personal diary #1 -with music!

#DefendAfrin

#FreeOcalan

Nineteen years ago, on 15th February 1999, an international conspiracy culminated in the revolutionary thought-leader and feminist Abdullah Ocalan being imprisoned in a Turkish jail, in which he still resides -if he is still alive.

Reading Ocalan’s words today contributes to my increasing realisation that, by the standards of mainstream modern civilisation, I too am a ‘radical’. I don’t necessarily like the connotations of this word, and how it might falsely seperate me from some of my not-so-radical friends. Because, in the sense that I just want to live a free and balanced life, in respect of all human beings and the ecology of the planet, ‘radical’ is only normal and natural. Moreover, on these terms there is a radical inside all of us, waiting for the moment to have the courage to speak up. Surely it is in our uncorrupted Nature to wish to achieve balance in all things? Surely the global civilisation-mesh that we now live in is the most imbalanced in history?

This was supposed to be a personal diary extract, taking the pressure off from discussing wider concerns and complex social issues. But of course, I am inseperable from what is going on in the world.

One of my so-called ‘radical’ responses to the world I live in is to practice celibacy, and that includes with myself. After a few months of practice, this seems to be bearing fruit. Sometimes, there are moments where I feel I am denying myself. I may even experience physical pain as a result of this. But in other moments I feel less denied and more contained and focused. My creativity then bursts forth in writing, theatre and song.

I also contemplate how my celibacy is linked to my feminism. Wanting to be a better person, to improve my self, my male gender and its relation to other genders, particularly women. In the past, I admit I have been a trawler of images of women, not specifically pornographic but led by porn, so that everywhere I looked, I would see women as more or less stylised images; not as themselves. How hard it is not to project…

I would like to say I am free of all that but I’m not. I may be free from pornography but I am not free from the pornographication and sexualisation of culture which is everywhere around us in modern society. We categorically do not live in sexually liberated times. I know what sexual liberation is, in my body, heart and mind. I have found the beginnings of it in practice, in the communes I have visited. I am sex positive, and if society was truly liberated, I might not be celibate. Modern consumerist society, however, mistakes sexual proliferation for sexual liberation. It’s not the same.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I dedicated my love to the women of Afrin, who are right now defending the most radical women’s movement in history, in Afrin, northern Syria, against a horrific Turkish invasion. Please help me support them.

 

 

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Review of SF novel ‘Grass’ by Sherri Tepper

Science fiction can help us imagine a sustainable future for humanity on Earth.

Here is my first SF book review: ‘Grass’ by Sherri Tepper (1989);

PLOT:

From an alternative and future version of Earth named Terra, the humanitarian aid worker and scientific researcher, Marjorie Yrarier, and her family, depart to the mysterious planet of Grass. Their mission on Grass: to find the rumoured cure for a plague that is in danger of decimating the entire interplanetary civilization of humanity. Marjorie must battle an over-bearing husband, recalcitrant daughter, hostile locals, the savage but super-intelligent local wildlife and an oppressive religious empire in order to achieve the mission. This is a romantic but serious sci-fi adventure, with plenty of mystery too. Its depth and breadth are impressive, but would I recommend it to others? Read on…

THEMES:

Impressively, there are many interlinked and integrated themes explored in Grass. I would summarise the main themes into three groups:

patriarchy; imperialism and class division; ecology, ecospirituality and ESP

Patriarchy:

Tepper is quite rightly a feminist, in the basic ‘equality’ sense of the term. Through the trials and tribulations faced by her protagonist Marjorie, she successfully explores issues related to the patriarchal oppression of women in society. Tepper gives these issues a real credibility by going into the private emotions and thoughts of her protagonist in considerable depth. Her over-bearing, insensitive and womanising husband Rigo is a convincing character, if slightly stereotypical. The historical patriarchy of organised religion is also described, in Tepper’s projection of the Catholic Church into ‘Sanctity’: a future interplanetary Catholic government based on Terra. The subject of the sexual abuse of women and girls by men is tackled in the book, as structurally supported by religion and class division.

Imperialism and Class Division:

Imperialism is clearly described as an oppressive force. In the case of Sanctity, the ideological imperialism of Catholicism is shown to be responsible for sending illegals to the ‘slum planet’ Repentance. ‘Illegals’ are excess children, as all families on Terra, of all classes, are only legally allowed two children. The hypocrisy of this is shown as the richer women can afford contraceptive implants, which they have in secret.

The imperialism of Sanctity is contrasted with the class division on Grass. On Grass it is ‘the bons’, the aristocratic lords of the hunt (patriarchy revisited!) who apparently hold the wealth and power. Away from the bons’ rural estancias, most of the rest of the population lives in Commoner Town. However, the irony is, as we increasingly find out, the bons are isolated in their privileged rural world. They don’t realise that all of the life and new wealth of Grass happens in the town, which is also a trade port. This is definitely Tepper having a laugh at the expense of privileged aristocrats!

Ecology, Ecospirituality and ESP:

The main plot is driven by the tradition of the fox hunt on Grass, which is an exaggerated and adapted version of fox hunting as practised on our Earth, and Marjorie’s Terra. On Grass, the foxes are the size of small elephants, the hounds are the size of horses and the horses (Hippae) are twice the size of Earth horses. Tepper gets her own back again, as it becomes clear that it is the animals themselves, particularly the super-intelligent Hippae, that direct the hunts by mind-control of the humans. Up to a point, Tepper is very clever at describing how a whole ecology of interdependent species -including colonising humans- could develop on another planet. This is all based on a vividly described multi-coloured landscape of grasses.

As Marjorie learns more about the ecology of Grass, another dominant Grassian species becomes known to her and others via telepathy. This species and how it relates to the others becomes the crux of the search for the plague cure. In the final pages Marjorie has a spiritual experience which ultimately ties together her mission, her growing rebellion against patriarchy and empire, and the ecology of Grass as a whole. In a grand way, an ungendered ecospirituality, based in scientific ecology, is juxtaposed victoriously against patriarchy and organised religion.

STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES:

Strengths:

Wow, there are so many strengths to this book! You can see why it was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus awards in 1990. Tepper’s exposition and exploration of an alternative planet and its ecology are riveting. She also weaves together subplots effortlessly throughout the book, with every subplot seeming to add something to the overall narrative. Her character development is solid -not just of her protagonist but of a whole cast of characters, from Marjorie’s family, to Sanctity, to penitent monks on Grass, to the bons and folk of Commoner Town. Tepper builds up a believable universe. She has insight into human relationships; coupled with a depth of emotion in her writing, this adds to the convincing whole. Moreover, Grass is propelled forward by its moral strength; summarised well when Marjorie says to her husband and a priest:

‘You two can go to hell!’

Weaknesses:

I see two major weaknesses in Grass. You may be surprised to learn that these weaknesses, for me, bring Tepper’s universe crashing down! I prefer ‘soft’ science fiction to ‘hard’, but even soft sci-fi must have a solid scientific grounding to be believable. For the most part Tepper develops her alternative ecology and its dependent human culture, amazingly well. Yet when I read about a process of metamorphosis on Grass that is integral to the plot, I thought it was described so unconvincingly that it blew a massive hole in the side of my suspension of disbelief. At this point, I thought, Tepper has let her imagination get the better of her reader, and not in a good way.

Secondly, towards the climax of the book, Tepper has wound together so many different subplots so well, that the only way she can find to do final justice to them is to attempt to jump between all the different characters in the closing pages, in a kind of frenetic action-driven way which for me, causes the unravelling of the whole.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Grass was a brave undertaking at over 500 pages. We need more feminist sci-fi authors to attempt this kind of thing. But the risk of aiming for the stars is that sometimes you will fall short. I think that Tepper ultimately failed on this occasion. Perhaps she could have seperated this potent bundle of setting, theme, plot and character into two seperate books, or cut more out. (Even though this is only the first book in her ‘Arbai’ trilogy!) And she could have focused down a little more on the science.

INFO:

Author: Sherri Tepper

Nationality: American

Published: 1989

Publisher: Doubleday

Quotation: Tepper, Sheri S. Grass, London, Gollancz, 2002

 

Rojava Internationalist Commune launches ‘Make Rojava Green Again’; northern Syria ecology project

In defiance of the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, the Internationalist Commune of the regional autonomous zone of Rojava in northern Syria, led by the Kurds, has launched its plan to regenerate the ecology of the region.

The Rojava region of northern Syria, despite relatively little coverage from the international press, and amidst one of the most horrific warzones of modern times, has successfully pioneered a feminist experiment in direct democracy.

Now, the ‘Make Rojava Green Again’ initiative intends to develop the so-called ‘third pillar of the revolution’, where the first two pillars have been direct democracy by street assembly, and equal involvement of women in all levels of decision-making -as well as in some places, all-female villages, educational institutions, police units and defense units.

The Make Rojava Green Again initiative would like to hear from journalists and ecology groups internationally who would like to publicise and partnership with their work.

Please contact me to learn more about solidarity for the revolution in northern Syria and if you would like to be forwarded the Make Rojava Green Again document. For more on Internationalist Commune Rojava go here.

The Children at the Heart of Everything -dedicated to Afrin’s children -may they be spared

This is the third part of a three-part series. The first two parts were published on my Facebook page: The Boy at the Beginning of Time and The Girl in the Middle of Time

@singingbones @wordandsilence

The Children at the Heart of Everything

The boy Sunshine and the girl Pain had travelled across Europe and down into the African continent, to meet with the dream-teller of the river Zaire.

The dream-teller’s hut was guarded by two gorillas, and fruit bats hung from the roof inside. Sunshine was too bright to be scared, and Pain was too strong.

When the children were sat in the hut with the dream-teller, the dream-teller asked,  ‘Why have you come to this place; this place where all human stories began, and where all will end?’

‘I had a dream about Remembering’ said Pain.

‘And you want to know what it means’ replied the dream-teller…’So tell me of this dream’.

‘Well,’ began Pain, ‘I dreamt that people all over the world were starting to Remember; to Remember that women and wild animals and plants are all equal to men; and also that men are equal to plants and wild animals and women. I dreamt that my friend Sunshine, who you see before you now, went up into the sky and replaced the Sun. He shone down with a pure love -not like the old Sun, but he was lonely there.’

After listening to Pain’s dream, the dream-teller was quiet for some time. She chewed on some leaves which she had in a bowl next to her, and spat on the ground. Every now and again she threw some berries, from another bowl, up into the air, where the fruit bats would catch them in their jaws. Finally, she spoke:

‘Your dream is of the Great Remembering and it is not only a dream. It is something that is beginning to happen right now. You, Pain, and you, Sunshine, are the prophets of the Remembering. But you must understand that no time and no place is ever perfect. The Great Remembering is truly not of a past perfect time, it is of all within us that is good, from all times. The Great Remembering is when all the stories ever told will be interwoven into one grand story…a story so great and so special that all will be happy to be characters in the story, because all beings will live healthily ever after in equality.’

‘I love you, dream-teller, and I love you, Pain, but what shall we do now?’ asked Sunshine.

‘Now you must remember what it is to be a girl, Sunshine, and although you are a girl, Pain, you must remember what it is to be a boy. For really, the soul of girls is in boys too, and the soul of boys is in girls too.’

‘Pain, I Remember you are cool and refreshing, stiller than a rock, dark and able to run in the dark’ said Sunshine.

‘Sunshine, I Remember you are warm and loving, harder than a rock, light and able to fly to great heights’ said Pain.

Then the dream-teller stood up with tears in her eyes.

She said, ‘Now you must go in the world to where the Remembering is strongest, and inspire the children there. Because where the Remembering is strongest, is also where the Forgetting, the old ways of pain and violence, are very strong too. The Forgetting must not be victorious in its war against the Remembering!’

‘But where is this place of war to which we must travel?’ asked Sunshine.

‘Its name is Afrin, in the land of Rojava -land of Remembrance. In the region that some call The East of Middle. There you will be protected from the guns and bombs of the Forgetting, by my spell of peacefire. You will walk amongst the children in the villages. You will make even stronger the story of Remembering that is happening there.’

Pain kept quiet, for she saw even further than the dream-teller. She saw that the quest of herself and Sunshine would not end in Afrin. It would not end until the Remembering had spread across the region of the East of Middle; until all boys and all girls had Remembered, and could not become Forgetful, hate-filled adults. This is the where the real story begins…

____________________________________________________________________________________________

#StopAfrinGenocide

 

 

 

Footsie 100 / Severn Trent PLC

Footsie 100 is a game played between 30 men, 30 women and 40 people who like to be identified as neither male nor female. The collective of participants is known as ‘the footbath’ and this phrase can also refer to a venue holding a Footsie 100 event. The object of the game is to transmit foot movements around the footbath, using only bare feet, with eyes blindfolded. Everyone invents their own foot movement to start. In the first stage of the game, players transmit and receive movements in a two-way exchange. They move around the footbath to do this with one person after another. In the second stage, players are asked to memorise their favourite received movements and start to transmit these movements instead of their own. If a movement is mirrored in a single exchange, those two players are out. This process continues until the winner is revealed as the person with the least popular preferences.

-Actually, I made all that up. You probably realise this. What is true is that a few weeks back now, a quiet voice from nowhere spoke to me the word ‘FTSE / footsie’ (see the ‘Hearing Words #1’ post of November 21st 2017). I took this to mean a couple of things. Most importantly, that I should take a look at the FTSE 100 index (as an aspiring entrepreneur I suppose).

Reading from the list on Hargreaves and Lansdown of the richest one hundred companies trading on the London Stock Exchange (not that I yet understand how stock markets work) a handful caught my eye. Associated British Foods plc, AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company; British American Tobacco, Coca Cola, Intercontinental Hotels Group, Rio Tinto, Royal Dutch Shell, Severn Trent and Unilever. These are not collectively the richest in the 100, but they are some of the ones I’ve heard of, and to me demonstrate how far from a globally integrated and sustainable culture we truly are.

Reading back this list, Severn Trent PLC seems to be the most incongruous. How is it that a water provider and sewage treatment provider could be in the richest top one hundred companies on the London Stock Exchange? How is it that Liv Garfield, the CEO, earns almost £1.5 million a year? Should such profit be made from providing these most essential of human services? Or are the most essential of services the hardest to provide in modern society? I don’t know, but something doesn’t seem right. On their website, Severn Trent claim:

  • Our bills for water and sewerage combined are the lowest on average in England and Wales
  • We have one of the lowest average capita water consumption rates in the UK

If these claims are true, what does it say about how much we all pay for water services in general, across the UK? How can Severn Trent profits be so large, if prices are so low? Does the profit come through provision of their business services including ‘renewable’ energy?

Something isn’t right. What stories are we telling ourselves, as a culture, as a civilisation, that makes this okay?

 

 

 

The Kurdish Question; An Answer for All of Us? (Descent Politics #1)

Introduction:

This post is not aimed at the general public. This post is aimed at revolutionaries, ecopreneurs, sociologists, anyone who suffers from mental ill-health or who works in mental health, feminists of all kinds, political strategists, Transitioners, environmentalists and others who see the inevitability of the coming energy Descent to a more localised, resource-wise future the world over. Last but not least, this post is aimed at the Kurdish community and those who support the Kurdish experiment in radical direct democracy and feminism that is happening in northern Syria, and that is being threatened RIGHT NOW by an illegal and immoral invasion by the oppressive Turkish government of Afrin, in the Syrian north. Yes, Turkey’s invasion may be partly in response to America’s supposed (perhaps mis-stated) decision to support a Kurdish-led military presence on the northeast border between Syria and Turkey -although Afrin is in the northwest. Yes, of course, America supports the Kurds for its own geopolitical ends in the region, (not just ‘the defeat of ISIL’ which has been led by the Kurds); nevertheless, the Kurds, historically defensive as opposed to aggressive militarily, are once again the object of nation-state oppression.

In this post I hope to show that in the likely future of natural resource scarcity and hence more localised community and culture globally, experiments in self-governance such as that of the Kurds in northern Syria should be generally supported and studied, and could be key in our collective human future of a more grounded existence, within natural ecological limits and crucially free from patriarchy; a freedom the Kurds are making strides towards. Please note that a later version of this post will include more supporting references; right now I am working to a tight deadline.

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Politics:

‘The Kurdish Question’ refers to the issue of political governance of the Kurds and their striving as an ethnic group towards independence over the years. The Kurds predominantly inhabit a region known as Kurdistan which currently has no international legal or political recognition. Kurdistan takes in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The history of the Kurds shows that the Kurds as a semi-nomadic people have achieved various levels of autonomy over the centuries in different parts of Kurdistan. However, despite international promises towards the cause of Kurdish sovereignty, since the 20th Century Kurdish moves towards self-determination have been beset by ruthless military and cultural oppression at the hands of all four of the nation states co-habiting with Kurdistan. In recent decades, Turkey has been particularly oppressive.

The situation in the region of Kurdistan as a whole is complex. For the purposes of this post I am just focusing on northern Syria. Since 2011 when the internationally manufactured ‘civil war’ in Syria began, the Kurds in the north have used the situation to their advantage, to break away from a historical narrative of oppression of their culture and people by the institution of the nation state. The ideological leader of the Kurds in Turkey and northern Syria, Abdullah Ocalan, from his solitary confinement in a Turkish prison, has argued that it is the nature of the nation state itself that has allowed the oppression of the Kurds. Although it would appear that the so-called Syrian ‘dictator’ Assad has treated the Kurds relatively well; nevertheless the northern Syrian experiment is a valid departure from and revolution against the -arguably unsustainable- nation state itself. It is in fact the aggressive institution of the nation state- particularly as modelled by America- that has invaded and broken up a Syria which was actually democratic and stable by Western standards.

Abdullah Ocalan was founder of the PKK in Turkey and Iraq, as a response against Turkish and Iraqi oppression and oppression in Kurdistan more generally. The PKK is still controversially classed as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by Turkey and its EU and US allies, although a ruling in a Belgian court in September of 2017 classed the PKK as engaging in an ‘armed campaign’ (akin to ‘freedom fighting’) as opposed to terrorism. Since the 1990’s, after reading the work of Murray Bookchin and others, from prison Ocalan underwent an ideological change which saw the PKK shift its focus from Marxist-Leninist to ‘democratic confederalist’. Ocalan builds on the Kurdish history of tribal and community decision-making to show that a so-called organised ‘anarchosocialist’ (anti-state) direct democracy model of governance, exercised from the street level upwards, is a preferable method of governance to a centralised state -whether capitalist or communist.

This model of democratic confederalism has been trialed in the so-called semi-autonomous zone of northern Syria for the last several years. The model as advocated by the staunch feminist Ocalan includes provision for all-women assemblies, all-women villages and safe houses for victims of domestic abuse. The model also includes the aim (purportedly realised on the ground) of achieving a minimum of 40% of a single gender in any elected assembly, and the provision of one woman and one man as a co-leadership of all democratic assemblies. Assemblies have proven to include all ethnicities in the Kurdish-dominated region, with Arabs and others working alongside Kurds. For more on the revolution in northern Syria see here and here.

It is particularly noteworthy that simultaneous to pioneering this promising method of feminist localised governance in the Middle East, with US support the Kurds of this region have successfully defeated so-called ‘ISIL’. (Let not the Western manufacture of ISIL detract from the corresponding reality of organised hateful jihadists on the ground which need defending against in realtime). All female Kurdish-led defense units of the YPJ have been key in this defeat.

I do not support war. Let me make that clear. Sometimes defensive actions seem unavoidable. The incredible thing about the revolution of northern Syria is that a model of equality, feminism and localisation (to a degree) has occurred amidst -perhaps because of- conditions of extreme military and patriarchal pressure, conflict and inequality; negatives arguably driven by forces implicit to the institution of the nation state.

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Ecology, Earth Culture and Economics:

If democratic confederalism can work under such extreme conditions, perhaps it would be appropriate as a model to try in other regions around the world. Meanwhile, the Kurds and their local allies of Arabs and others in northern Syria, deserve our support.

Although the revolution in northern Syria purports to be ‘ecological’, in reality it is a war economy which does not currently allow deep and strategic conservation and biodiversity enhancement measures. Nevertheless, there is a present ecological awareness as integral to the literature of the revolution.

The Transition Movement and the work of Richard Heinberg in books such as Powerdown, have shown that future global society and culture will be increasingly localised, as increasing scarcity of natural resources, particularly oil, mean that vast, centralised economies and infrastructures will no longer be viable. The inevitable energy Descent that we face can either be negotiated in an easeful way (a gradual descent) or in a sudden and shocking way i.e. if we don’t adequately prepare for it. Localised polyculture food production will be central to the Descent.

Abdullah Ocalan’s work; specifically his Roots of Civilisation shows how the institution of the nation state, including its patriarchal nature, is implicit in social and environmental injustice worldwide, including the hegemony of a grossly wasteful US-led consumerist culture -enhanced by the US-dominated internet. Ocalan gives hope that democratic confederalism, or at least, let’s say some organic form of localised direct democracy including strong ecological and feminist elements, could be a widespread viable alternative. If the Descent is unavoidable, surely we should be ensuring that we don’t waste this culture-changing opportunity (and potential war-zone) in terms of feminism and social justice; not just to attempt to live ‘in a greater harmony’ with non-human culture and Earth culture as a whole as advocated by ‘Transitioners’. Specifically, integral to this harmony should be the explicit design of feminist and communal systems of locality-governance which ensure that patriarchy and cultural oppression don’t survive during and after the Descent. These systems of governance can nestle inside as well as ultimately challenge and negate centralised nation states. This is shown in the northern Syrian case, where some national infrastructure (at least administrative) is still used alongside the radically democracised one. The nation state, argued here as an obsolete, energy-wasteful and patriarchal super-structure, can be transcended during and after Descent, and allowed to peacefully decay.

For me, the role of ecopreneurs in the modern world is firstly to align with the Descent and secondly, if making profit, to redistribute wealth to ease the Descent for all. Thirdly, I suggest that ‘Descent ecopreneurs’ should have social and political justice at the forefront of their minds, and reflected in their staffing and any partnerships they make. Although there will naturally be many co-operative economies developing as part of the Descent, I think there is still an important place for innovating ecopreneurs to push forward radically equal and politically just structures and products which could propagate and support emergent localised systems of governance around the world.

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Narratives of Cultural Whealth:

Ideally, as I implied in my previous post, ‘What is culture….?’ what happens after Descent is permaculture in the fullest sense of ‘permanent (i.e. deeply sustainable) human culture’. Mental health recovery must be a central focus in Descent and permaculture, and if the official field of Permaculture can develop a branch of social science to deepen its understanding of social currents and motivations, then so much the better.

The mental health of all of humanity is indirectly -and sometimes directly- related to the health of global non-human ecosystems. In ‘The Age of Insanity: Modernity and Mental Health’ John Schumaker further shows how urbanisation and degraded urban environments have a huge impact on mental health. But more than this; Schumaker shows how modern society itself has become pathological, except for some redemptive pockets that are few and far between. Reading Schumaker alongside Ocalan, it does not take too much of an intellectual leap to hypothesize quite reasonably that if social -including feminist- justice is designed into a gradual Descent / Transition to permaculture, then overall, a post-Descent world will look a lot better for human mental health than the pre-Descent one. This is even considering the change to low-consumption lifestyles we will have to make during Descent. Of course, modernity-related trauma is rife, or rather, trauma that has been made more prevalent because of the institutions of modernity (best exemplified perhaps, by the capitalist nation state). Thus, trauma release and mental health recovery will take a while; we will all be nursing our mental wounds long after Descent. Descent itself will produce additional trauma and mental illness, proportionate to how sudden it is. I hope that ecopreneurs will remain mindful of, and will even focus down on, the mental health dynamics of Descent.

Key to mental health is cultural empowerment. We must all feel able to comprehend and further influence the (now global) culture we live in. This comprehension and influence depends, in turn, on our power and agency as narrative-makers, story-tellers and engaged actors and audiences in and for the stories that are, hopefully consensually, told about us and to us. Even after Descent, it is hard to see how human culture will not remain global in some aspects. Indeed, global justice and cultural exchange should be tempered and refined dynamics after Descent; retaining the internet, somehow, could be very useful, if there is no possibility of centralised and corporate domination. Thus, the grand story of Descent that begins right now, and the post-Descent story of permaculture, must be interwoven by all of us in a way that also does justice to our very individual stories of trauma, joy, political oppression and cultural integration. And the grand stories must be livable.

Since the inception of the Transition Movement the power of positive story-telling about our collective futures has been key. Shaun Chamberlin developed this theme particularly well in The Transition Timeline. It had a big impact on me when I read it a few years back. Now I would like to see all of us develop this theme in a grand way which also does justice to all the various conscious and unconscious narratives we have lived by up until now, including considerations of feminism and social justice in general. If we do not fully admit into our consciousness as many narratives as we can, the light and the dark, then we may be derailed later by unexpected characters and plot turns in the grand future stories we are trying to manifest.

Now is the time of moving from confused global narratives towards more coherent and integrated localised ones. Globally however, our continued and remaining interconnection means that it is all our responsibilities to be involved in Descent on a global as well as a local level, if we are able. Otherwise, there is no telling what foreign conflicts may scupper local Descent plans. Certain regions, such as the Middle East, are particularly volatile. It would be wonderful if, as a species we could build on the suggestion of Abdullah Ocalan that the Middle Eastern region is calling for its own cultural Renaissance, akin to the European Renaissance. In conversation with the peoples of the Middle East, we can be inspired by the groundwork of the localised and feminist Kurdish-led governance of northern Syria. Within the context of such localised semi-anarchic power structures, where diverse ethnic tribes can work together, even remotely we can support inspiring possibilities for cultural transformation-in-Descent that draw on the rich biocultural heritage of the whole Middle Eastern region. The same can happen for all regions of the world.

Think of a golden influence spreading outwards from the Middle East in post-oil routes of culture and trade, bejewelled by the cultural traits of a thousand different ethnicities, intermeshing with an emergent vibrant global permaculture…

-It is the time of such great stories. We must live out these great stories; work hard for them, or not so hard, depending on what suits us. We must work to create the conditions for those who would be cultural heroes of the Descent;  Transition prophets and messiahs of permaculture. We must nurture our children with this great Calling in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? Part three of three:

In the first two parts of this three part series I explored the concepts of human culture, especially global human culture, Earth culture (human plus non-human culture on Earth) and how these have become unnaturally divorced from one another in the modern world, with the accelerating help of the internet. The divorce is an illusion, but nevertheless is damaging. It would be tiresome and depressing here to have to describe the worsening health of the ecosystems here on Earth -by ‘health’ of course I mean the ability to support human life. I am of course human-centric in my perspective; it is virtually impossible not to be. The mental health of all of humanity is indirectly -and sometimes directly- related to the health of global non-human ecosystems. I will go into great length in future posts.

So!

I am actually hopeful for humanity’s evolution to the next stage of civilisation, which in some respects, to some people, will necessarily look like uncivilisation.

Where does ‘Permaculture’ come in? Firstly, a brief description of origins: Permaculture with a capital ‘P’ refers to a ‘systems thinking’ approach to the ecological design of human-made edible crop systems, but also incorporating other useful crops, and sustainable settlements centred around these systems. The original meaning is ‘permanent agriculture’. The crop systems mimic non-human ecosystems (or more accurately, Earth culture ecosystems) to achieve resilience and minimal negative, perhaps even positive, ecological impact. The most common example of the designed Permaculture system in temperate climates (e.g. the UK) is the ‘forest garden’ which mimics the climax habitat of mixed deciduous woodland, with edible types of flora to represent all the various canopy and ground cover and shrub layers to be found in a natural woodland, especially in the most productive and diverse, woodland edge habitats. The first manual on Permaculture was written by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and published in 1978, titled Permaculture One.

Over the years, Permaculture has been adapted to a variety of climates and contexts around the world, and has given birth to a tradition of Permaculture courses (the standard introductory course being the Permaculture Design Certificate or PDC) where invaluable knowledge and skills of agroforestry and other elements have been passed on to thousands. Although there has been and still is a question mark over Permaculture’s ability as an approach to provide food for large numbers of people, it has been clearly shown to conserve and enhance soil health -key to the future of biodiversity -including humanity- on Earth. (This brings up the issue of excess human population. Let’s look at that another time.) Additionally, the concept of permaculture has expanded to include ‘permanent culture’; a way of looking at and designing the whole of human culture with deep sustainability in mind; at its root, learning from the infinitely renewable patterns and resource flows at play in Earth culture as a whole.

Now, a few words about the capitalist protection of knowledge in modern culture. Why did I refer to Permaculture ‘with a capital P’? Well, as with all areas of knowledge in a capitalist society, there is some implied ownership of the ideas; of the approach, by the people who originated it and teach and practice it today. If you are not an accredited teacher, you cannot teach Permaculture with a capital ‘P’. In an often chaotic global culture, where the truth can be anyone’s guess, the building up and protection of banks of knowledge and practice, especially as regards ecological sustainability, can be worthwhile. On the other hand, the PDC can be seen as a middleclass pursuit with a middleclass pricetag, despite there being subsidised places on some courses. The protection of knowledge in this way also perpetuates the fragmented, alienated and atomised consumer culture discussed in parts one and two of this post series. Admittedly, as long as friends pass books between them, and free libraries and internet facilities still exist, there will always be a slow dissemination of Permaculture knowledge to the rest of society -in the way of most human branches of knowledge. Most importantly, as Graham Bell notes in his excellent book The Permaculture Way, ‘permaculture with a small p’; those aspects of human conservation, agricultural and sustainability knowledge included in Permaculture, that have been practiced for generations as our natural biocultural heritage -otherwise known as ‘common sense’- is available to all of us. We can be ‘doing permaculture’ without even realising it, just as we are ‘doing culture’ all the time, and the culture we do, can always be said to be more, or less, permaculture than it could be.

Now here is where we get to the crux of it. For me, Permaculture (and ‘permaculture’) as an approach to designing sustainable human society, has the potential to be both a containing basket for all of modern global human culture, and a weaver of that culture into something deeply sustainable in the long term. It is a criticism levelled against permaculturists that the term ‘permaculture’ is used very vaguely by many, as a New Agey concept that bears little practical fruit for society as a whole; a concept that attracts dreamers, more than doers, despite the practical PDC courses on offer. I take on board this criticism, but I respond that, just because a set of ideas and practices inspires contemplation, poetry and envisioning, it doesn’t mean that those ideas and practices aren’t also very useful, (effects on biodiversity and soil health as compared to other agricultural systems, for instance, are proven.) For me, it is the sometimes vagueness of the term ‘permaculture’, with a small ‘p’, that is its strength; in these twin paradigms we live in of obsolescence of the dominant civilisation-mesh (Nature-destroying) and Transition to the new one, it is precisely because we don’t know exactly what the future holds, that we need flexible approaches and concepts to get there…

-But more than this. I think that Permaculture, or permaculture, whatever, has the potential to develop a branch of ethical social science. The ethical social science of Permaculture would be rooted in the observation of Nature and other principles of Permaculture as they stand. Principles such as ‘maximising edge’, ‘integrating functions’ and ‘creating no waste’. Integrated with current grounded Permaculture practice, and branching out from those roots, the ethical social science of Permaculture could develop  a vocabulary of theory, research and consensual society-design which is cross-disciplinary, integrating the language of ecology and sustainability with the language of the social sciences. As the social sciences often don’t question the foundations of modern culture on which they rely, the new ethical social science of Permaculture, with its key feature of reintegration of segregated and protected areas of human knowledge; a grounded and cross-disciplinary approach, would also have the overtly political aims of environmental and social justice at its core. (Where existing social sciences are generally unconsciously / covertly political, at maintaining unhelpful social and economic structures).

The ethical social science, (or sociocultural science?) of Permaculture could be a key developing discipline -and may it be rigorously disciplined!- in creating what permaculture -permanent culture- purports to be. Specific elements of the science would tackle the alienation, atomisation and fragmentation of the dominant modern global culture, and also the tracking and potential guiding of emergent global culture as defined by the internet. It has been concluded by many, more well-researched and scientifically grounded than I, that relocalisation of culture, including a ‘powerdown’ of natural resource use, will also be key to the sustainability of global human culture in the longterm. This fits entirely with the necessary project of de-alienation and de-stratification that I have implied in all three parts of this series, which works on renewing and building culture that is grounded and based on our experiences and face to face human interactions in the here-and-now.

Mental health and well being are inseperable from this grand project of permaculture, including the protection of planetary biodiversity, and the ethical social science of Permaculture would explore, track, describe and influence human well being in a way that is reintegrated with Earth culture (human plus non-human culture).

Key to mental health is cultural empowerment. We must all feel able to comprehend and further influence the (now global) culture we live in. This comprehension and influence depends, in turn, on our power and agency as narrative-makers, story-tellers and engaged actors and audiences in and for the stories that are, hopefully consensually, told about us and to us.

 

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A final thought: The relationship of modern human culture to truth, is ambiguous. Well, that includes this blog post. How much of this is really true and how much is based on the theories of academics who don’t get out much? Academia is itself an isolated and alienated area of stratified modern culture i.e. a key symptom of this culture which is potentially (and often actually) out of touch with the way we as individuals live our various cultures from day to day. Thus the ethical social science of Permaculture will fail if it relies on academics; if it is not constantly informed by the way that all subcultures of human beings live from day to day, and how we all perceive ourselves, including culturally. 

I’m looking forward to getting outside again after writing this, and socialising some more with the folk in my neighbourhood. I’ll catch you next time.