The “Animal Farm” of Permaculture (and other instititutions).

I remember when I was first learning about Permaculture, a couple of the things that really struck me about it was its open source practices and its very egalitarian attitude. Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created a system that was capable of exploding in a million different directions whether they continued on with it our not. This is most easily proven in the large numbers of people who followed Holmgren’s work throughout his non public pursuit of Permaculture Design. (Don’t worry we aren’t wandering down that path today.)

No, today we are going to talk about something that everyone’s favorite dystopian author warned us about. PIGS, and how a few of them are trying to hinder the spread of Permaculture.

For those of you who have not read “Animal Farm” by George Orwell, first off shame on you, turn off the internet, and go get a copy. It will give you a better education on man and his relations through politics than anything short of 40 years of life possibly can… and it does it in under a hundred pages.

Your shame aside, the basic plot of this masterpiece involves the barn yard animals realizing they are the slaves of men, overthrowing the men who ran the farm,  and forming a bit of a commune led by the hogs. It begins as we animals are all brothers and man is our only enemy and by the end of the book it has devolved into the pigs being overseers who are trading with the men next door. The lesson demonstrated in  this brilliant narrative is that even those with the purest of intents will take and abuse power in order to maintain it.

Now we are going to take a small leap, because I don’t think the issue I am about to talk about is necessarily power. It’s about money, and livelihood. The lesson does not change though. Intent and even our core values will sometimes go away in order to preserve what we have acquired.

From that leap I will stop being so vague and just tell you what I see happening.

In recent history there has been a sort of rallying cry amongst some of the “long term teachers” of Permaculture, that has been basically to denounce the use of the term Certified Permaculture Designer by graduates of a Permaculture Design Courses, and a parallel movement to create some form standard and title beyond the original scope what the Permaculture Institute originally laid out.

Now before any of these fellas get all worked up about how advanced diplomas were always part of the teaching system; I know that, and I agree with their existence and value, Further, I will be doing nothing here to disparage the value of any advanced curricula in the Permaculture world. I am of the belief that more learning is always better.

I also want to recognize that the people who are calling for this are in fact some of the best teachers in the USA, they have (for the most part) been involved since the beginning and many of them actually took Mollison’s PDC first hand.

At any rate, the crux of this movement seems to come from the fact that many of these long term teachers are seeing what they consider to be bad design and they feel that this is hindering the growth of Permaculture. At least that is the answer they give when they are asked why they are disparaging their fellow practitioners.

I see it a little differently. First, I want to talk about bad design; what it is and who is doing it.

In my humble opinion the only thing that is a truly bad design at this point in time is something that keeps the current situation static and does not aspire to care for the people, care for the planet and return its surplus. Are some designs better than others? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean that a less efficient design doesn’t serve the three ethics and the prime directive.

So who is doing bad design? Well lets take a look at a group of some of the current leaders in Permaculture. Lets throw Lawton, Holzer, Holmgren, Hemenway, Smits, Toensmeier, Savory, Salatin, Bane, Shepard, and Wheaton in a room and ask them which designs are bad and which ones are good. If you have paid attention to the work that all of these men have done and the positions they have taken, then you realize that the only reason this conversation won’t end in a fist fight is because they are all to old to be fighting. Truth be told, that might not be enough.

The point of that is, everyone designs differently. Every one of those people is a master of their craft and they don’t agree on what always works. This is a continually evolving field and its open source nature is why it is finally getting the traction it needs to change the world. It should not be interfered with.

I think the people who want this new structure and standardization are aware of all this, and I also think that bad design is not why they really want more structure in the system.

The reason they want it is economic, pure and simple.

You see, for a long term teacher, newly educated instructors are a threat. Ask the NEA. Ask tenured professors why they value tenure. It is no different here. The same is true for designers. It is a lot harder to demand $1000 per day to consult when there are 20 other designers nearby. One may have to work harder. One may have to add value. One may even have to lower their price, or create new products.

Alternatively, one may choose to limit the possibility of competition.

At any rate, the people who have been making a living designing and teaching for the past 20 years or so, are now threatened by the droves of new students created through online education (which they also rail against)…and just as Orwell cautioned, they are doing what they can to protect their industry.

They need to stop engaging in behavior that disparages or discourages neophyte Permies from doing their work. As I have repeatedly said in this forum, cooperation will help us much more than competition amongst ourselves can.

I don’t say any of this to attack the people who take these positions. I say this because I am concerned that they will be successful at creating this structure and create something that will not allow Permaculture to continue to spread at the pace it needs to.

I will go as far as to say that if you have the means, and if you want to be a truly amazing designer; you should intern with or take advanced classes with as many of these guys as you can. They are very good at what they do and we need them to keep doing it to propel things forward.

That said, this video is what Bill Mollison said about the need to get a Permaculture Diploma to teach or design.

And remember…

Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken to my joyful tidings
Of the Golden future time.

Soon or late the day is coming,
Tyrant Man shall be o’erthrown,
And the fruitful fields of England
Shall be trod by beasts alone.

Rings shall vanish from our noses,
And the harness from our back,
Bit and spur shall rust forever,
Cruel whips no more shall crack.

Riches more than mind can picture,
Wheat and barley, oats and hay,
Clover, beans, and mangel-wurzels
Shall be ours upon that day.

Bright will shine the fields of England,
Purer shall its waters be,
Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes
On the day that sets us free.

For that day we all must labour,
Though we die before it break;
Cows and horses, geese and turkeys,
All must toil for freedom’s sake.

Beasts of England, Beasts of Ireland,
Beasts of every land and clime,
Hearken well, and spread my tidings
Of the Golden future time.

                                                   -Old Major

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