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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Survival Trip (Part 1) and a foreword about environmentalism

The first day of our wilderness survival trip (Saturday the 11th of June), we were to meet at the parking lot of the school at 7 AM, whereupon our three instructors would take us by car to an undisclosed location. This would be the location of our 4-night/5 day survival trip, for which we’d undergo “pocket checks” to make sure we weren’t bringing anything but the clothes we were wearing. Yes, this is actually what we signed up for!
Of course, having known “the rules” in advance, we were able to strategize a little bit by wearing several layers, top and bottom, including (hopefully) rain gear. Rain gear—along with the synthetic clothes some of us were wearing—are not admittedly neolithic, but this was at the same time quite a bit closer to that reality than many of us had ever gotten. We were all very, very pumped.
We ended up experiencing one of the wettest and coldest trips that our instructors had sent out (although we were only the third such group) — but in the end, the rewards only multiplied in the face of such adversity. Over the next few posts I’ll try to recount the highlights of the trip — which will tie in to the class of which it was a part, and in turn the larger social movement of re-skilling and stewarding ancient living skills of which that class is a part…
We were incredibly lucky to be a group of 7 very independent, upbeat people who were all really motivated to learn these skills. Together we took a 9 month course in which we learned the foundations of wilderness survival—including but not limited to what was needed for a “successful” 4 night survival trip in June in Vermont (a time of year where Mother Earth would be predictably generous—within a certain range of possibility, of course). Successful here means (true to the genre), simply surviving, not necessarily thriving (but trying to!) We met approximately one weekend a month, with a longer meeting in the beginning, and lots of homework in between, on everything from primitive hunting weapons (throwing mostly) to plant identification, to martial-artist-like perception and awareness training. It was hard to keep up with the homework, especially because of the contrast between the group solidarity and isolation from the civilized world we enjoyed during our weekends—very conducive to focused study and practice—and the clock-and-work driven life that we inevitably led plugged into the grid of the modern world. The latter, I came to realize, introduced its own brand of loneliness and isolation. In the living forest, with a few present and good-hearted people, or even no other humans at all, one can somehow never feel lonely or bored… especially when you have a task at hand, for which out of necessity you must in some way or other merge with your environment.
Over the year we studied, constructed and slept in several different forms of primitive shelter for short-term (or emergency) use, including tight little burrow-like debris huts that slept one person, quincys (snow shelters), and the teepee-style group shelter that would most likely be our home on the survival trip (unless unforeseen circumstances forced us to go with a quicker, less optimal structure). One of the core relationships we cultivated as a group and as individuals was with fire—preparing the way for it, making it, stewarding it and keeping it alive to cook for us and boil us water. In some ways primitive fire seemed to be the backbone of our training, as it is quite literally the hearth that makes a home, however temporary that home may be…
We mainly focused on two methods of firemaking: Bow drill and hand drill. Bow drill consists of five parts, hand drill of only two, but bow drill is significantly easier to get a coal if all the parts are tweaked right; the success of hand drill is more contingent on individual skill. Thus emphasis was placed on the former (although by myself I have been stoked to get a lot of great practice in with hand drill — and there is nothing like starting a fire that will spit roast an animal for your whole family just using your hands and two sticks!), and as a group we graduated through many challenges throughout the class whereupon we would be asked to procure a bow drill kit and make a fire using less and less modern amenities (like a knife or a modern string for the bow), and with more and more parts for the kit sourced on-demand from the woods, where you have to work more with what the forest gives you and things might be wet or partially rotten. Finally, in a few hours we could make an entire kit, get a coal and turn it into a fire using no modern technology at all — just local stone that we knapped into something approximating a blade.
We also learned water-skills — finding springs, making primitive filters with charcoal, moss and sand to eradicate chemical contaminants as well as of course boiling, which for us was done by carefully skinning the bark of young white pines to make origami-like watertight vessels. In these vessels we would boil water by transporting glowing-hot rocks from our fire, using a green branch as tongs (on the survival trip I found a cow or moose scapula that worked like a dream!) If you get enough large rocks that are hot enough, you can boil almost a quart of water in like three minutes. Neolithic technology can literally can beat my MSR backpacking stove!
10,000 years ago getting water would have been as simple as finding a clear-looking stream. Now, because of pollution and animal agriculture, very little surface water is safe to drink, and in a true survival situation the last thing you want is diarrhea. Like, really. Springs that bring water to the surface from deep aquifers are the only reliable sources of clean water, where in some cases the water bubbling up has not seen the sun in a thousand years. That there is one of the most valuable things I know of - ancient water.
Just an aside that is worth mentioning: You won’t see me demonize “civilization” or the like in these pages, or anywhere where I express my experiences as an earthling discovering the possibilities and limits of what it is to be human. I may be an anarcho-primitivist of sorts, but I don’t hate modernity or modern technology, and I don’t blame individual people—historical or living—for “not being connected to nature” or whatever, and I don’t think very highly of deep ecology or any environmentalist philosophy where humans are considered a “cancer” on this planet. I think we are all connected to something and it is our intense propensity for connection—through many modalities both sensuous and subtle—that makes us both experience suffering and joy, separation and oneness. When I’m at school working on a big term paper, my human nature allows me to be almost completely connected within a very tightly-wound ecology consisting of my computer, desk, a stack of books and a word document… so much that for a time my whole world is made up of those things; mantras of academic text flow through my mind at random, and what I sense and perceive is often filtered on some level through the creative work going on within me. The sensory “deprivation” of a white-walled room takes the experience to new, often unexamined heights of mental trance.
It is this same capacity for connection that can connect us to the earth and has evolved to sustain our life and allow us to survive. As humans in today’s world, our environments can be so radically different from one place or culture to another that it is hard to grasp that the manner in which we merge with our surroundings always has the same mechanism. The forest, unlike a classroom, is exceedingly multi-dimensional, extending in all directions; moreover almost everything you look at is alive! The forest sucks your consciousness into it, beckons your awareness to expand into its every crevice, whereas being isolated in a small, geometric man-made chamber can do the opposite: keep your awareness inside of you. This isn’t a bad thing, because sometimes it might be necessary to get a job done. But it behooves us to know about this way of the mind - this respiration of consciousness, so that we may navigate our way on this undulating sea, avoiding storms and making use of winds and waves. The type and quality of the connection merely shifts with our attention and focus — or lack thereof. We have an amazing ability to connect with and synergize with many different types of complex dynamical systems. Whether the yields of such symbioses are “good” or “bad” is not up to me to judge. What I see is evidence of potential.
Hate and cynicism (and most emotions) are not the ways in which I like to approach the world in which I live. Mostly the things I feel about the world are curiosity, and sometimes a kind of sadness that actually feels a lot like love… I’ve thought a lot about that ineffable feeling, in myself, in others and in history, and one way I understand it for myself is that it is the feeling of beauty and harmony imprinting itself on our neural and limbic systems. It is sad because it is very often fleeting, and even the feeling itself quickly becomes indistinguishable from its own shadow. I digress, but to return to my original point: As an anarcho-primitivist (but also a humanist and believer in social ecology) Love for natural ecologies, animals and wildness does not create inversely proportional hate for “civilization”… because “nature” and “culture” are not opposites (and neither are hate and love for that matter). I think that dichotomy, like many we create, is worth deconstructing.
Stay tuned … there’s so much more to tell, and although my wilderness survival class is now over, in the institutional sense, the warrior’s journey has really just begun.

Similar posts:

My Vision Quest and some Notes on the Nature of Anarcho-Primitivist [Trance]endence
Jedi Training in the Hundred-Acre Wood

Friday, June 10, 2011

My vision quest and some notes on the nature of anarcho-primitivist trancendence

Seems like the dog days of summer have come early this year, because the demons have been loosed on my psyche with a special force as of late.
In less than a month, I move across the country, and in the meantime (tomorrow, actually) is a 5 day survival trip that I’m embarking upon with 6 other people with whom I’ve been training in wilderness survival/primitive skills for 9 months at ROOTS School. On the trip, we will be “set loose” in an unknown (to us, not to the instructors) woodland (rich northern hardwood, I’m assuming) and bring nothing with us but the clothes we are wearing for 4 night and nearly 5 days. We will build a primitive shelter, collect and boil water, make fire, and make primitive traps and weapons using no metal knives, only local stone that we find on site. No matches either, only completely neolithic methods of starting fire. Nearly all of the aspects of our survival trip we’ve already had some sort of preliminary or prototypical run-through of, so all that remains are the meteorological variables of Mother Nature, and perhaps our attitudes, as those are where all this creation must come from.
I signed up for the course at ROOTS because I knew I needed a space this past year where I, alone, could galvanize my power as a human being, an earthling — in a space beyond gender. That space is the woods. This is my space where I get in touch with my sacred identity. It is different from my “social” gender identity, or what I present to the world of people, to culture. In the woods I can connect with something that represents the blending of the sacred masculine and the sacred feminine. Mother Earth is also a father, and this parent-of-all is the stage on which all masculine and feminine energy collides and interacts. But the dualism of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, while very fundamental, is still more superficial than the most primary coupling of all. This is the energy of “predator” and “prey”; the eater and that that is eaten. This relationship is fractal, scale-invariant— it exists on all levels where there is life. And it even exists beneath biotic life — in chemical interaction, where some atoms have electrical control over others, and beyond life — in the birth and death of stars.
My seeking to look this binary-star of BIRTH/DEATH in the eye is not new. I have sought this, in many forms, since almost the beginning of puberty. For it was when I started to evolve sexually, that I began to want to connect — not just with HUMANS, but with ALL OF LIFE, in the tantric sense. Although of course, I haven’t always been able to articulate it like that.
**Some notes to keep in mind on this voyage of mine**
Becoming animal doesn’t mean putting on a new set of clothes, it means letting the earth put you on as her clothes.
Every once in a while, accepting your duty as part of the living body of the earth and relinquishing ‘the game’ of civilized life is, ironically, the only way to feel completely free. Completely “independent”. I put that word in quotations because, as the Zapatistas say, the only way to truly find one’s identity is through the collective, NOT through the individual alone, wandering aimlessly through a jungle of free markets.
The collective where you find your sacred mirror—a sustainable and empowering way to see yourself—doesn’t have to be a collective of humans either… it can be a collective of plants and animals… an ecosystem. Because you are a human, but you are also an animal, and so you can find community anywhere on this earth where there is life. It can be any collective of things that live and breathe, and exist in synergistic interdependence. Find a place that has that, and hang there for a while. Go hunting — not to kill things, but just to see how deep your awareness can go into the natural world. Go hunting for things that can absorb your entire being within them.
The promise of ‘independence’ made to us by neoliberalism… that is an illusion.
There are big and little ways to do this—to “let the earth put you on as her clothes”… to let her pick you up, like a hunter picks up a bow and arrow, and draw you, make you ready. You don’t have to run away to Alaska with no experience like that kid in “Into the Wild”… although, props to him — that kid had heart.
It’s like permaculture. You can do it on any scale. On 200 acres, or in a few square feet in your kitchen. I’ve done it by volunteering on a farm or with a trail crew. Apprenticing on farms for a summer. Learning to work with animals, herd sheep and drive draft horses. Enduring all the pain of not being able to control mother nature. Finally accepting it. Hiking - for a day or for twelve days. Hiding in the woods. Sitting in the woods for an hour without moving. Blindfolding myself and finding my way back somewhere. Running or rock climbing until I feel like I have a new body, running on spiritual energy. And I want more — I want so much more. I have hardly done anything. Sometimes it feels like that.
I’m still trying to figure out how to do this, in little ways, each day.
Because I don’t want the lies and bullshit in this culture to build up so much that one day I just run away to the Tundra. I’ve got to be more emotionally responsible than that. We all do.
A mere two weeks after I come out of the backcountry, I’ll be driving across the country to Claremont, CA (Eastern LA) to tackle the next adventure: graduate school.
Let the Games Begin, and let the Dark Mother guide me... Peace.