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 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.

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