"The sins of the fathers are visited on the children unto the seventh generation"
This principle deals with self-regulatory aspects of permaculture design that limit or discourage inappropriate growth or behaviour. With a better understanding of how positive and negative feedbacks work in nature, we can design systems that are more self-regulating, thus reducing the work involved in repeated and harsh corrective management.
Feedback is a systems concept that came into common use through electronic engineering. Principle 3: Obtain a yield described the feedback of energy from storages to help get more energy, an example of positive feedback. This can be thought of as an accelerator to push the system towards freely available energy. Similarly, negative feedback is the brake that prevents the system from falling into holes of scarcity and instability from overuse or misuse of energy. Organisms and individuals adapt to the negative feedback from large-scale systems of nature and community by developing self-regulation to pre-empt and avoid the harsher consequence of external negative feedback.
Self-maintaining and regulating systems might be said to be the Holy Grail of permaculture: an ideal that we strive for but might never fully achieve.
Traditional societies recognised that the effects of external negative feedback are often slow to emerge. People needed explanations and warnings, such as "the sins of the fathers are visited on the children unto the seventh generation" and "laws of karma" which operate in a world of reincarnated souls.
In modern society, we take for granted an enormous degree of dependence on large-scale, often remote, systems for the provision of our needs, while expecting a huge degree of freedom in what we do without external control. In a sense, our whole society is like a teenager who wants to have it all, have it now, without consequences.
Much of the ecologically dysfunctional aspects of our systems result from this denial of the need for self-regulation and feedback systems that control inappropriate behaviour by simply delivering the consequences of that behaviour back to us. John Lennon's song "Instant Karma" suggests that we will reap what we sow much faster than we think. The speed of change and increasing connectivity of globalisation may be the realisation of this vision.
The Gaia hypothesis of the earth as a self-regulating system, analogous to a living organism, makes the whole earth a suitable image to represent this principle. Scientific evidence of the earth's remarkable homeostasis over hundreds of millions of years highlights the earth as the archetypical self-regulating whole system, which stimulated the evolution and nurtures the continuity, of its constituent lifeforms and subsystems.