Welcome back to the Philosophy of the Southside Permaculture Park post series!
Part 2: Social Fragmentation, Power Dynamics, and Cooperation vs Competition
Last week we got a brief overview of what permaculture means and saw a few ways in which the ideals of permaculture are implemented in the park. We ended by introducing the idea of how permaculture and projects like the SSPP can combat social isolation and allow people to lead happier lives. Today we will elaborate on that idea and deconstruct the systems that lead to the social isolation in the first place.
How did it become that we have so many people living closely together in cities, and yet, people are still so distant from each other? To answer that question, we’ll need to reflect on the historical process that led to our current state.
As the industrial revolution harnessed the power of steam, new means of production were created.
With this seemingly infinite new source of energy, the the dominant economic (see: thermodynamic) activity of society shifted from sun an soil to steam and oil. With this new energy source concentrated in factories, people had to move out from the fields of the country into the cities to supply labor to these factories. A critical point here is that the factories were NOT common property like the fields from which these workers came. While nobility collected a tax on the production of peasant farmers, for the most part they worked for themselves and their families. The products of their labor were directly realized in the crops that they grew. In the cities, however, factories were owned by the early industrialists, and labor was not rewarded directly with the things they produced (each worker in a pin factory, for example, did not leave at the end of the day with a bag full of pins) but instead with a wage: currency with which other products could be bought.
In the cities, workers are not able to directly provide for their means of subsistence – there is not enough land to grow food and the pollution renders much of the land poisonous – and so they are dependent on those who own the means of production, the factories, in order to get what they need to survive. This creates a sharp power dynamic that enables the factory owners to exploit the workers to the greatest extent possible, for the workers have no other choice.
As this system of private ownership over production based around the energy of fossil fuels developed, industrialists and philosophers began to realize that more products could be produced in the same amount of time if the tasks produced by the workers were fragmented, specialized. By dividing up the production process into highly specified, monotonous tasks, production increased, and so they said “efficiency increased”. But with this act the subjective experience of labor decreased tremendously, and with it came alienation and discontentment.
These privately owned means of production are not in the business of giving people meaningful life experiences or a good quality of life.
They are hardly even concerned with the manufacture of the product. The purpose of these enterprises is to accumulate wealth. That is the profit motive, that is an explicit assumption behind all capitalist thought and philosophy. If the factory were to be owned by the people, they would likely decide to keep some variation in the work so that it weren’t so horribly monotonous and alienating, even if it meant less profit, because they would be in the business of providing themselves with a meaningful life experience and good quality of life. But because the means of production are privately owned, and because the sole purpose is to accumulate profit and concentrate wealth, it matters not that the work experience is horrible and dangerous, as long as it is profitable.
It is worth noting that these initial philosophies and organizations of production have been further reified by history and are now deeply ingrained in the structures of our society. So much so, that modern corporate executives are actually legally bound to provide profits to the shareholders, which often comes at the expense of exploiting both people and planet. Its not that they are necessarily inherently bad or greedy people, but the laws that govern the operation of their enterprise mandate that they behave in such a way, and so they become. This then gets used to justify the initial axiom that people are inherently greedy and only in search of profit, justifying the system as a whole. It is a dialectic where conditions lead to ideas that reform the conditions to reinforce the ideas.
As more resources are required for industrial production, previously public lands get privatized to source materials and dump waste, and more people are forced to move into the cities in search of a way to support themselves and their families. To accommodate for this, the rich owners of the factories and other means of production commission the construction of housing for the workers. Influenced by the fragmentation of the workplace, these housing structures were designed to mirror that division: single-occupancy or single-family homes with little or no overlap or communal spaces. There is proximity, but not interconnectivity. People are taught that in the workplace, everyone is in constant competition with everyone else, a race to the top where you get ahead by stepping on others. Back at home, this sense of competition remains, and people do are less likely to see their neighbor as someone who can help them. People spend all day doing fragmented, alienating work, to come home to an isolated, alienating home. The result is that, unsurprisingly, people fell isolated and alienated!
The Southside Permaculture Park is designed to negate the causes of this social fragmentation, isolation, and alienation, while also undermining the power dynamic that enables them, increasing peoples’ quality of living and restoring them autonomy over their lives.
The Southside Permaculture Park takes marginalized spaces, forsaken by industrial society (like the useless, forgotten lawn that it’s built on) and uses them to build new forces of production. By generating food, fuel, medicine, and materials locally, and in the hands of the people, it empowers the community to take control over their lives and reduces the community’s dependency on massive, exploitive corporations. These spaces are designed to be owned and operated by the people in the community, not single individuals or private corporations (even if Lehigh thinks they own the land) so that decisions can be made based on the best interests of the people, not what is most profitable.
No longer should communities be dependent on corporations for their means of subsistence and thus required to sell themselves just to stay alive.
No longer should decisions about how to use the land be made by people who have no stake in the community and who do not live there, clearing the forests and fields that could support the people to build warehouse to support profit.
When the direct needs of life are satisfied by community-level production, people will not be forced to sell themselves on the market to corporations who care not for their well-being, but only for their ability to generate profit, and they will develop a sense of autonomy not seen in generations.When they don’t need to spend all of their time working to make profit for somebody else, they will be freed to spend time doing the things they enjoy; making music, reading, talking playing with friends, cooking, eating, and being alive. People will find a sense of belonging in working together with their neighbors to support each other and the community. Cooperation supersedes competition, and everyone ends up better off.
Tune in next week as we discuss the Human/Nature Dualism, Contradictions, and the Thermodynamics of Civilization!
Many of these ideas came in part from ref