Why growing up an anarchist has made me a better permaculture designer
By Nicole Vosper
The weekend after next two rad events are happening in my favourite city – Bristol Anarchist Bookfair and the National Permaculture Diploma Gathering. Both are usually two of my favourite events but unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be getting to either due to the ongoing pain in my intercostal muscles. So I thought the least I can do is shamefully promote them both.
This post intends to share my love for both anarchism and permaculture and why the relationship between them keeps me up at night.
I joined the Anarchist Federation and the Anarchist Youth Network as a young teenager (circa 13-14 years old). While a lot of people have a jaunt at socialism or the Green Party and other escapades and find themselves radicalised by increasing dissolution with liberal ideas, I found I dove into the deep end.
And so began a lifelong love affair with ideas and action that questioned the legitimacy and role of a state, the capitalist economic system and all other forms of intersecting oppression, like racism, sexism and human supremacy.
I hungered for an understanding of all the fucked up things I’d seen or gone through.
Anarchism was my first introduction to thinking in systems. For many, permaculture is revelatory because people start to connect dots and see in wholes. While I didn’t gain an informed ecological understanding of these concepts until studying permaculture, anarchism really opened my eyes to seeing the world in the contexts of relationships and interconnectivity.
As a kid you suck things up like a sponge. The books I read, conversations I had with elders, even the music I listened to… I was given the tools to observe social landscapes. To see the flows of power and domination in the world.
Observation is one of the founding principles of permaculture. This skill introduced itself in my life through the encouragement to observe ruthlessly and question critically. Every biased source or comment in every media article, every act of police brutality, every interaction with people surviving domestic abuse… All of these were intense exercises in observation as my anarchist worldview pushed me to try to understand root causes, systemic reasons for things and potential collective responses.
Permaculture is founded on three core ethics, which at times can feel frustratingly weak and unclear. However none of these ethical frameworks are new, when they have been at the core of social struggles for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
While the anarchist movement has its people care failings, especially relating to power and privilege, it’s always been for me the antidote to the brutal atomised dehumanising existence of modern capitalist society. Re-designing the world where people are prioritised over profit is a core goal of both anarchism and permaculture.
Earth care once again is an increasingly apparent frontline for those fighting domination, whether it’s communities fighting fracking, pipelines or nuclear power. I know that many incredibly dedicated anarchists are powerhouse community organisers in these struggles. It was anarchism that introduced me to ideas of human supremacy, animal liberation and radical ecology.
Finally ‘fair shares’ the most nebulous of the permaculture ethics is central to anarchist struggles to redistribute wealth. Anarchist values have inspired the establishment and ongoing experimentation in creating models that more evenly share power and resources, whether these are housing or food cooperatives or horizontal collective’s challenging the division of labour.
Another core principe of permaculture is using and valuing diversity. From its birth, anarchism has been a huge melting pot of ideas and influences, from Russian immigrants into the US to decolonisation struggles in India. Most exciting of all is that anarchism has resisted a platform or manifesto. There is no policed unification of ideas, that X is anarchism and this is the doctrine. While many criticise anarchism for this, I’ve always felt it’s its biggest strength. Anarchists have the political maturity and deep commitment to true liberation to know that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Yes there are patterns, principles and examples we can and must learn from. But we are in no position to be specialists in social change or tell people how to live.
Errico Malatesta was the first anarchist writer I read when I was a kid and it was his trusting of people and their capacity to self organise that really inspired me. He had little concern with proposing detailed descriptions of how we would organise society when we seized the means of production because he trusted that people are completely capable of working it out collectively (as they already do in so many areas of life).
Likewise with permaculture, there is a recognition that every system will be unique while understanding the usefulness of wider patterns. Permaculture embraces that there is health and richness in diversity, just like anarchism does in wider society(s).
permaculture-imageThe most visible offerings of permaculture to anarchists is a comprehensive toolbox of various practical solutions that can create more liberating ways of life. The most invisible to those less engaged or put off by permaculture’s image, but what I think is the most useful and transformational, is the design process.
The variety of tools and frameworks used to make strategic decisions and the overall design processes, have huge radical application. Imagine if every organiser just thought that little bit smarter about leverage, or if every collective re-designed themselves to integrate better people care to prevent burnout, or if whole social movements focused on re-designing aspects of society rather than just fighting fires. Learning about design and applying design to my life is probably one of the most transformational gifts I’ve ever been given (cheers HMP).
As an agroecologist, what excites me most about permaculture is that it is pioneering a totally different pattern of land use that can directly contest capitalist agriculture. How we get our food is central to upholding so many different pillars of oppression, from slavery and colonialism to wars over petroleum. Changing how we produce food and relate to the land could cascade and bring so many other revolutionary changes to our lives.
But without political literacy, and a commitment to understanding power relationships in our society, permaculture will not achieve its goals no matter how hard it tries. Sowing the seeds of permaculture, of a completely re-designed society and relationship to the land, into the fertile soil of anarchism that has been fed by hundreds of years of resistance in working for social change, maybe, just maybe, something truly revolutionary will grow.
To learn more about anarchism check out Bristol Anarchist Bookfair: http://www.bristolanarchistbookfair.org/
To learn more about permaculture check out my section here, or sites like the Permaculture Association, Permaculture Magazine or radical designers like Graham Burnett who are exploring more critically the politics of permaculture.