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“There is no instance of a people benefitting from prolonged conflict.”
“Of your enemies… If of high morale, depress them…. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them.”
“Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.”
– Sun Tsu
If you’re frustrated with the world right now, feel worn down by all the negative energy, and looking for a positive and meaningful way to recharge while taking action, the perspective of Permaculture has been a real help for me, and it might be useful to you, too.
I’ve seen a few terrific action lists that focus on partisan politics and protest, and I think those are important. But political action is necessarily about opposition and for most of us it feels negative and draining, and I haven’t seen any lists that focus on positive energy and positive action, or non-partisan action. And Permaculture is a great place to start, since it was created by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who were themselves disillusioned and burned out on political activis, and looking for a non-political, positive means to create a better, more just and sustainable society that respected and honored the natural world.
A lot of people feel pretty burned out from a long election cycle, and they need to recharge, but they’re also conflicted because they don’t want to “give up.” In an outrageous world it feels uncaring, privileged or downright apathetic to allow oneself to stop being outraged.
But if we want to be skillful and effective, instead of just being outraged, then it’s important to have compassion for ourselves. If you look at the kind of state Sun Tsu wanted to create to weaken and defeat his enemies: stressed, tired, starved, divided, depressed: that’s exactly the state many Americans are in right now – and we’re the ones doing it to ourselves and our own allies!
We can find a balance that embraces righteous anger and legitimizes rational fear, but recognizes that a place of anger, fear and stress are not a conducive peak state for getting ANYTHING done, let alone creating a better society. And in the mean time, a society flooded with stress and negativity is good for no one, especially not populations that are already stressed, afraid and marginalized.
So, in addition to political action, we can shift our focus and inject some positive energy into this turbulent time: something to regenerate and energize ourselves and our communities. That’s actually a completely valid and beneficial way to respond. If we do that, studies show we’ll actually be more productive and powerful when the time comes to fight!
I’m not saying that activism and politics are unimportant or that folks shouldn’t bother voting.
But from a Permaculture perspective, we can and should invest energy in building a better world outside the political system. In fact, if we want to build a better world, it will not be enough to simply engage in partisan politics! Consider that:
– Analytical studies and statistical analysis have demonstrated for decades that the political activities of most voters have no measurable impact on policy! Only a very small percentage of high-earning Americans has a very large impact on policy.
– Political struggle effects only the CURRENT systems we use to meet our needs. But many of these are already failing or they were unjust to begin with. Most are considered “unsustainable” by experts from within those systems, which doesn’t mean they’re bad for dolphins and Monarch butterfies, it means they literally cannot continue into the future. Instead of putting energy into controlling or “fixing” systems that are bound to end soon, we can work outside the political system to build new “parallel” systems that can better meet our needs.
– Going back to Aristotle and continuing through our modern democracies, republican government is intended and designed to slow change, and prevent revolution – not facilitate it! The political processes of modern government, two-party systems, separation of powers and bicameral legislature (etc.) were intended to pacify the masses, siphon off revolutionary energy and bind it up into cogs of a system that is very slow to change. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Republicanism
-Tug -o-war. One powerful, intended counter-revolutionary mechanism in our political system is that when we put all our energy into political struggle, it often causes a backlash, and in the next election the other guys come along and undo much of what was accomplished, our energy investment largely lost!
So while we work through that slow system, we can and should also invest positive energy into durable, apolitical ways of building a better world, a more regenerative culture, stronger communities and more resilient lives for ourselves, so that we’re stronger when it’s time to fight for what we believe in!
Here are some positive, powerful, transformative actions you can take today. A huge benefit is that many of these reach beyond demographics and politics, helping to build influence and build alliances beyond partisan boundaries :
1. Build a broad, diverse community based on needs. Communities that are truly dynamic and vibrant, such as folk communities, are so because they’re interdependent: people rely on each other. They are interconnected. Each of us can mindfully build our own communities for ourselves. Ask: What do you need? Find the people in your community who can provide it! What are you dependent upon soul sucking corporations for? Find the people who can help you cut your corporate umbilicle cord! Invest in people right in your community. And if you can’t find them, then consider starting a business yourself or encouraging someone else in your community to do so.
2. Ask people for help! People often think that it’s offering help that is the key to building social capital, but research has found that ASKING can actually be more powerful – especially when you’re appreciative.
3. Plant some shit. If Permaculturist Ron Finely can do it in land-starved and concrete-covered LA, then we can all do \it! According to the US Government, our food system is the #1 cause of climate change, the #1 user of oil, the #1 cause of soil loss, habitat destruction, and deforestation. Our unhealthy food system is a major cause of disease, malnutrition and starvation. But we can start withdrawing our support for this insane sociopathic system by growing some of our own food. And if you can’t right now, then find someone to help: see #1! My top recommendation for people who want to start a Permaculture garden is the book “Gaia’s Garden.” But we’ve got some articles on getting started at http://www.lilliehouse.blogspot.com.
4. Home Energy Retrofit. Make your home more energy efficient and comfortable. If you’re smart, you can actually plan these so that they even pay for themselves. Save yourself money. Then teach others in your community to do the same!
(Community members learning about sustainable building while helping Ben Brown build his Tiny House)
5. Learn something: a new practical skill that will make yourself or your community stronger. If you don’t know what to do, try asking around and see what people in your community need. Everyone follows the trends, you can be the one who sets them. As Bill Mollison used to say: “The greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone.”
6. Make some art:
“It is through art, music, dance, and poetry that ecological knowledge is passed from one generation to the next.” You think you can change minds by bashing skulls? Think again. What we need is a change OF CULTURE. If we’re going to make a Permanent culture, we actually need the culture part, as my buddy Permaculturist Josh Shultz has said.
(Old field ecology at a VanKal Permaculture Event at Rustling Knapweed Forest Garden, Lawton Michigan.)
7. Connect with nature: As Bill Mollison said: “Wealth is a deep understanding of the natural world.” Go out and learn nature, and then share the wisdom she has taught. There is wealth here to fuel our fight. And many of our problems are caused by our disconnection from nature.
8. Love. Ha ha! Not in some cheesy hippie dreamy sort of way. Sorry! If you haven’t figured it out yet, real love is HARD! Sometimes it sucks. Like… at Thanksgiving. I’ve been sharing all the “Love Trumps Hate” memes on Facebook, but then I ask myself: have I tried to LOVE President Elect Trump, his voters and supporters? Hell no! It feels way better to marginalize and dehumanize them in 1,000 different ways, confident that my liberal, inclusive values make me superior to them. Well, my values ARE superior, but I’m not. Thinking so just makes me an asshole. In general, we should try to learn about people and perspectives we tend to dismiss or be uncomfortable with. If that’s people of color, then you might start here. If you’d like to try investing some energy into understanding the plight of rural, working class communities wh supported Trump, this is a good place to start.
9. Quietly invest in your own spiritual capital. Everyone can do this, even devout atheists. Spend time for quiet contemplation, to get to know yourself. Unplug, take a week-long media fast. Like “connecting with nature,” this might seem froo froo, but it’s actually the most effective way we can act to inject some thoughtful, tolerant, peaceful energy into a violent angsty world. Whether you have a spiritual tradition or not, everyone can set aside some quiet time to cultivate a quiet, relaxed happy mind, something that has always been key to effective action and warriorship.