Identifying design principles for social/political permaculture

Identifying design principles for social/political permaculture

When I attended the hui at Waihi Beach (2018?) talk of social/political permaculture intrigued me. Holmgren’s 12 design principles apply to gardening, land usage, regen/ag & conservation, but examining their relevance to any extension of the belief system into sociopolitical realms only enabled me to convert four of them into usable method in suitable language. So the hunt was on for other sources of wisdom.

Leading-edge science - particularly as expressed in multi-disciplinary contexts – often provides insights into general principles useful for guiding progress & development. Network & systems theory and the science of complexity are likely contenders. However the past is just as likely to be a resource for us, so I decided to start by presenting the topic Recycling Ancient Wisdom at the hui in Wanganui last year (I’d compiled my source material by then). The pandemic defeated that prospect, but here’s an outline...

I begin with a focus on the primary symbols: Athena’s owl, and the monad (circled dot). The latter servers as a generic symbol of holistic relations. The part is central, the whole surrounds it. We each experience ourselves at the center of our world. The circle can represent any system, organisation or group we belong to.

I use a triad of sources within ancient wisdom: aphorisms, oracles, and metaphysics. Although the Golden Rule is the most influential aphorism historically, Archimedes’ leverage quote (give me a lever & a place to stand & I will move the world) has been recycled enough times by famous people and political leaders to fill the web-page of evidential quotations I found. So you’ll immediately intuit that any competent change-maker group will incorporate leverage into it’s repertoire of useful principles & strategies, right? I cite a few other useful examples.

I focus on four oracles: Delphi, horoscopes, I Ching & tarot to discern general principles involved in usage. Aristotle’s explanation that metaphysics is beyond physics is best up-dated as underlying: assumptions, hypotheses, postulates, principles. Key concepts in ancient Greek thought and language are archetypes, gnosis, techne, praxis, ethos & mythos. These I discuss to elucidate. I also have a go at explaining how they can be used in design & sociopolitical contexts.

Pythagoras taught that numbers are the basis of all in the mid-6th century BC. I focus on how the first four integers operate as archetypes, forming structure and function in nature. An archetype (originating principle) forms patterns in space, time, consciousness. Sex is binary but reproduction is a triad. Much of what we experience results from similar ways that nature forms and informs us. Next is a look at some experiential phenomena where these archetypes influence us.

Catalysis often results from system-triggering via a nudge. Paradox inducing cognitive dissonance is an effective method. Shapeshifting as in shamanism is another ancient technique for group transformation. Communal sharing of insights tends to create common ground as meaning and context. Mental technology incorporating triadic framing and heptads as magical symbols may facilitate design and process – I present various examples from the internet.

Together with that talk I compiled another called Catalysing Social Evolution, which extends the above scenario into the contemporary arena. That has a focus on co-design in changemaker groups. I have a third topic in development: Permaculture in Politics. I’m open to collaboration on that, so if you are keen to contribute, email me (

I’ll use my experience as Convenor of the Green Party Standing Orders Committee and Constitution working group (leading the consensus decision-making multi-level process to achieve agreement on the various redrafts I wrote, then adopt & ratify standing orders and Constitution documents) as a basis for collaborating.

Dennis Frank