Monday, May 21, 2018

Permaculture: Revolution or Lfestylsm?

Covering two of my three blog themes—permaculture and resistance—Boris Forkel writes a piece I wanted to republish here:

Capitalism reaches fulfillment when it sells communism as a commodity. Communism as a commodity spells the end of revolution.

—Byung-Chul Han

I’m a permaculturalist. And I became a permie in the first place because I wanted to break free from this culture.

To me, permaculture was and still is highly political. “Permaculture is revolution disguised as gardening” is one of my favorite Bill Mollison quotes.

After all, what freedom can we have without subsistence, without having control over our most basic resources, our own food? “There is no sovereignty without food sovereignty,” said Native American activist John Mohawk.

I’ve been so ardent and naive. I thought that the permaculture-approach is so ingenious that it would become a mass-movement, indeed a quiet and peaceful revolution. It would free us from being dependent on the digital food they sell us in grocery stores nowadays, and from the wage economy at the same time, because we would build small, local food cooperatives that would all be sharing the surplus.

Unfortunately, time and experience shows that it’s not that easy.

One of my permaculture teachers, who taught me the concept of the food forest, often said: “I don’t understand what’s the problem for all these critical people. Nowadays, we have all the freedoms we want.” He also articulated a very strange notion about the future: “Once we have reached the number of 10 billion, human population growth will come to a halt. Thanks to Internet technology, humans will then all be connected and serve as the consciousness of planet earth.” Attendants hung on his lips when he said that, and while everybody else was amazed by this perspective of a golden future, I sat quietly, stunned.

I knew in my heart that he was wrong, but couldn’t articulate a sufficient answer to his statements back then.

It made me angry. How can one say that “we have all the freedoms we want,” while the air we need to breathe is being polluted, the greatest mass extinction in planetary history is happening, the climate is being destroyed, the oceans are vacuumed and filled with toxic garbage? In short: when the most basic functions of our planet to support life are being destroyed?

What about the freedom of having breathable air? What about the freedom of having a livable planet? What about the freedom of having a future?

I’ve given a lot of thought to his statements ever since, because they seem so appealing to many people. The Earth never supported more than 2 billion humans until Fritz Haber and Robert Bosch indeed broke the planetary boundaries with the invention of the Haber-Bosch process. Nowadays, we are hopelessly overpopulated. So the number of 10 billion is purely random and nothing but magical thinking. The notion of Internet technology and humans as the consciousness of the planet is nothing more than a new fashion of the good old ideology of humans as the crown of creation. What about nature in this fantasy? With 10 billion (industrial) humans, there will hardly be anything left.

Everybody with a sane mind and a little understanding—especially a permie—should know that the trees, the fungi, the soil, the air, the water, the animals and so on, in short what we call nature, indeed is the consciousness of planet earth. Apparently, the manifest destiny of the technocrats is to eradicate what they perceive as primitive, raw, red in tooth and claw, wild and uncontrollable, and to replace nature with a “better” system of human technology.

Deconstructing that was the easy part. The hard part is his statement about freedom. With all this in mind, the primary question is: what does freedom mean for someone like him?

A friend of mine, who was lucky enough to hear Noam Chomsky speak live, told me that in the discussion after somebody asked the usual question: “What can we do about it?” Chomsky responded that he thinks this is a strange question. People from so-called developing countries would never ask such a question, only westerners, he stated. Apparently, third-world-people still have a clearer sense for suppression and cultures of resistance. “We should rather ask what we can’t do,” Chomsky said.

When I attended a talk by Rainer Mausfeld, of course someone asked the very same question. Mausfeld stated that this question shows how well the soft power techniques he’d been describing work. We can’t even imagine any form of resistance.

For more than a century, the political left’s analysis has been very clear: The suppression and exploitation of the poor (working class) by the rich (owning class), that is the very basis of capitalism, can only be solved by organized class struggle to come from the working class. This concept isn’t hard to understand. It is classic Marxism. But somehow, the ruling class has managed to completely eradicate it from the proletarian minds.

I’ve come across a lot more of what I like to call liberal lifestyle-activists. I understood that most permies chose permaculture not because they want a revolution (like I did), but because they want a more sustainable lifestyle for themselves. They believe that they are free, because they perceive their individualism and their freedom of choice as the greatest freedom, the greatest achievement of modernity. Being part of any group, class or movement is perceived as regressive. The notion of class struggle is so yesterday.

At the same time, they’re usually educated people, and they know that a lot of things are going badly wrong. But as liberals who are taking power out of the equation, and individualists lacking any concept of social group our class, they must take it all on themselves. “It is all of us who are causing the destruction,” they’d say.

As a result, the only thinkable form of political action are personal consumer choices. Buy organic soap and feel better.

A great example of this are vegans. No doubt that factory farming is horrible and has to stop. But as a lifestyle-activist, all you can do about it is to stop consuming meat. In your worldview, the problem can only be solved by everybody stopping eating meat.

For liberal lifestyle-activists, “having all the freedoms we want” can only mean the freedom to consume (or not consume) whatever we want, whenever we want, in any quality and quantity we want. This is the kind of “freedom” with which capitalism has hijacked us. If we can afford it, of course. But within neoliberal capitalist ideology, there is no such thing as a suppressed class. The poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough, or they are simply to stupid to sell themselves well enough.

“Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.”

Byung-Chul Han

For radicals, the question remains: Without the possibility of mass movements, how do we stop the destruction of the planet that is our only home?

For a new generation of serious activists who are tired of all that shit and ready to take action, DGR has the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy.

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