Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Mononymous Faun

I wanted to devote a post to some thoughts about why I fancy "the faun" as a conceptual costume and mononym.

In my personal pantheon of spirit guides, Pan, the satyr-god of shepherds and flocks, wood-lore and pastoral life in general, is el jefe. It is he, I feel, from whom the highest orders come. He shares his name with the Greek word "pan" that means "all"... but the true etymology of his name is said to be the verb "paein"... "to pasture." His native abode was supposedly Arcadia, the central mountainous region of the Peloponnese—corresponding to the province where my own family is from.

Pan is as old as the forest. Older than the institution at Olympia; a natural anarchist. Artemis got her hunting hounds from him. Apollo learned the arts of divination from him. When he plays those rustic melodies on his pipes - translating the green language of the forest - he is able to inspire stampedes - to instill either fear or lust in his object, depending on his intentions. It is from this power that the word "panic" comes down to us English speakers. Panic is primal, visceral, dancing around the center of our being with its consort; lust. Eros (sexual love) and Thanatos (death) are the electron and the proton of our cellular being. Pan represents the continual consilience of these forces, and he transduces the energy from this yin-yang reaction through a caprine, whimsical dialectic with the environment. Pan is the ultimate swashbuckler—an ironic gentleman in spite of his wildness. He seduced Selene (the Moon), by cloaking himself in a sheepskin. The nymph he chased (and chases forever) was Syrinx, who, unlike the others, rejected his advances and hid from him by transforming into a grove of reeds. It is out of these reeds that Pan fashioned his pipes, which are also called Syrinx, the name of his Beloved... thus when he plays those old tunes, casting spells and chaos, his incantation is achieved with an artifact of his own sorrow. He is Majnun, the insane, itinerant lover whose divine poetry to his Beloved becomes part of the landscape, performing to no one and everyone, his verses repeated perennially by all who hear; a virus that carries the fingerprints of the consuming fire of the Apostles and of the Sufi mystics. He seduces, he loves deeply and often, he reminds us that our heart is a muscle full of blood. An eternal mercenary for Gaia's green revolution, he also is. Importantly, to me he also embodies the trickster, who appears in many guises across the space-time of earthling ecology. Tricksters come in many different forms, languages, and cultures... be they kokopelli, the raccoon, the fox, the coy-dog, Eris or Anansi, machine elves or a gaggle of leprechauns, what is the same about them all is the way they are in the world - the way they form relationships with their natural/social/built environments. It is these whimsically-wise, eternally newborn-curious and tree-ancient game-players that we today have so much to learn from. Oscar Wilde agrees with me, for he wrote:

O goat-foot God of Arcady!
This modern world is grey and old,
And what remains to us of thee?
No more the shepherd lads in glee
Throw apples at thy wattled fold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Nor through the laurels can one see
Thy soft brown limbs, thy beard of gold,
And what remains to us of thee?
And dull and dead our Thames would be,
For here the winds are chill and cold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Then keep the tomb of Helice,
Thine olive-woods, thy vine-clad wold,
And what remains to us of thee?
Though many an unsung elegy
Sleeps in the reeds our rivers hold,
O goat-foot God of Arcady!
Ah, what remains to us of thee?
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady,
Thy satyrs and their wanton play,
This modern world hath need of thee.
No nymph or Faun indeed have we,
For Faun and nymph are old and grey,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This is the land where liberty
Lit grave-browed Milton on his way,
This modern world hath need of thee!
A land of ancient chivalry
Where gentle Sidney saw the day,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This fierce sea-lion of the sea,
This England lacks some stronger lay,
This modern world hath need of thee!
Then blow some trumpet loud and free,
And give thine oaten pipe away,
Ah, leave the hills of Arcady!
This modern world hath need of thee!

Tricksters, to me (and other fans of this such game) are characters that teach by prank-playing. Loving mischief. Their didactic technique consists of doing things that are affective, whimsical, playful - that having teaching power, particularly in the face of adversity. They are, like shamans or medicine men, translators - weaving sense out of the chaos of nature on the behalf of their fellow humans - although unlike medicine men, they do not (necessarily) translate to heal; they translate to reveal new ways (or re-vive OLD WAYS) of looking at the environment - (whether artificial or natural). It seems like they are often concerned with re-connecting people to primal desires and urges, reminding us of the roots(routes) of our behavior in a time when it has become increasingly difficult to "trace" such routes through the layers and tangents of the culture that envelops us. Consequently, tricksters are often responsible for moments of profane illumination. Another hallmark is that it is ever-difficult to tell whether tricksters "teach" deliberately or whether their behavior is completely whimsical and arbitrary (and in the end, this is a pointless inquiry anyway). It seems that they act in their own interest - always - (e.g. raccoons in Native American tales) and it is their steadfast focus and graceful navigation along this path that becomes an 'ipso facto' source of wisdom for any who choose to observe. Thus, they make good spirit guides, because they love games of connect-the-dots, and treasure hunts... But they are not gods. They are not transcendent - existing somewhere abstractly - but imminent, in nature, in flesh both growing and dying and exploding. They are connected to the circuitry of the animate forces - plant and animal consciousness, elemental consciousness, earth consciousness. We can see them rounding a corner, feather in cap and medicine-bag slung over their shoulder - and if we watch them we find that they ground themselves by being able to adapt - being always where they stand - being shapeshifters - ready for change but never prepared, because preparing wastes time. But being ready only takes a moment of prayer. They are the animals of humans. They embody the irony of being human.

As heroes in mythology, they conquer through wit - or wit disguised as whim - as opposed to brute force. Thus... they are hackers...

They are also rather QUEER. To quote the Wiki entry:

"Frequently the Trickster figure exhibits gender and form variability, changing gender roles and engaging in same-sex practices. Such figures appear in Native American and First Nations mythologies, where they are said to have a two-spirit nature. Loki, the Norse trickster, also exhibits gender variability, in one case even becoming pregnant; interestingly, he shares the ability to change genders with Odin, the chief Norse deity who also possesses many characteristics of the Trickster. In the case of Loki's pregnancy, he was forced by the Gods to stop a giant from erecting a wall for them before 7 days passed; he solved the problem by transforming into a mare and drawing the giant's magical horse away from its work. He returned some time later with a child he had given birth to--the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, who served as Odin's steed."

This is a picture of me and El Comandante at the stone circle at Four Quarters in Southern PA. An annual three-day hoof-stamping ritual takes places here the weekend of the summer solstice. Pan is ever-present at such dionysian celebrations, winking through the trees... but this time he graced us with a rare sort of presence...

Bless all of dem trickstars. Bless ya.

"A life without festivity is a long road without an inn."

Further reading (with primary source citations): Pan: Greek God of Shepherds & Flocks

Sunday, December 7, 2008

if nominator

The title of this blog post is an anagram of "information". As Anu Garg, the wizard behind wordsmith.org, says: "Anagrams never lie". (Giggle. I believe this is an exceedingly Hofstadterian statement!) :D

Various arts of word-changing to divine esoteric meaning abound in the occult, mystical and apocryphal teachings of all ages. Some essentially involve ciphering, as with gematria, where numerical values are assigned to different letters of the alphabet. Other methods of graph-o-mancy are more concerned with uncovering "hidden" connections within words that connect a word to other words, or transform the word into something else entirely. In Kabbalistic hermeneutics, temurah is one of three ways of meditating on text in scripture. It is essentially a mental exercise of anagram-generation with words in the Torah. But, before I digress further, let's apply this...

I take "if nominator" (a noun) to mean: A mechanism for revealing and proposing (nominating) options (or: if statements). This is, then, an esoteric meaning of "information".

This new word-form then indicates this:

Information should generate innovation.

Maybe I came off as giving "synthetic information" a hard time in my last post. I can't emphasize enough how important it is that we not occlude the true point. Since it's one of the theses of this blog that the world will be saved with an integrated combination of green things and informatics, it is my great pleasure to pontificate... in a discordian manner, of course! ;)

Information itself can not be demonized. It is not "good" or "bad", and its division by some (including me) into categories of "environmental" and "synthetic" or "organic" and "artificial", does not correspond to its value. In fact, such categorization is a rhetorical device - a program for thought, merely.

The point is this:

•Information must serve the people, NOT the corporations.
•It should be enabling and empowering, not controlling.

Antecedently, information should be free.

To further explore the imperative of us creators (artists, mad scientists and ecological designers alike) to properly deal with information, I want to evoke some wisdom from McKenzie Wark's book A Hacker Manifesto. (Salutations, brother!) Btw, please go find books this guy wrote, farmpunks... he's a master arranger-of-words & re-arranger-of-thought! To summarize a bit; In the opening chapter, he defines information as an abstraction of private property, which is itself an abstraction (of nature). Hackers are those who parse and recompile that information in order to create further abstraction: innovation. However, because of the nature of the hacker ethic to promote freedom-of-information and to end abuse of intellectual property, innovations generated by hackers are taken advantage of by the very group that hackers seek to disassociate themselves from. They are subordinated as a class in society by the 'ruling class' (financiers and CEOs) because the latter seek to turn novelty into profit.

In the last paragraph of the introductory chapter in the manifesto, he really captures what I've been trying to grok:

"The time is past due when hackers must come together with workers and farmers - with all the producers of the world - to liberate productive and inventive resources from the myth of scarcity. The time is past due for new forms of association to be created that can steer the world away from its destruction through commodified exploitation. The greatest hacks of our time may turn out to be forms of organizing free collective expression, so that from this time on, abstraction serves the people, rather than the people serving the ruling class."

Italics added.


Friday, December 5, 2008

Vandana Shiva: Bitchslapping Agri-Biz like the Good Lord Intended

Vandana Shiva is a physicist, environmentalist, feminist, and self-styled earth-protector. In simple terms, a saint... a saint with a PhD in Ass-kicking (actually, her thesis was on quantum non-locality... but my feeling is that if you can pwn on the subatomic level you can pretty much wipe the floor with anything and anyone, anywhere). She makes Mother Theresa look like a slow ride to grandma's house. She won the Nobel Peace prize one morning before breakfast.

Ok, I'm done now, but hopefully I've piqued your interest with immature hand-waving tactics, and perhaps you want to hear a bit about this woman's game.

I just wrote a review for her book Monocultures of the Mind, which is a collection of four essays including the essay that the book is titled after. There's a link to the full text of the original essay to the right somewhere, under the "Articles you should read" list. I've retrofitted the following to be blog-worthy and added a healthy dose of preachin' and poetics, cuz that stuff is fun.

Essentially, Ms. Shiva has several fundamental philosophical points that, throughout Monocultures of the Mind, she reiterates and supplements with case studies from specific regions that exemplify the problems she discusses. Her argument is rooted in a criticism of "Western science" as a monopolizing world-view that dismisses other systems of knowledge, and thus is inherently 'colonizing'. She explains that the Western scientific world view is a reductionist paradigm that seeks to explain the natural world in isolation from the social and cultural world. This dissonance presents a problem when such knowledge is actually applied. When 'knowledge' or data from reductionist science is employed for designing industrial, production-based systems that exist in the real world among real people (and thus, among social and natural ecologies) we face many unintended consequences that are ecological and social in nature. These consequences, at their most devastating, are the disintegration of local knowledge systems all over the world (particularly the developing world), where indigenous culture is founded on symbiotic, sustainable and evolved relationships between local people and the ecological niches in which they live. For Shiva, the destruction of biological diversity and the destruction of cultural diversity are reciprocal and simultaneous; they feed each other. Industrial farming and forestry projects in developing nations create vast monocultures and genetic homogeneity that causes mounting losses in local biodiversity. Western science and industry often do not "see" these losses, and moreover sometimes even see such losses as "gains", since multinational agri-business views many plants that are valuable to indigenous people as "weeds".

Shiva explains that the Western pedagogy has divided knowledge of nature into a variety of scientific disciplines that promote specialization and ignore the holistic awareness that is necessary for good conservation and stewardship. For example, she explains that many indigenous societies exist in tropical regions of the world where people depend on forests to supply them with food, fiber, building materials, fodder for animals, and fertilizer or green manure; essentially all their needs. Consequently in many societies - currently and throughout human history - "forests" and "farms" have not been separate things - rather the forest IS the farm. In modern science, "agriculture" and "forestry" have evolved into separate fields in part because of economic pressures (and agendas!). Shiva argues that the bifurcation of crop-science and forest-science reflects the fact that such disciplines have become increasingly production-oriented. Crops are valued based on the yield of the most commercially valuable component - grain - and similarly trees are valued on the basis of obtainable biomass for the timber and pulp industries. This focus on commercial market value is reflected in the growing number of plantations of "high-yielding varieties" of wheat, maize and rice that are displacing previous more biodiverse agroecosystems, which were populated with indigenous varieties that were adapted over time to the specific ecological parameters of the region. Subsequently the same thing is occurring with forests; Shiva evokes the example of the Eucalyptus tree being introduced in India because of its commercial wood value. She points out that native trees like the honge, pongmia and tamarind, which have been central to forest farming for much of the duration of civilization in the Indian subcontinent, are exceedingly more valuable to local people than the eucalyptus. Instead of being single-function trees that produce an over-abundance of one thing, these native trees are able to produce firewood, fodder, fruit, and oilseeds that can be harvested sustainably from the living tree (she gives the example of the tamarind tree's ability to produce fruit for up to two centuries). Moreover, eucalyptus monocultures are detrimental to local ecologies. She explains that Eucalyptus trees are fast growing, but do not produce much crown biomass - most of the biomass is concentrated in the trunk, which of course is why the tree is favored by timber companies. The tree consequently demands a huge amount of water, and does not contribute efficiently to the production of soil organic matter. Additionally, the leaves are not edible to cattle. In other words: the tree does not give back what it takes from the land.

Shiva reiterates that biodiversity is the foundation for ecological stability. In all natural ecologies, like forests and prairies (of which agroecosystems are simplified versions), every component performs multiple functions and also receives input and energy from multiple sources. These components range from plants, animals, and minerals to natural 'forces' like wind and water. Scientific forestry, as Shiva calls it, as well as "Green Revolution" agriculture, are inherently destructive because of their stubborn persistence in measuring "yield" and "progress" in terms of value to an external market, ever failing to take into account the ecological and social value (or detriment) of plants to local regions. Science aside, Shiva's philosophical stance seems to remain that production-agriculture and forestry founded on 'Western science' is in fact an ecological incarnation of imperialism, and only serves to financially and politically benefit a few institutions and power-structures, at huge expense to societies and peoples whose livelihoods are tied to the exploited land.

And now for some healthy digression:

Regarding the operative meme that Shiva is sowing with this series of essays; not only are cultural and biological diversity valuable and essential for ecological stability, but diversity must also be a template for intellectual and spiritual growth - and action - at the personal level. She says: "Shifting to diversity as a mode of thought, a context of action, allows multiple choices to emerge." In the context of game theory, greater returns are more likely if one continually works to cultivate a perspective that informs them of "all" options. To be sure, this must be done sensibly and efficiently, which is why it is so important to look to the evolution of natural systems and the "successes" therein in order to gain a working understanding of practical game theory. The enemy of diversity in thought is of course the monoculture of the mind, which emerges when a culture promotes single, irrational goals and perpetuates single solutions for reaching those goals.

Monocultures that appear in the land - of trees and of crops and even of artificial structures - are symptomatic of crippling biases of their parent societies and their failure to grasp deep ecological principles. Ironic is the fact that the politics of monoculture succeed in coercing people to act against their true (ecological) interests - which is made less baffling when one realizes that it is the nature of this politics to redefine what "interest" is. Vandana Shiva concisely says, "Monocultures first inhabit the mind, and are then transferred to the ground." (NB: The amount of greed currently seen is the present result of continuous ignorant misdirection and mismanagement of human behavior [notice I say "behavior" and not "nature"]. Quite simply, this represents psychological warfare on our own species, obvious war on nature aside). Principles of deep ecology have the power to develop living systems that out-compete current infrastructures. However, these principles are difficult to grasp from the standpoint of reductionist science because they are often not easily quantified by available scientific language. Data becomes impotent without connections and interrelationships with other corpora of data - and exceedingly so as it is farther removed from data about Nature. Absurd extremes of specialization see oceans of what Paolo Soleri calls "synthetic information", which could be described as information about artificial objects, events, processes and systems that humans take it upon themselves to learn. This sort of information can become like an intellectual analog of grey goo, self replicating within cultural milieux so as to occlude intrinsically valuable knowledge of nature. You would be misunderstanding me if you thought I was disregarding the place-value of such information in our society - I am merely pointing out the risks that its existence de facto creates (all information has a right to exist - but integration and holism must be operative, moreover knowledge about natural ecology should be a civil right; see the farmpunk declaration). When, as societies, we lose ecological knowledge, or more specifically when it is replaced by synthetic knowledge (and consequently mechanical/electrical/biotechnological processes replace ecological ones in our human environments) we lose our built-in tool for empathizing with all other creatures of earth. THE EARTH IS THE ULTIMATE AND ONLY TRUE COMMON GROUND! Experience of one's relationship to the earth represents a positionality that can be had by human and animal alike - crossing the boundaries of language and species. Monocultures are the equivalent of computer viruses, and their infection of the land indicates that the programming has taken place inside the human mind.