You may say it is just good luck that things work out so well: the trees don’t care about watering the plants around them—they are in it for themselves, maximizing their chances to survive and reproduce. That they nourish other beings is an unintended side-effect. The same for the algae, for the nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and for the bacteria inside ruminants that allow them to digest cellulose. This world, you might think, is everyone for himself. Nature is a cutthroat competition, and an economy that is the same is natural too. (Chris Eisenstein, “Sacred Economics”)
In permaculture we talk a lot about ‘guilds’, which are often confused with polycultures, or the term is stained with historical mis-use or mis-interpretation. Traditional human guilds evolved into closed networks, where admittance was less community oriented and more likened to ‘The Godfather’ than any natural system. The infamous Freemasons are a great example of this—now a worldwide organization which began as a trade guild—the masons, who built the great cathedrals of Europe evolved into an exclusive, rather than inclusive culture. This is the important distinction between what we people have created historically as ‘guilds’, and what nature nurtures: hierarchy vs. a naturally balanced system which evolves based on mutual respect, appreciation, and facilitation, to the betterment of all.
The elephant in the room seems to be how to create this environment, which is accessible to all, inclusive of all, and which promotes the ‘fair share’ or ‘return of surplus’ at the core of permaculture ethics. This rather ponderous creature also mucks about in the current economy of the U.S. in what I have come to think of as ‘Scared Economics’—born in a culture which worships ‘success’ in terms of the acquisition of stuff at the expense of time and creative or artistic pursuits–the waters teem with risk and fear. Fed a steady diet from birth of ‘more’ means ‘better’, the typical American these days has become lulled into a sense of entitlement and complacency. As population increases, so does isolation and absence of community. Our society has become as fractured as the shale under our feet. Rather than seeking ways of being independent of energy-sucking contraptions such as SUV’s and mounting heaps of petroleum products manufactured for no better reason than ‘convenience’, we have now turned to wreaking further havoc in the bowels of the earth—as if it weren’t enough to raze the top layers. One of the big lessons in permaculture is connectivity, you see—we know that there is a reason that shale is there, deep in the ground—carbon is generally a filter, and Mother Nature put it there, not to be exploited by greedy and ignorant oil companies, but to create a healthy environment for plants, animals, and people to flourish on the surface. So let’s just go ahead and crush that filter to extract something which we already know has caused irreversible damage on our air, the atmosphere, our climate —sure, why not throw in the destruction of water and earth as well? And for what? “To reduce our dependence on foreign oil’? There’s an oxymoron for ya—the country which invented the “War on Drugs” uses the same terminology of addictive behavior to justify our junkie-like energy habits.
But, I digress—the intention here was not to rant about fracking, it was to address the mindset which allows it—the skewed logic which has farmers buying in to these ill-conceived schemes on the basis that they can continue their farming ‘habit’—that’s the way we regard people in this country who supply, or should be supplying our sustenance, it is something which is not profitable, not sustainable, therefore not worth our collective energy to support. Why should we grow fruit here, when it’s so cheap in Mexico? So, what we are saying is: it is more important to us to support huge corporate entities, ones which are continuing to do irreversible damage to our home, than it is to find a way of supporting an industry which is the backbone of the country—one which feeds us, clothes us, and shelters us…or did, until we chose to look elsewhere for these essentials. Insanity, indeed, is rampant in this country.
Where does fear come into this scenario? Is this not the epitome of “Fear and Loathing in Food Production”? Conspiracy theories aside, how does it make sense to dis-credit those who provide our nutrients, while at the same time feeding the fire-breathing dragon which is razing the countryside and terrorizing its citizens, whether or not they recognize the beast for what it really is? What are we really so afraid of?
In conversations I’ve had with many people who are in or approaching ‘subsistence’ lifestyle—those who have come to question the mores of our society–the fears tend to cluster around two themes: food and healthcare—both inextricably intertwined. The solution here is simple: we must learn to nurture the nurturers—rather than feeding virgins to the dragon, why not cultivate the very entrepreneurial mindset which makes us Americans seek this “Dream” of freedom, by seeing it for what it is—not some pipe-dream of consumerism, but the ability to make our choices about what we eat, how we grow our food, where our dollar is spent. In this climate the entreprenurturist is born, and can thrive—here we find the person with not only the will and capacity to create something from nothing, but that key ingredient this country was founded on: self-reliance. Ask yourself: ‘what would I do, if I had just a little more time?’ Then, give it—give it to one of those bright lights who have come to question their future. Watch them flower.
What do we feed this rare creature, how do we care for it? The same way we would parent a child or coax a seed into maturation: protect it from the boot poised to trample it–give it light, space…and most of all: kindness…compassion…love. Room to grow.