Welcome back to the Philosophy of the Southside Permaculture park post series.
Part 3: Human/Nature Dualism, Contradictions, and the Thermodynamics of Civilization
Last week we discussed how the rise of industrialization lead to fragmentation in production that expanded into the larger structures of society and thus our daily lives and social interactions. We also saw how this fragmented system of production creates power dynamics that keeps people and communities dependent on these concentrated alienating systems for their survival. Finally, we say how permaculture and the spirit of cooperation can undermine these exploitive systems and create a better world of happy, autonomous communities.
This week we will look deeper in to this notion of fragmentation and explore the fundamental ontology of “nature”.
Eliminating the theoretical divide between “society” and “nature” is another major goal of the Southside Permaculture park. As we have talked about before, most people define “nature” to be everything except humans and the things that humans create in society. Thus, society and nature are defined in their contradiction; what one is, the other is not. While this definition fails upon closer inspection – obviously we humans are the product of natural evolution, we are subject to the same natural laws, and use the same physical resources as anything else – it still influences the development of our society and our daily thoughts and activities.
This metaphysical rift between society and nature makes it impossible for us to cope with the reality of climate change, its root causes, and the necessary actions we must take if we are to survive this crisis.
Nature is idolized, thought of as pure, perfect, and stable, if still a little wild. Society on the other hand, while nearly unanimously regarded as the human races’ greatest achievement, is also regarded as being fatally flawed; tainted by original sin, impure, imperfect, and unstable. If humans are diametrically opposed to Nature, then despite our best efforts, we will never be able to achieve the perfect harmony that exists in Nature. We are destined to live in contradiction with it, destined to always fight it for control, and, ultimately, destined to lose. We must, due to our un-natural imperfection, poison the world and destroy ourselves.
Nature is often thought of as being distant; it’s out there in the woods somewhere, far from the cities; you have to travel to get to Nature.
The more people develop society the farther away Nature gets. But it’s still out there, perfect and eternal. We can never really get to Nature, though. Sure, we can visit it. Go on hikes and go camping. But we cannot stay, for Nature is were we humans are not. If we were to stay in Nature, it would simply become Society, and it would lose its purity and perfection. Thus, we cannot ever truly get to Nature from Society. Logically, the only way to arrive at the concept of Nature from the concept of Society is to negate it. By our current definitions, THERE IS NO WAY TO GET TO NATURE OTHER THAN COMPLETELY NEGATING SOCIETY! There is thus no path to take to make society truly sustainable, under the prevailing ideology, because the “natural” sustainability we seek is defined as the negation of society itself. Only be radically redefining our notions of Nature and Society can we achieve the stability, adaptability, and longevity that we seek.
The fundamental difference between “natural” systems and “human” systems appears (to me at least) to be rooted in their energetic foundations.
Natural systems are those that, through their energetic process, reproduce the necessary conditions for that system to operate. For example: a forest is a good example of a natural system because, as the trees grow, they build up fertile soil that helps new generations of trees germinate and grow. The fungal network protects the living trees and digests the dead, animals recycle nutrients, etc. The existence of forest regulates global climate and rain patterns, keeping the weather just right for the growth of the forests. The energetic process of a forest living and growing reproduces the necessary conditions for the forest to live and grow. Positive feedback.
Human systems, on the other hand, are those that, through their energetic process, undermine the conditions necessary for the system to operate. Industrial agriculture is a great example of a human system. The practice of tilling and fertilizing the soil depletes the organic matter that normally would store such nutrients, thus requiring ever more tilling and fertilization and making it harder and harder for the plants to grow there. The use of pesticides destroys biodiversity, making pest problems more and more prevalent. The centralization of industrial agriculture means that food must be transported large distances, requiring otherwise fertile land to be paved into barren roads. And all of it produces such tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that it changes the climate in such a way as to make the weather unsuitable for such an agricultural system to exist at all. The energetic process of industrial agriculture undermines the necessary conditions for industrial agriculture to operate. Negative feedback. They are based on a contradiction. A produces not-A.
But the systems that we create do not have to be so self-destructive and contradictory.
Permaculture allows us to design systems that are like the positively reinforcing systems in “nature”, but only if we can accept the fact that we ARE nature. As long as we hold on to the theoretical contradiction in our definition of ourselves and nature, we can never resolve the energetic contradiction that threatens to take down all of society.
The Southside Permaculture Park is designed to blur that line between “Society” and “Nature” and provide an example for what a society not grounded in that contradiction could look like. The food forest design of the park means that it will feel as though one is foraging. A canopy of nut trees, and understory of berry and nut shrubs, herbs and vegetables at the ground layer, edible roots and tubers, and mushrooms and vines to tie it all together. It will feel like a wild environment, it will feel like nature, but it will be uniquely human as well.
People will see how their efforts and labor have contributed to building this space, and they will come to understand their role in the energetics of such a system; understand how their activity can reinforce the conditions necessary for that activity. When spaces like these are so prevalent that people can find their place and see themselves in the context of these self-reinforcing systems, the rift between society and nature will be mended, the contradiction resolved in theory and practice, and humanity saved from disaster.
Our hope is that you reading this will see what is happening at the Southside Permaculture Park, you will learn about it and come to understand yourself as fundamentally a part of the systems of matter and energy on Earth. You will understand the fundamental contradiction in the energetics of our society and how it leads to the problems of today’s world.
You will see how permaculture can provide a solution to restore the health of people and planet. And most of all, we hope that you will go out and make it happen!
Tune in next week for a list of future projects and events and other ways to get involved in the movement to take back and protect our communities and our world!
Featured Image: Hustle by Justin Totemical, https://www.threyda.com/