Edible gardens have been part of human culture for thousands of years. Along with harnessing fire, developing the wheel and domesticating animals, cultivating food is one of the benchmarks of human advancement. Growing plants that provide food and learning to store it for times of scarcity were advancements that allowed humans to develop civilizations.
— First paragraph of the introduction to The Canadian Edible Garden: Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits & Seeds by Alison Beck.
It’s been awhile since something like “the benchmarks of human advancement” would have slipped by me as a neutral measurement (when you define everyone’s progress by how similar they are to you, you can assume have problems with privilege), but I think I am noticing more assumptions now about the value of civilization and technology. I’m also noticing that the author’s list of “advancements” that allow humans to create civilizations skipped over colonization, slavery, militarism, genocide and all that.
I recently read Endgame: The Problem of Civilization & Resistance (thanks for the tip, Sarah), which is a thorough take-down of the assumption that civilization is an advanced way of living (vs. unsustainable and terrorist), that the point of technology is to become advanced (vs. to maintain a relationship with your landbase), that agriculture is an efficient way to gather food (vs. temporary and destructive). I think that was the book that got me reading about destroying agriculture. I’ve been reading a lot of books at once; it’s hard to keep track.
I am seeing this garden book as much more oppressive than I would have before, with a Eurocentric, anti-indigenous, environmentally unconscious position.
This is good, it gets me thinking about my love of gardening. I’m realizing that what I care about is getting to know plants and soil and living systems, resisting consumerism and capitalism by gathering my own food, and taking time to physically experience and love a patch of the outdoors. None of that actually requires a garden. I could be wildcrafting, or working more with local plant permaculture and forest gardens. Those are difficult when land is privately owned and violently policed, and wilderness is mostly destroyed and constantly under threat. Wild forests don’t need me in there taking all my food right now. And it’s hard to conceive of perennial ecosystems on temporarily rented space.
So… how could I be talking with my neighbours about guerrilla permaculture and land reclamation?
Game Developers Conference seems to be on right now. A few years ago I would have been following posts about the presentations. I’m still interested in interactivity design and game design, but I am taking a break from the technorati’s vision of revolution and progress (short version: pretend everyone can have a cell phone without destroying the planet).
Seeing all the GDC headlines reminded me of watching Will Wright present the demo of his super-hyped Spore game at the elite/elitist TED conference in 2007.
That’s the first time I remember being horrified by game design. Will Wright, known for his non-competitive, open-creative-outlet games, Mr. SimCity, spent fifteen minutes talking about teaching kids to colonize territory. Ouch. It is easy to dismiss the racist, sexist, violent shooter games when there are supposed alternatives. Where do you go from the alternatives when they have all the same domination and hate in a more covert, abstract form?
Are there any video games out there about resisting colonization? I mean as a whole system, not just in terms of blowing up invaders from space using weapons you built by invading and occupying your own planet to get resources and labour. I never got around to writing Will Wright to ask him to read up on what colonization really means before developing his next game idea. Spore II: Indigenous Resistance. I’d play that.
So here I am wishing for better video games when I am intending to take a break from people who focus on saving the world by building video games and electronic gadgets. Moving on.
I am feeling excited to research radical ecology and anti-industrial ideas lately. This is one result of considering my Scottishness: I decided to read extra-radical critiques of Eurocentric civilizations as a respite from the horrifying, delusional narratives in books about Scottish settler history.
Somehow I didn’t realize there were folks in radical ecology movements looking at very intersectional politics of oppression and how they relate to fundamental systems like agriculture, cities, and industrial production. Sometimes I find an analysis that also overlaps with what I know of media theory about currencies, clocks and the alphabet. I’m still in a skeptical phase where I am cross-referencing everything and looking for criticisms, but it is very relaxing to feel like there might be a way to fit a lot of interests together. One huge, complex idea to apply instead of a whole bunch of big, complex ideas.
This morning I was listening to ideas about agriculture.
Lierre Keith: A Hard Look at Agriculture, and Strategies for Collapse, a podcast at Resistance is Fertile. Why even veganism and local organic farming is not sustainable.
You have to understand what agriculture is. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it— and I mean down to the bacteria— and then you plant it to human use. It’s biotic cleansing. This lets the human population grow to gigantic proportions, because instead of sharing that land with millions of other creatures we’re only growing humans on it….
Besides the fact that you’ve permanently displaced any number of species— and when i say that, we’re really talking about extinction— the real problem is that you’re destroying your topsoil and topsoil is the basis of life [on land]…. We have to talk about overshoot.
And pretty soon, she starts connecting this to systems of oppression.
So you’ve got these power centers that arise wherever agriculture is started and they need a constant influx of new resources because they’ve overshot their landbase. Because you have a surplus, that means somebody else can steal it, so the first thing that happens in agricultural societies is you have a class of people whose sole purpose is to be soldiers. You’ve got the beginnings of militarism. The surplus has to be protected. But the surplus is also what lets there be an entire class of people who don’t have to get food, all they have to do is fight. So now you’ve got a class of soldiers.
The other thing that the power base needs is more resources because they’re constantly using them up. So the other job of those soldiers is to go out and get more and bring it back.
And the third thing that agriculture needs is slaves, because it’s back-breaking labour. By the year 1800, when the fossil fuel age began, three quarters of the people on this planet were either living in conditions of slavery or indentured servitude. The only reason that we’ve forgotten this is because we’re using machines now to do that work, but believe me when the fossil fuel runs out, we are going to remember just how much work is involved in this.
It’s this feedback loop, where agriculture creates the need for a military and the military is made possible by the surplus of agriculture. And the entire system together needs to keep taking land because it’s forever using up its own soil.
They go on to make connections between agriculture and patriarchy, disability rights, classism, imperialism, and some more.
I have a million ideas about things to do, but I want to post some more inputs before I write about them. I was quiet for so long that I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do just to make my premises clear.
I posted this on Craigslist today (personals > strictly platonic?).
Can I poop in your composting toilet?
Date: 2009-03-25, 12:34PM PDT
Or even just see it and ask you a couple of questions?
They seem so cool in theory, but I would like to try one out in person before I get too excited about the “convenience” and “lack of smell.”
Thanks in advance for sharing your humanure revolution.
- Location: victoria
- it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
Sarah H commented about handsomeness and masculinity.
I find it really useful to consider ideas of handsomeness in relation to concepts of masculinity— I can see where my own notions of handsomeness are based in someone (of any gender) being visibly self-controlled, unemotional and hardened. I wonder how we can reclaim words like this— like how do we compliment our loved ones on looking cute, without using words that reinforce these concepts of masculinity? I have tended to use the word handsome, but now it doesn’t seem appropriate.
I am interested in this too. I hadn’t considered the word handsome before, but I use it a lot (also to describe a person of any gender). After some reflection, I think for me it is a replacement for saying something more personal and honest. I’m making a judgment about beauty and gender instead of attending to my feelings and needs. There is an idea I like in non-violent communication, that making judgments reinforces hierarchy and external authority. From Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life:
Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing. …
Life-alienating communication both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies. Where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals for their own benefit, it would be to the interest of kings, czars, nobles, etc. that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slave-like in mentality. The language of wrongness, “should” and “have to” is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves— to outside authorities— for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good and bad. When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.
To work for anarchist/non-hierarchical relationships, I’ve been practicing not judging things as “masculine” or “feminine” and instead just saying what they are and how I feel about them. E.g., If I let go of describing a boy or man as effeminate, I can usually find more accurate, specific observations. Maybe he’s caring and kind, and likes to wear bright colours. And maybe I feel happy about that because I value kindness and diverse clothing options. I forget this all the time, but when I remember to get specific I like the way it makes me more aware of both the person and myself. I also like that it goes beyond resisting within binary gender and gets outside of gender altogether. Instead of questioning who can have feminine qualities, it is a way of questioning why we call some things feminine at all. I think that celebrating a man or boy for his feminine qualities still reinforces that passive, traumatized personalities are called feminine while aggressive, traumatized personalities are called masculine.
I’m thinking I could replace “handsome” the same way, with concrete observations and personal feelings. On top of letting go of judgments about gender (anyone can have a strong jaw or dark eyebrows), it would skip judgments about who looks more or less beautiful. Previously I’ve tried celebrating everyone as beautiful “in their own way” but I find it works the same way as celebrating genderblurred masculine and feminine qualities. It still reinforces the idea that I can judge who is beautiful or ugly and that it matters. I’d rather find ways to take responsibility for what I see and how I feel about it.
That has me wondering what I am trying to communicate when I tell someone they look handsome. I like to look at them? That is still very vague. I think they have social power because they fit a currently fashionable ideal look? I don’t want to play that game. When I look at their nose I feel hot and bothered? That is more what I’m aiming for. I think I’m using compliments as a substitute for conversations about desire and sensual appreciation. Wow. I would way rather have the desire/appreciation conversation.
I’m going to try eliminating handsome from my vocabulary for a few days, to find out what else I can talk about. I’m not sold on permanently eliminating words that describe judgmental categories because I also use them to talk about politics and the categories themselves, but a temporary ban seems like a good experiment in awareness.
I like the way Russell Means began his 1980 speech, For America To Live, Europe Must Die.
The only possible opening for a statement of this kind is that I detest writing. The process itself epitomizes the European concept of “legitimate” thinking; what is written has an importance that is denied the spoken. My culture, the Lakota culture, has an oral tradition, so I ordinarily reject writing. It is one of the white world’s ways of destroying the cultures of non-European peoples, the imposing of an abstraction over the spoken relationship of a people.
So what you read here is not what I’ve written. It’s what I’ve said and someone else has written down. I will allow this because it seems that the only way to communicate with the white world is through the dead, dry leaves of a book. I don’t really care whether my words reach whites or not.
I read a lot of media theory, where orality and literacy is a giant topic. (I can see a book called Orality and Literacy from my desk.) And I think this is the first time I’ve encountered a first person, pro-orality perspective from someone with an oral culture. I feel shocked to realize this. But of course books about media have a bias towards text. And of course online articles have a bias towards text and mass media. Somehow I had the two topics in my mind, media theory and resisting white supremacy, but hadn’t made many connections between them.
There’s a rule of thumb which can be applied here. You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society. You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.
Means was talking about Marxism, but now I am thinking about printing presses and the internet.
I enjoyed this interview with Lierre Keith about destroying civilization, especially these definitions of genders.
Sexual domination and subordination are institutionalized into the very concepts of masculine and feminine. Masculinity is simply a conglomeration of the personality traits necessary for the patriarchal soldier-rapist: physically strong, emotionally cauterized, rational, domineering, cruel. All of this is supposed to add up to “handsome” as well. Likewise femininity is ultimately a description of the personality that results from trauma and powerlessness: weak, passive, yielding, emotional, hyper-vigilant to the needs of the dominators and desperate for the dominator’s attention.
I’ve been going through some old photos that my mum brought me. They show a lot of crouching at the beach. This collage looked familiar in two ways then: the beach crouching from when I was small, and the nighttime trees from my neighbourhood now. I think this new combination will add something to my night walks.
Capitalism works on the same principle as a glass company whose employees spend their nights breaking people’s windows and their days boasting of the public service they provide.
— Alfie Kohn in No Contest: The Case Against Competition