Ethics? [Online Permaculture Course: File: Ethics Note ethical pricipals
YankeePerm at aol.com
YankeePerm at aol.com
Mon Jan 27 15:15:38 EST 1997
In a message dated 1/27/97 1:52:47 PM, you wrote:
>While I have not written the list much of late, I have been reading all the
>posts that have come through. One of the observations I have had is the
>incongruity at times with a primary ethic of Permaculture; Care of People.
>While the techical information exchanged is important and of interest, to
>forget this important principle is a negation of that which makes
>Permaculture unique. Aren't the cultural, human designs relevant? Isn't
>there a responsibility we have to examine what Care of People means whether
>it is about community responses to what we are doing and who we are or how
>we can further education towards the implementation of Permaculture systems
>wherever people are in need of this? (Everywhere!) People are people with
>very real concerns and needs wherEVER they may be. While certain of these
>subjects may be a bit 'beaten to the ground' at times, it is an injustice to
>the principles of Permaculture to deny the human element of sustainability
>to be discussed.
While I agree with the spirit and intent of your post, I think, I have to
point out some issues that it does not address. Permaculture is not the
World Welfare Department. Care for people is an ethic articulated in
connection to actual permaculture designs. The design cares for that place
and the people on it. We have other concerns in viewing the broader picture.
We wan't the maximum benefit for the least change. We want to do the right
thing in the righ place at the right time.
There is a fundamental split in the permaculture movement between people who
prosletize--who try to convince other people to believe as they do--and
people who feel outreach should be diffrent from religious conversion.
Obviously, by the slant of my remarks, I'm in the second group. I'll let
the evangelests speak for themselves and hope, probably in vain, that this
time they refrain from putting words into MY mouth. It seems to me that the
most effect for the least change, to those of us who are called to be
teachers, involves going where we are INVITED. Letting people know that we
have something to say and that we can be invited is reasonable. On the net,
for example, I get dozens of requests for permaculture information each week
and I send back information. If I see a possible way we can help I point it
out. Then I forget about it unless the person calls back. This has two
values in my view: First, the person gets a quick, personal response. While
I usually send prepared informaton "sheets" on different topics, depending on
interest expressed, I always give a personal reply to reinforce the feeling
that if more is wanted, there is a willing avenue available. This policy of
trying to always answer every piece of mail personally is not universal lin
permaclture. Some of the most influential people in the movment virtually
never respond to this kind of mail. I feel that if it helps a person who is
taking the major effort to change the direction of his/her life keep that
momentum going, it is indeed the maximum benefit for the least change. They
may go on to buy publications or request workshops elsewhere--I don't care,
really. I don't take any salary from this work anyway. Secondly, by not
pursuing the person, I feel that I have respected their decision making
process and space. I don't like univited people at my doorstep selling me
their world view and I try to keep the same perspective about how I present
Furthermore, going into places that may be in dire straights to fix them for
the people is arrogant and disrespectful, even though they may be screwing up
royally. It is just plain bad community organizing. I assume that we are
talking about the argument about moving people from city to the country.
Cities are inherently destructive to Mother Earth. I'm not going to take the
time to go into that here. Take my course if you think my view is that
important to get. What makes a city a city is the people and their views and
attitudes and worst of all their expectations. You can't change that by
moving them onto the farm.
Obviously, some people leave the city for the country side; unfortunately
more people go to the city. I have three children, one in the country (Rural
Vermont), one in the city (San Francisco), and one in the suburbs (outside
Worcester, Massachusetts), all USA. I don't love one more or less because of
those choices. But I am more involved with the one in the country because
they are doing something I can support, developing a self-reliant lifestyle
that will enrich their community. I support the others, all adults by now of
course, in different ways. All of them garden and the daughter in San
Francisco will be much more of an asset to the city than such a place can
ever be to her.
In the Urban Permaculture section of our course, and when I teach urban
permaclture workshops, particularly in cities, I stress that permaculture has
to progress from zone 1, just as always, from the people who live in the
city, not from outsiders. It is a basic principle of community organizing
that it has to happen from within to take root. Urban permaculture is
phenomenally more political than "regular" permaculture, though otherwise the
same principles apply. A community garden is almost always in zone 3 or 4
unless the family, or parts of it, virtually live there in the summer. This
happens, of course, especially if organizers have had the good sense to spare
space for shade trees and arbors and poor city people tend to bake in their
apartments in the summer.
It of course buys the planet some time to make the cities as self-reliant as
possible. There is a great deal, indeed, to make cities more livable and
less destructive and I've done my share and more of that work though my time
living in cities has been kept to a minimum. At some point, we have to say,
well what happens to all these people? That is the discussion we have been
having. Do we invite them join us in the country or not? Do we allow them
to rip off other ecosystems creating expanding deserts around themselves or
do we at some point draw the line. I'm for drawing the line now and making
it a well protected line.
If a city is working to conserve, to harvest rain water (water is the biggest
problem facing cities from an environmental resource viewpoint), to foster
community gardens, to restrict internal combusion use and increase bicycle
lanes, to conserve energy in all manner, and to actually produce something
useful within its limits to barter for what it can't produce, then I will
give that city priority if asked to help in some way appropriate to my
Right now, as far as cities are concerned, I'll go with the old blues lyrics.
"There ain't nothing' in the streets that I can't get at home."
The true basis of permaculture is the law of gifts, which is the basis of the
philosophy of abundance. In a balanced sytem, everything receives what it
needs when it needs it and transforms these gifts to provide other elements
what they need in the right place at the right time. Translation: Love is
the harmony between giving and receiving. As long as cities are steeped in
the gimme culture and aren't producing for the rest of the planet, it will be
very hard to change things. I've been part of some projects that have
worked, in limited ways, and I know of others, like the City Farms projects
in the UK, that have done wonders. But these are still widely spaced candles
in a big or dark abyss. I've lit my share of candles and I'm therefore
entitled to curse the darkness, to misquote an early and often misrepresented
For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and now correspondence
permaculture training by email. Copyright, 1996, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway, P.O.
Box 2052, Ocala FL 34478 USA YankeePerm at aol.com
We don't have time to rush.
PS: Here's a care for people proposal I've put out for decades and got about
zero feedback on. Many of us, particularly in industrialized countries, have
more resource than we need. How about a halfway program for people trying to
get out of the system, get out of the city, whatever, where they can live in
that spare room and eat meals in exchange for good honest work on our
permaculture sites. This could give people the opportunity to investigate
living a lifestyle that they believe in. I'd surely want to be selective.
We are going a step further and offering our space for interns, but lots of
people, particularly people with grown children, have such space that could
be put to work to help one person. This makes more sense to me than pissing
away one's energies trying to help millions of people who don't care whether
or not you exist.
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