Reflections on a Permaculture Mind: A Revolution Disguised as Thinking


In a conflict resolution class I learned that there is no such thing as common sense, because a person from one culture may have an understanding that a person from another might not have; but even in our own, there are micro-cultures as the lens zooms in and out and is examined with an eye for scale and other multiple factors. The sensibility that we all share (or should share) a common world is perpetuated by the idea that everything is measurable, but what if it isn’t? Does that mean we throw our hands up in the air, stop examining our world, and leave it all to chance?

The thing I find most revolutionary about permaculture is the idea that we should not only observe and ask questions without judgment, but long before we even consider a response, we need to give any situation the time required for us to determine how to respond appropriately. Hello? How many of us −in our sound-bite, fast-track-trade-deals, it’s- so-five-seconds-ago, act-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace− world give anything the time required to just observe and ask questions before drawing to a conclusion and making a decision?

The desert wind blows from the East. The sun also rises in the East, so where is the best place to plant the garden? Perhaps in the eastern corner of the property… but not so fast! The thing with permaculture is that we give ourselves the time to sit and think. Is this really best? What would provide the most beneficial yield for all concerned on this specific plot of land? What are other factors involved in our decision making process?

The Eastern corner of the property might be best suited for a goat shed because it will create a wind block from that wind that can whip up to fifty miles an hour these days because of climate change. The point is, a permaculture state of mind, is one of slow thinking.

There is a saying that “permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening.” Some attribute this saying to Mike Feingold, a permaculturist at Findhorn (http://www.findhorn.org/); but I say, it is in true permaculture spirit, and completely unnecessary to care where the source or ownership of this truism lies. If the truth is understood, perpetuated and transformed by those who encounter it. If it shifts and adapts for their localized purposes, then it is a living understanding. This flies in the face of copyright laws, academic procedures for giving credit to sources, and probably every concept of current neoliberal economic thinking− so this tidbit of permaculture thinking alone is revolutionary and life changing.

But back to the idea of slow thinking. How would it change your life if you (and those around you) DID NOT jump to conclusions or react (overreact?) to the latest jab on Facebook? How would it change our lives if people slowed down enough to ask questions about the person standing in front of them, rather than jump to conclusions about why it is they are doing whatever it is they are doing? I have a young friend dealing with an intergenerational conflict that would think he landed in a world of familial bliss, if this one aspect of thinking could only be true. How might it change a world of isms and privilege, if we slowed down and asked questions, instead of falling back on the “common sense” of what everybody supposedly knows… this or that about him or her?

In her book, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein examines how shocks (social and otherwise) are being used by financial opportunists to fast track policies and other multiple structural and cultural mechanisms to enable a rising global oligarchy. For me, it was an eye-opening book, one that, a few years back, I recommended to everyone I encountered because its message was powerful. I bring it up here because one intelligent person told me that she wouldn’t read Naomi Klein’s book because Klein’s grandparents were communists.

The obvious pre-judgment of this comment, the willingness to close ones eyes to possible information that Klein could have offered, not only flabbergasted me, but is something that has stuck under my collar like a hidden thorn ever since my friend said it. How can you let what someone’s grandparents did allow you to measure the sole worth of a person’s words without ever reading what she had said and drawing your own conclusions?

In a world of slow thinking one would take into account that the sun rises in the East, but that doesn’t mean you should plant the garden in that corner without observing and taking into consideration all the factors involved.

So what if Naomi Klein’s grandparents embraced communism? Even if one thinks that the cold world concept of communism is the only form of communal thinking, then by all means, read her book understanding there may be biases there. But a slow thinker would also consider that every parent embraces a form of communism when it comes to their families, to do otherwise would mean throwing the babies out to fend for themselves. When examining “communism” from the scope of families with children, anyone who is against communal sharing would be… shall I dare call up the sound bite of “anti-family”? Ah, but I am taking the idea of communism out of context, my friend might complain, which is exactly my point! Nothing is dualistic, not really. There is no “either/or”. There is no “this is bad” and “this is good”. It all depends on context. We need to examine the full ramifications and contexts of the decisions we choose. Slow down people; and think, please.

What conclusions are you making about planting that garden in the east? Are you seeing the big picture in full context of all observable variables? What are you leaving out? Would turning soil over without the protection of a wind block actually foster soil degradation over time? How might you build in a resilient factor of changing your mind, should your conclusions unveil new information?

In every respect I find it disconcerting that I need to think of observation and slow thinking as a revolutionary idea. I was shocked by my friend’s refusal to read a book that I considered highly valuable. But maybe, that’s really what we are up against in a sound-bite world. It doesn’t matter if we can measure where the sun is rising, folks. It’s just one small piece of the puzzle.

Sit with me for a while. Let’s watch how life responds to that corner before we decide. Permaculture is a revolutionary way of thinking, and yet, it has been with us since ancient times. Some call it wisdom. Some call it listening to the elders. Some call it subversive, but this kind of thinking is what is needed now.

We have reached the tipping point of our own destruction and we need to take time out to slow down the world before we push the wrong buttons, draw the wrong conclusions, and allow those who would plant all gardens in the east without thinking to run amok. We need to pull ourselves out of the standardized, prepackaged, prejudged, fast-tracked to nowhere way of thinking, one that leads to a dead world lemming adventure. We need to fast-track nothing.

Permaculture is “revolution disguised as gardening” because without gardens there would be no life. There would be no clean air, no food, no water, no nada. And somehow there’s an overreaching oligarchy in control, that for some reason, doesn’t not seem to think this is important. I think, perhaps, this deserves a bit of thought before jumping into action, eh? Before deciding you won’t read a book because the hearsay of what someone somewhere said their grandparents did.

I have embraced a permaculturist’s state of mind, in this way of thinking, there is no room for presumptions without deep thought. There is no room for singular economic thinking, if there is no clean air to breathe. I only wish this form of thinking weren’t so revolutionary because we need it to become a part of our common culture. We think; therefore, we might exist.

And by the way, I currently am recommending Naomi Klein’s newest book: This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate, if nothing else, it might get you thinking.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on a Permaculture Mind: A Revolution Disguised as Thinking

  1. Cool, Karen. David just bought me a book (a how-to manual) about urban and suburban permaculture. I’m really intimidated by the manual labor aspect–I wish people/communities were more open to sharing. Also, I wish HOAs did not exist. 🙂

  2. Thanks! The beauty of permaculture is you can start small. It’s more of a mindset than a bunch of rules. In Portland, OR where I am currently living and pursuing a career in sustainability education, there is a large community aspect to permaculture projects. I volunteer at Portland Fruit Tree Project which goes around and cares for trees from pruning through harvesting fruit. A portion of the yield goes to the homeowner, a portion to the harvesters, and the rest to low income families. There’s nothing like having a group of ten or so people converging onto your place and finishing a job that would have taken a single person days or weeks to do. Work parties are actually a part of the social permaculture model. I know several neighborhoods where people just announce they are having a work party and people show up. It’s far more informal than an association.
    As far as homeowner associations go, well, perhaps you can work to change the rules. Did you hear that LA has changed the rules on curbside gardening? Portland has curbside gardens everywhere. One simple policy change could change the whole nature of personal interactions.
    On the other hand I’ve heard that legally HOAs have no teeth, but I’m not a lawyer. The idea is just because we’ve come to believe that certain rules about how we live, doesn’t necessarily mean they have power or are unchangeable. To be resilient means being able to change. To change means embracing our humanity. Best of luck, and feel free to ask if you have any questions.

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