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

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A biological basis for social egalitarianism

Excerpt from David Sloan Wilson's "Evolution for Everyone". Gawd I love this man.

Please keep in mind while reading that this rests on Wilson's argument that what we commonly think of as "individual" organisms (like vertebrates) are in many instances groups of organisms or entities acting in hive-like ways to produce emergent identities. Basically it goes: proteins form groups, which become chromosomes; which populate single-celled organisms, which form groups themselves and reach consensus that enables democratic action (like the slime-mold Dictyostelium)... then "group-organisms" in turn form groups of groups (i.e. social animals)...He encourages his reader, for analytic purposes, to picture ourselves as "neurons in a group brain." dig?

"As Chris documents in his 1999 book Hierarchy in the Forest, egalitarianism pervades not only hunter-gatherer groups but virtually all small-scale human societies. A typical description of the prevailing ethos (from a 1920's account of Alaskan Inuit) is this: "Every man in his eyes has the same rights and the same priviledges as every other man in the community. One may be a better hunter, or a more skillful dancer, or have greater control over the spiritual world, but this does not make him more than one member of a group in which all are free and theoretically equal."
The emphasis on equality among men is telling. Women are often (but not always) excluded from the moral circle and dominated by the very men who insist upon equality among themselves. As a member of the Ona tribe, inhabiting the tip of South America, explained to a Westerner who couldn't believe that they lacked a single chief, "We, the Ona, have many chiefs. The men are all captains and all the women are sailors." The moral circle can similarly exclude all members of other groups. When Chris briefly worked among the Navaho Indians of the American Southwest as a graduate student, he was astounded by their lack of aggressiveness toward each other, which did not prevent the Navaho from traditionally making their living by raiding other tribes.
We tend to marvel at this kind of inconsistency as if it were hypocritical, but instead we should marvel at why we marvel. Consistency might be a virtue for a philosopher, but not for an organism, whether the organism is an individual or a group. An organism must adaptively change its behavior depending upon the context, the very opposite of consistency. We expect an individual organism to have a harmonious internal physiology, regardless of whether it acts as a predator, parasite, competitor, or mutualist toward other organisms. Why, then, should we be surprised when a human group such as a Navaho band exhibits internal harmony, even as it rides off to raid other groups? Remember that we are trying to understand how the traits that we associate with morality evolved as biological adaptations, which requires a detached perspective, like the Greek gods looking down from Mount Olympus. Come to think of it, even the Athenians practiced a form of democracy that was restricted to men and excluded women, slaves, and "barbarians", which was their word for anyone who wasn't Greek. What Boehm and others have shown is that egalitarianism is not a cultural invention that began in ancient Greece, as many have supposed, but is part of our genetic endowment that asserts itself whenever appropriate conditions are met."

"Consistency might be a virtue for a philosopher, but not for an organism..."

Now that's a slam-dunk, right there. I LOVE BIOLOGISTS WHO HACK THE SOCIAL SCIENCES!

I was sitting in my Sociology class the other day that is a requirement for graduating. I've actually taken quite a few Soc. classes at UVM... and I always feel like I just got time-warped to the 1950's. So much of sociology is badly in need of a tune-up. Perhaps a new engine that runs on algae ethanol.

Btw, I'm so curious about DSW's political perspective. How the hell could you NOT be a Zapatista, seeing the world through this lens? Not to mention that group selection theory pretty much hands you the hammer for the last nail in the coffin of neoclassical economic activity. The ultimate success of a society that is based so absurdly on the autonomy of the individual (and which asserts such 'autonomy' through completely wrong, increasingly abstract valuation systems) can be argued against with insights from adaptive sociobiology.

Please see the comments for a continued discourse.


wilfried said...

good post, but before putting it all down to biology, in the books.google preview of the Hierarchy in the Forest book mentioned you will find the argument that 'tribal' egalitarianism is an active process that needs constant feedback to slow down power-hungry upstarts. egalitarianism not as the absence of hierarchy but as a special man-made form of hierarchy.

the faun said...

yeah, excellent point. I'm glad for your comment wilfried because I did feel like this post was hasty and only really addressed half of what I wanted to get at... but it's very interesting to note the need for the feedback you mentioned -- i've been trying to conceptualize groups that maintain this kind of egalitarianism as having a mechanism for managing "inevitable social entropy" -- which we can see run rampant in, for example, religious reformation movements that are reacting to a situation where too much power/energy has been accrued by one person/governing body and consequently becomes unavailable for the majority of the group members. thus, there becomes need to re-establish "low-entropy" systems, and the process starts again. It is interesting that there have been, or are, groups who self-consciously develop mechanisms to modulate such tendencies without creating a new system & abandoning the old one, which may continue to be toxic to society (this is consistent with 'entropy' being the amount of unavailable energy in a system. Just a conceptual lens, I don't mean to misuse the scientific idea!)

wilfried said...

Considering entropy and governors, the first thing that comes to my mind is Paul Churchland's quote about chemical evolution, how chaotic systems (entropy as a way for the system to assume all its possible states) can bring about functions/entities that exist in spite of entropy.


I always feel this to be a great metaphor for loads of other things.

keep up the good work!