GeneralSocietyWhy Permaculture?

Permaculture As a Political Act

Permaculture, I believe, is not just a political act, but true to its nature, it is one in which all things center on positive output. This month I found myself deeply mired in political debates on Facebook. Shamefully, the altercations far too frequently consumed me until, ultimately, I’d reached an impasse, the typically fruitless cycle of such discussions, and had to admit both sides had only become more resolute in our respective opinions. I felt I was fighting for the rights of people and the planet; even so, I’d come away more emotionally disheveled and hopeless, as well as having actually done nothing in aid of people or the planet.

Even though my feet have only become firmer in my stance, I’m left having to admit that my energy was largely wasted, the effort unproductive thus wholly inappropriate. My opinion may not have been wrong, but I certainly was. In permaculture, we are supposed to observe first and design accordingly, but despite all my experiences with human nature and debate, I had ignored the obvious data that line-for-line social media combat rarely results in progress. Instead, I’d gone in with a plow and unfurled all sorts of unwanted weeds.

So, I came to the conclusion that, to cause change, my design needed to change first. My arguments had been reactive, a sort of pesticide-like solution that, while temporarily stunning my foes (who were actually beloved family members), only strengthened their resolve. But, in permaculture, we don’t use pesticides and we don’t focus on destruction. Rather, we are careful cultivators. We are admirers of nature, striving to work with it as opposed to battle it. Human nature, then, should be no different.

Why Permaculture Is a Political Act

Fair to Share (Courtesy of Kevin Krejci)
Fair to Share (Courtesy of Kevin Krejci)

While many of us come to permaculture for a sense of independence, a way of becoming self-sufficient and responsible for our own destinies, by no means does that explain the gravity of what we are really doing, what in fact permaculture was intended to do. In a larger political context, we are replacing societal systems that have become toxic and damaging in favor of something—permaculture—that accepts only that which is positive and productive for everyone (and thing). Looking at the manner in which greater society produces food, builds homes, dispenses energy, and creates waste, permaculture puts us directly at odds with the politics, theories and proponents of most modern lives.

This is not just a trendy word or nifty means of designing we are embracing but rather an upheaval of what is, and there is nothing so political as change. Adopting these ethics in a real way colors not just our life at home but also how we vote (or don’t), how we spend money (or don’t), and how we place ourselves in societal structures (or…you get it). In a sense, a very peaceful one at that, we are conscious revolutionaries against a status quo that we see as a danger to humanity, our environment, and us personally. It’s a big bite we are chewing on.

However, what is largely different about this movement, this means of thinking, is that we are not problem creators. We are problem solvers. We are not problem escalators, as I was being on Facebook, but we try to find answers with the troubles we encounter. As Mollison put it so succinctly,

You don’t have a snail problem. You’ve got a duck shortage.

Bill Mollison

Well, why wouldn’t the same approach work within political arenas? We don’t have to destroy all snails, so to speak, but rather find them an appropriate balance in the cycle.

How to Act Politically As a Permaculturist

Guerilla Gardening (Courtesy of mia.judkins)
Guerilla Gardening (Courtesy of mia.judkins)

What had upset me about the political postings of my friends and family was their wholly pessimistic outlooks and representations of things I believe in. They were searching for the worst possibilities in everything. They were inaccurately claiming horrible atrocities from the past were the result of some of my current political leanings, which stung me personally and felt totally unfair. My initial inclination, then, was to fire back, and though my attack was only through words, they were intended to shatter the viewpoints at which I’d aimed. No surprise: The pessimism only came back stronger.

It didn’t take long, though probably longer than it should have, for me to realize that I was expending a tremendous amount of energy to maintain my side of these disputes. But, neither party—at least I’m sure I wasn’t—was getting anything from our output, which made me realize that I could devote myself to much more abounding endeavors. For one, my energy could be spent actually doing things to benefit the planet and other people, as opposed to arguing that we, as a society, should be doing it. It occurred to me that my responses had often been pessimistic, certainly contentious, as well.

So, I began to think about how I might, as a positive permaculturalist, address such issues, and there I found the solution in the problem. It had been an abundance of negative positions that had been my burden, so it would need to be an abundance of positive attitude that could balance it out (and hopefully, if only temporarily, lift the spirits and renew the hopes of my downtrodden acquaintances). And, permaculture is full of people doing positive things that uplift people and the planet. I realized that I wanted my political activism to be that of a productive nature, providing an abundance of the good that can come from us all.

Politically Positive Things We Can Actively Do

Renewable Energy (Courtesy of  Stephen Hass)
Renewable Energy (Courtesy of Stephen Hass)

To use yet another analogy of my own, a positive permaculture one, it is if we can mulch away all of the political pessimism with progressive approaches to our surroundings (even if, in this case, they are virtual). That means I put all of that angst-y energy into something that will bear fruit as opposed to continually fueling a system that will leave the common ground depleted, dry and destroyed. Yet again, in the realm of politics, this sort of activism would be a complete change from the current state of affairs, which has led us to a world in need of healing, and permaculture is all about healing.

Here are some weekly tasks I’ve come up with to keep my political mind active and agile.

1. Find a program, organization, or project doing something positive to get behind and help them financially or physically or commercially or any combination thereof. Check out the Food is Free movement. They are growing and giving food away for nothing all across the planet.

2. Share valuable information about how to do something that can make a positive impact on the lives of others or on the planet. Have you read my article about how to make fermented beverages? I’ve absolutely loved doing it, and the probiotics are great for our health.

3. Be sure to celebrate—perhaps via Facebook posting—the success and/or inspiring stories of other people out there doing amazing things. My wife gave me an article this week about British footballers, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, improvisationally providing shelter (and possible future jobs) for homeless people in Manchester, England. Read it.

4. Read an opinion column from a viewpoint that opposes one of your own and try to find something that seems valid about that argument. I’m one of many US citizens hugely in favor of gun control (the catalyst of some the recent debates), but I understand how responsible gun owners are fearful to give up their longstanding rights, as I’m reluctant to give up mine.

5. Help someone you don’t know. Just do it outright. So many people complain that the world has become an unfriendly place. It doesn’t have to be, and our conscious efforts can be the difference. British comedian, Danny Wallace, created a great group — Join Me — dedicated to this and has published a hilarious book listing 365, one for each day of the year, possibilities.

Maybe these ideas will work for others, maybe they don’t. I know from past experiences that when I’ve put out positive efforts—volunteering at schools in the Palestinian West Bank, in Guatemala, building communal gardens, helping neighbors and sharing resources with others—it has usually instigated more positivity in return. Sure, I still want the ills of the system to change for the better, which is why a new approach to ongoing problems is probably the best design idea.

Feature Image: Politics (Courtesy of rstrawser)

Jonathon Engels

The financially unfortunate combination of travel enthusiast, freelance writer, and vegan gardener, Jonathon Engels whittled and whistled himself into a life that gives him cause to continually scribble about it. He has lived as an expat for over a decade, worked in nearly a dozen countries, and visited dozens of others in the meantime, subjecting the planet to a fiery mix of permaculture, music, and plant-based cooking. More of his work can be found at Jonathon Engels: A Life About.

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