What is permaculture?

John Schinnerer eco_living at yahoo.com
Sun Dec 16 18:00:29 EST 2001


Oh, no!  Not *that* question again!! ;-)

--- Toby Hemenway <hemenway at jeffnet.org> wrote:
> The "philosophical" threads here have gotten me thinking about why
> permaculture doesn¹t fit neatly into categories of knowledge. So
> maybe all this philosophizin¹ is actually relevant to the topic of 
> this list.

I agree wholeheartedly...

> David Holmgren has argued that permaculture is not a discipline in
> the way medicine is (or biology, or physics).

And I add, "'deity-of-your-choice-or-none-at-all' forbid it becomes

> He said he doesn¹t want to be churning
> out permaculturists so much as he wants, for example, architects with
> a permacultural perspective.

Very well put.  And butchers, and bakers, and candlestick and shoe
makers, and so on.  Then it becomes culturally rooted - then it *is*

> ... Karl Popper raise a similar issue.
> He says the question "what is philosophy?" is insignificant; that it 
> is much more useful to be solving the problems of philosophy...

To me this is like my revelation from Joseph Campbell - "what is the
meaning of life?" is insignificant (or perhaps more importantly, is a
distraction) and it is much more worthwhile to "experience living!"  
If there is a "meaning of life" for any given individual or group, it
is more likely to arise through experiencing than through trying to
figure it out as an abstraction.

> This got me thinking about permaculture, since
> many of us would rather be solving the problems of permaculture than
> worrying about what permaculture "is."

These days when people ask me what permaculture "is," I ask them "what
do you want?" and go from there to relate PC to what they want.  It's a
most fundamental design question, and it engages them in a way that the
dozen or more common working definitions seem unlikely to do.  

If they really want definitions, I tell 'em to check out a few PC books
and that web site that has the compendium of definitions from a whole
bunch of different people.

If they don't know what they want, I tell 'em what I'm up to, or what
people I know are up to - stories.

> So this brings me to my question:  Why is permaculture so hard to
> classify?  Where does it fit into our system of knowledge? 

And why do we (not me, personally) want to "fit it in" so badly to
"what is" when most of us recognize the inherent pathologies in the
"what is" of fragmented, separated "knowledges"?

>...so how can we ever say that
> something lies outside permaculture?

And why do we want to?  Maybe better questions, which some have been
asking and addressing lately, is "how is this relevant to PC?" or "how
is PC relevant to this?"  That is, how do they interrelate...

> To ask the question another way, is permaculture an attempt to solve
> a set of problems? 

I would say (philosophically speaking) that it's (hopefully) broader
than that - that it's a system for designing what we want.  This avoids
some of the traps of "problem solving" as our culture often practices

> Are these problems of the same nature as those of, say,
> biology...of those of the less tractable, less
> scientifically testable, social sciences...

All of the above and then some, IMO.  And they're opportunities, not
problems... ;-)

>...is it a system of moral beliefs?

Danger, Will Robinson!!  ;-)  And seriously, the potential is there for
it to domatize and ossify and become one.

> Permaculture is called a design system. Does that set it in a
> different category from disciplines like architecture or biology?

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