Links of the Month: March 21, 2012

kereru (native species), painting by NZ artist Robyn Forbes, from my own collection

Vera over at Leaving Babylon has written an interesting series of articles on the hazards of planning and on permaculture design. She’s also very good at responding to comments on her blog, which means that some great conversations have evolved in the comments threads. The most recent article on permaculture proposes understanding and emulating nature’s design, and as I was responding to it, it occurred to me that my response pretty well sums up my current thinking on where we are now in the collapse and the sixth great extinction, and what we can do about it. Here is what I wrote:

It seems to me that it is anthropomorphizing to say that nature ‘designs’ or to say that nature even cares. Nature adapts, mostly to other elements of itself. Evolution, which is tautological (it occurs because it works) tries a million random different things every second and those that don’t die produce what we call evolution. It’s all random, as Stephen J Gould showed so starkly and brilliantly in Full House. We can no sooner follow nature’s staggeringly complex lead than transmute ourselves into gargoyles. Human models and constructs are merely complicated, mechanical, temporary and fragile. We cannot and must not count on them.

I read all 1060 pages of the permaculture primer Edible Forest Gardens to learn that permaculture is about spending 20 years studying the pre-catastrophic-agriculture ecology of the place you live, and in the process intervening patiently to introduce and reintroduce native and native-compatible plants in such a way that evolution just might allow them to take hold. It’s the perfect model of how to behave in a complex system (Dave Snowden’s probe-sense-respond strategy). What we call design in such efforts is just hoping that we understand well enough so that a larger proportion of our interventions take hold than if we just planted stuff randomly. The celebrated indigenous permaculture ‘gardens’ of Central America were basically discovered, not designed, and were secreted away so humans couldn’t fuck them up with their design experiments. This works in places where the pre-cat-ag vegetation naturally supports a healthy human diet. It doesn’t work where most humans live now, which is why indigenous migrants to non-tropical-forested places evolved to eat mostly fish and meat and self-limited their numbers to what wild game was sustainably available — small numbers. Until we discovered and tried to replicate cat-ag, which as Jared Diamond has explained turned out to be a very bad idea. The idea that we can ‘do’ permaculture sustainably anywhere is, in my opinion, sheer hubris.

So what to do? If we want to be on nature’s side (assuming she/it has a ‘side’) we should do for ourselves what she is in the process of doing to us — quickly reduce our numbers to sustainable levels (at one point that might have been perhaps 2 billion, but with the damage we’ve done to carrying capacity now might be 1/4 of that), and have those that are left migrate mostly back to areas that support humans with a healthy human diet without cat-ag. We won’t do the former, for religious and cultural reasons and because it is too late to organize to do anything on such a scale even if we were capable of doing something in a coordinated way on such a scale, which we are not. So we’re left to do what we can, which is to do as little harm to the world as we can, love and care and look after each other, learn what will help us deal with the collapse that we have unleashed and might help the survivors begin to create a better way to live (mostly, learning to build and live in community again), and be present, relishing every moment of this amazing and unpredictable experiment called life.


Morris Berman on the End of the American Dream: A revealing interview with the writer who says America long ago lost its heart, and its way. Thanks to Tulcidious for the link. Excerpts:

Financial bigwigs lead their affluent lives, unaffected, unremorseful, and unindicted for wreaking havoc on the nation. Why? Because they won. They hustled better. They are living the American Dream. This is not the American Dream that says if you work hard you can be more comfortable than your parents; but rather, if you connive well, game the rules, and rule the game, your take from others is unlimited. In this paradigm, human empathy, caring, compassion, and connection have been devalued from the get-go.

The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist or democratic socialist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

Here’s what the US lacks: community, friendship, appreciation of beauty, craftsmanship as opposed to obsessive technology, and—despite what you read in the American newspapers—huge graciousness; a large, beating heart. I never found very much of those things in the US; certainly, I never found much heart. American cities and suburbs have to be the most soulless places in the world. America has its priorities upside down.

Let Your Life Be a Counter-Friction to Stop the Machine: A scathing, relentless and articulate 23-minute video by Paul Edwards and Lanny Cotler that chronicles the ruthless and destructive history of the US from the genocide of its indigenous peoples to the imperialist propagandized Orwellian hologram of today. It overstates the degree of power and control of the American financial and political elite, but not its brutality or the effectiveness of its ideological hold over its citizens. The title is a quote from Thoreau on the importance of civil disobedience in the face of tyranny. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Rebuilding from the Bottom Up: Respected (even in the mainstream) economist John Rubino recommends Nicole Foss’ recent Italian interview on the futility of looking for political solutions to our current economic crises. Excerpt:

My solutions, such as they are, are grassroots solutions. We have to build things from the bottom up. Our centralized life support systems will fail over time because they’re critically dependent on tax revenues that won’t be there and cheap energy that won’t be there. These centralized systems won’t be able to deliver the goods and services we’ve come to rely on…

In many parts of the world where people really don’t have any money anyway, their society functions on barter and gifts, working together, exchanging skills. This works as a model. It doesn’t get you a large fancy sophisticated industrial society because it doesn’t scale up that well. But it works very well at a small scale, and this is the kind of structure that we need to rebuild.

Visualizing Debt: A remarkable new infographic illustrates the 3T€ indebtedness of Europe’s five most bankrupt nations. Just so you know, that’s about 1/60th of the total US indebtedness (but no problem there, right?) Thanks to Eric Lilius for the link.

Glaciers, Essential to BC’s ‘Clean’ Hydro Power, Melting Fast: A scientist says glacier melt is accelerating so quickly that BC must start looking for other forms of energy to hydroelectric (hydro dams currently provide 80% of the province’s power). Coal anyone?


Peer-to-Peer Gaining Strength: A new article from Simone Cicero explains the Peer Production model (illustrated above) in lay terms. This is the cooperative approach to business formation and operation I recommend in my book Finding the Sweet Spot. It is consistent with many of the changes we are going to have to make to the way we live and the way we make a living: greater collaboration, better identification of real human needs and co-designing and co-development of products and services to meet those needs, transition to a Gift Economy and the end of private intellectual property and manufactured scarcity. Thanks to Michael Bauwens for the link.

Stationary Bicycles as a Power Source: In Mayan Guatemala, they’ve brought this obvious, inexpensive alternative energy source to an art form. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Essential Capacities for Effective Group Participation: Gotta love Blurb, which provides a lovely intuitive feel to reading books online. One of the latest books on their site is “The Lotus”, which outlines nine essential capacities for groups to engender. Thanks to Venessa Miemis for the link. This is a great list:

  • Being present
  • Suspension and letting go
  • Shared purpose and intention
  • Compassion
  • Whole system awareness
  • Self-awareness
  • Using personal influence (uncoercively)
  • Humour
  • Dealing with complexity, paradox, conflict and uncertainty


Fascinating NYT interactive infographic shows how much citizens in different parts of the US depend on various forms of government assistance; of course this does not show the huge subsidies and bailouts given to corporations

Santorum Supports Fracking, Calls Environmentalism Terrorism: It’s hard to believe many Americans want this nut-job to be president. The religious fanatic comes out in favour of unregulated fracking and says all environmentalists are radical extremists with a terrorist agenda.

How the Anti-Science Lobby Works: An insider’s leaked documents from the Koch Brothers’ Heartland Institute show how Big Oil and Big Coal generate and fund propaganda campaigns to block climate change regulations and spread misinformation. Thanks to Ivor Tymchak for the link.

Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs: Just in case you haven’t already read this insider’s summation of soulless corporatist culture.

Tar Sands Watch:

Government Policies Killing BC’s Forests: These clowns can’t manage anything, and they’re totally in the back pockets of the forest industry. Should be called the “forest elimination industry”.

Invisible Children/Kony 2012 Group Unmasked: One thing the people of central Africa suffering from brutal despots and child-kidnapping warlords didn’t need is a slick well-financed holier-than-thou right-wing religious fanatic group using opposition to the warlords as a vehicle for fund-raising and propaganda for “revolutionary” religious causes, including support for an African death-to-gays crusade. Watch the brilliant Charlie Brooker video at the end of the post, which sums it up perfectly.


translation guide by Fraser McAlpine for BBC America; thanks to Dawn Smith for the link

Somebody That I Used to Know: Evidence of what can be done by artists without any corporate intermediaries and without spending megabucks. Watch these three videos in this order:

  1. Pop song Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye and Kimbra. Starts kinda slow but music gets interesting later and the video is clever.
  2. Now watch this even cleverer cover version by Toronto indy group Walk Off the Earth. Note the number of views. Good harmonies too. (Thanks to Michele Hull for the link) (Bonus: WOTE guitarist Gianni Luminati’s amazing virtuoso solo performance)
  3. Finally, watch this take-off on the cover version. Fall-down funny.

Non-Errors: A list of supposed grammatical and word-use ‘errors’ that actually aren’t — at least not anymore.

Are You an Asker or a Guesser?: This has been around awhile, but if you haven’t read it you should: Knowing which is your style, and the style of others in your circles, could save you a lot of grief and misunderstanding. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Neil Young’s Cortez Redux: If you’re a Neil Young fan, check out this 37-minute jam with Crazy Horse built around the song Cortez the Killer.

Twisty Takes on the Anti-Abortion Extremists: A hilarious review in I Blame the Patriarchy of a frightening trend: Criminal regulations designed to coerce and humiliate women into ‘rethinking’ their abortion decisions. She’s such a great writer. Thanks to Liz Henry for the link.

Shit Salt Spring Islanders Say: Also what Bowen Islanders, and most Cascadians who frequent offshore areas, say. Priceless.

Rick Mercer Spoofs Stephen Harper’s Anti-Science Agenda: PMO Scientist Pest Control

For Women Under 30, Most Births Occur Outside Marriage: Interesting review of what this says about 21st century American culture and the ever-growing class divide.

The Unnaturalness of Monogamy: Chris Ryan, co-author of Sex at Dawn, explains why monogamy has only recently become an accepted norm in the human animal, and why it is so unnatural and biologically doesn’t work. Thanks to Cheryl Long for the link.

Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s: An amazing online collection of the photographs of Fred Herzog, an immigrant who came to Vancouver in the middle of the last century and photographed what he saw.


From the Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity:

Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present, the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.

From Sam Rose:

This is where 30 years of political apathy lands us: we get to re-fight the battles and wars that were at least in part won 40 years ago. Everything from your right to clean water, your right to peacefully assemble, your right to organize and collective bargain with an employer, your right to privacy, your right to link to a goddamn website, and your right to decide what to you do with your body are now in question.

From Brian Leli’s Where the Time Goes (thanks to Brian Kerr for the link, and the one that follows):

Life is a place where I am doing time. Nothing more and nothing less. I just want to get on with it and keep getting on with it until my parts break and I am unable to. The way I see it, all the hours and days are going onto a list somewhere. And I take pride in mine. When I reach its end, I want running down it to be like running the Boston marathon. To trudge through line after line of canceled television show, dreary bar, beach vacations and phone conversations would destroy me; then as well as now.

A blank page and a stopwatch. That’s all we get. Until we don’t. What we dreamt of doing doesn’t mean a damn thing.

From Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire:

This is the last age of the world, for we are come as far now as we may along our path from what is natural. We herd and pen the beast that’s born to roam. In huts we cling like snailshells to the fenland that it is in our great-fathers’ way to stride across and then pass by. We cook the blood from out the earth and let it scab to crowns and daggers; pound our straight track through the crooked fields and trade with black-skins. Soon, the oceans rise and take us. Soon, the crashing of the stars.

This entry was posted in Preparing for Civilization's End. Bookmark the permalink.