Our Philosophy

Festina lente
-make haste...slowly

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Paradigm Shifting: Part II

I had no intention of writing more on this subject so soon, but a very simple way to describe this paradigm shift struck me this weekend, so what the heck. Write when the muse descends, no?

It hit me that how we agrarian peoples view the world is simply through the lens of Cartesian dualism. Right or left, Christian or atheist, we all tend to approach the world as separated into "nature" and "culture." In order for "culture" to advance, "nature" must decline. According to Cartesian dualism, it's a zero-sum game, with nature pitted as enemy of civilization.

This is where I see classical agrarian religions cease to be considered benign. Most religionistas talk about how, at worst, religion isn't hurting anybody. I've never been comfortable with that claim, but as the years roll by, I begin to find more and more specific examples of how Cartesian dualism (and its parent, religion) is actually damaging. And it is now my belief that the overarching dualistic worldview is the mother of all of our problems. For how can we respect and preserve nature if it stands in opposition to our own advancement?

For a moment here I want to chastise liberals on the issue before coming back around to more germaine discourse. This is not to say that conservatives are any better, I don't think that at all, but only to open up the idea that "progressive" tendencies are not all that they appear to be. See, the liberal tendency is to pretend to solve our energy issues with higher tech solutions. The idea that we can replace fossil energy with so-called "renewable" options one-for-one. If we could just get enough solar panels and wind turbines in place we could move to an oil-free economy. Never mind that the raw materials for manufacturing these technologies are mined with oil. Or that they are transported with oil. Or built by humans in factories that depend entirely on oil. Both the humans and the factories. Or that they are then distributed by a transportation network that runs on oil and maintained by service crews that depend utterly on oil. Even if the service truck is electric the roads are made of oil, and depend on oil to be maintained. Not to mention that solar and wind power don't run vehicles, the backbone of everything we do in this country.

Yes, certainly some of these technologies are adaptive for transition, on very small scales (after all, the rare earth elements required to build PV panels are already past their supply peaks, and we haven't even begun a solar revolution), but I want to emphasize once again that there is no EROI like what we get from oil. The energy return per unit of energy invested is worse for every technology out there than it is for oil, far worse in most cases. And so, by definition, there is no way to replace what we do one-for-one with "renewables," especially if what we do is grow. No, energy descent will require behavioral adaptation as well, and probably predominantly. And for a culture with 10,000 years of expansionary history under its belt, this is a radical, paradigm-shifting thing to come to grips with. A more or less perpetual bear. Alt energy is a rich man's game, and with no middle class remaining, the definition and scope of "rich" will change in a hurry I'm afraid.

Lest you think I'm being unduly abrasive to the green tech stability camp, let's look at the other extreme: the eco-terrorists who are willing to let culture suffer in order for nature to advance. These are the self-depricating, austere Puritans who would rather be cold and surrounded by predators than comfortable and assuming. "If the bear kills and eats me that is Nature's way, so be it." And while I respect this level of commitment to our mother, it smacks of a most unnatural insanity! If there is a meaning of life, it is self-preservation, including passing our genes on to continue this evolutionary dance in the future. So to consider destroying yourself (culture) to promote the health of the biosphere (nature) is one of the most unnatural behaviors we could engage in, in my opinion. Not that it isn't admirable, considering the circumstances!

Fortunately, there is a third option in permaculture, one that cares for both culture and nature at once. One that reinvests the surplus created by caring for both back into the advancement of both, creating a positive feedback loop. Permaculture promotes appropriate technology and perennial systems that evolve steadily along trendlines of decreasing energy. That is, as energy becomes more restricted, the design-intensive but energy-friendly systems being established take the heat off of the descent, and allow the system designer breathing room to address the next phase of transition.

Conversely, in an annual system like modern agriculture, roughly the same amount of energy is required to make the system productive every year. Industrial or organic, tractor or horse powered, the fields must be plowed, planted, fertilized, cultivated or sprayed, harvested, and plowed again, every time. This approach doesn't design the solutions in like permaculture does. Doesn't trend toward using less energy to accomplish the same tasks year-over-year. This might come as a shock, but organic monoculture is still Cartesian dualism. And worse, it depends on industrial production to work. Unsustainable on every account.

That is why I tell people that permaculture represents a legitimate paradigm shift. Because it marks a change in overall trajectory, from Cartesian dualism to reintegration with nature. Something organic monoculture will never do. When you fundamentally understand that humans are evolved creatures, just like yeast and rhinos, and therefore part and parcel of nature, you can then begin to grasp that the advancement of nature is also the advancement of humanity! That nature and culture are not enemies after all. We industrial people may not see that clearly right away, but the more time I spend dwelling in this paradigm, the more I am blown away by the correlation. As the soil in my garden deepens and becomes richer, the mineral density in my diet improves, improving my brain function and physiology, and the energy I spend on pest control decreases because the system is more capable of fighting its own battles. And the chemicals that do the fighting are the most nutritious to humans! Go figure. Win-win-win.

Just like allowing ourselves to fight disease without chemical intervention - the depth and scope of our immune systems are allowed to develop as nature intended. We rejoin the co-evolutionary dance with pathogens that began so many eons ago, and discard the idea that pathogens must be eradicated and subdued. There is even a growing body of evidence that suggests that viruses are the "paperboys" of the biosphere. That our cells actually allow them into the cell intentionally, even incorporating their novel sequences into the genome, to bring the latest evolutionary "news," before being sent on their merry way. Viruses are ubiquitous, and evoloving rapidly; there is no way to sequester ourselves from their influence, so why not dance with them?

It is the most liberating thing in the world to come home, when it is your real home. The spark that started me on that path two years ago, leading me slowly back to the garden, has now lead me back to the place where I was born. I can feel my cells reintegrating not only with the metaphorical garden, but with the physical garden of my origin, my own specific terroir, if you will. I hear my favorite music playing, and I feel the dance, because I am part of the score, no longer an outside observer. And THAT is revolutionary.

1 comment:

  1. And what a dance it is. Gald to share it with you.