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Anti-Pattern Capitalism

Obtain a yield — Permaculture principle three

At first glimpse it might seem like capitalism is a fulfillment of permaculture principle three. Still, this is wrong! A true yield is from a surplus of natural and human capital for us and generations to come. Permaculture principle ten tells us to use and value diversity. Capitalism tells us to value just one kind of yield, a yield of money and wealth.

Industry and production should have been based upon all available knowledge and had product benefits and health as goals. — Terje Bongard

Capitalism is too much about patents and hiding knowledge from competitors and consumers. Profit is the ultimate goal, not health and product benefits. This gives us artificial food like chicken nuggets, and mass production of short lived products lasting one year while they could have lasted 100 years, like for incandescent bulbs.

I think that there are two kinds of capitalism:

  • Capitalism as an ideology, which is a tool for egoism.
  • Capitalism as a tool in a larger pattern language.

Capitalism as a tool can be beneficial when part of a pattern language, and when consisting of small and slow money. You might call this small and slow capitalism. Capitalism as an ideology has placed itself above any other pattern, and cannot be part of any kind of a pattern language. This is because capitalism as an ideology is an anti-pattern, one of the most dominant anti-patterns in the world today. Capitalism as an ideology is founded upon two laws or dogmas:

  1. Profit is above all.
  2. Less regulation gives the better outcome.

Rule two, to avoid regulation, helps rule one, to maximize profit.

The WTO (World Trade Organization) is working for the implementation of anti-pattern capitalism worldwide, marketed under phrases like “ free trade” in “the free market” and “market economy.” To support their mission they use the fashion of globalism.

Profit can be achieved in following ways:

  • The workers get paid less than what products are sold for.
  • The products are sold for more than their value.
  • The products are made as cheap and with as short life span as possible to increase the turnover.
  • You use as little money as possible on working conditions, just enough to not adversely influence production.
  • Raw materials and resources are sourced as cheaply as possible and in large enough quantities to make them cheap.
  • You use as little money as possible to deal with and dispose of waste.

Politics is in the end all about how the problems these points create can be counteracted or regulated. — Det Biologiske Mennesket

The thousand dollar question then is: Why implement such a major anti-pattern in the economy and then use all your energy to control it?

Capitalism could have been nice some thousand years ago with a few hundred thousand people on Earth. The human brain was evolved in the Great Rift Valley in a limited world with unlimited resources. Today we live in an unlimited world with limited resources. Still, capitalism is based upon unlimited growth, and we will soon have seven billion people on this Earth. The human brain has not changed. Those who got the most resources were our forefathers — nothing has changed. Capitalism promises unlimited wealth. This is euphoria for the male brain, because wealth is access to women and sex. Or to quota Bobbi S. Low: “I’d rather be the third wife of JFK than the first wife of Bozo the clown.”

Libertarianism claims that capitalism is like water, it evens everything out. No, this is not true! Capitalism is like the sun always shining — people are happy until all the water is evaporated, leaving nothing but salt and dry sand.

After the Chinese dragon awakened in the shape of a capitalist, the world is in great danger. There are three reasons for this:

  • They make up one fifth of the world’s population.
  • There are 65 millions more boys than girls in China. This gives a lot of frustrated young men fighting fiercely for resources to attract scarce women, and we’ll see a very aggressive nation competing for the world’s resources. Single men are measured to have higher testosterone levels than married men.
  • They have narrow eyes typical for cold climates. This means their brain evolved in a hardy climate where six months of the year was a potential lethal threat. Only those who were fabulous organizers and gatherers survived. The Chinese brain is the world’s best in organizing effective systems for gathering and “storing” the world’s resources. The global anti-pattern of capitalism has just one connection to nature; this is to the world’s natural recourses. China today is like a huge vacuum cleaner, sucking up natural resources worldwide.

“Hell hath no Limits” is the title of this essay by Wendell Berry. The human brain has no limits, like ancient Africa had no limits for a few people; those who were best in grabbing from the abundance were chosen for passing on their genes. Capitalism is an echo of the human brain — capitalism has no limits, and we have now by far passed the limits of our world. No doubt, capitalism is Hell!

Capitalism is like evolution, it has no morals and doesn’t think any further than next year’s surplus. — Terje Bongard

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology (IPAT), or in a more advanced form STIRPAT.

The Earth has real limitations in food production, amounts of resources, biodiversity, place and water. For the time being they all go down as the impact goes up, and no green technology or renewable energy can change the world’s amount of metals and soil, its biodiversity and carrying capacity.

The biologist Jared Diamond published in 2005 the book Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive. He summarizes how native populations and cultures that have ‘advanced’ in technology, have, without exception, expanded above carrying boundaries, destroying their own foundation for life. And then they collapsed. There are no historical examples of native populations who cared about anything else than short sighted gain. Human cultures have in the past only been restricted by technological limitations in using up resources, not by their nobility. There is a clear boundary between those cultures who remained at a hunter/gatherer level, in which some still exist, and cultures which developed technology or grew their populations to change the ecosystems they depended upon. All the latter-mentioned cultures are gone, except for the one we live in today. The world’s earlier cultures, like ours today, are a history of how people used all available means to fight for, exploit and deplete the ecosystems they lived in. Regardless of culture, people of all eras struggled and fought for food, place, benefits and values that are connected to the two powers of selection: To get what’s needed to secure nurturing for children and family (natural selection), and to become an attractive partner (sexual selection).” (My translation.) — Det Biologiske Mennesket, by Terje Bongard and Eivin Røskaft, page 239.

To create a permanent culture is difficult; it means we have to fight our own greed, egoism and unlimited mind. Still there is one pattern that gives a hope, it is the tribal pattern. This pattern is now very well understood by the science of human behavioural ecology and offers a new foundation for society. Today’s capitalistic societies run on the darkest forces of the human mind, while societies built upon tribal biology would be made up of thousands of small, independent, cooperative groups — just like what Bill Mollison suggested decades ago.

I think the world would function extremely well with millions of little cooperative groups, all in relation to each other. — Bill Mollison

The tribal pattern is the most promising biological pattern given humanity by evolution, and it has to be the major pattern in future economies and communities. We have to connect our genetically tribal pattern with the world and the way we live our lives. To survive, the people of a tribe had to be generous, cooperative, hardworking and trustworthy. Those who were not were pushed into “cold and darkness”, mental or physical, losing their status and influence. On the contrary, those who had these “unselfish” traits got status and respect.

The Israeli scientist Amotz Zahavi named this kind of generosity “the handicap principle”, and it’s a common pattern to be found in nature. Zahavi himself was for almost 40 years studying the Arabian Babbler, a thrush found in the Middle East. These birds seem to compete to be the most sacrificial and generous, fighting to sit guard and giving away their food. Later science has documented that people have a lot in common with the Arabian Babbler, yet in a more sophisticated way.

The tragedy of globalism, modernism and capitalism is “the tragedy of the commons”, as formulated by Garrett Hardin, which is the nurturing of corruption, overexploitation and indifference. A sustainable culture has to be built upon the tribal pattern, benefiting from its social control and the strong evolutionary power of “the handicap principle.” And not single tribes like in ancient Africa, but interconnected tribal sized in-groups at every level of society. Ownership of the production means would in this way be organized in tribal in-groups, or small co-operatives. Democracy too should become organized through these in-groups, forming a down-up democracy. A better name for these kind of tribal structures implemented in large scale societies could be “modern tribalism,” or maybe “new tribalism”?

I understand “new tribalism” not as an ideology, but more as a science from which we can create sustainable social structures, based upon the last decades of observation and knowledge gathered by the science of human behavioral ecology. It’s fascinating how Bongard builds up his new book with examples from this science, which all point toward a vision on how we can forge a new kind of society built upon our tribal patterns from the Great Rift Valley.

In sustainable communities resources and wealth are quite evenly shared. Not uneven and rough, like the Norwegian mountains. Not flat as a pan cake, like Denmark. But something like Sweden with its rolling hills. Poverty is relative to your neighbors and leaders. Quality of life is not about consumerism, but about living an integrated life.

Capitalism as an ideology is an anti-pattern. This is why capitalism is anti-nature, because in nature everything is connected with everything. A sustainable society should be built upon pattern language structures, reflecting nature. Please read The Structure of Pattern Languages by professor Nikos A. Salingaros, here. (Also in Greek, Persian, and Spanish.)

A true yield is profitable for life. Capitalism is a waste of natural and human capital. People are tricked to look upon money as a resource; while the reality is that money means access to energy and resources. When the natural capital is gone, then the money will be gone as well. As capitalism and globalism are all about to empty the world’s resources, capitalism is digging its own grave. Unfortunately this is likely to become our grave as well. Any culture that doesn’t produce a surplus of natural capital, like biodiversity, soil and forests, cannot call itself civilized. Today it’s even illegal not to support anti-pattern capitalism, and we are all caught by the system. The system has to be changed, not by becoming doves, but by killing the hawks.

I’ll give three examples of how a profit of money might make a negative yield, or a profit with high environmental costs:

  • Salmon aquaculture makes a huge profit; even if it produces an ever larger negative yield. Aquaculture salmon eats more fish than its own weight, and a lot of oil is used in capturing this fish. For every kilo of salmon produced it’s used 2.5 kilos of wild fish. In 2007 the production of aquaculture fish in Norway was 830,000 tons, but they were eating about 2.5 million tons of wild fish. About 30 percent of the fisheries go to fodder for aquacultures. The seven – eight most important species of fish worldwide for food of aquaculture salmon are now at a minimum. In addition lots of escaped salmon destroys the genes of wild salmon tribes by mating with them — they eat the smaller wild salmon when they’re leaving the rivers for the sea, and they infect the native salmon with parasites and diseases. If we were good stewards we could have harvested from a surplus of wild salmon, maintaining the biodiversity of salmon tribes. Further, the decline of seabirds on shoreline mountains (the small fish they eat is vanishing) and wild salmon in the rivers is damaging for human biophilia, which is our love of nature, life and living systems. To lose these qualities is to lose a part of what it was meant to be a Norwegian, or a human being. No profit can replace this feeling!
  • When it became more difficult for industrial agriculture to exploit the Amazon Rainforest, they increasingly moved their activity southward to the Brazilian Cerrado, which is the most bio diverse savannah in the world. Here the loss of biodiversity is a growing problem, soil carbon heads into the atmosphere and the ground water is threatened. To obtain the highest possible profit monocultures have replaced polycultures. As large monocultures are far less work intensive (but far more energy intensive), lots of people were forced to leave the land to move to overpopulated cities. With polycultures all these people could have stayed on the land, obtained a yield of biodiversity and valuable crop gene resources for generations to come. We cannot leave this job to the world’s more or less unsecure gene banks only. There’s just one real way to maintain crop biodiversity: use it or lose it! Read the FAO report State of the World: Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. With polycultures and food forests the yield per hectare could multiply, leaving more land for the wilderness. Read the article about the Brazilian Cerrado, The Creeping Destruction of Brazilian Biodiversity.
  • The Norwegian Oil Fund is called The Government Pension Fund – Global, by our government. A major part of the fund is invested in international stocks, this way supporting the exploitation of the world’s natural resources. Personally, when I become a pensioner I should prefer to eat fish and bread rather than numbers stored in computers, which is what money actually is. The larger the oil fund becomes the less natural capital to make a yield for generations to come. When the basic resources are gone the oil fund will be gone as well, just like with any other bubble. A better name would have been The Norwegian Pyramid Schemes Fund.

We can summarize five points for a sustainable society:

  • It’s founded upon tribal like in-groups, or “new tribalism,” as a base for economy and democracy.
  • The distribution of resources and wealth is quite evenly shared.
  • The different parts of community and communities’ relationship with nature are organized by living pattern languages through morphogenesis.
  • Production is rooted upon carrying capacity, product life cycles and to make a true yield.
  • Our numbers are in balance with the world’s carrying capacity.We better connect humanity to ecosystems, rather than pretending we live outside of them like we do today. — Terje Bongard

The WTO should change its T to P, or WPO, the World Pattern Organization. The mission of WPO would in this new paradigm be to create interconnected pattern languages for human activity and economy. Patterning and pattern languages is all about designing systems which set humans in harmony with themselves and the natural world. It’s important to note that patterns are not laws, but they might need to be supported by laws. To create a law before you have the language is dangerous, because then you easily create an anti-pattern. Pattern languages are like all other languages, flexible, and are changing over time. But they are not changing because of fashion, but because of new knowledge.

A patterned world is a world of reliable prosperity and freedom. The pattern language is a gate to freedom. Freedom is balance! Balance can never be achieved by the greedy invisible hand of capitalism. The invisible hand is connected to our selfish mind, which we try to hide from ourselves and others. Very simply, we are greedy, manipulating, egoists — every one of us. There is no need to reject this. This is now proven by science; it’s part of our genes, a product of evolution. Let’s see the beast, which is our self, in the eyes. To save our civilization we must reject anti-pattern capitalism, which simply is a reflection of our greed.

Let’s grip the pencil of permaculture, let’s create new sustainable pattern languages, to connect our human behavioral ecology with reality — to create a new tribal world of permanency!

Further reading:


  1. In one sentence: the problem of capitalism is that capital is not tied to ethical principles on how to use this.

    Funny enough, in the German constitution, there is an article just about that – article 14 sentence 2:

    “Eigentum verpflichtet. Sein Gebrauch soll zugleich dem Wohle der Allgemeinheit dienen.”

    roughly: “capital ownership comes with a duty to also use it for the benefit of the people”

    Of course, it’s totally ignored these days. As we say: “paper is patient”.

    But let’s pose it as a question: what can one do in order to tie capital to ethical principles? There is a legal construct that allows one to do just that. A trust instrument can do that.

  2. “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all.”

    Funny, I think this describes politicians more than capitalists.

  3. ” In one sentence: the problem of capitalism is that capital is not tied to ethical principles on how to use this.”

    Yes Thomas, but also these ethical principles need to be tied to in-groups, if not it will all vanish in “the tragedy of the commons.” I really hope Bongard’s book will be translated to English, so that people can read about his ideas, which I find very promising.

  4. No, what you describe is NOT the traditional Chinese spirit and face. Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching chapter 67 can give you some insight about Chinese spirit and values.
    In Chinese it is :

    In addition, traditional Chinese view of a effective world is in Chapter 80. In Chinese it is:

    I invite everyone to have a look at Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching. Most of what you have discussed about the problems and solutions contain in this thousand year old text. You can easily find an english transaction in Project Gutenberg.

    And I do believe a lot of Chinese still treasure these values. Thus I am confident that Chinese would NOT follow the wrong track of Capitalism.

  5. With respect to libertarianism you confuse capitalism (corporatism, merchantalism) with lase fare free market capitalism. The latter is what libertarians advocate, the former is what we have.

    But more importantly, the second dogma of capitalism is not true. In fact, our modern fascist bureaucratic regulatory state is a creation of capitalism. Sometimes corporations oppose regulations, but not always. Corporations are uniquely able to navigate regulations and paperwork. So they often use regulations to erect barriers to entry against their competition or to raise the cost of business of their competitors. This is common in food safety regulation. Another use is to protect their illegal acts by creating regulations and permits to legitimize their activities. This is common in environmental law.

    In the end the problem is a too powerful form of government (or misdirected power) and the creation of corporations which have insulated people from the nasty and illegal actions they do while simultaneously magnifying their ability to do them.

  6. Yes Pete, you are true! Like I and I guess most people, corporations too are not to stay with their ideology if it is to personal gain to go away from it. But, unlike corporations, I would have stayed to my principles if I was under the social control of an in-group. It is crazy that the most of economical decisions made in the world today are out of reach of democratic influence. This would have been avoided if all production was organized through in-groups.

    Leung, I hope you are right! But when I see the skyline of Shanghai on TV, I see a reflection of capitalism and modernism, and not of ancient eastern wisdom.

    Cyrus, you are right, democracy today is occupied by the elites:

    Today in Norway just five percent of the population is engaged in politics. Bongard is in his book very clear about that in a sustainable democracy everybody must participate directly in democracy, and this can be done through an organization of in-groups.

  7. An in-group is about 25 people plus minus. If it’s too much bigger the benefits of social control and the powers of the handicap principle will break down. It is really fascinating that Christopher Alexander must instinctively have realized this fact already in the beginning of the 70ties, before this was a science.

    When Alexander created pattern 37, House Cluster, he made it up of 8 – 12 households. This is exactly the size of a well functional in-group! Read the full content of pattern 37 here:

  8. “The unavowed secret of man is that he wants to be confirmed in his being and his existence by his fellow men and that he wishes them to make it possible for him to confirm them, and . . . not merely in the family, in the party assembly or in the public house, but also in the course of neighborly encounters, perhaps when he or the other steps out of the door of his house or to the window of his house and the greeting with which they greet each other will be accompanied by a glance of well-wishing, a glance in which curiosity, mistrust, and routine will have been overcome by a mutual sympathy: the one gives the other to understand that he affirms his presence. This is the indispensable minimum of humanity. (Martin Buber, Gleanings, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969, p. 94.)”


    Very simple, a society that is not rooted upon tribal in-groups, for work, for housing, for democracy, for economy, is not human. In fact, it’s inhuman!

  9. From my knowledge this in-group idea is fully thought out by Terje Bongard, which you can contact here:

    He has for a longer time had a five minutes “bulk” in the Norwegian state radio broadcasting (NRK) at Sunday mornings, about the time I drink my morning coffee. It was from here I first learned about his ideas, and I borrowed his book “Det biologiske mennesket” (see first comment), which I have now read two times.

    His grand idea is to use the Norwegian Oil Fund to buy out all foreign investors in the Norwegian industry, and then to organize all production through self running in-groups. The responsibility of these in-groups will not just be production, but also to take care of people that now are left to institutions and so on. In fact, he wants to break down all kinds of institutions, organizing the whole society through in-groups, using the benefits of social control and the evolutionary powers found in “the handicap principle.”

    His message is that it’s impossible to make a sustainable society which is built upon huge structures and institutions, because then every effort will vanish in “the tragedy of the commons.”

    As I understand Bongard he sees it like we will end up like the people of the Easter Iceland if we not within a few years manage to restructuration our whole society this way. This must be prepared and then implemented overnight, like when we changed from left to right side driving. To make it happen gradually will, as he says, just benefit “the hawks” as he calls them. When this happens he wants to invite all the world’s media do document this huge change, to make this new system of in-groups rapidly be replicated worldwide.

    What I hope now is that his book will soon be translated to English, so you can all take part in his visions. But remember, his visions are not built upon the mind of a dreaming ideologist, but upon all the world’s knowledge of human behavioral ecology.

  10. “This paper applies the theory of memes to the field of architecture. Two main points are argued: (1) Darwinian processes (combining variation and selection) are important to architecture; and (2) the specific case of modernist architecture corresponds to a “parasitic” meme, which has spread in spite of its being non-adaptive for the people that make use of modernist buildings. These two theses are logically independent, though both are necessary to present a picture of how architectural styles propagate. The first thesis may seem rather obvious to many readers, yet it has important implications for the design process in general. The second thesis is more controversial, and is discussed in greater depth. Explaining the unlikely success of modernism by other than subjective criteria is our eventual goal.”


    “Anti-Pattern Capitalism” is surely a “parasitic” meme, just like modernism! Thank you Craig for this site, hopefully we can a little by little restructure these “parasitic” memes with sustainable ones.

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