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Why Isn’t it FREE?!? An open discussion.  RSS feed

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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{Getting out the can opener and opening a large can of worms...}

I've read a lot of posts, here and elsewhere, complaining about things not being "free" - especially the PDC, or some other knowledge product - books, videos, podcasts, etc.

The most common arguments I’ve seen lately are:

1. This is great stuff - it can save the planet - but it's not accessible enough if people charge for it.

2. These folks (the creators of materials, teachers, artists) are not following in the third ethic of permaculture which has variously been stated to read:

a. Setting limits to population and consumption by governing our own needs we can set resources aside to further the above principles (Bill Mollison in the Design Manual)
b. Invest the surplus back to the first two ethics (earth care and people care)
c. Fairshare

Let's look at what might happen if everything about permaculture was free.

1. Most of us do NOT value free stuff. We don't even realize we don't value it - we simply take it for granted. Look how we've treated the earth's resources to date. Air, water, soil - all these things are basically "free" - yet we have thoroughly trashed them. Likewise, we rarely stop to value the people in our lives who support us through thick and thin - parents, spouses, friends, etc. These people get little recognition.

2. Now let's look at all the content various permaculturists have created. What did it cost them to get the experience of years or decades? What skills, on top of permaculture skills, did they have to master to create podcasts, interactive websites, videos, and publish these? What recurring costs do they have to maintain those materials? Do they have support staff to help them out and who depend on them for a salary? Most people today DEMAND interaction on the web – that takes a ton of time and lot of headaches. Do these permaculturists have themselves and families to support themselves?

3. And what about the products produced by a permaculture system? Are the fruits, veggies, lumber, meats, cheeses, honey, alt fuel, tools, seeds, etc. also to be free? Would you want a career in a field where there is no possibility of making an income by any means?

4. THIS IS IMPORTANT: When I think something should be different than the way it is , I ask myself if *I* would be willing to do it. Would I work completely for free - right now in THIS world at THIS time in THIS world economy - not some utopian economy that has yet to manifest? If so, how would I meet my basic needs? Would meeting my basic needs take up so much of my time that’s all I could focus on?

If you extrapolate out "but why isn't it free?" - you eventually come to the conclusion that we MUST make decisions to both VALUE and SUPPORT those things which are important to us. Many times this means through actual use of money (which is just a piece of paper that makes exchange of goods simpler). Sometimes this means helping out in some other way like volunteering your time, loaning a resource or sharing a talent.

Every single reputable permaculture entity I've ever associated with has at least some options for work exchange. Having said that, many people still won’t do this because it takes up too much of their time. In essence they're saying that their time and money are valuable, but yours (the person providing the goods or service) is not, and they want you to give them free stuff and offer nothing in exchange. This is equivalent to monocropping in my mind - taking without giving back to the very resource that is supporting you. And when that resource is used up, a new source is found and used heedlessly until it, too, is used up. Do we really want to perpetuate that system? We already know it's not sustainable.

To that end, people doing good work in this field always need volunteers. Ask how you can offer your time and talents to this site or your local permaculture organizations. Don’t make them come to you - offer something yourself first. Pay it forward - then maybe we have a chance at a that more equitable world so many of us desire.

What do you all think?
 
Tom OHern
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I've never paid a cent for my permaculture education. I've watched videos, borrowed books from the library, and read discussions here on permies and on other websites. I've done all this for "free". No, I don't have a certificate that says I am certified, but I don't need one to practice permaculture. With this knowledge, I've built hugelkultur beds that, combined with the manure from my chickens and compost worms, grow food for me and provide forage for my bees that provide me honey for my tea. I have learned how to identify and utilize my micro-climates and plant plants that will thrive best in parts of my yard where otherwise they would die if planted on the other side of my yard. I've done all this with nothing but the materials I've collected from my local area, a few seeds packets every year, the water that falls on my property and what I have learned for free.

The people who think it isn't free are the people who think that they can't do anything until someone tells them that they are allowed to do something. They think that they can't "do" permaculture until they have their Design Certificate. I don't think there is much we can do about those people. They will keep thinking that until they finally realize that everyone else is doing permaculture without waiting for permission.
 
wayne stephen
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Tom , I have learned much the same way . The "free" option that you have utilized is from information streams that were being offered for free. I assume . That is being resourceful and frugal . Not the same as an illegal download of another human beings personal work . I noticed that you use the word me and my when you refer to your chickens , tea , and bees. I do too . Mine !
 
Ann Torrence
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Tom OHern wrote:I've never paid a cent for my permaculture education. I've watched videos, borrowed books from the library,
Ahem, libraries are not free. Your tax dollars bought everything you borrowed.

I get asked for free photos all the time for good causes. My response is this: is everyone else on the project, from editor, writer, printer, and the person on the other end of the phone contributing without pay? If not, here's my rate. Anyone who thinks the content of my book ought to be free is SOL. I spent years researching it, photographing it, writing it. Same with the classes I teach. It takes time to develop material, even more time to gain skill as a presenter. Creative work is real work. What entitles you to that from me for free?

Harlan Ellison's Youtube rant "Pay the Writer" says it far better than I can.
[youtube=www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE[/youtube]

An attitude of entitlement is a sure way to turn off people you probably want to influence. I don't get it, but I wasn't brought up to expect to be given anything I didn't earn.

Edited n times to make the Youtube link work. Then I gave up.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Hey guys - thanks for your excellent posts so far.

Tom - YES - there is a LOT of free stuff out there that is legitimately free - and that is a wonderful resource to use. I use free materials all the time and have gained a HUGE amount of knowledge from these materials.

The problem is with either bootlegged materials (like the link to the Designer's Manual that was out there - NOT COOL) OR people wanting even MORE free stuff who simply aren't willing to do anything in exchange or even look for similar materials themselves. Really - I want to ask these folks - "would you work for free"? I think Ann has a VERY appropriate answer to that question!

Keep it coming folks! Looking forward to hearing your responses on this.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Jeez, Lets see if I can wrap words around some thoughts here.

So much of this to me (as with so many things) comes down to an argument of principle and value and is somewhat hard to explain (and likely to understand) without proper social context - but basically - When I receive something, even if its just someones undivided attention I feel some sort of obligation in return. Really duty, loyalty, and mutual obligation pretty much my operating system. So when someone goes out of there way to help me of benefit me or really is just kind when there is no reason for them to be they better prepare themselves for a near fanatical amount of loyalty and support coming back at them. It seems like the ethical way to run things to me. Financial compensation has never been a motivating factor for me. In fact my bosses always thought it was funny because I never asked to be paid and when I was I just sort of looked at the wad of money before sticking in a drawer never to be seen again.

I work for people when I believe they (and they're projects) are worthy of my time and effort - I respond to good leadership and am unwilling to work for those who don't know have it. Money never enters into my brain. I didn't go into working hard manual farm labor to make money - I did it because I genuinely felt that it was something that would benefit the community and the world as a whole. If I feel something needs doing I'm game to do it and that's the end of that. I believe we all have an obligation and duty to the future - one that has been largely forgotten and set aside in pursuit of individualism and goals of profit. I'm not a huge fan of centralized dictatorial authority but it can not be denied that it does get shit done (Russia and China are amazing examples of this)

Now as it relates to permaculture. First off I believe that everyone is entitled to the fruits of they're labor. You make something and its yours. But this becomes hazy when things don't have clear value. I mean, If I dig a hole in my yard pull out a glob of iron ore, smelt it and make a pot - I have concretely spent a certain amount of time and effort on something unique and tangible. Knowledge and experience are far less tangible and far more open to subjective interpenetration, especially as pertains to there value and how is one to know what the value of ( fill in the blank lets say for instance a session with an instructor).

And I do think knowledge should be freely shared and accessible.

Is that starting to get at an answer? I'd be happy to discuss this more - especially because I feel that an eco-agricultural-social revolution is quite possible the only positive way out of the mess that we've dug ourselves into. Things need to change. People need to act differently. If not us then who?
 
Landon Sunrich
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Also as it relates to boot legged material. I think that taking (literally) the authors work and putting it into action is of far more value that buying a product, reading it, and then letting it sit on a shelf. I personally am in possession of a number of (physical legally obtained) books which convey a huge amount of information. Many of these books are out of print, the authors are dead, and in any case the main people benefiting from their sale is the merchant and the publisher not the author. I'd think that sharing these sources in a way that didn't require wholesale deforestation and transportation would be beneficial to anyone in a permaculture mindset. Especially since the source of their value comes entirely from the knowledge which they contain.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Landon Sunrich wrote:First off I believe that everyone is entitled to the fruits of they're labor. You make something and its yours. But this becomes hazy when things don't have clear value. I mean, If I dig a hole in my yard pull out a glob of iron ore, smelt it and make a pot - I have concretely spent a certain amount of time and effort on something unique and tangible. Knowledge and experience are far less tangible and far more open to subjective interpenetration, especially as pertains to there value and how is one to know what the value of ( fill in the blank lets say for instance a session with an instructor).

And I do think knowledge should be freely shared and accessible.

Is that starting to get at an answer? I'd be happy to discuss this more - especially because I feel that an eco-agricultural-social revolution is quite possible the only positive way out of the mess that we've dug ourselves into. Things need to change. People need to act differently. If not us then who?


Landon - In many ways I agree with you and often find myself working for free - volunteering for things, etc. Even though I have very, very little income.

However, I do disagree with you in one regard and that is I truly believe that knowledge products are indeed "fruits of my labor" - in fact, they are more than just fruits - they are the "value added" fruits of a long and protracted (read years and decades worth) of honing a skill.

People have all sorts of different skillsets and only a few seem to be "valued". Let's take a "for instance".

Here in Phoenix, there was a man who was extremely knowledgeable about plants. I ran a small non-profit at that time - we basically ran on "air and sunlight" (which is why we ultimately failed, btw). I asked him if he would be willing to teach some classes on native plants and he agreed after a bunch of stipulations which I met. The way we structured payment was that he got 50% and the organization got 50%. He agreed to this. We (the organization, not him) - laid out some money, did some pre-advertising, arranged to hold the class at a very prominent nursery in town, etc. He did his standard set of talks (no new material - this was his usual schtick - which is what we'd agreed to). After we had settled up financially - it turns out he had a beef with me - he thought he should get ALL the monies for the classes. I asked him why that would be. He indicated that he did all the work. I said, "is that so? How much work did you put in?" He enumerated the hours that he spent teaching the classes and the amount of time it took him to bike to and from the venue (one of his stipulations was that he had to be able to bike to the venue in under 30 mins - not so easy in a huge city). The total hours came to about 10.

Then I asked him what he perceived that the volunteers at my org did. He shrugged. What went through my head was "REALLY?" So I then enumerated for him the hours spent organizing his classes:
--initial contact with him and agreeing to terms and stipulations (2 hrs)
--finding a venue that fit is "biking" rule and organizing dates and times, checking back with him, renegotiating dates/times (4 hrs)
--advertising his classes, including reaching out to media sources and other interested, similar orgs to mine (11 hrs)
--writing advertising, press releases, and distributing (9 hrs)
--site management - finding chairs for the classes and a mic, getting all the stuff to the site, setting it up, making sure the nursery had the correct plants on hand, etc (20 hrs)
--making up signage, setting up an info table, monitoring the class for anything that could go wrong, getting there early to set up, staying late to tear down (12 hrs)
--following up with class participants to see what types of classes they wanted next (with a thought to hiring this guy again to teach more classes) - setting up surveys, compiling the information, bookkeeping, etc (5 hrs)

There's more, but you get the drift - it took a large effort to organize these classes. But to this guy - all that effort behind the scenes was irrelevant for some reason.

Due to the poor way in which he reacted to the terms that he fully agreed to, and which FAVORED him, we did not invite him back to teach.

That event happened in 2009. He, and his knowledge, have dropped completely off the map now. Apparently, as skilled and knowledgeable as he was with plants, all of this was basically lost when he tried to do it all himself.

This is what so often happens.
 
wayne stephen
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I believe the individual is more important than the state or any economic or political theory / movement . I believe that coersion is wrong unless someone is violating the rights of another . Coersion to perform against your own will is the same whether the bully is a uniformed agent with a gun or a thief with a computer . We cannot force someone to surrender their body or property . I believe in voluntary free associations between consenting people . If someone wants to live in a society that feels intellectual property / labor / real estate is everyones then they should form communities based on that . If it is such a wonderful way to live then your community will shine like a beacon and draw people into it .
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Landon Sunrich wrote: Many of these books are out of print, the authors are dead, and in any case the main people benefiting from their sale is the merchant and the publisher not the author. I'd think that sharing these sources in a way that didn't require wholesale deforestation and transportation would be beneficial to anyone in a permaculture mindset. Especially since the source of their value comes entirely from the knowledge which they contain.


Royalties often go to heirs or to benefit an organization the creator supported, it's similar to passing on land that you own to heirs when you die.
 
Dale Hodgins
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So far, I've seen about a dozen permaculturey things that I may eventually buy. Most information is available free, one way or another. The vast majority of what I see offered for sale, I would not buy or take for free, since I've judged it sub standard. Sometimes when I'm at a bookstore, certain volumes are sealed in plastic. We're supposed to buy them on faith, without taking a peek. I unwrap them and have a good look. It usually turns out that these books are of no more value than the ones being displayed. With the vast quantity of material constantly offered for free, I don't have the time or inclination to steal any that is for sale or even to look for it. Stuff is being printed much faster than I can read it all. YouTube grows at 6000 times the speed of time.
 
Landon Sunrich
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@ Wayne.

I agree more or less completely. I may take issue slightly with the 'is more important than the state' bit. I think the state can be enormously effective and often is - but is the state morally right when it is effective by means of coercion. No. I have often been bother by people who argue that communism is not 'effective' or 'efficient'. It most certainly can be both. Is the trampling of the individual for the necessity of the state evil? Unquestionably. At least in 98 percent of cases. I am not however an Anarchist and do believe that the state can be used as a helpful facilitator of things (though history shows us that all too often it is not)

Edit: regarding the 'more important' bit. My assertion here is that the state can be incredible important in instituting change - perhaps more so than the individual. Not that the interests of the state or the state as an entity should be more important the the individuals that inhabit it. A state that does not hold the rights of every individual equal as well as holding itself to the same standards as the individual is a broken state undeserving of support in my view.

@ Jennifer

Working with self centered people does indeed suck. Sounds like a bad situation and its best to not to continue to deal with such people. Actually, I think that sort of ostrification can be a pretty effective social tool when dealing with people whether or not money is involved.

The problem as I see it (and not to drag up Marx) is so often however the availability and distribution of capital (money) exists in such a way as to make social change - or even thepursuit of happiness - next to impossible. Money is inevitably the limited factor to virtually anyone's endeavors. Compensation for labor (skills, knowledge, et cetera) is also often grossly unrepresentative and disproportionate. For instance - around the country fast food workers are demanding higher than minimum wage. Now regardless about how one feels about that - I would hope that everyone could agree that the skills and labor in actually producing and harvesting that food exceed that which it takes to take an order, drop a frier basket, and collect payment - yet farm workers are paid even less than minimum wage. In fact in going into farming - and even after several years of experience in it it was impossible for me to find a job which payed even minimum wage. Am I rambling? the point is that value and control of capital are completely outside our hands and I would argue the scope of reality. I would say this becomes evident when one looks at the Jerk getting payed 40k a year essentially to sit on his duff and shuffle papers back and forth between playing flash games on the company computer. And it really breaks down when you get to the massive paychecks and bonus which go to people who produce nothing tangible besides fulling cronyism.

 
Landon Sunrich
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Also, though perhaps splitting off into a separate topic - what role does the internet play in permaculture. Not to wonder off completely (ahem) but what with global internet access being an easily reachable goal in the very near future and no real rule of law when it comes to intellectual property and all?

Say like - I invent a self cleaning plumbing system out of tin cans and some old mycillium, or a greenhouse out of pop bottles or whatever. Do I hoard it to myself until I find an attorney and a publisher? Or do I share it for the world to see? and what if people in the coastal Philippines or the inundated salinated parts of Bangladesh are like 'sweet a floating greenhouse with water filtration!' how do I get my cut? I should get like ten percent of all future produce produced and a nickel a gallon of water for ever and ever based on anything resembling my design right? Can and should I charge more for people living in the US and Canada who have a higher adjusted income? Is merely being the first one to put up an instructional video (or web post) be sufficient to claim ownership on these? I'm swimming deep water here because I really don't get how this money stuff works. I keep thinking the name of the game in the 21st century 'crisis time' paradigm is one of broad distribution and easily implementable solutions. To my mind money as it currently exists seems to be nothing but a complicating factor. Especially as it relates to the goals of my basic understandings of a permaculture* Have I lost anyone? Everyone?

* more trees, cleaner water, enough food for everyone born into the world, yada yada yada.

Edited extensively for semi-coherence
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