[permaculture] Overly optimistic permaculture attitude towards land

Ben Martin Horst ben.martinhorst at gmail.com
Thu Dec 3 13:59:35 EST 2009

On Thu, Dec 3, 2009 at 9:49 AM, <lbsaltzman at aol.com> wrote:

> I think another missing element is invisible systems.  Our culture is
> designed around the rugged individualist myth.  With the exception of some
> successful intentional planned community my sense is that too many people
> are tackling land solo or as couples.

Spot on. While there are quite a few successful ecovillages and
permaculture-focused cohousing groups out there -- and probably any number
of failed ones -- land use rules and individualist cultural norms,
particularly in the US, make the formation of true human communities very
difficult (or at least difficult to envision and implement for most of us).
To my way of thinking, the development of permaculture-oriented human
communities is the area of permaculture design that needs the most work:
putting together a forest garden design, swale system, or mycoremediation
project takes a reassessment of ecological understandings and a reevaluation
of our role in the landscape, but for those of us from culturally
Western/globally Northern backgrounds, putting together functioning human
permacultural communities takes an upheaval of our personal and political
sensibilities. I'm not sure why the interpersonal challenges should seem so
much greater than the ecological ones (and no, I'm not suggesting that these
are separate or opposed categories, btw), but, to me at least, they do. The
nuts and bolts of "ecological permaculture" seem to be mostly in place --
which is not to suggest that's it's easy to develop or implement a design --
while the pieces of "sociological permaculture" are scattered and

In any case, it seems clear to me that survival in the coming decades and
centuries of energy decline and climate destabalization is going to require
some fundamental reorganizations of our cultures and ways of relating to
each other as humans. How we do that on watershed, bioregional, continental,
and global scales seems a critical concern of permaculture, and one that I'd
like to do a lot more work in. There are some good models out there that
have shown significant promise in some settings (ie Transition Towns,
ecovillages), some interesting theoretical proposals that need a lot of
development (Jeff Vail's
and a massive collection of ethnographic literature on cultures that
have lived sustainably for millennia, but the integration of all of this
into a permacultural framework is still in its infancy. I've never really
liked the term "Invisible Systems" (for anyone who has spent time among
indigenous peoples with mostly-intact communal societies, the community is
almost palpable and very visible), but I'm curious about folks on this list
who have made Invisible Systems their focus. What specifically are you
working on? What are areas of success or lack thereof? How do you see these
systems changing and evolving?


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