EconomicsPeople SystemsSociety

Permaculture and Slavery: A System Analysis

Something interesting happens to you once given an opportunity to take a well-taught, well-presented, and properly contextualized Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course. You are provided with new tools with which to view virtually every conceivable topic through very different eyes – in this instance, economics & history.

The American Civil War, for example, could easily be understood as America’s first energy war. It was also explicitly a war over capital – the most important capital the United States held at the time, enabling it to become the world’s greatest, most influential economic power with the eventual emergence of mass industrialization & financialization globally.

A clear proof provided for this assertion can be seen in the following, quoted from a Mark Ames piece, The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%:

A little over a year ago, while researching the Confederacy’s economy, I stumbled across this unnerving graph charting the value of America’s “stock of slaves” in the last decades before the Civil War.

This graph tells the real story behind the South’s secession: the value of the South’s “slave stock” — the property of the ruling class — soared as secession approached, reaching an almost 90-degree angle in those final years before Harper’s Ferry. The South’s ruling class seceded to protect their riches, period:

From afar, if you didn’t know that human “slave stock” was the asset being charted, you could easily mistake this graph, and its parabolic trajectory, for one of the many destructive asset bubbles this country has suffered right up through our own time.

Up close, this graph drips greed, mass murder and shame — it strips away the historical revisionism that falsely ascribed the South’s “cause” to an almost selfless, tragically romantic attachment to “tradition” and “culture”; it gives lie to the myth that slave owners kept their slaves to the detriment of their own bottom line.

Like the worst wars and the worst of history’s villains, the Confederacy’s one percenters (i.e. – the elites) seceded and fought in order to continue profiting from their most valuable investment properties — their human slave stock.

The graph comes from a grim working paper, “Capitalists Without Capital”, written in the late 1980s by a UC Berkeley economist, Richard Sutch, and a UC Riverside historian, Robert Ransom.

As they showed, slavery produced huge profits for southerners who invested in slave capital — to the detriment of all other portfolio investments, as the value of slaves soared in the mid-19th century. By that time, by far the largest cotton-growing states’ wealth was in slave stock, not in real estate or other investments.

The slave trade was outlawed in 1808; but the slave population quadrupled from 1 million in 1800 to 4 million in 1860 — encouraged by slaveowners who “bred” their human stock, thereby multiplying their profits as the value of each slave rose.

Slavery is often portrayed by revisionist historians as somehow antithetical to market capitalism; in reality, slavery was a winning portfolio investment, the very incarnation of just how evil “free-market” capitalism can be. As the authors write:

“If slaves … were an investment included in the asset portfolio of the planter/entrepreneur, they helped satisfy the owner’s demand for wealth. But unlike most other forms of capital, which depreciate with time, the stock of slaves appreciated. Thus, the growth of the slave population continuously increased the stock of wealth.” — The 1%’s Doctrine for the 99%

This is perhaps even more stunningly illustrated in a recent article published by the UK Independent, “Britain’s colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition”, which reported findings based on the work of Dr. Nick Draper from University College London concerning compensation provided by the British government to former slave owners for “property losses” after the abolition of slavery.

The numbers are astonishing, clearly demonstrating how the transformation of slave capital to financial capital formed the basis for the emergence of who would become major players in British banking, industry and politics for years to come:

The true scale of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade has been laid bare in documents revealing how the country’s wealthiest families received the modern equivalent of billions of pounds in compensation after slavery was abolished.

Among those revealed to have benefited from slavery are ancestors of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, former minister Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. Other prominent names which feature in the records include scions of one of the nation’s oldest banking families, the Barings, and the second Earl of Harewood, Henry Lascelles, an ancestor of the Queen’s cousin. Some families used the money to invest in the railways and other aspects of the industrial revolution; others bought or maintained their country houses, and some used the money for philanthropy. George Orwell’s great-grandfather, Charles Blair, received £4,442, equal to £3m today, for the 218 slaves he owned.

The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their "property" when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies in 1833. This figure represented a staggering 40 per cent of the Treasury’s annual spending budget and, in today’s terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn. — Britain’s colonial shame: Slave-owners given huge payouts after abolition

Translated to present-day currency values, each family received £5.5 million GBP (or $8.25 million USD) in compensation:

Mr Cameron, too, is revealed to have slave owners in his family background on his father’s side. The compensation records show that General Sir James Duff, an army officer and MP for Banffshire in Scotland during the late 1700s, was Mr Cameron’s first cousin six times removed. Sir James, who was the son of one of Mr Cameron’s great-grand-uncle’s, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves he forfeited on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica.

Another illustrious political family that it appears still carries the name of a major slave owner is the Hogg dynasty, which includes the former cabinet minister Douglas Hogg. They are the descendants of Charles McGarel, a merchant who made a fortune from slave ownership. Between 1835 and 1837 he received £129,464, about £101m in today’s terms, for the 2,489 slaves he owned. McGarel later went on to bring his younger brother-in-law Quintin Hogg into his hugely successful sugar firm, which still used indentured labour on plantations in British Guyana established under slavery. And it was Quintin’s descendants that continued to keep the family name in the limelight, with both his son, Douglas McGarel Hogg, and his grandson, Quintin McGarel Hogg, becoming Lord Chancellor.

Dr Draper said: "Seeing the names of the slave-owners repeated in 20th century family naming practices is a very stark reminder about where those families saw their origins being from. In this case I’m thinking about the Hogg family. To have two Lord Chancellors in Britain in the 20th century bearing the name of a slave-owner from British Guiana, who went penniless to British Guyana, came back a very wealthy man and contributed to the formation of this political dynasty, which incorporated his name into their children in recognition – it seems to me to be an illuminating story and a potent example."

What kind of system design thinking necessitates the dehumanization of human beings on the basis of phenotype? The very character of this paradigm required, in the minds of the system’s designers, the dehumanizing & subsequent enslavement of not only black Africans to misappropriate their labour – it was also deemed necessary to do the same to the indigenous inhabitants of many parts of the Western world in order to misappropriate their land. Through these means the aggregation of enormous amounts of capital was enabled for those not subject to such social, economic and political exclusion.

Strangely enough, a great deal of this was justified and legitimised through the misuse of science and religion. In that respect, how are science and religion to be differentiated if they can both be used to confirm the biases and prejudices of people? How can the purportedly unassailable objectivity of science be ensured if it is still reliant upon (and affected by) human perception, judgement, opinion and intention – just like religion? If human beings can be made non-human through sophistry using scientific means, what good is it as an ultimate benchmark?

I’d like to revisit a point I’d made in a previous article:

Economics is a continuation of energy by different means.

Classical physics defines energy as the ability to do work. Money represents the ability to do work. Fossil fuels furnish the ability to do work — quite a great deal of it — and, for the moment, relatively cheaply when one accounts for the finite nature of its supply in relation to what it facilitates.

Before the advent of fossil fuel (and modern finance), the ability to do work was represented by the possession of human chattel, or slaves. History, in its politics, economics, and social development, can be condensed into the unfolding of how work is accomplished in providing our human needs and subsequently how wealth is generated.

In short, the success of any and every system is dependent upon the nature of the supply of energy it requires in order to exist. From a theoretical standpoint, this is where Permaculture excels in expressing the criteria upon which proposed systems of design ought to be judged, avoiding the pitfalls of what we’ve seen throughout history — formally with slavery and currently with industrialization (although, the unfortunate reality is that slavery still exists today).

Taken from Chapter 2 of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (“Concepts and Themes in Design”), there are three practical design considerations that make our choices unquestionably clear:

  • The systems we construct should last as long as possible, and take least maintenance.
  • These systems, fuelled by the sun, should produce not only their own needs, but the needs of the people creating or controlling them. Thus, they are sustainable, as they sustain both themselves and those who construct them.
  • We can use energy to construct these systems, providing that in their lifetime, they store or conserve more energy than we use to construct them or to maintain them.

In section 14.13 of the Manual’s last chapter, “The Strategies of an Alternative Global Nation”, Bill covers the features of what would comprise “An Ethical Investment Movement”. He highlights indicators for systems that fail to care for people, an essential element defining Permaculture Ethics:

  • Production of dangerous foods or medicines
  • Have unsafe or polluted workplace; this includes noise pollution
  • Deal in addictive substances or provide addictive services (alcohol, tobacco, gambling)
  • Do not permit organized labour; do not deal with employees on a fair basis, nor pay fair wages
  • Exploit people directly via slavery, bonded labour, excessive profit margins, by forms of prostitution, racial and sexual discrimination, or harassment
  • Support or cooperate with regimes using torture or imprisonment without charge, dictatorships, corrupt regimes restricting voting, disenfranchising people by gerrymander, or by allowing votes only to certain groups.

Environmental filmmaker, John D. Liu, expands on these points in an article he wrote last year “Functional Ecosystems as the Engine of the Green Economy”:

Studying the Earth’s ecosystems is fascinating and can show us the way to sustainability if we are willing to act on the evidence before our eyes. When we consciously observe nature – the tides, atmosphere, movement of clouds, river systems, microbial communities, living soils, plants and animals – evolutionary logic is revealed. Nature is always adapting to changing conditions and seeking equilibrium. Everything has a purpose, nothing is lost, nothing is wasted, and nothing is extraneous. We know that the Earth’s naturally functioning ecosystems are the basis of life on Earth, providing air, water, soil fertility, raw materials and energy. It is also clear that the global economy does not recognise that the production and consumption of all goods and services depends entirely on the on-going functionality of these ecosystems, and, as a result, fails to value it correctly. This is not surprising for a system that was founded on feudal privilege, military force, colonisation and slavery. While our stock market screens and bank accounts claim we have generated wealth, in reality, we have enriched a small minority of people while impoverishing a much larger majority of people on Earth, and destroyed ecological function over huge portions of the planet.

Humanity is exhibiting the behaviour of what in a natural system would be described as a parasite – we are consuming our host. When a host dies the parasite dies as well. This characterisation, while accurate given our current behaviour, seems dark. An alternative would be to seek what is humanity’s unique evolutionary niche and contribution to maintaining ecosystem function. This seems to be consciousness. We have developed the ability to think abstractly, to envision our own death, to consider time relatively and to communicate complex thoughts from generation to generation. So, if we are to be conscious beings rather than parasites, we need to consciously design a fair, sustainable economy and society. Acknowledging that functional ecosystems are the basis of all life and therefore basis of all wealth is the first step down a long path. Leaving the path of violence and inequality that we are on is fraught with difficulty, but is there really any other choice? Making functional ecosystems the engine of a new economics, positions all people’s efforts to benefit themselves, their families, human society and the Earth. The path that values ecosystem function as the basis of life and wealth is the one that leads to sustainability, less conflict, and ultimately, survival for the human race. — Functional Ecosystems as the Engine of the Green Economy

This piece could be taken as an indictment of a system that has been founded upon a distortion of nature and the human being — a system that has made both the oppressed and oppressor into something much less than they should be. Both are in need of help and healing. But it is also an exhortation to do better than we have up to this point. We can and we must.

There’s a lot of work to do.

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Rhamis Kent

Rhamis Kent is a consultant with formal training in mechanical engineering (University of Delaware, B.S.M.E. '95) and permaculture-based regenerative whole systems design. He has previously worked for the renowned American inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen at DEKA Research & Development, with subsequent engineering work ranging from medical device research and development to aerospace oriented mechanical design. After taking an interest in the design science of Permaculture, he sought extended training with permaculture expert and educator Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. This led to his involvement with design work connected to the development of Masdar City in UAE after Mr. Lawton and his consulting company (Permaculture Sustainable Consultancy Pty. Ltd.) were contracted by AECOM/EDAW to identify solutions which fit the challenging zero emissions/carbon neutral design constraint of the project.

15 Comments

  1. Disturbingly, the American Civil War in the 1860’s coincided with US oil production starting in significant volumes. I wonder if human energy sources were seen as a immoral only because an “alternative” energy source became available. And I wonder what will happen as we slide down the peak oil curve…

  2. Re: Economics, People Systems, Society — by Rhamis Kent March 11, 2013

    Rhamis,

    Wow!

    Words cannot thank you enough for your efforts in this article. If read fully, along with references, and understood by many it should have great impact on everyone’s perception of reality. It provides a commanding argument. I will do everything I can to disseminate it broadly in my contacts.

    With Much Regards and Respect.
    Monte & Eileen Hines
    Hines Farm

  3. Greg,

    22 Billion Energy Slaves

    “The title of this post refers to the ex-oil geologist Colin Campbell’s remark that the amount of work we get today from fossil fuels is the equivalent of having some 22 billion human slaves working for us round the clock 365 days a year.”

    https://22billionenergyslaves.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/22-billion-energy-slaves.html

    “Today’s energy supplies provide the equivalent of the work of 22 billion slaves, according to former oil industry man Colin Campbell. But now the wave of oil looks set to leave us high and dry.”

    https://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2011/mar/01/addiction-oil-global-economy

  4. Excellent and thought provoking.
    I have tried to tell people in the past that the USA became artificially rich on the back of slave labor and the wealth that was created has continued to reverberate through our consumer driven industrialized lives doing very little good.
    It’s really interesting to see how it has infiltrated politics too, and not just in the USA.
    I wonder just how much that $1200- $1250 is in today’s money?
    We know that slavery is still going strong in some parts of the world, and the associated kidnapping, child selling, sex slave trade, wife buying and the life of serfdom offered to many on the land as corporations and banks own more and more.
    It is really great to highlight something like this through the eyes of Permaculture thinking, to understand the laws of supply and demand, and for us to realize that niches will always be filled whenever one appears vacant.

  5. Hi Rhamis,

    Thanks so much for this thought-provoking article. It’s such a welcome and needed contribution to the permaculture conversation. There is far too little discussion in our movement of how our work and our worldview is shaped, materially and conceptually, by the legacies of violence and inequality that we’ve inherited. This is especially poignant and disabling in an movement that has always been majority White, and whose leadership is majority White and male. Poignant, because one of our fundamental principles is diversity – but you wouldn’t know it by our demographics.

    There are two sides to the problem. Unpacking and acknowledging the legacy you describe, and how it still affects us, is one – and I’m grateful for your contribution to that discussion.

    The other problem is how to make our strategies reflect a deeper understanding of systemic inequality. If the past 35 years count as Protracted Thoughtful Observation, I think we can confidently conclude that the strategies we’ve been using to grow the movement do not serve the function of building diversity. We are not all White, thank goodness, and people of color are making critical, badly needed contributions to the movement (some of them featured on these pages). But the representation of people of color in the movement is nowhere near proportional to the population at large.

    So I’ll put it as a question, to all of us: What have our strategies been, for making change, and for growing the movement? Why do they fail to build proportional diversity? I want to suggest that we need to take the focus off of others (Why aren’t they interested?) and put it on US: Why aren’t we relevant to the lives of people of color? Why aren’t permaculture spaces welcoming for people from other backgrounds and experiences? How can we do things differently?

    I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I do know that White permaculturists will not come up with workable solutions on our own. As people who benefit from systemic racism, we’re not equipped to just intuitively understand the experiences of people who are targeted by the same systems that benefit us. Permaculture principles and ethics alone won’t show us how to be relevant to communities across these historical wounds in the social fabric. Before we try and educate, we need to BE educated. Before we try and exert influence, we need to BE influenced. We need to lead by listening.

    Thanks again for your article, Rhamis. May it go viral!

  6. Rafter,

    I’ve addressed quite a lot of what you refer to in some of my previous writings on this site as well as a couple of the speaking engagements I’ve had – specifically discussing what’s happening in places like Detroit (the quintessential post-industrial American city) & Somalia.

    Context is everything. If you can’t speak to people “where they’re at” and if you don’t think enough of people to acknowledge their perspective on things and addressing them as such, then you aren’t accomplishing anything. You’re probably doing more harm than good. I’ve seen this as being the case more times than not.

    From that standpoint, “permaculture” isn’t the problem – YOU become the problem because you end up being the filter through which “permaculture” is being first experienced. The presentation is all wrong. At that point, a major “marketing/PR/image” problem is created and we live in an era where those things loom extremely large in how we come to know the world.

    If that first impression isn’t favorable, then the work that needs to be done is compounded & made more complicated. Then a “rebranding” effort becomes necessary.

    “Permaculture” is largely seen as some sort of counter-cultural, alternative-lifestyle, airy-fairy lily white escapist affectation. As I said in my Detroit lecture at Schumacher College 3 years ago, it’s heartbreaking because the true power and value of what “permaculture” has to offer is completely missed – and the people who need it most aren’t afforded the opportunity to avail themselves of what it can provide them with because there’s nothing about it that reflects them or their experience/perspective.

    Actually, I often avoid using the term “permaculture” because it is loaded with some problematic associations. I typically use the term “Agroecology” because you can find peer-reviewed academic/scientific literature about agroecology – and you can’t do that with the specific designation “permaculture” (although, Agroecology INCLUDES permaculture – along with biological farming, alley cropping, agro-forestry, biointensive, etc.). It’s much more broad and inclusive…

  7. Hi all,

    For centuries dominance and parasitism have been the pattern and conduct for the “powerful unconscious elite” to strive upon the energy and ignorance of the many others, and even though it has changed faces, names and methods, it has still remained in the background (wars & slavery, salary & capital, mass media & misinformation, ideology & compliance).

    Access to a land and its resources is the condition for individuals (what ever the color of their skin or religion beliefs) to have a place to live and make their own choices, to share with others, to be free and independent, autonomous and responsible.

    I wrote this letter where I explain my analysis, but never had any response:

    https://hautrive.free.fr/permaculture/Letter-doctor-seeds.pdf

    I am still looking for a place, a partnership or a community, but even with money, knowledge and good will, it is not that easy to find…

    Blessing to you and peace
    Patrick Hautrive from France

  8. Thank you Rhamis for this insightful article. It is one that should be read by as many as possible in these times when we indeed find ourselves when a radical transition of our economic systems needs to change or we die.

    I am appreciative of Rafter Sass Fergusen’s sentiment that to this very day many continue to benefit from the flawed and inequitable economic and social structures of the past. There is also validity in the argument if the hegemony of permaculture continues to be dominated by wealthier western-educated white males it is impossible to bring about change that is inclusive and truly in tune with nature.

    I think Rafter answers the dilemma which is to LISTEN and ACKNOWLEDGE. Indeed each of us need to listen to the voices of the past and the voices of the present. We need to hear and acknowledge the wrongs and horrors of the slavery, not only from macro-economic level, but also from a micro individual level. I recently posted in Qindonline.com a review of the book ‘Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl’ by Harriet Jacobs. Published in 1861, it is a book that is relevant reading to all. It is an old book by a black woman but it is a relevant book.

    We can listen to the voices of the present in the life systems of native peoples around the world who continue to live close to the earth. These communities have maintained the wisdom of being a working part of the ecosystem.

    One cannot force the demographics of permaculture to change. What one can do is for the permaculture community to become true students, going to those who have been living fairly among themselves and with our planet for thousands of generations.

    It is a simple switch. Let us be humble. Let us follow, not try to lead. Let us not try to bring others to our western based organisations, thinking we know the way. The truth is, our historical culture clearly indicates that we don’t. Let us go to them, the peoples who have been doing right and living right and learn from them our path forward.

  9. Victor,

    If you are from America, as I am, race is still the proverbial elephant in the room that people still don’t want to talk about.

    Having a person in the White House who happens to share the same hue of skin as a historically mistreated group of people is meaningless and doesn’t address anything with regards to economic, social, and political realities that affect most people with a couple of historically key demographics – that being the Indigenous of North America and the descendants of enslaved Africans (especially if you look at the statistics). The funny thing is even though a black man is president he still isn’t afforded the same deference as that of a white man (this in no way indicates my being in agreement with or sympathetic to the current administration’s policies, which are problematic on a number of fronts. I’m simply making an observation).

    As was recently written in the New York Times(The Good, Racist People by TA-NEHISI COATES):

    https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/07/opinion/coates-the-good-racist-people.html?_r=2&

    “I am trying to imagine a white president forced to show his papers at a national news conference, and coming up blank. I am trying to a imagine a prominent white Harvard professor arrested for breaking into his own home, and coming up with nothing. I am trying to see Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage being frisked at an upscale deli, and I find myself laughing in the dark. It is worth considering the messaging here. It says to black kids: “Don’t leave home. They don’t want you around.” It is messaging propagated by moral people.”

    People are reluctant to speak about this because it really challenges what (most) Americans would like to think about themselves. Morris Berman speaks about this powerfully in his writings. For example:

    From Hustlers to Thugs: Two Ends of the Historical Spectrum

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/08/from-hustlers-to-thugs/

    “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that in the fullness of time, the hustlers of the 17th century evolved into the thugs and murderers of the 20th and 21st. And when you think about it, how could it have been otherwise? If you start out with a “group portrait in tones of greed,” where else could you wind up?”

    The discomfort that some feel in discussing THE defining historical problem of “the world’s only superpower” is interesting, as if that discomfort with the topic is expected to be grounds for it being dismissed and considered irrelevant in our present time because it happened “so long ago” – as if the momentum from that historical period has suddenly dissipated miraculously. For me, it’s the discomfort & dismissiveness that has fueled my own quiet resentment – because the inconvenience of the discomfort (for some) presumably trumps the very real, palpable, and quantifiable pain directly tied to the history of institutions like chattel slavery.

    If permaculture is to be TRULY relevant in a place like America, addressing the “perceived social problems” Bill mentions in the Designers’ Manual as being the driver behind the creation of permaculture, it has to address this history in a very real & direct way – it can’t be avoided, because that lies at the center of virtually every social problem in America – it has dictated who was given access to opportunity & who wasn’t historically – and that has had far reaching consequences and effects on how the country has developed (and degenerated).

    Some of the contemporary texts I would suggest people refer to (for those interested) would be the following:

    Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (who, ironically, is white)

    https://youtu.be/MCb4dcMkC5Q

    https://youtu.be/emqTvPH48dw

    The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander

    https://youtu.be/a99ZHfsFiKk

    The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil Gibran Muhammad

    https://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-confronting-the-contradictions-of-america%E2%80%99s-past/

    The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit by Thomas J. Sugrue

    https://youtu.be/9LYZqzJSinw

    The reason why all of this is worth covering is because we are witnessing the obsolescence of the industrial economic model within the Western economies (like the United States) – and the people most impacted by this phenomenon are the poor who, as a percentage of their total population, will invariably be racial minorities like black Americans in greater numbers than all other groups with the exception of Native Americans…and this is strongly correlated to preceding historical events.

  10. Rhamis, thanks for putting your thought into this! On the topic of what you said in the comments here: ““Permaculture” is largely seen as some sort of counter-cultural, alternative-lifestyle, airy-fairy lily white escapist affectation…”

    Though there is a lot to say about all this, I’ll try to keep it short. As a preface, I think it’s extremely important to tell our personal stories as permaculturists. From being around the field in the US for a long while I have learned of a lot of diverse backgrounds that aren’t always obvious on the surface, and I think our backgrounds can offer more to the picture than just race (not to diminish the influence of race). This is just a preface to me saying, I really agree with you, and thinking through where we are going from here.

    I think you are hitting the mark when you say “permaculture” as it stands doesn’t reflect the experiences of many, many people in US. And I agree that many people miss out due to this. On this, I have two things to say that relate to points you raised. One, I think there is a lot to what you suggest as the “counter-culture” appeal (or lack of appeal) of permaculture. There is a bit of a tendency to go radical culturally for those who get into permaculture, but I think we would be served more by not adopting the perma-‘culture’, but by just being who we are in our communities. Permaculture often LOOKS very different and special or radical, but I think we do better when we bring ourselves to permaculture, as opposed to adopting some new specialized self-image. However, I will go out on a bit of a limb here and suggest that the face of permaculture is changing. I’m seeing way less of the groovy, airy-fairy, white, dread-locked stereotype in my courses. I believe permaculture is drawing a different crowd with a bit more seriousness of solving deep-seated problems in communities, occupations, etc (and a lot of ‘out of the garden’ work).

    The other point I want to highlight is that I think you are right that we should be careful to not use the word “permaculture” like it is a saving grace, sort of missionary style, or even ‘permaculture will save the world’ style. I might take this further than you, but I’m cautious of the idea of spreading the “permaculture movement”. I have taken the approach that if permaculture is useful to people, it will spread of its own volition, but it will only do so if we practitioners promote the deep value of it in an accurate way, rather than promoting the counter-culture of it. Admittedly this is a slower path than branding, franchising, iconizing, and generally selling-permaculture-like-hot-cakes, and we risk not getting to some problems in time, but I still choose it. Slow and steady wins the race, as the old saying goes. And ecologically most of the creative forces of nature work in a slow way, so it makes for good patterning. Like you, I don’t use the word ‘permaculture’ overzealously in my professional practice (because I’m not that interested in PUSHING the term). I tend to use the phrase Ecological Design (as opposed to argoecology, so we don’t continue to propagate the myth that permaculture is only about agriculture and gardening. Plus I had an agroecology instructor who would kill me if I started using the two terms synonymously).

    I think you raise a lot of good points in your article and your comments. I truly look forward to our future of helping gain greater access to the permaculture thinking and design discipline across the spectrum of race, class, and all social strata. Again, if we do a good job of describing it and using it in our own lives, it will spread of its own accord as an indispensable tool.

  11. Along the lines of the first comment, Fossil Fuel surpassed the use of Wood for steam engines and heating around 1850 in the US. It was already booming in the UK for years prior due to their lack of wood. The First Oil well was drilled in the US on August 28th, 1859, in NW Pennsylvania, although its use wasn’t all that clear. Anyways, West Virginia, a mountainous state with small farms which were not conducive to slavery and were small due to the mountains (and also coincidentally had and has a lot of coal…. hmm?) seceded from Virginia to join the Union. Virginia with its large farms perfect for slavery, became the Confederacy’s capital. Its just another interesting note in the fossil fuel history of slavery. I had some extensive discussions with David Holmgren along these lines years ago…. very interesting.
    Braden

  12. Hi there all,

    One thing that needs to be said is that from when mankind stopped living via swidden agriculture and domesticated Bos Indicus and Tauras, the cow, in the form of the ox, principally for its use in clearing the forests, ploughing the land, transporting goods, and secondarily for its (her) milk, it was on the back of the ox that mankind formed civilization, meaning the town, the city, on which greater populations thrived. According to the vedic texts of India, this was, though debatable, a symbiotic relationship, both species benefiting, and only at the start of Kali yuga, 5,000 years ago, did it turn parasitic, where humans benefit, the animals do to some extent, that being when their throats are cut for their young meat, as their old meat was used when died of a natural death, and by the lower caste (class). So cattle were the first slaves, before humans were cast into the oblivion. Some say slavery was also stopped because it defied Smithonian free markets, where assets were needed to be maintained even if none productive. Now there is the saying that slavery was never really abolished, just replaced with the word employee, but that is sickly humorous, mees thinks.

  13. I have been living for years in South America. I have a degree in Agroforestry and years of experience in setting up permacultural projects. I, too, am not too much into using the permacultural logo and their guru adepts, though I do appreciate the movement. In Argentina, we use Agroecology, and the government has made great strides in trying to pump prime an organic movement, whilst at the same time being a world leader in GMO crops, especially soy. Yet again we see that it is the university educated intelligentsia that is leading the way and that very few family farmers are actually implementing true agroforestry practices. This is not suprising. In Chambers Farmer First book, he upturns the development paradigm that we, the white male, are there to teach the ignorant indigenous how to farm. They teach us, and then best practice is spread through our facilitation. Yet this is not the case in most reasonably “developed” countries. The Bolivians who produce most of the horticulture in Argentina are the most abusive Pharmas that I know of. So ancient indigenous agri-culture is dead in many, many places. So who needs to fill the whole. Yes, it is we, the white male in general, educated in the post-industrial societies of the rich west, who have now discovered ancient indigenous knowledge and want to bring about its regeneration with new adaptations according to our knowledge, skills, understanding and values. If there are few takers, there are few takers, but still we need to be the makers. Only by practical examples will people become adept at adoption and adaptation, and then self-sufficient autonomous pro-active cooperative coparticipative agro-lifestyles can come back and a new/old life will come to this planet.

  14. Thank you Rhamis for this excellent article. It gets to the crux of the issue we face with the current global system that masks the true costs of energy consumption and ignores nature’s energy logic. It reminded me somewhat of Howard Odum´s Environment Power and Society for the Twenty-first Century. If only more people would become aware of the true nature of energy as he explained it and the way organized systems of slavery have feed off of it for centuries; as the system now feeds off of fossil fuels. It´s not just people in power who have a debt to slavery, most Anglo-Saxon Americans do. In fact the wealth of the Western World is really built on slavery considering the history of Colonialism and Neo-colonialism.
    My family is from the South and I grew up hearing about John Howard Griffin´s book Black Like Me, in which he travels through the south in 1962 taking pigmentation medicine to darken his skin, recording the treatment he received as he grew ever darker and deeper into the South. I recall the map of the farm that my ancestors lived on in Texas, which had drawings of Native American TeePee´s on it, indicating who had been there before. Those lands are still owned and run by the descendants of slave-owners in most cases. For me a large part of ethics is about realizing which mistakes have been made the past generations and changing behavior based on that realization. What is sad is that although a lot of people in the South have changed their behavior in relation to race, the vast majority are still not changing their behavior based on energy. Parallels like the ones you bring to the surface here will help people change their behavior I believe.
    Permaculture really does give an alternative paradigm to the destruction of the machine driven mindset most of the world is under today. Lets hope more and more people start to see what we are really a part of and start to head in the direction of a more balanced world which is achievable.

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