Permaculture: Stuck in Homesteading?

Although the ethics and principles of permaculture design philosophy don’t seem to explicitly exclude anything other then homesteading, so far I can’t find evidence that it encourages any other approach to livelihood provision for humans. As far as I know there are no initiatives that actively seek to rewild/liberate humans and establish new kinds of relationships between humans and the biosphere.

Some initiatives come close, but no cigars!

There are some rather large scale permaculture projects, transforming landscape level estates into edible landscape food forests. But they all cater to residential humans, and reinforce the concept of ownership by specifically named humans or human incorporated bodies. Self-sufficiency is generally interpreted as residents being able to feed themselves off their own property. Sometimes this extends to self-provision of building materials, clothing materials, but rarely to more advanced materials like metals, ceramics or plastics.

Why is permaculture stuck in this model?

A root cause is the origin of permaculture design.
Accepting that the seminal publication of permaculture ethics and principles is Permaculture One in 1978 by David Holmgren with Bill Mollison credited1The story behind the first permaculture publication is complex. Holmgren tells the story from his own perspective publicly for the first time in … Continue reading as lead-author, it is clear to see in the first paragraph of the first chapter, page 1: “Permaculture is a word we have coined for an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man. It is, in essence, a complete agricultural ecosystem modelled on existing but simpler examples.

And there is your problem, right from the start.

In order of appearance:

  1. Permaculture – perhaps in hindsight an unfortunate neologism: “perma” derives from permanence (Latin for enduring, remaining hard, steadfast, immovable, unchanging); culture derives from colere (Latin for inhabit, occupy, domesticate, subjugate). The conjunction of these elements describe the unfortunately detached and at the same time self-elevated, patronising and unequal relationship between humans and their existential dynamic support systems of the biosphere. In several ways permaculture contradicts and obfuscates reality, just like agriculture does.
  2. integrated, evolving system: although this lays the groundwork for a holistic and novel way of life, in practice very little of this potential emerges in the lives of many permaculture practitioners. They often find that living a full-time permaculture lifestyle is hard perennial work.
  3. perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species: these qualifications limit the holistic approach by excluding most species in one and all of the species in the two other domains of life2domains of life: Archeae, Bacteria, Eukaryotes. Plants and animals are members of the Eucaryotes domain, as are Fungi and Protista.
    Domains of Life
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    . Even more curious, one species is excluded from the system and elevated to a superior position: man (sorry, better half of the species) is to be served by everything else. And if you happen not to be of use to man: sorry, but you don’t fit in this system. This seems more like a selectively “holistic approach” to domestication of the biosphere, rather then living in harmony with it.
  4. complete agricultural ecosystem: confirming that permaculture is a kind of domestication.
  5. existing but simpler examples: nostalgia to soothe the fears of modernity. A recognition of the inevitable collapse of civilisation and admitting to only turning back the clock.

Permaculture does not attempt or pretend to offer a radically different way of living, or perceiving the world. It does not recognise what is wrong with the contemporary model of the biosphere. It does not identify the key causes of its inevitable dysfunction and dysbiosis.

By affirming civilisation as acceptable and not recognising that alternatives exist or be imagined, permaculture is sabotaging itself as an agent of change.

The fact that permaculture has captured the imagination of thousands of people around the world speaks more to the charisma of Bill Mollison as a consummate storyteller and the paucity of imagination in the audience then to the inherent qualities of permaculture as a design philosophy.

The admission that permaculture “is designed to fit into urban situations” and the subtitle of Permaculture One: A Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlement, should have been dead giveaways.

note | noot[+]