[permaculture] Designing a Movement (was: Ethics of whatever)

rafter sass rafter at liberationecology.org
Thu Aug 12 16:55:39 EDT 2010

Many heartfelt thanks  to the folks who have been able to engage with the challenges of this conversation without descending into
name-calling and other juvenilia. 


Kevin Skvorak has Problems. 

Two of them, for the purposes of this conversation. ;)

One of them is a Personal Problem - he seems to have contracted the modern anarchist's allergy to leadership. The symptoms include putting critique before curiosity. 
I hope he works on this. I think he would be even more effective in raising critical topics and questions if he did.

The other is NOT a Personal Problem. It's another kind of problem altogether - a Movement Problem. 

He wants to be a part of a movement that practices an engaged and ongoing dialogue about its own ethics and strategy - and the actually-existing Permaculture movement can't really be described this way. Not quite - not yet.

What's standing in the way?
Well, a lot of the movement leadership seems to have contracted the classic leader's malaise of allergy to critique. 
Juvenile defensiveness, on the part of our teachers and public faces, is a problem that is going to do us real harm, as a movement - if it isn't mitigated. 
Or maybe we all just need to get really good at gentle, soothing, critique, so that we don't insult or frighten them when we have hard questions to ask. ;)
(And yes - I definitely respond better to that, too!)

And if that weren't enough, a lot of folks in the movement - along with most everybody else in the world - don't have a great toolbox when it comes to thinking about design and strategy at different scales. What does it even mean to build a movement - or design one? We aren't well prepared to answer. And we, of all movements, might want to think hard about the question.

I don't claim to know the answer, but I DO know that it requires more and different tools than the ones we use to transform an individual, or regenerate a landscape,
or organize a project, etc. etc.

Individual, project, community, movement, world...
The principles I use to guide my behavior and my relationships are related, but distinct, from the ones that I bring to creating strategy for the projects I work on. 
The criteria I use to design my projects are related, but distinct from the ones I use to understand and work with my community. 
And the tools I use to engage and enliven my community are related, but distinct from the ones that I use to build and strategize my movement.

So for me, arguments that we should go anywhere and teach Pc to anyone, for anyone, because Pc  is automagically transformative, are wrongheaded.
A good PDC might actually be able to transform anyone that takes it - but that doesn't mean that teaching that class is good for the movement.
As Annie Pollock points out, greenwashing is real, and we are already dealing with the challenges of the Permaculture label being applied to all kinds of things we don't
want to be associated with. 

We could go and teach a PDC at a whites-only Afrikaaner "ecovillage" like Orania, and maybe it would have a profound impact on the people who took it. 
But (1) most of us would be, shall we say, reluctant? for Pc to be seen as a tool for building a racially pure Volkstaat, and (2) the Oranians already identify with Permaculture, so I guess an ecological holistic worldview WON'T necessarily guide someone out of an oppressive, ethnocentric social vison.

Teaching Pc for, and to, white nationalists, would be bad for the movement. 

(For more evidence that fascism and ecology can survive in the same brain, look into Rudolph Steiner's theories on race. Or even more frightening, search Stormfront.org for entries on Permaculture. Note: the point here is to debunk oversimplified models of change, and magical thinking about Permaculture education - not to compare the National Guard project to white supremacy.)

And vice versa: what's bad for the individual or project can be good for the movement. The lynching of civil rights movement workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, in 1964, was a horrific tragedy for them, their friends, and families - and a historic watershed for the civil rights movement. 

The point of these case studies is to say: we may not know how to design a movement, but 
it ain't entirely like designing a PDC.

We are called, by our commitments, ethics, and desires, to figure it out. With each other. 

OK, I'm actually supposed to be packing and moving right now, so I'm going to cut this off.
What are we doing to do with this movement of ours?

all love, respect, and hard questions,

rafter sass
Liberation Ecology Project
skype: raughter

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