“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” (Albert Einstein)
This post comes from several events which occurred last year: beginning with a three-month stint of ‘walking the walk’ which meant unplugging from internet, cable, and house phone, through the process of learning and witnessing consensus decision-making in action at the IPCC in Cuba, and ending with layers upon layers of un-composted (raw) material—both literally and figuratively (a common theme in my life, you may have already noticed).
In January, I had been attempting to switch from one mega-company to another for what I then perceived to be essential services: phone, internet, and cable. Granted, I rarely watched t.v. at that point—but I had my favorite channels or shows which I would record on DVR to watch when I had time, but having an internet connection seemed inevitable and quite necessary to the ongoing requirements of a real estate broker. The house phone was a number I had kept from when my mother was still alive (she died in 2001), and which she had for over twenty years—from the time we moved to Florida in 1977. That was, in fact, the hardest aspect to let go of—I remember thinking that someone might call that number, looking for her perhaps—someone who wasn’t trying to sell her something. It never happened—not in the 13 years I had the number in my name.
So, I took the plunge—vowing to remain unplugged for as long as it took to prove to myself how unnecessary these seeming ‘conveniences’ really were. That period of time turned out to be three months. The very first thing I noticed was palpable—when the signal was stopped, there was true silence in my home for the first time since I’d moved there ten years before. It was as if some background noise—a buzz—a sound I’d been so accustomed to I no longer noticed it at all–was suddenly cut off–and only in its absence was the former presence recognized. This was rather unnerving.
The next phenomena which became immediately obvious was in my first chosen public venue for accessing the internet, a necessary evil to remain in business: The Library. Those once-hallowed halls of infinite knowledge, sacred palace of hushed tones and reverential awe…not so quiet anymore. People talk there—a lot, and not in whispers. I had my favorite spots—places where I could plug in my laptop to both power and internet if required, yet the constant and persistent chatter of the other patrons—conversations in normal voice tone, games and even Skype calls on surrounding computers, and parents scolding children—all proved to be more than I could handle on some days. More than once I found myself on my laptop in the parking lot, with a thread WiFi connection from inside the building keeping me connected.
Flash forward to something a young man —wise beyond his years, attending a workshop at the International Permaculture Convergence in Cuba said, regarding ‘yield’ and expectations: “…when I attend a class and do not get what I expected in terms of subject matter—I look to what other yields there may have been…often that yield may be patience.” Oh yes, this is one unexpected yield which permaculture as a culture on the whole produces in great quantity!
Flash back to my first PDC (Permaculture Design Course), which I completed either just prior to or even during my ‘unplugging’—this was my first experience with an immersion course in permaculture, therefore I was unsure whether the level of, or more correctly complete lack of organization, was in fact not an intentional outcome of the design. There is after all, quite a lot of discussion in the community regarding chaos and order and patterns…but, as it turned out, those involved in this particular course were fully cognizant of the lack of structure, and barely held onto what little there was in order to complete the required 72 hours. There were moments of clarity, to be sure, but an overall or underlying structure was completely absent. Here is where my personal interest in the responsibility of the teacher to the student outcomes became a high priority—several of the students already having a fairly high degree of knowledge in the subject matter have since pursued the creation of improved class and curriculum design as a result of the chaos in that class. Which brings us to the subject of integrity—a multi-faceted jewel of a word, to be sure—it is in the persistent, focused search and recognition of this singular concept which cuts to the very core of permaculture.
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
“he is known to be a man of integrity”
the state of being whole and undivided.
“upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”
synonyms: unity, unification, coherence, cohesion, togetherness, solidarity
“the integrity of the federation”
At the very core of Permaculture are its ethics: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share (or return of surplus). The entire system is taught as a structure-based design system, based on nature and organic process, but based on structure it is. One of the most basic qualities of any structure, organic or non- is INTEGRITY. Structural integrity refers to the nature of being whole, while ethical integrity is that of being morally sound, or also ‘whole’. The whole of permaculture design systems is often depicted as a flower—each overlapping petal the various branches of system design throughout culture (it’s not ‘just gardening’, you see). The backdrop, or canvas of the entire system concept is, however, the principles:
- Observe and interact
- Catch and store energy
- Obtain a yield
- Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
- Use and value renewable resources and services
- Produce no waste
- Design from patterns to details
- Integrate rather than segregate
- Use small and slow solutions
- Use and value diversity
- Use edges and value the marginal
Creatively use and respond to change
We will begin covering each one of these principles in depth once a week for the next 12 weeks, so please be certain to subscribe to this blog if this material interests you!
Back to consensus, and Cuba, and composting—I have yet to write my actual blog post on my Cuba experience, partly because of time factors with the holidays, but also in great part because I know that I still have some composting to do (thus the ‘raw’). It was a big experience, and one that I feel deserves time and reflection before attempting to put it into words. In fact, I do believe that would be a great way to start on the principles, with “observe and interact”. The mass consensus demonstration fits well under “apply self-regulation and accept feedback”, so we will cover it in more detail in that post—for now, let me say that it does work—I have witnessed a consensus model in action, and on a very large scale, and it worked. Was everyone entirely happy with the outcome? Perhaps not, but they accepted it as the best solution—and that is the important factor right there. This is what we strive for in permaculture—the highest yield, the best environment for not only the majority, but for everyone.
And that, my friends, is what permaculture, and regenerative systems design is all about!