For the past 30 years or so I’ve been looking for an ecologically sustainable way to live. I’ve explored Organic Farming, Permaculture, Biodynamic Methods, Indigenous Lifestyles, Holistic Living, and farming/gardening in various places around the world. I’ve read about, poked at, tried, and experimented with these methods on various scales in different parts of the world, and talked with people from all over who have done the same. So far I’ve found a boat load of great techniques for doing less damage and no model of sustainability.
There is a feeling among people searching for a way to survive what we are doing to the planet that if we all would just adopt (vegetarianism, or permaculture, or organics, or green living, or Gaia worship, becoming hunter-gatherers, or whatever) that everything will be OK. There is another group that thinks that if we can just overthrow our oppressors (the government, the corporations, the CEO’s, civilization, technology, etc.), if we can crash the system we will be able to rise from the ashes and live better.
They are all wrong.
Our lives are an expression of a set of fundamental rules/default ways of acting. They get cluttered up with culture, beliefs, education, etc., but we act in ways that stay true to those fundamental rules. Acting differently takes great conscious effort. Gravity is one of those rules we accept at a fundamental level. Even before Newton and company started defining the “Law of Gravity”, we didn’t act in opposition to it. We may not have understood the math, or the mechanics of gravity (not sure we do now…) but we didn’t willingly fling ourselves from high places, and we when we did that with other things or people we expected them to crash to the ground, not float off into space. We don’t think about gravity. We have no committees to explore how we live in a more gravity acknowledging way. We just live in ways that accept gravity as a constant. We also live in ways that produce the results we now see. The fundamental rules exist below the surface of conscious thought and shape our every action are what has given rise to the problems we now blame on technology, civilization, over population, greedy corporations, etc. They are not the cause. They are just expressions of the rules we live by.
I’ll not attempt to list all the fundamental rules that shape us. I won’t even pretend to know them all. But there are a few I keep running into as I explore sustainable ways of living.
One big one is -
WE ARE SEPARATE FROM NATURE. We may have started life there, as part of nature, but we have moved beyond that now. This means we are not subject to the “laws of nature”. Laws like natural selection, death, resource limitations, natural population controls, etc. You see this in the way we fight to extend life, the way we don’t even consider the relationship between food and population growth (a population will increase to the limits of its food supply. EVERY TIME. Increase food, the population increases. This rush to grow more because the population is going to expand only results in the population expanding…) as we try to solve the overpopulation problem. We see this in our linier thinking about the food chain, in the way we deal with waste, etc. It permeates our language, our religions, and science. And it is FALSE. It is fundamental to how we live right now, and it is completely false.
Another big one is –
GROWTH IS THE ONLY REAL MEASURE OF SUCCESS. This only applies to human endeavors. When we see unending growth anywhere else we recognize it as unsustainable, life threatening, dangerous, etc. We call it cancer, disease, system breakdown. We try to eliminate it, slow it, and prevent it, to restore equilibrium and balance. But in the human realm (separate from Nature…) it is the thing we strive for; more business, more dollars, more stuff, bigger house, better car, more growth.
These two fundamental rules are why we keep doing the same stupid things over and over. They are why we instantly set out to rebuild civilization when it crashes and make the exact same mistakes that caused the crash in the first place. They are why, despite years of effort and billions of dollars, we have not solved even one of the problems of civilization. We haven’t conquered disease, eliminated hunger, or controlled the population growth.
All other living things on this planet live by a different set of rules, and they only run into major problems when some catastrophic event occurs (like a giant meteor crashing into the planet), or when we muck up the system.
The difference between how we live and how the rest of the living things on the planet live is simple. They live locally. They draw everything they need for their life from their local resource pool, and return everything to that pool. Growth is limited by the local resources. Equilibrium is the measure of success.
For example, a tree draws all it needs from its local and sheds its leaves, bark, branches and eventually it whole self in that place, returning everything. Same with a mouse (its local range is bigger than the tree, but it lives, poops, eats, dies in that range. Taking in resources for a while and then returning them. There is only a finite amount of mouse food available, so there are only a finite number of mice in the area. Same with the tree. There is only a finite amount of tree food and water available to the tree. That limits how many trees can exist in that space. This is how all the living things on the planet live. The size of the local range varies, the pool of resources varies, but the rule doesn’t change. There is no organization to prevent any living thing from expanding outside it’s local range. Such an organization is not needed. Those creatures are quickly eliminated. Drawing resources from outside the local pool changes the population, and that results in less food, or more predation, and balance is restored.
WE DO NOT LIVE THIS WAY. We take resources from one place to fuel growth in another place. We ship the waste from living, and from production to yet another place. All these actions break the balance. The result of living this way is what you see around you, environmental destruction, pollution, over population, hunger, disease.
We can’t hope to find a sustainable way of living without changing the fundamental rules we live by.
"If the world is saved, it will not be saved by old minds with new programs but by new minds with no programs at all."
— Daniel Quinn (The Story of B: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit)
This is why permaculture, or organics, or even crashing the system and becoming hunter/gatherers won’t work. If we still operate by the same flawed rules, we will just produce the same flawed results.
Next post – Agriculture and a new mind.