  

You know what doesn't help?  When somebody parachutes into one of these hardworking threads and brings news from Eeyore the sad donkey: "That will never work.  You're wasting your time.  You'd be better off getting a square job, and using the money to buy what you want from the petrochem-industrial capitalists.  The quality would be better, and you would have time to play computer games.  Doing it that way is too hard.  Trained professionals with expensive capital equipment can do it better.  It's not practical to do it that way. You should be smart and not bother."

'It is all for naught,' said Eeyore.


Obviously I'm horribly exaggerating, for rhetorical effect.  Everyone on Permies.com is far too wonderful to package up all those negative messages in one single post and vomit it out into a thread.  If they did, it would violate publishing standards (like the Be Nice rule, by suggesting that people are foolish timewasters and therefore less than perfect) and it would get moderated somehow.  But what does happen really often is that a nice well-meaning person will miss the point (that we're gathered here to figure out nifty new permaculture ways to do things, not to min/max our lives for perfect efficiency in the oil/chem/industrial economy) and will make a perfectly polite post with some of these negative messages, much more nicely stated.  It's a newbie mistake, but that's cool: everybody was a newbie once!  Still, it can be frustrating for a bunch of people who are trying really hard to do something new and nifty to be told they should abandon that ambition.  

Complicating matters: we here at Permies do a thing all the time that looks superficially the same, but which is in fact very different in spirit.  It happens so often I keep a blurb written up about it to share with frustrated newcomers:

In The Fellowship Of The Ring Frodo famously says "Go not to the elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." Our local version of this ought to be "go not to permies.com for advice on how to do a thing, for they will tell you at length how to do something else entirely."

I'm afraid it's the permies.com superpower. That hard thing you want to do? People imbued with permaculture thinking are much more likely to have some clever scheme for doing an easier thing instead, or possibly even for doing nothing and calling it "more sustainable". I've been on the receiving end of this enough times to know how infuriating it can be, and yet it really is the permaculture way.



Another way I've described this:

Permies.com is not an encyclopedia or a search engine or a vending machine. You can’t just put in your coin and pull the lever and get a nice clean answer; most of us here aren’t LARPing as research librarians. It’s more like climbing the proverbial hilltop to consult a gang of argumentative gurus. They will give you information they think you need, which is not necessarily the information you wanted. And the further it seems to them you might be from a good path as they see it, the less forthcoming they are with practical information about the path you are actually on. Instead you will be showered with maps.



When you're new here, it can sometimes feel like people are always dumping on your ideas.  You ask "How can I do a thing?" and everybody starts telling you why you shouldn't, or why some other thing would be better.  "What's the best tool for chopping this weed?" "Don't chop it, get emus and let them eat it!"  

What may not be clear is how different this permaculture-focused advice is from the kind of negativism where you're telling people, essentially, not to bother trying to do permaculture.  The "argumentative gurus" who tell you not to burn all your dead wood scrap are trying to share permaculture notions with people who want to do more permaculture, better.  The "news from Eeyore" person is trying to tell people who are taking permaculture to the next level that they shouldn't bother.  

Please, please don't bring us news from Eeyore.
 
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I think a lot of what you are seeing is just a natural process. As the market fluctuates, in lock-step the drive to homesteading does as well. And really any sort of moral compass.

Back in 2008 when the housing market crashed, and people suddenly came into inverted mortgages, high unemployment, and a very questionable market overall, the drive to homestead was high, and many gravitated to this type of lifestyle. This was no different then the 1970's "hippy movement". But just as the economy rebounded in the 1980's, and many left the communes and homesteads, now the same thing is happening as well, and many who have homesteaded for years are thinking, "why not just go back to our old life?" So I think some of what you are seeing on posts, is just that, a little higher number of people returning to non-homesteading, and encouraging others to do as well. I am not saying it is right or wrong; I am just stating why I think it is happening more and more.

But this is not limited to homesteading. It is a human thing. I knew a high end cook, who got out of the chef bsuiness when he became a Christian and decided to cook at children's camps as a way of giving back. But after a few years he got disenchanted, grew interested in his old lifestyle, and confided in me that he was going back to his high-end restaurant and just send his money to the camps instead. I think that is flawed thinking for many different reasons, but I bring this up just to show that this happens to a host of people, on many levels.

As for Eeyore, that is just a whimsical name for the internet overall. If you bring up an idea on a forum, for sure 19 out of 20 people will tell you it cannot be done. And to some extent, there is a lot of merit in that. Their concerns really force a person to think through some problems and find solutions to situations that the builder might not have considered. That is research, and behooves anyone. But ultimately, it is up to the person building whether they want to start the project or not, and that is upon them, and if anyone fails to start because of what someone says online, then that silliness is upon them.

This is the good and bad of Permies.

The "bad" is that there is a lot theory floated around on here, and it generates a lot of discussion. This is not really my thing, I am a doer, and so sitting around talking about something is not something I am into. But it is not just a personal thing, this starts something I call, Paralysis by Analysis, which is over-thinking a project so much, it never gets started.

But the "good" of Permies is that I think people on here tend to be open-minded, and embrace new ideas really well.

So myself, I try not to bring up too many things "I plan to do", and instead, if I feel they have merit, just go out and do them, then descibe what I did later. It kind of sucks now as I have limited time and money, but in due time, that will change, and more projects will get done.

 
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