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, January 16, 2009

Ecological Economics: a lil theory, a lot of praxis

"If Judeo-Christian monotheism took nature out of religion, Anglo-American economists... took nature out of economics."

..."The overarching priority of economic growth was easily the most important idea of the twentieth century."

-J.R. McNeill (Quoted from the textbook Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications)

As ecological economists themselves say, ecological economics is a "field, not a discipline". A discipline is training in one job, one method of interpretation, one set of symbols, one language. Its telos is "the professional" - which sometimes seems to me one of the more unfortunate products of our old, rickety machine. Eco-Ec is a self-titled transdisciplinary field which draws upon many disciplines and hopefully informs others. I believe it will represent one of the nodes in our epistemological network that will help unite knowledge and - surprise! - proceed to allocate it properly. After all, economics is the study of the allocation of resources... and hello, knowledge is in dire need of allocation. Eco-Ec's first mission is then naturally a didactic one.

Ecological economics posits the baffling hypothesis that this earth in its life-supporting state is a finite system and cannot support a sub-system that is based on infinite growth and production (which would be neoclassical economics). Finite and infinite are rather intense words. I think a better way to look at it is this: Nature is a system with parameters. If we are to play the game of economics, ecological principles and parameters must inform the game's structure from the ground-up.

One of the most definitive aspects of ecological economics is that it is activist and oriented toward the solving of problems with any tool necessary. If anything it is the strong-willed child of human ecology; the one who is undertaking the endeavor of actually applying that stuff.

I dreamt up some fun imagery while sitting in class today. Consider the neoclassical economic system - you know that production-driven beast that currently runs our lives? Think of it as an old machine built sometime between the World Wars that is designed to produce one thing: growth. You might be asking - how do you produce growth? But bear with me; I'm spinning a tale here. Growth is the sheer volume of stuff (or "throughput") that is churned through the machine - realistically, natural resources that get turned into various artifacts and foodstuffs that we use and consume. The neoclassical economy machine not only produces a bunch of stuff, but is pre-programmed to attempt to increase the volume of production regardless of external circumstances. Regardless of nature. And it's incredibly hard to change the programming. What was that thing even programmed in to begin with? FORTRAN? Oh God no! Run away. Economists of the dominant-model can be seen as people who are for some reason, still learning and teaching FORTRAN. And, as the godfather of 'em recently conceded to, this will only result in an EPIC FAIL. (Please see Alan Greenspan's confession of how he was wrong)

Neoclassical economics therefore can be seen as "insane in the mainframe".

Now consider Ecological Economics. Perhaps you are picturing some of those posters on the walls of your high school biology classroom that colorfully illustrated the water cycle, or the carbon cycle, or the what-animals-eat-which-other-animals cycle (that one was my favorite). Ahh - such a pristine vision. I'm imagining the bird clock in my biology classroom that made a different bird-song every hour, which got really annoying and is just a really ironic artifact in general. Digression.

Now to juxtapose some ugly. Picture the old, antiquated machine of neoclassical econ. It has disgruntled men hastily shoveling coal into a furnace one one end and old guys trying to program in FORTRAN on another end, and then more old guys trying to weld all these pipes that have steam shooting out of them on yet another end. Hopefully this image stresses you out.

Ecological economics is not a machine, but rather an open-source operating system that a vast variety of programs can be run on (think Unix). It acknowledges that we are far from knowing everything about ecology and the way the earth works. It avoids any a-priori philosophy with the exception of the idea that the earth contains finite resources, and is itself a finite resource to humans. Ecological economics is a collection of hyperlinks to other bodies of knowledge - bodies that will die if they remain unconnected to an organic matrix of information. Bodies like astronomy, geology, meteorology, physics, forestry, plant and animal sciences, etc.

The operating system of Eco-Ec is not production-oriented - but it is healing/retrofitting/and development-oriented. It stresses the qualitative over the quantitative - that we can have development without (uneccesary) growth and that this model might be good for working toward the well-being of both humans and their encompassing environments.

What does ecological economics look like on the ground? I'll tell you, its cleverly disguised. What we have to keep remembering is that the market is only one possible method of allocating resources and creating well-being. This is not an easy task - it is the task of unlearning a worldview that has religious strength.

It looks like community-supported business models; community supported farms and general stores (like the Bee's Knees in Morrisville VT). It looks like education about food and food systems. It looks like reviving the ancient pedagogical model of apprenticeship (like they have been spearheading at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association). It looks like permaculture. It looks like naturalism; how to read the history of a forest by looking at the stump of a tree. It looks like bushcraft; how to bust a fire with two pieces of sagebrush in the woods. It looks like bartering and old-world hospitality. It looks like free, populist information networks that facilitate TRUE "Eco-travel", like the worldwide couchsurfing network. It is all these things and more. It is grassroots networks, outsourcing in unimaginable places, top-down thinking plus ground-up action. It is happening OUTSIDE THE MARKET AND OUTSIDE OF BUILDINGS. Look outdoors and by whatever means necessary find a way that you can hear and understand the earth. Then, perhaps some walls in the labyrinth will dissolve.


The Gund Institute for Ecological Economics (UVM)

Ecological Economics: Principles and Applications (UVM Authors!)

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Economies and the Durable Future, by Bill McKibben.

1 comment:

Jeremiah said...

hoom, nothing quite so stirring as a notion that we're all engaged in something greater than ourselves... I appreciate the anarcho-farmpunk perspective on the clunky machine and the evolving alternative... and fancy the notion that a field of thought might begin to resemble the complex ecological/economic relationships it purports to describe... visual experiments aside tho:
ecological economics can wield a policy scalpel if necessary. from ecological tax reform (pleasantly similar in some aspects to the highly neoclassical Pigouvian tax mafia) to payments for ecosystem services and common assets trusts, eco-ec offers the implements to dig into the world it describes.
yee ha!