[permaculture] Whole Earth Review: You can't count the apples in a seed; ten years of Co-Evolution Quarterly - seminar with Stewart Brand, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Paul Hawken
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lfl at intrex.net
Sun Sep 25 01:30:59 EDT 2005
You can't count the apples in a seed; ten years of Co-Evolution
Quarterly - seminar with Stewart Brand, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Paul
Hawken - Whole Earth Review, Autumn, 1986
new! Save a personal copy of this article and quickly find it again with
Furl.net. It's free! Save it.
YOU CAN'T COUNT THE APPLES IN A SEED
On April 12 of this year, 1,500 people filled the Marin Civic Auditorium
in San Rafael, California, "to jointly piss on the grave of the
CoEvolution Quarterly," as host/moderator Steward Brand put it. "We can
do this with a certain amount of glee," he pointed out, "because the
corpse has been born again in a book, News That Stayed News [see page
143], and in the form of a magazine called Whole Earth Review." On hand
for the celebration were Ken Kesey (novelist and Merry Prankster), Gary
Snyder (Pulitzer Prize-winning poet), and Paul Hawken (economist and
author of The Next Economy), all familiar friends to Whole Earth
readers. What followed was a lively interchange between the four
panelists. Here's a portion of the onstage conversation.
KEN KESEY: One thing I want to talk about tonight is what I see as a
growing fascism in the United States, and who we are and how we can
combat it. A lot of people don't know what fascism is. They misuse the
word and all they can think of is Mussolini and "kill the Jews." Fascism
goes back to the old Roman word of fasci, which means sticks bound by a
cord so they all work together: Usually it's big business, big church,
and big governments. So when you see Reagan talking with Falwell about
the lavor movement, that, by its nature, is fascism. The real weapon
against fascism is individualism and tribal cohesiveness and families
The fascist consciousness wants Baptists coast to coast, so when the
Bhagwan is up there with his Rajneeshpuram, everybody is pissed at him;
but I got up there and said, look, whether you're pissed at him or not,
it's a healthy thing to have him there. As long as we can still have
guys like the Bhagwan come and take over a town and create that much
fuss up in Oregon, it says something about the openness of that culture.
When we wipe out the Bhagwan and those guys, fascism will take over.
STEWARD BRAND: Paul, you're the apostle of individualism around here.
What does the businessman do for civilization?
PAUL HAWKEN: Damn little, usually. He brings up the rear and charges for
it. But I disagree with Ken. I see what's happening with the Congress
and Reagan and big business as a sunset effect, of a generation that's
leaving power, and also leaving the earth as well.
There's a lot of talk about the Boomers, the "b-word" you know, but
we'll talk about them for a minute because there's eighty million of us.
Most of those eighty million are nesting. They're buying homes. They're
trying to figure out where they want to stay. They want to stop moving
around. A lot of them are having kids, thinking about schools, school
boards, jobs, about income, about a whole bunch of things. They've
become real quiet. In that quietude we have this last stand, if you
will, of a world view as typified by Ronald Reagan. It's a re-run, just
like watching late-night television.
That's she politics that we have right now. It isn't nascent, it isn't
something that's going to take over the country. It's not a trend where
you can draw a straight line and say, oh my God, where are we going to
be in five years? I think in five to ten years from now a whole 'nother
generation will come to power that's going to be very, very different
than these people who are fascists. And I agree with the definition, but
I see them as disintegrating. I don't see them as having power in the
true sense of the word, which is to implement reasoned intention. I
haven't seen that kind of activity for six, seven years.
KK: I used to think that way, too. I thought we were going to change the
world. I don't think so anymore. I don't even think we're going to
change the United States anymore. Most people are just pretty much
exactly like they were 20 years ago. Stewart and I are balder, but we
pretty much think about the same things. We've learned a few things on
how to keep from gettin' into trouble.
But I no longer think that we're going to win. I believe we are the
losers. I believe that we're a very select group of losers and we have
to understand that. I knew I wasn't going to be electred student body
president. Or the most popular kid in college.
I wanted to be powerful. That was more important to me than influencing
enormous numbers of people. I wanted to influence the correct number of
people. I think this correct number of people is getting smaller and
more elite and tougher. But I don't expect all of a sudden to have the
bad guys die off and a bunch of good ones take over, because they're
training bad guys just as fast and harder than we're training the good guys.
PH: That's the problem with the 60s world view -- that there's an us and
a them. The problem was that it was too easy to be right in the 60s. It
was so easy, with the war, with the environment, with the politics that
existed at that time. I'm not talking about changing the world. All I
said is that there's another group of leaders coming up, and I think
they're different. Different is different. And the idea of taking what's
out there right now and going, oh my God, it's going to hell in a
handbasket, and throwing up your arms and saying we're a select bunch of
losers, is self-reinforcing.
KK: I'm not throwing up my arms about it, but I'm not running around San
Francisco trying to turn everybody else onto acid either.
PH: Well, 'cause it didn't work.
KK: It's because it'll never work. It's because there ...
PH: So what are you trying now that's working?
KK: We're trying to get the marijuana law passed up there [in Oregon].
We slipped the bottle bill in on 'em, and they've been trying to get it
out. If it came to a vote now, they'd vote it down, just like they're
going to vote in handguns. Look how many people go to see Rambo. There's
going to be more and more and more of those people and there's going to
be a tougher and tougher little crew over here, just the way it's always
been. There's always this little crew of ornery, mean son of a guns who
are snapping at the big part of society and society's trying to kill 'em.
We won't win, but we will keep them from killing us. And when you don't
think there's a them and an us, spend a few nights in the county jail.
You'll find there's a them and an us and they're stronger than ever and
just as mean as Attila the Hun.
GARY SNYDER: Well, you know, I can go to the Mother's Day Scotch Broom
Breakfast in the North San Juan Volunteer Fire Hall every year (it's
called Scotch Broom Breakfast because the Scotch broom is all in bloom
right then), and sit right next to the county sheriff and have a good
chat with him and his deputy and he knows me by name and I know him by
name. Every year. Been doin' it for seven or eight years now. You've
probably been doing the same thing. It's been a lot of fun for me,
discovering that what was really radical sometimes seems extraordinarily
Now I'll say something about environmentalism. Not a one of the world's
current problems was caused by radical environmentalists -- regardless
of what anybody says in the newspapers. But one of the most radical
programs of the anarchist branch of the ecology movement is the
bioregional proposal that nobody should move -- that they should all
stay where they are and live there the rest of their lives. In other
words, the idea is to become like a normal human being over the last
40,000 years and have a place. But when you do something like that, you
wonder if you're on the far right or on the far left, because then what
you're suggesting to people is that they go to school board meetings,
and join the garden club, and take responsibility for what goes on in
their community. And is that old or new? I don't know. But it sure does
improve the quality of life.
KK: I was at an auction a few days ago up in Oregon. The loggers went
into our oldest stand of trees in Oregon -- a cathedral of trees that we
have up there -- some of the trees 900 years old. There's been a big
court battle to preserve these trees for a long time. They went in on
Easter and they cut those trees down, because there was a one-day lapse
between the injunction and the thing that was coming up on Monday. They
got 'em. They cut 'em down. And so we went to a big auction to raise
money to kind of fight this, and there at this auction were maybe 150
people. And as I looked out there at those people, they're many of the
same people that I know, and you can rely on them. And they are not the
majority. They are in the very strong and reliable minority. They're the
people like this guy Lloyd Marbett who is just one guy who has almost
single-handedly kept nuclear power out of Oregon. If he'd left it up to
the population of Oregon, we'd have had nuclear power plants on the
Columbia on our side of the river. This one guy just kept at 'em and
kept at 'em and kept filing injunctions and protesting and then he would
get on top of one of the towers, and over the last ten years, this guy
has made enemies out of everybody except the good guys, who know that
he's out there, and that as long as old Lloyd Marett is out there, he's
more powerful than a thousand people, just by being there and doing it.
SB: I want to try on us a question that Kevin Kelly came up with. We
might as well take the ten years that CoEvolution survived and look at
ourselves and ask: what serious things have we changed our minds about?
A question like that may take a little bit of thought, so I'll go first.
In a way it responds to something you said somewhere in the press,
Kesey, which I appreciated. I guess this was probably in relation to
Governor Brown, who I worked for part-time for a couple of years. You
said, "Brand recognizes power and cleaves to it." And it's accurate. It
still is. I go around finding people who do stuff and participate in
some way -- pick up a few things, sometimes leave off a few things.
So I've been around various kinds of leaders. And I've been drawn to,
and I'm interested in how we're all drawn to, charismatic leaders --
people who have such a sense of story going on that they're somehow
driving forward, and the plot is this great, engrossing, interesting
thing, and we get drawn into the plot as charactrs. And it's an enormous
relief to be a character in a plot larger than oneself. It's not
necessarily someone else's plot. It's just that you participate in
something that's big and self-organizing.
Somebody usually assigns himself the job as the author of this plot that
we're in together -- running the state of California in a interesting
new way, or doing something weird with a bus and seeing what that would
do to the culture, or working with some people back at M.I.T. who are
somewhat charismatically looking to change the nature of media. And I
see some interesting problems that develop. I tried and tried to get a
good reporter inside the Rajneesh situation to see what was being played
out there. And none of us were close enough to Jim Jones to see what was
being played out there. Some rather marvelous, quite Greek, tragedy
seems to go on around charisma.
I've come to still be enormously attentive to and supportive of
charismatic individuals, but a lot of the forms of the application of
charisma strike me so that I get very wary, and I try to help other
people be wary. And Isay things like "Charisma is theft." The operation
of charisma and the kind of situation where you're a character in
somebody else's story -- you lose something. And it may be real hard to
find it again when you fall out of that story. I changed my mind on that
KK: The most profound thing that's happened to me, in all my life, was
my son Jed's death, by far. And it really put all my spiritual beliefs
to the test. You can throw the Ching on it, you can consult the New
Testament. But when it comes right down to it, I got to talking about
death and asking friends, what happens when you die? All of them kind of
know this thing about this white light out there and you go toward the
white light. We've all read that stuff.
And I say, well what else? I don't know. God takes care of that. Like
the government. What If a government isn't going to take care of heaven
for us? What it we've got to begin to build it from this side of the
river -- that you can't wait until you get over on the other side of the
river to build your heaven?
Now you check back with the Egyptians or any of the Indians, even my
grandma -- you ask 'em, what's heaven look like? They've all got a
pretty clear idea. You know, there's pearly gates up there, or if you're
an Indian you go to the big rock there where the coyotes left three
droppings, go west forty paces. Everybody had a pretty clear idea of
where you went. And right now, you'll find that not many people are in
agreement about where ou go. A lot of people say you just go back into
the big puddle. Well, I ain't goin' for that. I know what I was promised
in Sunday school, and I want it. And I'm not gonna rest until I get it.
And it's made me rethink a lot of tribal ritual and start thinking, not
just in terms of community or family or civilization, but in terms of
the tribe. And, in reading the Joseph Campbell book called The Way of
Animal Powers, all through his literature he studies what people think
and how they deal with their dead. Each little community, each area, had
a different place you went to and they had a different idea. What I
begin to think is maybe it's not really that important what it looks
like -- just that there is an agreement amongst the people in the tribe
as to what's going to happen.
But without that kind of movement of your will past the barrier of your
own life into the future, I think that we end up stuck in just the life
part of our existence, instead of thinking "I am going to continue to
live after my death," and putting some kind of will forward out there,
where i think relates to the ecology. I believe it relates to how we
want the world to continue after we are gone.
There's a lot of feeling in the young people -- these are the 22-,
23-year-old people I know that, when you talk to them about what's in
the future, about the only thing they're sure of is the bomb. They don't
see the pearly gates yawning and opening for them. They see the bomb up
there, waiting. For us to try to go on with that is going to be very
difficult for a civilization, as we know it to last -- a large
civilization. I believe it's going to come down to smaller and smaller
communities that exist inside of this large civilization, like little
funguses spreading up inside of a big fungus, and that gradually they'll
get bigger and then maybe they'll get too large and cumbersome, like any
big government, and other stuff will spring up inside of them.
As I travel around the world, I see people I really envy. I envy a lot
of the Inuits and Upiks up north, because they still have a clear idea
of a cosmology, of their own mythic cosmology, while our mythic
cosmology goes back to Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Rolling
Stones. That's about as big as it gets for us. And that just isn't
enough, you know, to carry into the dark.
I really think that what one of the things that we're all involved in
doing is to extend ourselves beyond our own lives. The building of this
-- I don't believe that we can expect the people that flocked to Rambo
to do it. It's just not in 'em. Call it elite if you want, but I'm no
longer gonna wait for 'em. I'm going to build my own mythology, my own
heaven, and try to get my people to go to it.
GS: Well I don't know if I've changed my mind. I think I might have
gotten a little more skillful. Certainly eliminated a few gross errors,
reduced and almost entirely discarded any simple-minded notions of us
and them. Discarded any notions of winning or losing, but finding myself
on the same planet. It's not the New Age. It's the same old age. But
it's as good as any age to be in.
I found myself not long ago testifying at a meeting on forest practices
for the next fifty years in the Sierra Nevada, at the Supervisor's
Chambers in Nevada County, saying, "The U.S. Forest Service is obligated
by its mandating legislation to practice sustained yield. Sustained
yield means that you will be maintaining a high quality forest with all
of its wildlife and its basic watershed intact forever. However, what
you are proposing to do will be good for perhaps no more than 250 years,
and entry into the forest for clear-cutting on a cycle of once every 80
years is not sustained yield."
I said, "Look, we're going to be here at least a thousand years and we
want to have a forest that we can continue to work with as the basis of
our economy for at least a thousand years. That's very conservative
suggestion." A couple of the county supervisors looked at me with wide
and surprised eyes and said, "What do you mean, we're going to be here a
And that is the problem, that there is a quality of the mind in this
culture and in this country that cannot yet grasp the point that we are
here. And it may be that we go on trips, to space colonies even. But
we're also going to be here. And our children and our grandchildren and
our great-grandchildren will be here, and that soil and those deer and
those trees can be here for them, too. That is, for me, the pearly gates
that I want to construct a path to, down the spirit road, and leave
little piles of tobacco along the way for them to start out with at
least, so they'll get there.
I don't care if that's in a supernatural or a natural world -- it's all
one to me. But to make that possibility -- to make it just a possibility
seems to me no more than a minimal human obligation. It's not a big
political deal. It's not even a big spiritual deal. But it is part of
the fun of being alive in your own time to sweep a little bit of the
path for the little ones who need a little sense of where to go. And for
some odd reason, we live in a culture that gives nobody a sense of where
they might want to go.
So, I guess I am saying I am unashamedly on the same path I was twenty
years ago, but I hope a little better.
PH: The mythology that, in a sense, undergirded my willingness to go
into the world of commerce was a very simple one: it was a biological
idiom. My feeling was that the soil could not change. I was brought up
on a farm and I have seen what has happened, particularly to California.
I'm a fifth-generation Californian and have seen the San Joaquin Valley
sink 28 feet and become saline. I remember as a child in the Valley the
cacophony of noise of frogs and crickets outside my screen window. You'd
go outside and things would fly in your face. And now when I go to where
my grandpa's farm was, it's stony silent. There's no sound at all except
the semitractor trailers down the road, loading fruit at the cannery all
night long. So the purpose for starting the Erwhon natural food business
was a very simple one, which is that I didn't think that most people
intended to destroy the land, but it was happening. And my sense was
that if there was a business -- and not just one, because we created
probably fifty different businesses while we were in business at Erewhon
-- that allowed people to make a choice that was informed, that was
conscious, that was interesting, that wasn't laden with a lot of
ideology, but full of richness and taste and texture and life itself,
that slowly, one by one, families, and sometimes even communities, would
make the interesting choice.
For my boat across the river Styx, or whatever river we're going to
cross, I'm not willing to say the boat is full. Or that that's about all
there is and the rest of you have to stay behind. The mythology that I
would like to see and that I act upon is a simple one. Again it's
Buckminster Fuller, what he called "ephemeralization." We've learned to
live on this planet by being egregiously and voraciously greedy and
consuming at a rate that is unsustainable. My lifetime dream is how to
teach people, how to inform them, how to assist them, how to nurture
them, how to help them to be on this planet and to do what they want to
do, to play, to work, to create, to write, to travel, to eat, and to
share using less and less and less. It's a very slow process, but for me
it's a very real process. And I think the one thing that I've totally
changed my mind about is people themselves.
Growing up in the 60s, I have spent a lot of time in jail, and I know
what it's like -- the fear, the sweat, your own smell is abhorrent. And
to be beaten. I know what that was like for me in Meridian and Bogalusa
and Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. There was a them out there, and
that they were awful and that I hated them.
One of the things that happened to me when I wrote the book, The Next
Economy, was something that I never thought would occur, which was that
our corporations -- big ones, the fascist ones that Ken refers to --
started to invite me to come in and talk to them. I'd never stepped in
there. But I started to talk. And I've probably spoken to maybe 100 of
the Fortune 500 corporations in the last two years. And the thing that
keeps bothering me is that I can't find them there very much.
And I want to find them. I looked for them. I probed for them. The place
I found them definitely was at R.J. Reynolds. But very few other places
were they there. And I am still confused about it. But when I saw people
and I talked to them face to face, person to person, I couldn't help but
come to the conclusion that most people are doing the best they can,
most of the time.
SB: This ephemeralization that Paul's talking about says that we're
moving from a mass economy -- steel and grain and oil -- to primarily an
information or informative or intelligence economy. And the funny thing
about intelligence is, when Gary reads you a poem, you've got it -- you
can take it home -- but he's still got it, too. And this is not so true
if he sells you some firewood. So it is a completely different economy.
And someone said to me recently, there's a Nobel Prize waiting for the
economist that figures out the economics of information, because it is
KK: When I say that we are losers, I don't mean that in any way but in a
glorious way. When Ginsberg and I get together, we argue much this same
argument. He wants to blame the government, and I say no, Allen, it's
the poets' fault. It's never the government's fault. You can't expect
the government to provide the vision for people to live by. It's always
When we start trying to say, "It's their fault, they won't let us do
it," then we give over the only power that we have, which is the power
to describe our vision and to try to get other people to join in on it.
But we still ain't in the majority and we never will be.
PH: But you said yourself we don't need to be in the majority.
KK: But that's what I mean. We are the glorious losers.
SB: Being in the minority is not being a loser.
KK: I mean just that . . . I don't mean that we're losers in a bad
sense. I mean that we just can't expect to win because we are right.
SB: Okay, so you can't expect to win a big or an obvious or a glamorous
way, but what you can expect to do is be like yeast in the bread. Or be
like nitrogen-fixing bacteria in he soil.
KK: Or, as they say, you can count the seeds in an apple, but you can't
count the apples in a seed.
SB: That's the work we're all doing in a way, it seems to me. We're
making a culture happen and for the most part it will happen
anonymously. And that's fine. So what you guys are saying is lose big,
win small . . .
GS: Very Taoist.
PH: We're saying, fly under the radar.
KK: Fly under the radar is a good way to put it.
GS: What Stewart just said made me think of a quote from Tom Odum in
Environment, Power, and Society. On energy flows, about the power of the
word, except he wasn't necessarily talking about words. This is a
biochemist energy-flow scholar and scientist from Florida who says, "In
messages, the energy content as fuel is far too negligible to measure or
consider compared to the great flows of energy in the food chain. Yet
the quality of the energy in messages, tiny energies in the right form,
is so high that in the right control circuit they may obtain huge
amplifications and control vast power flows."
COPYRIGHT 1986 Point Foundation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
More information about the permaculture