Just Wait for the Collapse

Fremantle Bridge Collapase July 1926.

Fremantle Bridge Collapase July 1926.  Courtesy Wikipedia, photo by Donna Barber.

Seems like there’s a new affliction amongst some segment of permaculturalists these days, maybe we could term it collapsicosis or collapsitis.  This peculiar and apparently growing meme goes something like this:  We in the permaculture community are doing everything right, and the evil people who care about evil things like money and competition are destroying the world with their globalized corporations, fiat money, agricultural subsidies, and cheap oil.  Trying to compete with or displace their system is a wasted effort, and certainly using any of their methods for converting resources into products and services is akin making a deal with the devil and will taint the moral purity of permaculture.  Anyway, this whole system is on shaky ground, billions of people are going to die, so let’s just wait for the fiat money house of cards to crash and burn, and then we can get around to the real business of doing permaculture.

What I am proposing, however, are permaculture enterprises that are scalable based on pooled efforts and resources.  As I have already said, economies of scale are basically natural law.  Failure to execute is our own fault.  Lack of good business and economic data, our own fault.  A scarcity of polyculture input-ouput models, our own fault.  Undercapitalized permaculture enterprises…yeah, that’s partly our fault too.

I am offering a concrete solution that reflects the reality of the world we live in today.  And this solution is directly within your locus of control right now.  We don’t have to ask permission, get a government grant, or wait for the collapse of fiat money to create worker-owned permaculture production cooperatives.  Any other arguments that are not based on strategies of direct social action are only so much white noise.


Just Wait for the Collapse — 9 Comments

  1. 1) Perhaps you would find it useful to interview Xavier Hawk about Permacredits. Thematically, his work fits with your ideas on this topic as a potential solution.
    2) I’m not sure nature does economies of scale. Maybe I haven’t thought about this deeply enough, but what systems in nature benefit from the efficiencies derived from operations with large and expanding scales? Maybe an argument can be made for living soils…?
    3) I share your frustration. Paradigm shifts (a la Kuhn) of the magnitude we are embroiled in can’t ever be easy. The transition from the industrial commodification of food to one where food is either valued based on equality of exchange, or essentially free (monetarily) is tricky. Our current financial paradigm handles these types of transactions very poorly. I think the 8 forms of capital are a useful model to keep in mind here. And remember that permaculture isn’t exclusively about food. It’s about permanent culture. Food is one aspect of culture, albeit a major one.
    4) Permaculture is very different things to different people. So to say that it is failing may not be entirely fair. With regards to permaculture’s impact on the predominant economic scenario for our food system, you might call it a failure. I think that is your main point, yes? But there are seven other forms of capital to consider in this equation, plus all the other aspects of culture that we aim to address.
    5) We have to be careful that we don’t confuse the process with the product with regards to permaculture. Just as Allan Savory argues that the success of Holistic Management is about dynamic management from within the holistic context rather than the specific operational techniques of rangeland management, the same can be said of permaculture. Permaculture is not swales, hugelkultur, herb spirals, and food forests. It is a design methodology that can enable humanity to get back into a state of cooperation and consilience with the whole community of life. So how does financial success fit into that? I’m not arguing against financial success. I just think we have to be aware of what and how we measure it.
    6) I think it is inevitable that food will be the catalyst that either leads our culture to a position where we can be regenerative, or to a massive culling of our species and culture. Awareness about how food, health, economics, culture, poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, etc. are all completely enmeshed is expanding. Among these, health is the greatest opening for dialog in this realm, and one that permaculturists need to be conversant in (aside from all the vegan and vegetarian dogma).

    So, my point here is that to lament that permaculture is not making more progress within the current failing paradigm might be a moot point. But to say that we should just wait for the current paradigm to fail so that permaculture can be a lifeboat for the drowning, I think is also beside the point. We need to look for areas where aspects of the old paradigm and the new resonate so that “making a living” isn’t merely a financial discussion. We treasure what we measure. Let’s measure everything that has a bearing on what we believe to be important. As a permaculturist, these are the prime directive, ethics, and by extension, the principles and 8 forms of capital.

    I love what you do, Frank. Our culture desperately needs more conversations like those you bring forward.

  2. You’re not “offering a concrete solution”. Just more words. You’re barely even pointing at a solution — economies of scale? Specialization to produce commodities that are pooled for sale cooperatively? Coordinating locally to drive non-local wholesalers and retails out of the market? Sounds nice — but we could use case studies and anecdotes of it working in minute detail. We can’t seem to reinvent these systems when spontaneously prompted by the words alone.

    It’s good to recognize our present state of stagnation. But we don’t know how to get out of our rut. We have exceptional examples of small successes from the past and present — Mondragon, Springfield Remanufacturing, Paul Hawken’s business exploits, David Blume’s chemical polyculture, Joel Salatin’s replicable meat-based incomes, Eliot Coleman’s annual vegetable production, Rob Hopkins’ community organizing — but they aren’t catching fire with any urgency.

  3. The case studies are coming, especially on upcoming podcast episodes. Going to take a deep dive into historical and current examples of what is out there. And as far as studies and anecdotes of it working in minute detail…feel free to step in and make that happen. This is a team effort.

  4. I’m guilty of thinking like that especially as I come from the mining industry. I have seen a lot of destruction of the planet in the name of resources and sometimes I just get overwhelmed with what we as humans do in the name of economic growth.

    I think there is an urgency in what we have to do and more people should be involved. As you said this is a team effort.

  5. One thing that this attitude of “collapsicosis” fails to recognise is that historically collapse tends to happen slowly, over many years, or a generation, so that it is only perceptible after the event. Waiting for collapse is waiting for death.

  6. I am sorry to see so much hyper-analytical cynicism beginning to emerge in online discussions of Permaculture. I have personally experienced and witnessed a great quickening in recent days, a shift in temperament within the herd towards opening themselves to a fundamental shift in their way of being or at least being more tolerant of those who want to bend an ear and levy some fact or opinion. The only true concrete solution to this apocalyptic sermonizing is with a renewed and invigorated faith in ourselves and those with whom we share our hearth and home. Stewardship, to a great degree, is an act of faith in the order of natural law and the beneficial byproducts of our learned processes. Not all action can be fired in the embrace of an assured study or a comforting report. Cheer the fuck up people, this stuff isn’t that hard and there are people out there everywhere who will support you if you just start doing what the majority of intelligent humans believe is what needs to be done.

  7. I realize that I may be coming to this party a couple months late, but wanted to add my thoughts to this discussion.

    I think that most people are overwhelmed by events in the world and the pressures that our economy and culture put on them. It is hard for people to hear the quiet plea for reason that permaculture embodies over the din of advertising, fear mongering and the relentless drive for “growth” that surrounds us. The cynical side of me says that this racket is intentionally created by those with vested interests in the status quo to prevent any real change. Every time we start having a serious conversation about energy, water and waste, it seems like a new war or economic crisis springs up to drown out that discussion. It is hard to resist the notion that a collapse of the current ‘system’ would allow things to calm down and let people hear their own consciences again, but I have a feeling that the landscape after such a crash is more likely to resemble Mordor than The Shire (yes, I have read Tolkien, but I don’t LIVE Tolkien).

    I believe that in order to avert a collapse, we cannot put the burden on individuals – they just have too much to think about already. We have to make it easier for people to make the right choices. We cannot scare them into it, because once people get too overloaded by fear, they just shut down. We need to show them examples (and there are plenty to site as blogs like this demonstrate) of how their lives can truly be better: healthier, less stressful, happier and more prosperous.

    But making it easier for people to live that life will require a shift in our values, our priorities and our industries. I think the only real path to that is through public education. We have to do a BETTER job of selling the ‘good life’ than others do at selling more crap. Maybe we need a few Ebenezer Scrooges – people that have made a fortune doing the wrong things, but now want to spend it on redemption – to help fund this until it catches on at a larger scale. As an Architect, engineer and educator, my best hope for changing the world is just to keep spreading the right ideas and information required to implement them.

    I have to keep believing this is possible and worthwhile. Otherwise, I might as well put on some sweats, cue up a Kardashian marathon on Roku, pop open a can of Pringles and wait for the end. I don’t think anyone really wants that. Thanks for helping to foster discussions like this.

  8. At the “herd” level, we are now at the point where international companies supply our needs at cheap mass delivery scales. This meets the minimums of the everyday living, but in steady nutritional decline. If this is to be supplanted by foods of better value, in a better “life worth living” scenario, then proactive models that promote such a lifestyle where the everyday man and woman can get on board are required. Recently I was at Geoff Lawton’s website where he was discussing just such a new model to do just that. In collaboration with landowners the model would be to produce the food in a permaculture setting on a large scale which in turn made “shares for food” available to people in a centralized urban setting. This Australian model (since laws vary from country to country) would allow urban shareholders to circumvent legislation against buying commodities such as raw milk or butchered meat, and provide better nutritional products to those shareholders.

    If we wait for a collapse of society there is probably little hope of staving off anarchy and we subvert our own philosophy of “every negative contains it’s own solution”. It is important,in my opinion, to grow your own food as much as possible to be free of the pressure of a work-a-day existence. Robotics are certainly replacing humans in the labor market so that less and less good paying jobs will be available as time swiftly goes by for many of us. CYOA is not a societal solution however, and you cannot produce everything in urban settings. Large scale Permaculture geared to supplementing the needs of a population already invested in helping themselves seems like a good bridge to me.

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