The grand, failed experiment of capitalism

It wasn’t that long ago you could drink the water. All the water, I mean; lakes, rivers, little streams. Now we have to watch what the kids get into. What might they be ingesting? What do they miss out on when they drink the chemically treated water from the city? I don’t even want to know. If it’s in the oceans, in our lakes and our rivers, in our glaciers, there isn’t much I can do to avoid it. I just have to accept that it. is. everywhere. Accept that they probably can’t live as long as I still have a chance to. Accept that they can’t be as healthy as, say, my grandparents. Can anybody be, now?

“On no”, I’m told. “We’re gonna live to be 120. All the experts say so”. Who, the ones that can look at a chart, see the rising line and conclude, “that’s the trend”. As if there are no other factors? My parents are still of a generation to be financially and materially more privileged than the last. They’ve really had the most promise, the most stability, the most upward mobility (in a capitalist sense, anyway). It’s understood that mine is the first generation since the industrial revolution that will be poorer than the one before. In a financial sense, that is. In an industrial sense.

And what do these financially wealthy people buy for their grandchildren? Full length plastic suits to protect them from UV rays.

Neoliberal capitalism…transnational financial capitalism, whatever you want to call it, it failed, ok? It was an experiment. Not so much a grand conspiracy as a grand mistake. You thought you were doing good and making the world a better place for us. We know you did it in love and you continue to do it out of love for us (not you megalomaniacs, but our parents, those who did and continue to do the footwork. Those who invest, who vote, who subsidize, who thought it was easier for us to buy food than grow it).

I am also doing what I’m doing out of love for my children. Out of a desire to leave them something more beautiful, connected, and loving than I had. And by doing so, creating something loving, beautiful and connected for myself.

What I envision is an earth on which water is safe to drink. On which water is protected, not up for grabs to the highest bidder, regardless of how they want to treat it. They deserve to know that water won’t be stolen from them or poisoned by some corporation in it for the money, giving lower and lower estimates for the value of life that they rob from the undesirable. The poor. Those who don’t buy their products or invest in their companies.

Those who dare to…use less resources? Those who dare to rely on themselves and their communities.

That’s literally my only aim in life. To learn and thus model for my children how to be a competent human being. A human being that can survive on earth. One that supports the spiritual growth of those around them. Who can build their own shelter out of the resources around them. Forage and grow sustainable food that nourishes them. Who can sit in (or lead!) a restorative justice circle and speak from the heart and listen with empathy. One who defends the land and the water and knows how to live peaceably with those around them. And who knows how to communicate anger and frustration in a healthy and beneficial way? All these skills are necessary to permaculture. Because it won’t be a permanently sustainable culture unless we can cooperate, and we need to learn these skills in order to survive and in order to cooperate and thus thrive.

What else would I want for my children? And for those saying, “we tried that, it didn’t work”. No, we didn’t. We have never tried to grow sustainable, nourishing food for us all while simultaneously building community support and cooperation. Some small tribes have had beautiful, happy and fulfilling lives, with everything they need, by doing this (ever heard of the Sarayaku?).

Harsha Walia points out (in the brilliant Undoing Border Imperialism) that focusing on decolonization as an aspiration “grounds us in an understanding that we have already inherited generations of evolving wisdom about living freely and communally while stewarding the Earth” (11)

And we are fucking human beings. Do you know what we can accomplish? Do you know the feats of creativity we’ve come up with when allowed to be passionate and follow our dreams?

In the wise words of Harry Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”.

On privilege in food sustainability movements

I’m pretty new to this and I’m learning a lot as I go and meet others like myself who have discovered the freedom in food sovereignty. It’s a complicated thing too – it is a process, and a lot of us are going to learn as we go. So I’m pretty sure I’m going to be updating with more thoughts about this as I go. Here are some preliminary thoughts:

In 2014-15 when I was completing my master’s, I was hearing my partner explain permaculture with the passion of someone who has just found a piece of this life calling. I understood the importance of what he was saying even if I couldn’t speak to the details of permaculture design or of exactly what was wrong with the current systems. I could speak to the big picture, but not the details, and it was infuriating when I’d speak to the TRUTH I could feel, that we have to be growing more of our own food, that that was the KEY to ecological and social justice. The key to much of our depression. The key to the epidemic of related conditions that noone talks about: diabetes, heart disease, morbid obesity, cancer. The key to the epidemic of addiction. The key to my own happiness. The key to finding purpose in a world whose sole purpose is MORE MONEY MORE STUFF. Growing our own food.

“The problem is the solution” is a permaculture maxim. It stands to reason that if industrial agriculture is our problem, we can find our solution in food systems.

I said as much in my classes. My professors were very good at leading us back to the large systemic causes of things, but terrible at discussing real possible solutions. We got stuck in the “these are the people you may be leaving out” phase, instead of ever making progress. The thing is, permaculture doesn’t have to leave anybody out. It already has plenty of ideas and solutions for community justice, gardening for the wheelchair bound, gardening for arthritis, and so on. Furthermore, it simply allows for more time for community and it is a community of people that you need if you have a sick child, if you aren’t typically able-bodied, if you’re dying. It allows for more support and more freedom.

And constantly the pushback would be “well, you can only do this because you’re privileged. Not everybody can up and move. Not everybody can buy land.”. Of course that is all true. I’m extremely privileged. Every day I notice new privileges. Just today I was thinking of the travel I did as a middle-class white child. My passports, yes multiple, could take me across ‘borders’. Were accepted by governments all around the world. Because my country is one that makes the rules.

And not everyone can (or needs to) move to practise permaculture. Urban permaculture has answers for everyone. People living in the forest practise permaculture. Permaculturists are greening the desert, all over the world. They’re remediating environments. Using fungi to break down heavy metal pollutants. Permaculture is a kind of superpower that everyone can learn.

And not everyone can (or needs to) buy land. Permaculturists grow gardens in public places; take back parks; squat on crown land; sidewalk garden.

And those of us who have the privilege are the ones doing the worst damage. It’s the food we buy. The bottled water we can afford. It’s the clothes we buy and the way we get around. It’s the travel. We consume and consume and consume. Which means that we are responsible for the majority of the clean up.

It is precisely those of us who are most privileged who are obligated to give up as many of our privileges as we possibly can.

bell hooks points out that most women active in the Western feminist movement are unwilling to face the reality that capitalism is a system that “depends on the exploitation of underclass groups for its survival”, particularly true “when they, as individuals, gain economic self-sufficiency within the existing structure. They are reluctant, even unwilling, to acknowledge that supporting capitalist patriarchy…would not end the economic exploitation of underclass groups. These women fear the loss of their material privilege” (108).

I can’t stop being white, but I can end my material privilege by living more simply and making my own stuff (or supporting my local food and clothing and building sheds!). I can also stop supporting the racist systems in place that, in order to grow OUR food, kick people off their land who have lived off the land by passing down the traditional ecological knowledge of their people from generation to generation. I can stop supporting those same systems that then police people in the city or in the countries they are forced to migrate to.

I can END my financial support of the companies I choose to invest in; the companies that fund pipelines instead of water fuelled cars or GMOs instead of psilocybins. Whatever. If you are worried that permaculture is a privileged people’s lifestyle, look at it this way. Permaculture is for the privileged, because it’s the only way we can GIVE up our privilege. (And for those who have the least, because its they who are forced into growing their own food, building their own buildings, creating their own communities and turning to restorative justice as a means to find ANY justice at all in a system that is skewed against them.

Permaculture is the only way to even the playing field. It’s sustainable. And it gets our corporations out of the backyards of the people around the world who’ve been defending the land and protecting the water all along, and lets them continue to do the only thing it makes sense to do on earth:

Live happily within the earth’s means.

This is why it’s SO vital that permaculture not be capitalized and turned into the means for my generation and class (children of the middle-class) to stay white and privileged. For us, that means that when we “have land” (that is ours on paper) it will be a safe place for anyone who needs it, paying special attention to formerly incarcerated, Indigenous Turtle Islanders and people of colour, and life-bearers and children of all of the above.

This is the dream, or one small part of it. That’s all for now.