Reading Chomsky, The Union of Concerned Scientists and periodicals about Permaculture and small farming –simultaneously- sparks a weird, fetid brew of thoughts, fears and hopes that takes some time to hash out. Time that I have not given them yet. Despite the incredible restorative attributes of this trip for me, I have not allowed myself much time for reflection. It has been a whirlwind trip of coffee houses, bookshops, and redbuds peppered with fleeting conversations with Chapel Hillites of various flavors running the gamut from Tar Heels to anarchists.
Really what is haunting me most of all is that little gnome, Noam. His portrayal of power politics over the past centuries, and the last few decades in particular, is strikingly disturbing, to the point that I find him difficult to read comfortably- like sitting through a 20 hour scolding by the principal where detention is a totalitarian hell that we allowed to happen. This is due almost entirely to my belief that it is not some dissident liberal intellectual screaming from the rooftops, but a clear voice of reason that is falling on deaf, or more horrifying, numb and therefore powerless ears. I can’t even rightly blame the Bush Administration, though they have taken the power plays to their “logical” and terrifying conclusions. The fruits of the past 6 years are coming to bear from the seeds planting and cared for willingly over the past 50 years by 3 generations of Americans. We have allowed the norm of state sponsored killings to be made in our name. To allow wars of aggression to be engaged on our behalf-to save the unthinkable deaths of several thousand Americans in a terrorist attack we have sanctioned the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who are far more innocent than we.
And it is that collective guilt that is finally so disturbing for me. I knew the war was wrong, I know we are sacrificing our civil rights on the altar of our fear. But I continue with my daily life to protect myself, my mortgage, my comfort while I assuage the guilt thru telling myself its ok because we won the midterms and it will all be over soon.
Bullshit. Where is the outrage? Where is my outrage? I am paying attention, but I tell myself that working at the local level is more impactful, or that my efforts for sustainability are the greater good. What good is sustainability when Permaculture can lawfully be deemed a subversive, terrorist ideology. Reactionary? ADM owns most of the seeds and is willing to lock people up for using them. I had to sign a consent form that I wouldn’t propagate my raspberries-if they sucker am I legally liable? Paranoid? Watch the Future of Food and see the ruin of our traditional Family Farmers at the hand of corporate greed.
So that is the fear, the fetid brew comes in when you reap the hope of the Permaculturists and Ecovillagers. But even there Peak Oil is beginning to seep in as well. Permaculture may be enough to save me, but is it enough to save us. No individual can live sustainably as an island. I can not realistically make all that I need to survive. Thoreau still made trips to town for lumber at Walden, and his base level of artisan know how dwarfs mine by a factor of ten. Even if I learn enough to feed and clothe my own family if I have not brought my neighbors with me I only breed resentment, jealousy and put myself in a precarious position if the bottom drops out.
So how do I bring others with me and also fight to keep our civil rights civil? Hell if I know, but I have some working hypothesis. The Natural Step (TNS) and Permaculture are my biggest bets so far. Becoming a TNS study group facilitator was a Big Step for me. Taking groups of a dozen or so citizens through the process ever 2.5 months is a quantitative step to making our county more sustainable. I have said time and time again that the hardest part to Being Green is learning to Think Green. My first group has some incredibly well connected and highly trained members. Getting them to work together and network can increase their results significantly-and that is just my group. Our county wide organization has a half dozen groups going at any time-and in a rural community of or size several hundred citizens, growing annually, is a statistically significant block that will accomplish Real Change.
Permaculture is more nebulous, but potentially more powerful. At the last meeting of our fledgling countywide group, Sustain Jefferson, I was asked to teach a course on Sustainable Living at a local Technical College. I politely refused due to being completely overcommitted right now-but how powerful a force could that be? The thought of a continuing education course on Sustainability keeps running through my head and I can honestly see it happening come this fall. The kicker will be to inspire honest, real action on the ground. In the current issue of Permaculture, one of the authors laments that after instructing several hundred students in a semester long Permaculture Course over the years, there are still only 2 other Food Gardens in his entire hamlet.
Is the hope of a Permaculture enough to combat the power politik reality that Chomsky relates? Only in so far as the thinking can permeate society quickly enough while there is still enough power left in the populace to effect change in the Executive branch-be it Democratic or Republican. We live in an age where I am both deeply proud and powerfully ashamed to call myself an American. The political heritage of Adams, Jackson, Wilson, Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes is in sway right now to my great shame. However, our political and philosophical heritage is unmatched for boldness and truth and I believe that as the most powerful Nation we must be the force of change by drawing on that heritage and fulfill our philosophical destiny as framed by Jefferson, Emerson, Thoreau, William James, Martin Luther King and Carter. The choice will be on our generation to save or condemn our world.
Be the Change.
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