[permaculture] "Societal" zonation and "evolution"

Toby Hemenway hemenway at jeffnet.org
Tue Apr 20 00:45:44 EDT 2004

First, semi-OT correction that word geek yours truly can't ignore:

On 4/19/04 6:46 AM, Donna Jones wrote:

> It is most imprecise to speak of society and ideas 'evolving'

Au contrair; in this context, evolve is an excellent word. See Webster's
3rd: "Evolve: to work out or develop esp. by experience, experimentation or
extensive care or effort . . . to develop by or as if by evolution." The
published examples the dictionary quotes are ". . . evolved a fresh and
personal approach to residential design" and "hygiene has evolved into
preventive medicine." (I'm a former geneticist with about 20 books on
evolution sagging my shelves; but the word simply means progressive change.
Biology's use is one restricted meaning of a broad concept.)

Okay; back to topic:

Knowing both Scott and Michael, I know that Scott is conservative about
changing the established order of Pc, while Michael has extended Pc's
land-use ideas into a number of new realms. And I'm glad for both
approaches. Both poles are necessary for Pc to develop its full potential
while still retaining rigor and precision. Pc does evolve, and quite
quickly: If you compare Mollison's "Permaculture One" and his Designer's
Manual, many early ideas have been altered, expanded, attenuated or dropped,
by Bill alone.

Michael has co-taught with me a few times, so I've had the pleasure of
hearing his (highly interactive) presentation of zone-and-sector applied to
invisible structures, and I find it a very useful concept and see that it's
very stimulating for students. Sure, as Scott says (and I wrote earlier),
there are difficulties (right now) with a literal 1-to-1 mapping of each
zone from land use to, say, politics, but already Scott's suggestion of "new
descriptions for the activities in each zone" is being undertaken. And as an
analogy and thought-provoker, the extension is extremely valuable. The
genius of Pc is that it works as far more than (merely?) a land-use system,
and the zones analogy is an easily grasped example of how.

Even though I teach zones in a pretty conventional sense, students see the
possibilities. In one recent course, a retired software engineer created a
map with zones arranged from walking-biking-cycling-public transit-car to
airplane; and sectors including (and not mutually exclusive any more than
the sun and wind sectors are) influences in our lives such as local
businesses, our community, extended family, individual/personal,
mega-corporations, etc. So where mega-corp met 'zone one" was "television."
Local business and the cycling zone intersected at CSAs. "Traditional Pc"
meaning ag/gardening occupied only zones 1-2 of the personal sector.
Incredibly thought-provoking. One observation was that many of the outer
zones, requiring mass-transit or planes, contained increasingly
dysfunctional or unsustainable activities.

I'll agree that zone-and-sector, or the equally thought-provoking general
core model can't be used to model everything. But some of the greatest
breakthroughs in thinking have come when tools from one field are applied to
another (statistics to medicine, or radio to astronomy, many more).

Good science is a process of proposing a new model and then critiquing it,
then responding to the critique by strengthening or discarding the model.
One measure of a model's worth is how many new ideas it generates; another
is how many phenomena can unexpectedly be encompassed by it. I don't think
this model deserves to be discarded, as many phenomena seem to fit nicely
(more or less) into it, and it's proven very thought-provoking.



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