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Permaculture: A Designers' Manual - Chapter 14 THE STRATEGIES OF AN ALTERNATIVE GLOBAL NATION  RSS feed

 
Burra Maluca
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14.1 Introduction
14.2 Ethical basis of an alternative nation
14.3 A new United Nations
14.4 Alternatives to political systems
14.5 Bioregional organisation
14.6 Extended families
14.7 Trusts and legal strategies
14.8 Developmental and property trusts
14.9 Village development
14.10 Effective and working groups and right livelihood
14.11 Money and finance
14.12 Land access
14.13 An ethical investment movement
14.14 Effective aid
14.15 Futures
 
Ann Torrence
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Let me preface this by saying that most of my worst problems in my life have been self-inflicted results of assuming I know what is best for other people. I have spent decades trying to recover from the twin evils of believing I know better and undoing the damage of those who thought they knew what was best. My life became much happier and more manageable when I embraced the fact that the proper limit of my sphere of influence is rightfully no larger than an imaginary hula hoop about my waist.

What is missing from all of Mollison's vision is belief that individuals, with adequate options and information, make the best choices for themselves. I see nothing in his arguments that appeals to anything other than altruistic motives or compulsion by a group. Since I believe that people deserve to make their own mistakes, profit from their own initiative, and that incentivization works better than any governing body to foster changed behavior, this whole program is a non-starter.

That said, Mollison's version of eco-utopia sounds to me like an unnumbered level of Dante's hell. I grew up in HOA-dominated California suburbia, I worked in academia, I know the horrors of committees and boards. I am doing my utmost to resist annexation by the nearest village, by Mollison's account a right-sized community, because the California move-ins want to ban roosters in a rural town under 200! I don't need any more nanny-statism in any kind of uniform.

I actually even disagree with his first premise, that communities should be formed of individuals with shared visions. We are seeing the concentration of people into not only red states and blue states, but even red and blue towns and precincts, all to the detriment of civil society. One of the greatest losses in the latter part of the 20th century has been the civic club, where the neighborhood plumber, banker and bishop all worked together on common goals, despite the fact that they disagreed on many aspects of culture. We have forgotten as a society that we don't need to agree on everything to work together to do something for our common good.

Incentives work. Think about how different the outcomes would have been if the CRP had paid farmers to increase the organic matter in their soil, instead of paying them to do nothing. Disincentives work too. I might even support nuclear power IF the corporations had to finance it cradle-to-grave, could not go bankrupt, and held the corporate officers personally responsible for negligence. Germany, I believe, has mandated cradle-to-grave responsibility for products like electronics, where the consumer can return the product for recycling, which has changed manufacturing processes to reduce costs of materials handling on the back-end. Yes, the consumer pays for this, but directly, rather than indirectly through landfills, pollution and superfund sites. Amory Lovins' ideas about directly accounting for all costs associated with a product as a way to measure costs and include them in the cost of doing business rather than shifting them to the public has greatly influenced my thinking here. And the idea that corporations can shield individuals from personal responsibility for some of the world's most egregious crimes must go. Only America is crazy enough to give corporations the rights of human beings and yet allow corporations to impinge on the rights of all individuals to breathe clean air. If you want to really change the way the world is structured, destroy the corporate quarterly earnings reporting cycle so that businesses have to account for the long-term impacts of their actions in their valuations and returns. (Yeah, like that is going to happen.) If a forestry products company really had to show on the books its future value of trees in its care, you can bet there'd be a lot more attention to those trees. It is true, you get what you measure.

Mollison's proposals rely heavily on good leadership in a myriad of committees. What I have seen time and again is that good leadership is scarce, and that particularly in small communities, it is the same folks that get pressed into service over and over until they are burnt out. A community needs to take good care of its volunteers, but what usually happens is the doers get bashed by those who don't want to do the work, but don't agree with every detail of the outcomes. Delegation of responsibility means accepting most of the results without complaint, under the banner of "how important is it?" One of the best little festivals in Utah went under because the advise-and-consent overseers wouldn't step up to do the actual organizing, just kept criticizing, until the two or three key people got fed up and quit. There just aren't enough good leaders to effect Bill's plan, even if I wanted to leave under the lack of freedom that likely would result through the land trusts, coops and group management of so many resources.

Rather than more Bill-bashing, I want to toss out this observation: that the Internet has made some of his recommendations superfluous, and others tremendously more easy to implement. Like-minded groups can form on Facebook in an instant. No one need produce and mail a newsletter anymore. The costs of organizing have been drastically reduced. And the local barriers to finding like-minded folks have been bridged by many new tools, like this very forum. Information flows as easily as water, at least to those that can afford a computer and connection. How differently he might have written this chapter today with the tools available to us.

In my world, some people are kind, generous and do the right thing. Some people are greedy. Sociopaths will continue to exist. Some people will spend more time trying to figure out how to cheat any system rather than do a lesser amount of work to obtain the same ends. I don't see any form of top-down governance that can change human nature, or even manage all of its potential variants of crazy. He is right in that something has to change, however. If we keep doing the same thing, we will get the same result. For me the way forward is to take responsibility for my own actions, my own capital, my land, and not get too wrapped up in telling others what they should be doing. If I get results you want, you will ask me how I did it. There's a phrase from another part of my world: "attraction rather than promotion." It's just another way of saying "be the change."
 
Erica Wisner
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I'm still working on this chapter, but I agree with most of Ann's concerns.

Another thing I had trouble with was redefining "nation" and "family" to mean "a collection of individuals with common values, ethics, and goals."
That's an intentional community, or a religion, not a family.

I also have a personal definition of 'nation' - a 'nation' is the kind of state that arises from people of a common history and culture. States can also be defined by territories, or declared as a province of an invading empire or warlord. I would say it takes several generations before a raw, new state composed of subjects unrelated to each other can bond into a nation as such, and a body of governing families that are separate from the populace of the nation might never gel into a coherent nation. You can have a very powerful government or state, and a very functional economy, but if your 'nation' is not composed of this kind of inter-related group, then there may be several minority 'nations' within it that will be continually oppressed. I wonder if this would make India a set of 4 'nations' under my definition. You see the problem with redefining terms!
I think you can have a set of races or minorities that together form a nation. This sort of nation is not necessarily superior to a state whose population is fragmented without shared history; longstanding dysfunctions and violence can be simmered under the surface in an established nation, or it can become an infectious imperial culture of its own. But nations of this type have a slightly different nature and character than modern nation-states as defined by a territory and governmental authority. Modern nation-states can be governed by people with zero connection or awareness of the population at ground level; tribal nations at least spring from more of an 'evolved' culture (not higher evolved, just evolved vs. declared a priori). So if the tribal leadership is separate from their population, to some extent it's the population that has made it this way over time.

If a nation has shared a history and a landscape for many generations, then they may be capable of making sound decisions that are consistent with both culture and ecology, in a way that a novel state or a usurping governor may not be. The Golden Bough describes a king as selected to represent his land, and butchered when the land sickens... that's a lot more investment than we now have with elected leadership!

...
Back to families:
I do hear that many people have trouble finding common ground within their families. This is particularly common during that period of exploration in one's young adulthood (when the familiar gets stale and you are almost compelled to go look for your own identity elsewhere), and for some people whose identity-crisis turns into a breaking point where they can't go back and fit into that original family. American families are particularly fragmented and individually mobile; it's common to choose marriage partners (sometime serially) without regard for how they might fit into one's extended family. You may feel you have far more in common, identity-wise, with the city you live in than the family who raised you.

But as someone who comes from a fairly functional, large, extended family on both sides, I see some big differences between a real "family" or "clan" and the hypothetical interest-based clans and tribes described here.
Actual genetic kinship, and the cultural kinship that comes from being raised together by the same group of people, creates a bond that is different from that created by common interest. There are also rivalries and balances of power between siblings and between generations in a family, that seem to play out differently from interest-based group politics.

Families struggle with similar factors at many levels: between siblings, parents and children and grandchildren, spouses, and sometimes big clans of cousins.
- autonomy: the balance between personal autonomy and respect for authority (parental often, but sometimes a family is 'organized' by a senior sibling or officious hostess);
- money: the choices of how to manage family budgets; the relationships between wealthier or higher-earning member, hardworking but unpaid members, dependents, and those perceived as 'worthless'
- rivalry: the struggle for affection, power, and respect, often intensified by the same desperately deep affections that can bind the family together ("mom loves you best" stings a lot more than "you're more popular at school")
- trust, and the degree of loyalty demanded to avoid accusations of "betrayal" - this is an issue for any group, but sometimes becomes paramount in defining families and outcasts; the family being "where they have to take you in" means that betrayals can be repeated and relationships carry lasting resentments as a result
- shifting personal roles: age, gender, and birth order come with both duties to and burdens on the family; a family (unlike a community) can't exclude members based on incompetence or age, though they may shun members who break the 'rules'.

The notion of a common ethic or interest in families does occur, but is rarely a defining factor in whether someone belongs to the family (except when a difference of opinion or ethics is defined as a "betrayal," above).
Most families have black sheep; members who stay close to home and those who wander off to explore the world; and members who are more interested in money, or academics, or hands-on work, or family and social caregiving; urban or rural or wilderness lifestyles; or whose personal vocation remains undefined or unacceptable. Families contain a fair amount of diversity, but they do tend to specialize into types of skills or interests. The above groupings like finance, academics, trades, etc. may also represent trends in particular families.

There is a great deal of benefit to the practice of families raising offspring, or bringing in interested kids from among nieces, nephews, and in-laws, to maintain a family trade. A career sailor who starts at 18 or 20 will almost never catch up with one who was thrown in a fish-hold at age 3. Not all families have a family vocation; and not all children should follow their family's vocation; but it's a real shame when an artisan butcher of 4 or 8 generations closes down due to lack of interest from the new generation. Some arts literally depend on continuous practice; knowledge can be lost, but more importantly, that butcher's block has a microbiota that knows its job as well. The world may actually lose a certain cheese, or heirloom crop, if the family abandons its production. Some families, likewise, specialize at the genetic level. A porter in the Andes won the race along the Inca trail, traversing in about 3 hours a trek that most visitors accomplish over 3 or 4 days. Some skills and abilities are bred, not learned.

I mention this because it seems like the 'autonomy and personal creativity' of the 70's and 80's sometimes assumes that a person SHOULD be able to leave their family and start over to realize their dreams.
As a society, some dreams simply can't be achieved by starting over in every single generation. We need some consistency, some loyalty to past practice, in order to see the fruits of certain experiments and practices reach their full potential.
...
Intentional communities, and interest groups, struggle with:
- the idealist's dillemma: trying to live with people who "SAY they share my beliefs, but DO things DIFFERENTLY [than I wish they would, or than I do them, or both]."
- governance: inclusion vs. hierarchy, expedience vs. expertise vs. inclusion, compounded by the idealist's dilemma from all participants
- practice vs. theory (getting things done instead of just talking about them)
- imbalance of roles e.g. mostly young adults, gender imbalances, or a concentration of certain skills and an intolerance for other methods e.g. artists' colonies may contain very few accountants.

In Ernie's and my observation of intentional communities, the most common reason for schism is a sense of betrayal: you expect everyone there to share your ideals, YOUR WAY, and therefore to understand the implications of those ideals for the way things should be done. This almost never happens in communities made up of real, thinking people - especially in communities made up of people who have rejected their birth culture for some reason and are trying to create an 'ideal' culture while believing their birth culture is wrong. (They come disproportionately from dysfunctional families, and/or from a stance of personal irritation and rejection of others' opinions.)
Incidentally, Christian monastic communities experience many of the same struggles that environmental, new-age, and artists' communities do, and they have a long history of well-recorded practices in self-feeding garden-plus-study communities that can be very interesting to look at.

The other thing that intentional communities struggle with, as Bill observes, is governance. Bill dismisses consensus and describes a consensus process of utterly rejecting it. He proposes a relatively anarchistic system of small working groups that 'get things done,' and while that's not a bad de-facto arrangement, it doesn't really address the need for decisions that handle issues of the community as a whole.

I have heard about very functional communities that used consensus - but as part of an actual, related, clan-elected leadership structure for considering only very large decisions affecting the whole group, and as a system of checks and balances essentially to prevent the making of decisions that could adversely affect the whole group. (Iroquis confederacy). This form of consensus was based in a historical, spiritual life practice as well as in clan-based pressures to preserve the whole group's common interests; leaders and the people who elected them seemed to take their responsibilities seriously.

For any large-group decision-making process to function well, and preserve the individual creative empowerment that Bill favors, there has to be trust between a smallish set of designated decision-makers (experts, leaders, elected reps, or simply working-groups), and the others affected by their decisions. People have to trust the carpenter to know where and what size of woodshed is needed; the road-builder or a planning committee to do a good job of evaluating the best placement of the roads; and then the community as a whole will have to determine which infrastructure they will invest in (and support the maintenance of), and which things are to be left as private enterprises, privately funded. No matter that the deciders are accountable for the funding - any community exists in a relatively fixed territory and husbands certain resources, and you could easily have several conflicting schemes arise trying to self-fund and re-organize those same resources.

... permaCULTure...

As I was reading this chapter, Ernie and I both came to the conclusion that what's being created here bears more resemblance to a religion or cult (cultural movement) than to a science.
The process of observation and problem-solving still hasn't been trained in depth; instead, a series of prescriptive or acceptable alternatives have been defined, and a lot of what's been declared is opinion.

Ultimately, the idea that the world needs more 'designers' and you can hardly fail to do better than what's being done now by governments and populations....
bears a lot of resemblance to "missionary" cults, including the cult of science (1950's and '60's cult of better-living-through-chemistry).

It's a progressive notion (that with determined effort things get better over time), not a cyclical one; and not very humble when it comes to regarding the work of millenia of natural forces, or generations of locally-adapted culture in many regions.
I personally hold out the hope that as soon as transportation becomes expensive enough, we will be forced to live with the results of our actions on a multi-generational level, and regions will develop sustainable land ecologies or fail. Right now, the consequences of failure are global, and the rewards of exploitation highly stratified to individuals.

It takes a sense of being part of something larger than oneself to live ethically. One must sometimes be willing to take a pay cut, take the long view, or plant trees that will not be harvested
Bill's vision fails on this count: it puts the individual at the center, as "designer," and only loosely associates the sum of such individual grandiosity into a movement larger than one person.

The vision that I think needs to be re-cultivated does get lip service: the notion that we need to regard other beings, not just people but all living things, as intrinsically worthy of respect, care, life, and the resources necessary to sustain life. That ultimately our life, survival, and success depends on a thriving community of other living things, and that environments reduced to cookie-cutter homesteads or monocrops of identical species are impoverished and vulnerable.
I think the practice of permaculture as I've seen it is largely benign, and in many cases life-saving.
But we remain vulnerable to this colonial (Australian and American) upstart ambition: to digging in with the bulldozer before the landscape has been appreciated or understood. In doing so, we sacrifice countless living things to our vision for a sustainable future. If the vision does not pan out in reality, then the movement can no longer claim to be benign unless its side effects outweigh the damage caused by ill-conceived design moments.

After three years on the landscape here, I'm barely starting to understand what relationships might exist; I'm barely at the point where I can plant trees without disturbing frightfully common creatures like canada geese and mallards. But in re-establishign some cattails and pulling black plastic this past weekend, I lost a whole skein of frog eggs without even knowing what kind they might be. Might have been salamander eggs, even.
I also discovered a neighboring valley on a drive the same weekend, which contains larch double or triple the size (and presumably age) of what I've seen before, and an intact series of beaver-ponds and beaver-coppiced woods. I am still learning to distinguish the most basic traits of plants. Do cattails all grow on a level because the water is level, but the cattails are actually at many different depths? Or do I need to transplant cattails at almost exactly the same depth as I found them?
To become a caretaker of rare and endangered species, or actually repair the damage of previous bulldozer work without making it worse, I am going to need a lot more than good design skills. I need a depth of knowledge and observation that can only come with extensive time in the landscape, eyes open and soul humble; and from large, committed, groups of people, who raise children with their eyes open and pass on the heritage that previous generations have learned.

The "theory of extinction" is less than 300 years old, and the idea that catastrophic extinctions do happen was barely proven in the late 20th century. We are in the midst of a 6th mass extinction event that can largely be traced to our current practices of agriculture and land-alteration. We are either at 11:58 on the lily-pond clock, or well past capacity and cannibalizing the resources needed for recovery, depending on who you ask. We may be past the point where we can preserve anything but a pocket of remnants of what our species received as its birthright.

So if the book has been useful to you, the next step is to walk out there and figure out what your landscape actually needs from you. Not starting out as a designer, manager, or farmer; not with any pre-conceived production goals about livestock or timber or gardens. But as a steward and caretaker, like a librarian at their first day on the job, we need to understand what's there and how it's organized. Until we have a curator's or steward's understanding of what's already there, we must rely on local authorities to inform us - we can trust someone else's word for what invasive species to remove, or what perennial trees may do well there (without being invasive, or by virtue of being native and welcome in their re-invasion). But if we place our personal, creative autonomy as the priority, we stand a very good chance of massive error.

A local farmer chided me while I was getting instructions for housesitting someone else's rabbits: "Don't you know you never make suggestions until you've been on the job 6 months?"
The permaculture design world is full of people who consider themselves trained to make suggestions after 6 hours on a site, or less.

We need to increase the depth of time in the landscape; and increase those relationships of respect and trust among locally-established teachers.

The good news is that doing so is an incredibly satisfying pleasure. I'm in way better shape these days after hauling logs and snow, pulling pond-plastic, and planting trees all over our acreage the past month or two.

I guess I'm speaking for myself more than anyone else. I'm a writer, illustrator, and a trained draftsperson and curriculum designer; the idea that what's needed in my own life is more "design" is clearly not the direction I need to go. (although some organization might be very useful).
For myself, the most-needed components for better-integrated land management are: observation, and practice.

I can imagine that others may read this after years on the land - in the Forest Service or local agriculture, say - and find the idea of design is exactly what's missing from their activities and practice.

I would still stress 'kaizen', incremental improvements based on local observation, over sweeping design changes as an initial approach on all but the most degraded of landscapes.
Any scrap of established, thriving, feral or wild life is precious these days.
...

I'll report back when I've finished the chapter. Do we want to conclude next week with a "review and summary" discussion, where we might each review the book as a whole?

Yours,
Erica W
 
Ann Torrence
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Erica Wisner wrote:
I'll report back when I've finished the chapter. Do we want to conclude next week with a "review and summary" discussion, where we might each review the book as a whole?

Great minds and all that! Burra is going to make us a "Victory Dance" thread to sum up and celebrate.
 
Janet Dowell
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Wow, some great thoughts here, ladies (women?).

Ann, I agree with pretty much everything you said, esp. the part(s) about corporations. And the dearth of leadership, at least in some part to way too many advise-and-consent (but do nothing) people, who have seemed to proliferate in the last few decades. Who, really, would run for public office now a days other than the most thick-headed? You'd be nuts to want to put your family through that. But I digress.

Erica, I had some interesting thoughts while reading your post. I know someone who attended sepp holzer's advanced training workshop at the Place of Gathering in MT. She had very mixed feelings about it, because she really felt that he came in and instantly imposed a design across the landscape and that there was a lot of damage done to living things (whole nests of baby turtles), etc. during that wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am process. I do believe that sometimes there may have to be short-term damage done in order to instigate larger, whole-systems healing and restoration, but our whole cultural mindset does tend to originate from that "stand-aside here, folks and let me show ya how it's done" and so we miss how much of it we do. All the time. So much so that we don't even recognize how deep and prevalent that belief is in ourselves and our culture. (BTW, not trying to Sepp-bash here, but my friend is a long-time permie and very experienced and it was interesting to hear her feedback.) Loved your thoughts on observations of the land and relationships as well.

I actually skipped Chapter 13 - just ran out of time. Will plan on finishing this one, though and then heading back.

Is it down to us three at this point?
 
Erica Wisner
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I am still stuck with my similar misgivings about disturbing the ducks to restore the pond.
Should I wait until fall? should I try to get it done this year, so we can start re-filling the pond?
(I want to get as much of the plastic removed as possible while the water level's low enough to reach it.)

I finished the chapter. there wasn't much of it left after I wrote, it turned out.

I do feel like connecting with others who share the same goals is important. But I don't think that permanent communities naturally form on that basis; at least, not often.
I think subgroups within permanent communities, like clubs and garden societies and co-ops, can easily form around shared goals and passions.

I really didn't get much from the flow charts in this chapter.
Just trying to understand tax structures for a small business / self employment is pretty intimidating, and I am in a position where I more or less have to do that unless I want to find a "real job."
Let alone trying to structure and maintain accounts for multiple not-for-profit groups. I suppose it would make sense to hook up with other folks who know how to work such structures. I really don't want to be the person creating such legal entities, however.

For me personally, I'm trying to invest my time in specific people who make my life better, and who seem to also be investing a lot of their time in labors of love that make the world better.
Like my favorite local organic farmer, the folks who keep the plant sales and school gardens going, interesting Kickstarter projects, or Paul's work to gather and share useful info via these forums and workshops.
Sometimes we do pro-bono consulting for groups that are working on social equity projects.
I suppose I should keep trying to get to the point where I have money to invest, and then figure out what to do with it, in a way that seems likely to support me into old age. On that front, getting a day job (such as becoming a science teacher or something) would be the 'sensible' approach. But investing time and physical effort seems to keep me healthier and happier, though it leaves me without a lot of excess money to invest. I suppose if the currency collapses but I'm still friends with people who grow food, it will all seem worthwhile. And if the currency and economy don't collapse, due to the resilience of local social networks somehow preventing a run on the banks, I will never know it was my own doing.
-Erica
 
Ann Torrence
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Erica Wisner wrote:I am still stuck with my similar misgivings about disturbing the ducks to restore the pond.
Should I wait until fall? should I try to get it done this year, so we can start re-filling the pond?
(I want to get as much of the plastic removed as possible while the water level's low enough to reach it.)

My inclination would be to pull the band-aid off all at once.

Erica Wisner wrote:
For me personally, I'm trying to invest my time in specific people who make my life better, and who seem to also be investing a lot of their time in labors of love that make the world better.
Like my favorite local organic farmer, the folks who keep the plant sales and school gardens going, interesting Kickstarter projects, or Paul's work to gather and share useful info via these forums and workshops.

Another phrase from a different part of my life: "run with the winners." Meaning there is no help in getting where I want to go by hanging with the egomaniacs, hand-wringers, excuse-makers, and negative Nancys. The winners, in my experience, encourage, support and sometimes tell you the hard truths I might not want to hear. Choosing the right people to invest my energies in can make the all the difference.
 
Erica Wisner
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[Edited to remove duplicate content]

If anybody has concrete tips on how to use our collective powers and privileges for good
- e.g. getting one's community and nation focused on problem-solving and regenerative work instead of selfishness, war, and other destructive habits
- or even how to designate one's taxes for supportable causes and not get penalized for doing so -
I'd be very interested to hear them.


-Erica
 
Ann Torrence
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When you finish, post your concluding thoughts on the entire read and take your victory dance.
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