The news set me wondering, in and out of another hour's slumber, where does it all stand today - everything set in motion as a result of his momentous ideas and initiative; and where might it lead next? If Permaculture is a growing movement, as was surely intended, then what are we, its adherents and practitioners, to make of this milestone and generational marker of his passing, and what does the next cycle hold? How might it look and feel different than the last 30 years?
My thoughts spiraled inward to the essential, metaphysical* core of the movement as articulated by Bill, an overarching three part ethos branded memorably as Earth care, People care, Fair share. An effective touchstone, universal and deeply humane. It's a very broad credo, but is it complete, and current? Could there be a missing piece or two, perhaps indicative of areas where the movement has fallen short of aspirations and may be primed to evolve into a new phase from present circumstance?
Well yeah, it seemed so. And the more I reflect on it the more sense it makes that, at a time when the world looks and acts, to any casual observer, *very* different than it did just 30 years ago at the time Mollison made his mark, it seems prudent that we thoughtfully iterate on the conceptual foundations of a design methodology that is ever more relevant and necessary today.
Within a few minutes noodling on possible complementary cornerstones, I had a glimmer of something. It hearkens to a slew of amorphous concerns and queries piled up into compost over the years. The clearest call is for greater shared knowledge - actually a step further than that: shared understanding across the field, beyond tacit boundaries and beliefs.
The simplest, phonetically consistent (of course it has to rhyme!) label that showed up to help put a steady finger on this need for me was: All Aware.
A true and full Awareness, enabled with collective intelligence and wisdom. The methodology of open source combined with the spirit of storytelling plus a dogged pique for systems change. Not just observations and experiences, methods and models, but the active promotion and circulation of information leading to engagement in community and network development through cascading flows of value in many forms. Exciting stuff, finally reaching mature levels of implementation via scalable online tools and processes...so how does that work? Or what kinds of new patterning are involved?
Permaculture has never been shy about spreading ideas and knowledge. In many ways it represents an astounding and enduring success in organic growth and cross-fertilization as a science-based eco-social movement. Incredible cumulative know-how, compelling research, elegant demonstrations and an abundance--possible surplus--of discussion and debate. Learning and sharing *is* part of the ethos already, but it has settled into certain patterns, with corresponding constraints. It has not taken full advantage of the new breed of collaborative and creative forces that are springing up today. Let's take a quick look at existing high-level network infrastructure (pan and zoom around to explore, double click on icons for additional info and links):
This is all pretty new stuff, and these are just some of the most distinctive and distinguished examples. It's changing fast. Anyone can get involved in designing what comes next. We're (re)learning how to think and act together en masse; transmuting bulk data 'dirt' and communications 'mulch' into rich knowledge gardens - a new form of abundance via scalable online tools and processes.
At a time when the evolution of permaculture merits sweeping, integrative observation and possible retooling, I invite renewed and intensified commitment to collective awareness and emergent coordination. This calls for cutting edge *social* technology and process design as much or more than any advanced hardware or software tech that may amplify and extend it.
While the "culture" of permaculture has always been about teaching and sharing, it can go much further leveraging the powers and patterns of peer-to-peer broadcast for systems-level awareness and agency. It has already begun. Education, research, economics, governance, social/cultural entertainment--all utilize different forms of it. We are beginning to see truly remarkable realtime global information systems serving up personalized data and integrating collective intelligence for greater coherence and flow. This push toward pervasive awareness and connectivity is not a bow to smart-phone-app-happy 'bright green' Jetsons futurism, nor pandering to stereotypically millennial predilections. I believe it is as essential to the flourishing of this movement (and a planetary civilization more generally) as the other three formative ethics. It works in concert with and complement to each.
At the same time, our vaunted Internet is still young, brittle, centralized, and resource intensive. There are tangled ethical questions around the use of mass produced digital gadgetry and other polluting, proprietary, unequally distributed enabling tech. Privacy concerns are significant, in often subtle ways. Intellectual property is another area with contentious issues around copyright and revenue protections for innovators and content creators. There's also a converse threat of 'too much info' overload, a lack of honoring the complex realities that it represents, homogeneity of language and frames...all to be accounted for. One important recent study points out several ways in which the presumed vitality of the movement is subtly compromised and constrained, siloed and segregated.
So let's do our best to get an improved root stock going for this burgeoning knowledge garden. Plant something with a combination of generative intent and scientific inquiry, to see what takes off and comes back. To many, the idea of fully opening up to the flow of ideas/info is nothing new, for some it's already second nature. But it means something to get explicit, together, about acknowledging and fostering this drive for shared understanding. I think this ideal opens up and places a premium on the prospect of a scalable permaculture, a permaculture society, a permaculture meta-movement evolving well into, with, and through, the future.
If permaculture today represents the cumulative yield of one person's determinedly nurtured gift to the world, imagine the effects if everyone devoted themselves openly generously and inventively in an interwoven yet self-organizing manner. This is the real lesson and spirit of the open source movement, and the wider field of creative commons, collaborative culture, 'sacred economics' et al. I believe permies now have a duty to one another and to our shared home to think and act like a network, and to do so as openly invitingly and inclusively as can be, sharing in the ultimate bounty which is quality of life and community.
The practice of permaculture will live up to its transformative promise if it continues to become more open, accessible, opportune, innovative and integrative, as need and interest grow. Even if, or perhaps even the more so as unforeseeable disruption, positive or negative, drive more energy, resources, and attention towards these and other enlivened edges in the landscape of eco-social change.
We'll continue practicing and developing--and sharing--ideas around this aspect of permaculture and concerted movement building for regenerative culture. Stay in touch, and share your ideas! Reach out, *and* stay rooted....
Acknowledgement to Dr. Benjamin Habib who's post and work along similar lines gives me encouragement that this is a timely and lively subject in the wider field (see especially "Permaculture's Next Big Step" initiative):
* "metaphysics" is used here in the sense of an explicit guidance system of interrelated values and principles