Permaculture and Spiritualism (aka: the Metaphysical)

Discussion in 'The big picture' started by ecodharmamark, Jan 6, 2012.

  1. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day All

    Many of you - or at least those of you who subscribe to the Worldwide Permaculture Network (WPN) - will have recently received the following email (reposted here in full):

    Permaculture and Metaphysics

    Dear All

    As a follow-up to yesterday's update, I want to do something I will not normally do - that being to link to another post outside of the Worldwide Permaculture Network site. I do this as I believe it's a critical point in history, and that the topic of this post (which I wrote) is of such importance that it should be objectively considered by all permaculture practitioners, and particularly by permaculture educators and promoters. As you'll see by the comments (92 at time of writing), I'm not the only one who feels strongly that this issue needs to be resolved within the permaculture community. Your input would be appreciated!

    Rather than add your comments here, below this brief update, please add them to the bottom of the post I'm linking to, so we can have all views on the same page.

    The blog post I'm referring to is:

    Permaculture and Metaphysics

    https://permaculture.org.au/2011/12/08/permaculture-and-metaphysics

    With kind regards

    The Worldwide Permaculture Network team

    www.permacultureglobal.com

    Please do not reply to this email, as it is not being monitored by a human.


    In light of the above, and if like me you felt compelled to view (and in the case of myself, respond to) the ensuing discussion as (I'm of the opinion, rightly) requested, I now wonder whether you would be (in the interest of furthering the permaculture concept) willing to share your views here?

    I note that some of you have delved into this topic before. Indeed, I note further that some of you have already responded to the above WPN discussion at that particular site. However, for those that may not subscribe to the WPN, and once again in the interest of furthering the permaculture concept, I offer you the following, my (at the time of writing, as yet moderator-approved) submission to the overall discussion (reposted here in full):

    Dear fellow interested parties of the permaculture concept

    When I first opened my emails this morning and read the one from Craig (thanks Mate) my initial thought was ‘Oh no, this will put the cat among the pigeons’. My very next thought was, however ‘…but this is exactly what we need right now’. Clicking on the link and reading Craig’s piece here, and in turn the 120-odd (at the time of writing) responses, I was personally glad to learn that so many are in favour of maintaining a separation between the rational and the spiritual within the PDC framework, for I too have noticed of late that there is a distinct metaphysical creep occurring within courses offered (for example, see: the PRI Forum). With this observation in mind, I offer the following:

    In my application of the permaculture concept, I am guided by the work of many who have gone before (and continue to work beside) me. These people are too numerous to give credit to in this instance, suffice to say I will quote from just two that continue to inspire me greatly concerning this topic:

    “Bill Mollison has described permaculture as integrated design science. This brief definition places permaculture firmly within the culture of science. Permaculture is applied science in that it is essentially concerned with improving the long-term material well-being of people. In drawing together strategies and techniques from modern and traditional cultures, permaculture seeks a wholistic integration of utilitarian values…



    Permaculture attracts many people raised in a culture of scientific rationalism because its wholism does not depend on a spiritual dimension. For others, permaculture reinforces their spiritual beliefs, even if these are simply a basic animism that recognises the earth as alive and, in some unknowable way, conscious. For most people on the planet, the spiritual and rational still coexist in some fashion. Can we really imagine a sustainable world without spiritual life in some form?

    For myself, I am proud of my atheist upbringing, in which humanist values defined an ethical framework for a rational world, but I also accept that, through the project of permaculture, my life is by small increments being drawn towards some sort of spiritual awareness and perspective that is not yet clear. To deny this, based on the evidence, would be irrational. However, for the present, my own interpretation of the ethical principles of permaculture rests firmly on rational and humanist foundations.

    The deliberate design of a new spirituality that reflects ecological realities may be an unrealistic and dangerous extension of the permaculture agenda. However, an organic growth of spirituality from ecological foundations promises more hope for the world than the increasingly strident clashes between religious and scientific fundamentalism. While I baulk at the idea of designing this spiritual union, I can’t help but use my systems thinking framework to help comprehend the dynamics of polarisation and emergent union between materialism and spirituality. While I focus on what I see as the positive and creative aspects of this union, they are mirrored by a dark and destructive alternative that is also emerging out of apparent polarisation. Figure 5 [p. 4] shows this broad pattern…”

    Source: Holmgren, D. (2003) ‘Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability’. Hepburn (Victoria, Australia): Holmgren Design Services, pp. 2-3.

    “Mystical ecologists, like many of today’s religious revivalists, view reason with suspicion and emphasize the importance of irrational and intuitive approaches to ecological issues…



    Mystical ecologists tend to downgrade social issues by reducing human problems (a generally distasteful subject to them) to a “species” level – to matters of genetics…



    Spirituality and rationality, which mystical ecologies invariably perceive in crassly reductionist and simplistic terms are pitted against each other as angels and demons. The mystics usually regard technology, science and reason, as the basic sources of the ecological crisis, and contend these should be contained or even replaced by toil, divination, and intuition. What is even more troubling is that many mystical ecologists are neo-Malthusians, whose more rambunctious elements regard famine and disease as necessary and even desirable to reduce human population…



    The ecology movement is too important to allow itself to be taken over by airy mystics and reactionary misanthropes…



    For the ecology movement to become frivolous and allow itself to be guided by various sorts of mystics would be unpardonable – a tragedy of enormous proportions. Despite the dystopian atmosphere that seems to pervade much of the movement, its utopian vision of a democratic, rational, and ecological society is as viable today as it was a generation ago…

    The attempt by many mystical ecologists to exculpate the present society for its role in famines, epidemics, poverty, and hunger serves the world’s power elites as the most effective ideological defense for the extremes of wealth on the one side and poverty on the other.

    It is not only the great mass of people who must make hard choices about humanity’s future in a period of growing ecological dislocation; it is the ecology movement itself that must make hard choices about its sense of direction in a time of growing mystification.”

    Source: Bookchin, M. (1991) Will Ecology Become ‘the Dismal Science’? ‘The Progressive’, pp. 18-21.

    Comment by Mark Chesterfield — January 6, 2012 @ 10:43 am

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    Once again, I look forward to reading your views on the matter.

    Cheerio, Markos.
     
  2. Yukkuri_Kame

    Yukkuri_Kame Junior Member

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    For me, permaculture is deeply spiritual in it's practical simplicity and truth, why complicate that?
     
  3. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    You want to go again? It's all been said and generalised in the 120 comments of the article you linked to.

    For me, spirituality is a personal thing and should be internally monologue'd during any representation of Permaculture. Including public forums. Private forums (or groups) not open to the world (or Google), anything goes.

    As you can see, I'm on the side of Permaculture that doesn't want to be marginalised by the social/corporate side with a cliché like "they are off with the fairies". It's a design science, looking at results, figuring why that happened, how to improve it, and repeating it across the globe for the benefit of all humankind (and the other flora and fauna of the world).
     
  4. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    In my opinion spirituality is personal. Permaculture is a system of design. So whether or not any specific permaculturist includes spirituality with permaculture is up to the individual permaculturist, in my opinion.
     
  5. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    In the video game world, there are 2 no-no's; You don't discuss politics or religion. The discussion of such is a quickfire way to start a fight, like pure oxygen added to a BBQ grill; the same applies to Permaculture.
     
  6. mischief

    mischief Senior Member

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    I think spiritulism/religion is a personal journey.
    Whereas Permaculture is ultimately a group thing and deals with the physical aspects of life.
    Like many compatible things, they have points where they overlap, but do not deserve to be lumped together.

    Permaculture is not a spiritual or religious thing and shouldnt have anyones personal beliefs impinging on it as part of a course.
    I would walk out if I took a course and this sort of thing happened.
     
  7. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

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    What of the metaphysical aspects in Nature? and the conflict with science? Should we teach that NPK fertilizing impacts on soil biota and that hard science can have detrimental effect on natural ecosystems? The role of intuition in a system which uses Nature as a model needs some discussion and is this not a metaphysical situation.

    However I return to the original discussion which talked about the place for metaphysical content in the PDC and I can not determine how any teacher could find the time for extra content within the time-frame - given the content you need to cover already.

    I guess it would come down to a personal choice for who would want to attend a PDC that had been extended to cover not only the content of the manual but extra information of any type. Personally I would like a few extra days on small animal systems and on Chapter fourteen above Shamanistic rituals
     
  8. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    My opinion is...

    There is definitely a place for the metaphysical in peoples permaculture lives.
    There is really no place for it in formal permaculture teachings.
     
  9. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    Thanks all, especially Grahame: I think you summarised the situation perfectly.
     
  10. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    If you were doing a PDC in NZ and local Maori did a welcoming ceremony at the start that included prayer, would that be a problem? What about prayer before a demonstration of planting trees?
     
  11. dannyboy

    dannyboy Junior Member

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    Pebble, is it common practice in NZ for Maori welcoming ceremonies and prayers in other education courses? why would it be appropriate in a PDC?
     
  12. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day pebble

    Welcoming ceremony, not a problem. I actively encourage similar ceremonies here at every major event I contribute towards. Prayers, I'll always have a problem with. There would never be enough time at the beginning of an event to say one in honour of every deity known to humanity. And as Mrs Greenapple used to say to my grade three class, "If you are going to bring lollies to class, make sure you bring enough for everyone".

    Cheerio, Markos.
     
  13. Hobbo

    Hobbo Junior Member

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    I had been an Atheist for 30 years and now a Christian for 21 years, I have seen both sides of these problems. Maybe they need to put in a footnote to arrive earlier for the Opening Prayers ? If people Are paying money they should have a choice. To hit them with Romans 1:20 is a bit tough.
     
  14. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Danny, yes it's common and normal. As well as that, if a PDC were to be taught on a marae (cultural centre) such things would be implicit.

    Marko, the issue isn't religious, it's cultural. Maori here are not one of many people with their own religions. They are the one of the two legal treaty partners along with the Crown that gives NZ its nationhood. As such, the basic nature of NZ is bi-cultural before it is multi-cultural: Maori and non-Maori (represented by the Crown in the Treaty of Waitangi). So Maori have a status here as first peoples and with that comes a connection with the land that is unique. This doesn't mean other people don't also have connections with the land of course, but in a permaculture context I want to hear from the people that have been directly in relationship with THIS land for the last 1,000 years. And part of that relationship is what is here being termed metaphysical. If we want to engage with Maori (and I think it is essential that we do for any chance at sustainability and resilience) then the polite and correct thing to do is to do so on their terms. It's also the way that works.

    The idea that Maori saying karakia (prayer) is somehow exclusive is a mistake. Maori are very generous as a people and their ceremonies and traditional practices as they share them with non-Maori are very inclusive and welcoming. I'm not Maori (or particularly religious) so I don't expect my own cultural needs to be met when Maori are engaged in their cultural practices and I am in their space. If I were in India and being taught a PDC in an ashram, likewise I wouldn't expect my own ideas about what should happen to be particularly relevant (when in Rome...). Likewise if I went to do a PDC at the Lawtons' farm I would expect to be taught in the way that they see fit and within the culture that they deem appropriate.

    I haven't done a PDC, so it's hard for me to tell exactly how much of an issue this is. I agree with the basic premise of keeping the 72 hours reasonably intact and complete. But within that, is there no contextualising? Is all the teaching abstract and not connected to place at all?

    I have a problem with this idea that the PDC is science based and that science is value free. I have some sympathy for what the Lawtons and Craig are doing or wanting (in terms of protecting the integrity of the PDC), but unfortunately it comes across as atheists ignoring culture. The idea that metaphysics and science are mutually incompatible is a cultural belief. I think we should be being honest about that.

    No-one ever gives examples (even in Craig's blogpost he doesn't say what the PDC was that was being advertised), so it's really hard to know what the actual problem is. I'm assuming it's not so much religion that is the issue as new agers and hippies (and to be honest, I have a problem with how some of those communities are engaging and using Pc too). But until people start giving examples of what are considered the actual problems PDCs, then this looks like an overarching atheist agenda and as such it should be resisted.

    I'm also interested in the fact that the new agers/hippies are attracted to Pc in such numbers that they pose a threat to the integrity of the PDC. Doesn't that tell us something useful?
     
  15. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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  16. annette

    annette Junior Member

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    Whoever teaches a PDC is going to bring to that course their own religious, cultural and belief system to that course. It may not be overtly apparent but it is there. You can't completely separate the teaching of a subject from those characteristics of the teacher or the environment in which it is taught. Nothing is done in a vacuum. When I did my PDC with Geoff we were required to wear modest clothing and Geoff read a prayer at the end of the course. I didn't have a problem with it. It's all about acknowledging that we all have our own beliefs and culture and having the open mindedness to allow others to have theirs. Tolerance and respect is what it's all about.

    As for the metaphysical, I would not want it included as a subject in a PDC. There's not enough time to learn everything about the design parts of the course as it is.

    Outside of a PDC I'm up for a chat about it with like minded folk.
     
  17. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day pebble, with the greatest of respect to yourself, and to the Maori people of NZ

    As previously stated, I am very supportive of the practice. I think welcoming ceremonies (when entered into as part of a collaborative process, as opposed to those conducted as a token gesture) are a very powerful means for uniting people through cross-cultural awareness, and for providing people with an opportunity to connect more deeply with the natural world. As such, I thank you for providing a little insight into how (and why) they are conducted in your part of the world. However, welcoming ceremonies (with or without metaphysical elements) aside, permaculture remains a science-based practice. Not just any old Science, mind you. The designing elements of permaculture, and hence those that must be taught in any PDC, are of the pure scientific variety (see, for example: Siepmann 1999):

    1) Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
    2) Formulation of a hypothesis to explain the phenomena.
    3) Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
    4) Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.


    Any dilution of these basic laws of science, brings the whole field (including permaculture) into disrepute. Of course, this does not for one moment mean that we cannot bring to the practice of scientific inquiry, those humanly-constructed elements (cultures) of our world, and apply the same methodology to attest their validity as reality. For as social scientists, we do this all the time. However, in doing so, it takes time; sometimes a very long time. Within the PDC, there is barely enough time to grasp the basics, let alone tackle the scientifically obscure.

    Say, for example, I'm leading a class in a PDC concerned with the practice of planting a tree - it might go something like this: We have, from within our toolkit of scientific (permaculture) principles already decided - in relation to the physical variables of the site (physics), and the potential biological inputs/outputs of the tree (biology/chemistry) - where we wish to plant, and we are about to continue with the practice when all of a sudden someone pipes up and says, "What about a prayer"? Perhaps I would turn to the individual in question and say, "Sure, which one"? How do you think we might find, as a group, a prayer that would satisfy the cultural needs of all attending the PDC? And even if we were able to come (remembering that time is of the essence here) to a mutually-agreeable understanding on the kind/type of prayer that we would employ, what value would it serve? Will a prayer make a tree grow any better than one planted without a prayer? I don't know. Do you? What method of scientific inquiry (experimentation) could we apply to test the hypothesis? Remembering all the time that we are on a tight time scale as it is.

    In sum, if it cannot be explained by scientific method, then it has no place within the PDC. By all means, outside of the PDC, and in living our individual/collective lives as permaculture practitioners, continue to inquire into and apply at will any of the metaphysical aspects of the universe as one sees fit. But please, keep the PDC classroom secular, rational and free from unverifiable human constructs.

    Cheerio, Markos.
     
  18. purplepear

    purplepear Junior Member

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  19. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    Marko, I think you missed my point. I understand what science is, and I understand and agree with the need to keep the PDC science based.

    It doesn't matter what you personally feel about Maori protocol. If a PDC were to be taught on a marae (which is likely if Maori are to be part of permaculture) then there would be protocol to be followed. If 'permaculture' decides that this is so agin its principles that it's not allowed, then that is by default excluding those cultures and people. I don't want to speak for Maori here, and I'm sure that Maori would have their own perspectives on the debate and relative merits of the various issues. But I do think that the approach that the PRI is taking on this is not the right one for the end they are trying to achieve.

    I'm fairly sure that the social science has already been done that demonstrates that in other education areas, where Maori are taught within Maori cultural values it works much better. On the other hand, where teachings are done in the paradigms of the dominant culture, less uptake and learning happens. That is by no means unique to Maori. And of course it didn't need social science for humans to understand this, Maori knew it already for many many years.

    I find your example of the tree planting strange, given that it doesn't match in any way what I am arguing and I've already pointed out why the idea of 'we have to choose one prayer from many religions' doesn't work in what I am talking about. And despite having never done a PDC, I find it highly unlikely that there is NEVER any mention EVER of anything that hasn't been through a full and rigorous scientific methodology. Annette says above that Geoff said a prayer at the end of her PDC. And by your examples we would have to exclude things like intuition from not only content but actual teaching. Which would mean that the teachers would have to follow a rote teaching plan and not in any way respond to the live requirements of the their students in the moment. Obviously I'm taking this to the extreme, but I feel I am only following your lead.

    I'm also wondering about the absoluteness of this statement: "if it cannot be explained by scientific method, then it has no place within the PDC." Does that mean that nothing that hasn't been absolutely proven can be said in the PDC? What about the debates about something like nitrogen fixation, where there is varying opinion about how that actually works under different conditions? We have no definitive proof, so should that be left out? (reference one of Paul Wheaton's podcasts where he talks about the different opinions of himself, Geoff, and another of the US permies).

    I've heard this thing repeatedly, that metaphysics and non-science must be excluded from PDC content (and now apparently structure as well). So I think it's time that the people who believe this front up and give some actual, concrete examples. Otherwise it's all just theory and rhetoric.
     
  20. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day pebble

    It is most likely that I have entirely 'missed your point' as I'm in the process of writing my thesis and trying to maintain a conversation here. For this, I am sorry. However, I will now (for the next few minutes) try to devote my undivided attention to the conversation as it presently stands. As such, please allow me a further attempt at elucidating my position on the subject of 'permaculture and spiritualism (syn. the metaphysical, mystical, magical, etc.)'.

    I think we are in agreement that permaculture is, by definition, a science based concept in both theory and application. If not, I guess we need to restart our conversation, or perhaps drop it entirely? Either way, I'm happy to follow your lead. If we are in agreement with the first and basic premise, then I think we are also in agreement with the second and subsequent, that is, in order to teach permaculture via the PDC, we need to approach it from a scientific perspective. Once again, if we are not in agreement here, please correct me.

    Having said all of the above, please now allow me to indulge you in a little research hypothetical, it goes something like this:

    Mary hears about 'permaculture' at the local farmers' market and decides that she might like to learn a little more about it. In response to her decision, and after she returns home from the market, Mary types 'permaculture' into her favourite search engine and on the first page of responses, the following pops up:

    What is Permaculture?

    Mary reads from the above, pauses, and thinks, "Hmmm, that's all very interesting. I wonder where can I learn more about permaculture". So it is back to her favourite search engine she goes, and into it she types 'permaculture course'. Mary scans the results of her search, and in doing so stumbles upon the following:

    Starhawk's Schedule

    From the above, Mary reads (my emphasis in bold):

    A two-week permaculture design certificate course with a focus on organizing and activism, and a grounding in earth based spirituality. Learn how to heal soil and cleanse water, how to design human systems that mimic natural systems, using a minimum of energy and resources and creating real abundance and social justice. Explore the strategies and organizing tools we need to make our visions real, and the daily practice, magic and rituals that can sustain our spirits. Participatory, hands-on teaching with lots of ritual, games, projects, songs, and laughs along with an intensive curriculum in ecological design.

    Now, Mary considers herself to be a rather progressively-minded sort of individual, and one that is open to most things. However, when she reads the above and sees reference to 'the daily practice of magic and ritual', Mary again pauses, and thinks, "Hmmmm, perhaps permaculture is not for me".

    I reiterate, my position is that there is no place for the scientifically unverified in the PDC. Its attempted inclusion does nothing to further the permaculture cause.

    Cheerio, Markos.
     

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