[permaculture] Re: balancing public vs. private

David Neeley dbneeley at gmail.com
Thu Sep 30 14:14:10 EDT 2004

To the extent that one values private property as an inherent right,
true dialog becomes nearly impossible with those who do not agree with
this fundamental idea.

If it is true that society does not usually change in fundamental ways
very quickly (and I believe that is fairly obvious in all but the most
superficial of ways), then what is needed is to create good models of
change that will appear even to the uninitiated as positive and

I am reminded of the example of the large supertanker ships, which
although they are moving relatively slowly can take about eight miles
to reverse course due to their immense inertia. Any steering input
must be a force that will begin gradually with such a mass.

Similarly, then, we should in my opinion not "preach" so much to the
"unwashed masses"--instead, we should put our ideas and ideals into
action in meaningful activities that serve as examples for others to
emulate--with such superior advantages that they will in fact *want*
to emulate them.

I see several trends that are very encouraging presently. For example,
the fast-spreading Freecycle Network (www.freecycle.org) consists of
well over a thousand local mail lists in which people seek or offer
items from others who have them but no longer need or use them...all
for free gifting. In fact, since last November I have run the
DFWFreecycle list here in the Dallas, Texas area--with more than 5,500
members presently. The idea of keeping items from the landfills is
obviously a good one--and people who join our lists often become
somewhat militant in eliminating clutter--and some of the materialism
that spawns it...and very enthusiastic about the human interaction
that results from giving and receiving.

Similarly, there is a fairly hardy subculture pursuing living
frugally--living well with less. Many Internet resources are devoted
to this process...for example, www.frugalfriends.com.

I am actively participating in alternative and sustainable
architecture interests, as I design a house for myself and my family I
hope to begin building within the next two years. I have chosen to
design a strawbale structure, using rice hulls as attic insulation for
a super-insulated home that will require little in the way of heating
or cooling energy. I also will heat my water from the sun--water which
I shall collect from rainfall on the roof.

I have in mind a project also to create housing for families that is
sustainable and which does not consume so much in the way of utilities
or money to build or maintain. By working with a model based at least
in part on Habitat for Humanity, and employing the future residents to
help in creating their own structure, it seems to me that much can be
accomplished with little money changing hands. My thought is that a
development planned for beauty and economy could be created with funds
now being spent fairly uselessly on public housing--only enabling home
ownership and, thus, a cessation of the need for public funding over
the long term.

To make this practical on a wider scale, it seems to me that there
must be exposure of some of the technologies through publication. To
that end, I will be writing articles, perhaps a book, creating a
companion website, and recording the whole process on video when I am
doing my own house. By building a beautiful and practical structure, I
intend to help increase public awareness that we should not be stuck
with "building as usual."

To move this into the realm of the earlier discussion--a
re-examination of patterns of living is very much in order. Our modern
society has created such alienation that there is a growing desire, I
believe, in a "return to yesterday"--to simpler times, at least in
theory--but also to a life pattern that includes more emphasis on
family and values that are not so materialistic.

One such outlet for this desire, I think, is the cohousing movement. I
believe that speaking about living in an "extended family" is one
thing...but there needs to be an environment that facilitates this
move. The difficulties that surround creating and maintaining a viable
intentional community of any kind are many; there is no getting around
it, it is a great deal of work. Part of this is overcoming the
barriers that existing laws and regulations may present, but by far
the largest problem is involved with the individuals unlearning
longstanding habits and re-educating themselves in a meaningful way to
be able to live cooperatively.

At its bottom level, this involves a great deal of trust...and
insufficient trust in others seems to be, over and over again, a
problem in these situations.

So, to conclude--I believe that a clear vision for making our lives
more meaningful should entail in the earliest stages largely those
changes which are fairly obvious in their benefits and relatively easy
to adopt. Perhaps establishing a community garden based upon
permaculture principles--in which people can have their own plot of
land and plenty of cooperative learning. Here, the thrust is for
"learning by doing" and, in the process, helping people to better
health and a better understanding of the web of life in which we live.
Perhaps moving your own life to include making biodiesel and using it
to power your transportation, or maybe you can involve a local
school's building technology classes in building a sustainable
structure with you.

Whatever you do, whether small things like participating in a
Freecycle list, or a much larger pursuit--it seems to me that lasting
change begins with a change in attitudes...while a change in attitudes
means establishing a meaningful dialog from even the most basic of


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