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PacificEdge | November 22, 2017

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Clan that spans a nation

THERE ARE YEARS OF TURMOIL in the world. Old ideologies vie with each other long after they should have been laid to rest. Left and Right still clash though in a way far subdued to their past, their differences now narrowed and, in some cases, coalesced. Individuals and households find it difficult to cope with the constancy of change. Even the food we eat cannot be trusted.

It is all too easy to become discouraged, to write off the world and to retreat into the refuge of the home. This, however, is no real refuge in a world in churn and as rich, a world with selfish and powerful corporations and bossy, nosy and often incompetent governments which have largely given up on representing ordinary people. All of that can too easily intrude even into our households and private lives.

Rather than retreat, people are creating ways to cope with this turmoil and uncertainty. Some do this politically, others culturally and yet others personally.

Those gathered around the idea of a permaculture, a culture of permanence and sustainability, are creating systems and structures that make for better ways of living, and they do this in quite different ways. Is there potential, I wonder, to extend this so as to strengthen and broaden permaculture into a more cohesive subculture, one of true mutual assistance?

I’ve wondered how those who subscribe to this idea of a culture of permanence could assist each other in this world in turmoil? Does the permaculture movement as an entity and its participants as individuals have the mindset and the ability to help each other? Or do they continue to practice permaculture as go-it-alone individuals?

Sci-fi the literature of the future
Today, the literature of the possible is called science fiction. It’s speculative, positing different futures for us to consider — look at the work of Kim Stanley Robinson, Philip Dick or William Gibson. It’s in sci-fi, perhaps better known as speculative fiction, that authors are free to reimagine the world and the types of futures that might emerge.

There was a sci-fi book I read so many years ago I no longer remember title of author. In it the protagonist spent time traveling through the country either looking for or getting way from something. In the times set by the book, alienation from the mainstream economy had deepened significantly (is there something familiar here?) and people had set up communities in town and country where they lived a life I can only liken to technologically-enabled peasants, though without the deprivation that so often goes with peasant life. It was in these communities that the protagonist spent time.

Now, let’s transliterate this idea to a network of permaculture people across the country. Let’s imagine that permaculture people already speak with each other through an online facility that builds their social network, such as that on the Permaculture Australia website that has yet to become properly used. Let’s imagine that they meet up when they travel to other towns and cities, that those of this dispersed clan with the space offer travellers a sofa in the lounge or bed in a spare room for a few nights and enjoy their company at meals and in late night conversations. They might even invite around others of the clan to meet with their guests. This done not for money but out of a feeling of collegiality and out of the loose bonds of people travelling in the same direction though perhaps taking different roads to get to a common destination.

There may be other ways of building the ties that bind people in a network. Is there capacity for LETS (Local Exchange and Trading System) to be enlisted in making those things mentioned above happen? Are there things we could take from the diverse practice of collaborative consumption/collaborative economics? Could we make them happen in some less-formal way?

The mental image that comes to mind in writing down these largely unformed and unanalysed thoughts is of a network of places in city and country, nodes on a scattered permaculture network that connect online and offline and that enjoy the temporary company of colleagues.

It’s a rough idea, I know. Too speculative, perhaps, and maybe people don’t have time in life anymore for this sort of thing. But unless we dare to imagine possibilities like this we become stuck in a present that we mistakenly assume to be the shape of the future. What happens then is that the new future arrives, as it always does, and our thinking and mental framework remains as it was, becoming increasingly out of synch with reality. Then, it becomes even more difficult to deal with that churn in the world.

I developed this short piece when I recalled that sci-fi book of lost title and author and after reading something someone in permaculture had written.

Almost in a flash it occurred to me that across the country, permaculture people form a type of clan that is unified by a set of ethics and ideas on living sustainably. It’s not a unitary clan and at times it is riven with disputation, but I guess this is what happens when you bring together a disperate band of people of diverse background and outlook. Nor is it a clan that always identifies as such, sometimes it seems it’s just a coalescence of individuals who come together on occasion, share their stories, then disband back to where they came from to once again live as individuals loosely connected by the idea of an approach to living that goes by the inadequate tag of ‘sustainability’.

Were the idea of a collegial network spanning the country to be reality, then the clan could give support to each other as a means of living in this world of change and turmoil.

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