Culture Design

Article — January 7, 2017 — language, home, organization

I want to give an example of what I mean when I talk about creating new culture. It’s about creating new habits.It isn’t my intention to prescribe habits, in this article; just to give a sense of the kind of thing a habit is, and how small changes in behavior can massively transform the world.

Imagine you live in a village that is also a forest. It isn’t a village in a forest; it’s a village-forest, both things at the same time. It’s a village in the sense that human beings live in it, and it’s a forest in the sense that it acts like a forest. Forests are massively rich ecosystems: there’s a wide variety of life, and everything is food for everything else. Cycles of growth, decay and nourishment, at all scales, are hyper-abundant.

In your day-to-day life, you’d be surrounded by fresh fruit and vegetables. You could walk a kilometer in any direction, and not once encounter lifeless earth: dark soil as far as the eye can see, which isn’t far, because most of it is packed with layer upon layer of plant life, from tree to mycelium. And half of it is edible.Most or all of the other half is medicinal.

At the same time, you’d be surrounded by people: dwelling places, meeting places, and working places, all seamlessly woven into the fabric of the forest, so that you barely notice any of it.In principle, if you’re happy to live underground, you can make your home under practically anything without disrupting the ecology above. Even under someone else’s home. I strongly suspect this is how places like the Derinkuyu underground city developed: one cavern at a time, each carved out beside or below others that are already in use. The best cities aren’t built. They’re grown. If you would hear the actual population density of the place where you live, you’d be shocked. It doesn’t feel crowded. All your senses say there’s a huge amount of free space around you, calling to be explored.

One question is: how is all this maintained? Better yet: how was it established to begin with?

I have no knowledge of anyone ever creating a place like that. Maybe it existed, somewhere, somewhen, but I haven’t heard of it. All I know is that it’s possible, in principle, and all I can do is guess at what would be needed for it to emerge.I rarely think about how to build things by hand. Mostly, I think about small, simple systems that lead to the emergence of large, complex systems.

To begin with, assume you live in an ecovillage of a couple hundred people. You aren’t anywhere near producing all your own food, and the landscape around you is in the process of becoming a desert. How do you get from here to there?

Creating new culture, at root, is about developing new habits. One habit that might lead to the emergence of a village-forest is to carry a pouch of seeds around with you, so you can scatter them absent-mindedly when you see a spot where they might grow.

Where do you get the seeds? I imagine a common seedhouse,Where does the seedhouse get the seeds? That’s beyond the scope of this article. (In other words, I don’t know enough in that field to say anything that sounds smart. I know people who do, though!) with a set of boxes filled with seasonally appropriate mixes. I don’t see a need to sort by species; just throw all the April seeds in one box, so people can come in and fill their pouches without having to make any decisions about what they want to plant. This isn’t about precision. It’s about scale.

A hundred people can completely ruin a beach in one afternoon, when they all have the habit of littering. Picture the same degree of change, but in a positive direction: a hundred people carrying out tiny, thoughtless acts of cultivation,“Cultivate” is a great word. You can cultivate habits as well as soil. It’s etymologically connected with “carati”, from Sanskrit, a gem that means such disparate things as “to move”, “to make”, “to live”, “to engage with”, “to consume”, “to copulate”, “to ascertain” and “to doubt”. We can forget all the other verbs. Let’s just carema! day after day, month after month, year after year.

The effects would be psychological as well as ecological. Engaging with plant life this way automatically increases your sense of responsibility for the land as a whole, not just this or that small garden. If all you do is develop the seeding habit, you will, quite naturally, start to develop complementary habits without any active intention.

You’ll be looking at the plants and the soil anyway, so you’ll see things that call out to be interacted with: fruit to pick, herbs to harvest, and so on. When you have an idle minute, you’ll dig up weeds just because it frees a space to throw some seeds.And because mindless creative destruction is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Every animal does it. We tear things up and break things down for no reason other than the fact it’s fun. The fact that you can do a lot of good with it is almost incidental. The weeds you throw aside will feed the soil, by accident.

There’s no need for compost piles, and there’s no need for field rows or garden beds. The idea is to cultivate all the soil, indiscriminately, without arbitrary borders or limits. And to do it in the laziest imaginable way, motivated by nothing other than your own momentary impulses to grab, dig and throw. Any ape could do agriculture this way, and every ape does do agriculture this way, except the ones removed from their evolutionary milieu.

I won’t say this way is more efficient than other kinds of agriculture. In fact, I’m sure it’s appallingly inefficient: a lot of untrained people throwing seeds everywhere, nearly all of which just die for lack of care. But efficiency is a spectre.

There’s an article on the Guardian about a utopian communist village in Spain, called Marinaleda, which changed my perspective on efficiency.

Here’s the most relevant excerpt:

The new Marinaleda co-operative selected crops that would need the greatest amount of human labour, to create as much work as possible. In addition to the ubiquitous olives and the oil-processing factory, they planted peppers of various kinds, artichokes, fava beans, green beans, broccoli: crops that could be processed, canned, and jarred, to justify the creation of a processing factory that provided a secondary industry back in the village, and thus more employment. “Our aim was not to create profit, but jobs,” Sánchez Gordillo explained to me. This philosophy runs directly counter to the late-capitalist emphasis on “efficiency” – a word that has been elevated to almost holy status in the neoliberal lexicon, but in reality has become a shameful euphemism for the sacrifice of human dignity at the altar of share prices.

It isn’t efficiency that makes a healthy economy, and it isn’t efficiency that makes a healthy ecology, either. Thinking that way will lead you astray. Health has less to do with how much you can get out of how little, and more to do with how well you can mobilize what you have.The type of movement is as important as the movement itself, but that’s another article. Go read what Viktor Schauberger said about motion, if you really want to know.

Keep people moving. Keep everything moving. When you notice something stuck, create a habit that moves it.When you notice something moving in a bad way, change the habits that are moving it. It’s the exact same principle whether you’re talking about ecology or anything else. This is how to redesign a culture, from the inside. Culture is just habits, and habits are just patterns of movement. Change your habits, and you change how things move, which changes everything.

Move the seeds, move yourself, move the world.Cara the seeds, cara yourself …

Culture Design - January 7, 2017 - Veda Cooperative