Indigenous societies use the term “right relationship” to describe the alignment when humans are in harmony with the Earth, one another, and the will of divine. Right now, western society is peaking in its “wrong relationship” to all of the above; and scientists are saying that if we don’t shift into alignment, 90 percent of humanity may perish by 2050. Right relationship can be restored through incorporating social permaculture principles into our institutions. This article is an summary of my talk at the 2019 Firefly Gathering, and offers insight as to how this can happen.

On a subconscious level, humanity has engineered the current climate crisis to remember ourselves as one with the Earth and one another.

That’s the story I’m choosing to transform this tragic reality, and if it’s the story that we all collectively choose, then it can become a reality.

So what are the principles of social permaculture? And how can we look toward regenerative agricultural systems to harmonize our own social ecology?

Humans have put a man on the moon. However, we have yet to learn how to get along with each other. Getting along is what it’s going to take to get us out of this hole we’ve dug ourselves into. Social permaculture offers great insight into how to create the conditions that facilitate getting along-ness.

Principles of Social Permaculture

1. Embrace diversity

Just like some plants flourish when planted side by side, diversity also creates resiliency inside of organizations. When people with different viewpoints look at a project, they can often see any gaps in perspective. It’s been said that high conflict teams are highly productive teams, because this merging of viewpoints results in a phenomenon known as creative abrasion.

Another permaculture principle is to use edges and value the marginal.

The place where two eco-systems or habitats meet (e.g. woodland and meadow) is generally more productive and richer in the variety of species present than either habitat on its own. In ecology this is called ‘ecotone’. This is central to the idea of using edges as a design method. The logic is simple. If the most productive bit of woodland is the edge, then design it to have a bigger edge. — Permaculture Association

If productivity increases when people with differences come together, than what we need inside of our communities are more space for this to happen. There is tons of value to be found in the people this society has deemed are less value than others (women, minorities, people with disabilities). Creating spaces where the voices of marginalized groups are sought after helps these populations develop self-worth. The ideas that will truly transform our systems to save our species will come from no one else.

2. Create visible structures based on invisible rules

“Early in life I found that to achieve greatness one had to go only one inch beyond mediocrity, but that one inch is so hard to get that only those who become aware of God in them can make the grade, for no one can achieve that one inch alone.” — Walter Russell

Quantum physics states that atoms are made of 99.9 percent energy. This shift from Newtonian physics, which honors matter as the primary building block of our reality to the quantum one, also represents the shift between navigating this world from a space of ego constructs to that of the spirit/soul.

Honoring this energy can help us (re)create our social systems with greater efficacy. To do this we have to:

  • Seek synchronicity as a reflection of the energy connecting all of life.
  • Mindfully choose our thoughts and psychic images because this ultimately decides the actions we take and what materializes from our efforts.
  • Recognize imagination as the language of our intuition and pursue those visions and passions.
  • Reframe our identity from that of a victim to that of an actor, and problems into opportunities.
  • Embody the change we want to see in the world because it is what ultimately makes change in the world.

[thoughts inspired by Tools for Change]

3. Build bio-regional systems

Civilizations and empires have risen and fallen since the beginning of time. Stars grow until they explode. There’s nothing we can do to stop Western Civilization from eventually collapsing, if this is just natural law and the way physics works.

What makes this time period different, is that never before has the world been globalized through technology. This means that if the empire collapses, the whole world system likely collapses. Never before have we been urged to premeditate the impact of our actions with such consciousness due to these global repercussions. Never before has acknowledging the reality of our interconnectivity been more relevant.

And it is also is a call to think smaller; to create economic and energy systems in our local communities that are not reliant on international institutions (like Bolivia which just declared “total independence” from the IMF and the World Bank). Investing in your local community is a form of divestment from corrupt industries that are monopolizing our economic choices. If we convert individual regions into renewable energy, into having food sovereignty, into utilizing local cryptocurrencies or resource based economies, if and when shit doth hitteth the faneth on a national and international scale, at least certain regions will be able to better shelter themselves from the implications of a global systemic collapse.

4. Create systems through observation and adaptation to feedback

The first rule of thumb with permaculture is observe. Make sense of what’s happening with any are of land and the people and animals that live on it, before you go and do all your human meddling. Respect what’s already there before you go colonizing the f*ck out it. If you chose to engage after a year of observation, do so with the smallest amount of destruction possible.

It’s too late to go back and turn this all around, because almost all has been but colonized. However, to move forward, we have to also observe and respect what has been created through colonization. If you are demonizing the current institutions to the point where you cannot diplomatically engage with them, it is impossible to evolve them. Permaculture says that the most sustainable change is slow and consistently building in momentum.

Any power structure that stops changing becomes tyrannical. I think at our core, humans do not need perfection to be satisfied. We can come to terms with what is if there is an option to evolve. We crave flow. Our success is our ability to joyfully engage with that process as we appreciate the results.

And if everything that has gotten us to this point does not need to be destroyed for us to grow and change; if our goal here is to mitigate destruction and preserve what’s essential about our infrastructures and our Earth, that means we have to take everything that exists and turn it into something that has never existed before. This requires a true understanding of the current system, integrating into it with consciousness, and using the feedback we receive that includes: rising levels, wacky weather, and species die off to guide our adaptation into a new human era. Through adapting to given feedback, systems begin to self-regulate. Permaculture is ultimately about creating self-regulating, highly productive regenerative systems that require the minimum effective dose of energy to fuel.

5. Integrity: Power with vs. power over

The ends do not justify the means. Ethics must guide actions. For a system to have integrity, the agents inside of it must have integrity. People in positions of power have to make decisions that serve the collective. It’s not that power in and of itself is bad. It’s just that in our current system design, which is highly centralized and bureaucratic and requires leaders, the people in power are acting in their own interests instead of those of the average person.

When a leader acts from integrity, he or she integrates the whole. Actions are made with transparency. Decision-making power is used to reshape hierarchies to give people more say in the choices that effect them. For people to be able to act with integrity requires a level of honesty from all participants involved in a relationship. If you don’t tell the truth, no one can know how to love you.

It’s said that this next era collective evolution will be defined by an acute awareness of our own personal power. But it’s not my power, it’s the power. When we are able to subdue our egos, we can wield it with conscious awareness with the intention of supporting the wellbeing of the whole (which includes the self). This requires a relinquishing of the need for control, and the cultivation of self-mastery. Each self-mastered component acts with the other, until the system takes on an organization where the needs of all agents involved are met because they are deemed equal.

6. Honor cycles

From seasons of the year to cycles of birth and death, nothing on the planet is meant to last forever. Honoring death and preparing for it may be one of the most transformational rituals to transform our culture of consumerism. Because if we really planned for the end of the lifespan of a product and modeled it off theories of reincarnation (like cradle-to-cradle design does) then all of the goods we make could either decompose into the earth to make soil or be up-cycled into clean energy or recycled into other durable products. The idea of trash would become obsolete. When we mentally prepare for death, it can become a transfiguration.

The same goes for the redistribution of power and succession planning between generations. Each phase of life requires different levels of dependence on another. No one generation is destined to carry the torch forever. We hibernate in the winter and become more alive in the summer. Relationships come and go. The material world is finite, and there are limiting factors involved; but it cycles, and through that cycling it regenerates and life itself becomes infinite.

Illustration from Jed Emerson’s The Purpose of Capital

7. Resource redistribution

What is yours? What is mine? What is ours?

Many theorists say that the institution of capitalism itself must change to successfully address climate change —to stop generating profits for profit’s sake and stop plundering the natural world and privatizing access to nature and shared resources that should remain in the commons.

Jed Emerson’s magnum opus, The Purpose of Capital, outlines an alternative raison d’être for money, financial tools, and the idea of acquiring assets. We can invest for mutual impact, to build the world we seek, to proliferate justice. To move from extraction of human and natural resources for the exponential financial growth of a few into a balance of give and take that allows life to sustain itself. By noticing and having gratitude the different forms of capital beyond financial (living, built, social, cultural, and so on), we change the types of capital that are most valued. We can remember ourselves as abundant regardless of how many dollars are circulating amongst people in this time of excessive income polarity.

8. Understand the zones of your personal impact

It starts with zone 00 (the self). Tend to your own garden. Know what type of flower that you are. Maybe you’re not even a flower. Maybe you’re a greg damn bush. It doesn’t matter. All life is sacred. And all of social permaculture boils down to relationships that you make, which start with your relationship with yourself.

Achieving self-sovereignty requires owning your power of choice inside of this system, which means taking responsibility for the quality of relationships you create and the events in your life that unfold as a result of those relationships.

To move into our divine essence as co-creators of this reality means breaking free from the ties that bind; to find in this zero-sum system that the types of win-win relationships that allow you and others to thrive. Symbiosis. Cooperation and collaboration to thrive, instead of competition to survive.

This cultural renaissance starts with your own personal renaissance, as we one by one break free from the people, places, and things we falsely think we need to live that are in fact contributing to our own self-destruction. Then we have to destroy what is threatening our ability to live, simply choosing to invest our energies and loyalties into somewhere different. We have to choose to invest in life. There will be some necessary losses along the way, but fear not, for the crap will get composted into rich soil that will grow food to feed the children. Because that is nature’s way.

Know your inputs (what you need to take in to sustain your own life) and your outputs (what you produce as a by product of being alive) to become a net positive impact on the planet — a human being with purpose.

What is your imprint on your home life? In your local community? On the natural world?

Social permaculture is ultimately is a vehicle to know ourselves and restore right relationship with the world.


This essay was originally published on Medium.

You can find more of Alyson’s work on https://www.alisonsher.com/

You can buy her book: The Millennial’s Guide to Changing the World

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