Part two "Governing permaculture style"
This is the second part of the article, the first part, for those who missed it can be found here :
I should note at this point that Permaculture design is not political, in the same way that mechanical engineering is non-political. We seek to understand today’s systems and improve them where necessary or eliminate them where needed.
A lot of people have the wrong idea about what constitutes an alpha male. This type of individual will most often be seen as the “leader” of a group of apes or whatever. In fact these higher ranking individuals have, thanks, for example, to their aggressivity “better access to resources and mating opportunities. They are not in fact the leaders as such. Members of a group will tend to follow someone who knows best where stuff can be found. They are followed but the individuals who follow are subordinate to the individual followed. This is ethology simplified and bears no resemblence to the pseudo-scientific use of the terms alpha/beta males that can be found in popular culture and in the so called “manosphere”. The terms are not useful for describing human cultures and they are particularly inapted when we speak of hunter-gatherer social organisation.
For some reason yet understood we developed heirarchical political systems with a “leader” at the top and we still have them. As the reference base of many generations of people has been systems involving rulers and the ruled it has become almost automatic to assume that these are systems adapted to humans and to today’s world.
So how is this going for us?
Let us take slavery as an example of this, it is after all an extreme form of exploitation that has been banned in most countries by different governments. The UN General assembly no less declared that freedom from slavery is a universal right. 66 years later, yes 66, the major “leaders” of many global religions signed a decleration calling for the elimination of slavery by 2020. In 2007 the then mayor of London Ken Livingston apologised for Britain’s role in the Atlantic slave trade. This most come as a great relief to the estimated 136,000 slaves in the UK (forced marriages or forced labour or both, 2018). Worldwide there are an estimated 50 million individuals bound in modern slavery. So centralised pyramidal political systems have been relatively incompetent at eliminating this disgusting trade.
When Purchasing power parity ( this uses the local prices of specific goods to compare absolute purchasing power between states or areas) is used as a measure then 85% of today’s global population live in poverty.
I’ll stop there otherwise this article will become a book.
The auto-domestication theory
I remember reading about a North American martial artist who decisded to test his skills by a night time visit to a local zoo and specifically to a caged orangutan. The human was apparently found the next day with a lot of broken bones but still alive, just. The point is that were not physically capable of directly competing with our cousins the other great apes and haven’t been, in evolutionary terms, for hundreds of thousands of years. We were also predated on by some types of animal which of course had an impact on our evolution.
We can link the above to certain physiological traits that we have which are strongly correlated with domestication. Unlike with dogs and pigs etc we did this to ourselves and the most likely reason was that being cooperative was the best survival strategy. Domestication, auto or not, doesn’t sound great and frankly I would have chosen another noun. In our case it means that we, and it was most likely the women who were the most active in this, tended to select mates who were more cooperative than competitive. This led to other traits being selected for which are also ones associated in general with domestication.
I’ve written about this before
but I feel it deserves repeating. One reason being is that our governmental, administrative and economic systems are predicated on the latter human model and not the former. Yet the cooperative/prosocial model has formed us more than the more recent model. We are still, underneath it all, an animal that instinctively cooperates and helps others. This is fully recognised in Permaculture design which is why we talk about “working with human nature and not against”. The systems we design should, if well run, bring out pro-social behaviour and inhibit any anti-social behaviour.
There are revelations virtually everyday concerning governments, industries, banks, the environment and corruption either explicit or implicit. We learned this week that several central banks implicitly finance some of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. We learned about how explicit funding for fossil fuel use increased in 2021. About how a major meat producer has avoided paying taxes. About illegal sewage dumping. These are just a few things that have cropped up over the last few days. All of these things are profoundly anti-social, the negative externalities falling for the most part on those people who are already badly off. Week after week, year after year.
We continue to have confidence in vampire businesses and buy their products and we continue to put some hope and faith in incompetent, at best, or corrupt, at worse, governments. We continue to favour one faction over another and hope that come the next elections the new government of whichever faction will do a better job. History has shown us that this is very rarely the case. The next government may do a less worse job than the former but we still have slavery, exploitation, poverty, child hunger and child abuse in, for example the UK which is the world’s 6th biggest economy. Overrun food banks, children who go to school to get warm and have something to eat. An industry that continues to build poor homes explaining away the difference between their actual energy cosumption and the supposed consumption as an unfortunate but unavoidable “performance gap”.
Look at this from a prosocial point of view, one of compassion, lending a hand, helping out. It is difficult to understand how, in any given community or neighbourhood, the inhabitants are not simply revolted that local people are living in squalid conditions. Why they are not shocked by local domestic violence, child poverty and degraded landscapes. Why are they protesting against a government rather than insulating the houses is their local area, improving the landscape? Not just a few local people but all of them?
Let’s take BACA as an example of what can be done. “We remain ready to empower abused children not to feel afraid of the world in which they live. We maintain our promise to ‘be there’ day or night for our children. That means and continues to mean, should a child feel scared, need reassurance or simply want to talk outside of regularly scheduled visits, Capital Chapter Primaries are there, ready to support our children through our physical presence 24x7x365” https://bacaworld.org
They are helping protect children in their local areas by simply “being there when needed” Their presence changes the game and the children feel protected and that they have some people in their lives that they can count on.
Maybe we need a similar approach to poor housing, energy wastage, local production of goods and services? This is one of the reasons behind the “Permablitz” movement, go to someones area mob handed and transform it to food production, community orchards etc. A local shepherdess who cuts the grass instead of the council workers mowing it …… you can imagine lots more examples.
We can look at local governance, understanding that the people who stand for the local councils are not necessarily the people the best equiped. In today’s world we all need to pitch in and help transform our local communities to being resilient, equitable, just, pollution and waste free, productive and safe. Look at it from another point of view, who is best equiped to know what is going on in a local area? One elected politician who has an occasional walk around and then follows the politics of whichever government faction he/she is part of? Or is it you and all the other people who live and work there? Obvious isn’t it?
We talk about it all the time, diversity and interconnections between organisms make for a dynamically stable ecosystem. A lesson from nature. No Permaculture designer worth their salt is going to impose anything on anyone. We work with people and their cultures, we help a group of people redesign their area. It is these people, if they can bring themselves to throw out the faction based political approach, who will develop their own way of governing their local area. Diversity and interconnections between communities.
Perhaps someone wants to become an elected leader in the local community, well they need to be equiped with certain things :
Humility. Studies have shown that people who are able accept their own mistakes and listen to the opinions of others tend to surround themselves with efficient and motivated teams of people.
Openness. It is really good for anyone to be able to do the following but most especially for anyone who is going to take decisions concerning other people lives. We must be able to appreciate multiple (and often opposing) points of view. These are literally what the expression means, we each have a point of view from which we try to comprehend the world around us. Someone who is a RaSH (rascist, sexist, homophobe) will interpret the same event in a different way to someone is none of the above. It is necessary to not react to the polemic of someone who has a different point of view, it is essential to try and find where they are seeing things from. It is interesting to note that a lot of comedy involves giving people a fleeting glimpse at something from a different point of view.
Introspection. Being able to understand how I am interpreting things is also essential. This ties into the first part of this article, where on a scale going from progressive to conservative do I find myself? It is very helpful to ask others how they see me. We need both sorts of people to get the job done, we don’t need the extremes though.
Interoception. Having the capacity to be able to stand back and understand why I am having a particular reaction. Am I against this poposition because I am hungry? Am I feeling against the proposition because it’s being presented by someone who gets up my nose?
Compassion. I want to get involved because I find any kind of injustice an abomination.
As a general principle a Permaculture designer will try and involve as many people as possible in a project. They may well propose a participatory decision making process at the beginning, they know well and good that the local people will eventually adapted the model. Copy-paste doesn’t work too well with human systems.
Going back to the point I made earlier concerning the asymetry of information (caveat emptor) about goods and services there are three points make :
Ultra local production means that I can go and visit and see how something is being produced.
A prosocial approach means that I simply will not produce or sell anything that is of bad quality or has some hidden problems known only to me.
Big industries, supermarkets etc need consumers in the same way that a leech needs a host. If we stop using their products and services they will fade away. for example : what is being sold in the local supermarket or hypermarket that can’t be better produced locally? The next question is : how can we encourage people to buy from local producers rather than going to the local temple of mass consumption of low grade goods? Everything is connected, if we insulate someone’s apartement they will waste less money. This means they can better afford local produce. High quality ultra locally produced food is nutritionally better so we eat less….. and on and on until the job’s done.
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