Archive for January, 2013

Reconciliation. A letter to empire.

I’m not sure how I feel about writing this in the first person.  I’m taking the voice of those who have experienced things I’ll never know, and twisting it for my own ends.  I could write it from the other side, but that voice is in every news story and history book.

This is not my story.  It was told to me by a voice that demands to be heard.

So you want reconciliation?  You really think we can make this relationship work? After all you’ve done?

You came here, onto my land, into my home, you were never invited.  Do you know how important it is here to be invited before going onto someone else’s land?  No, of course you don’t.  You never asked.

You stole everything I have.  My food, my homeland, my family.  My traditions, which have been honoured since the beginning of time.  Even my name.  You destroyed it all.

You raped me, beat me, massacred my people.  You took me as a slave.  You took my children away.  You severed me from the spirits of my ancestors.

You took away my singing, my dancing, my dreaming.  My everything.

You wanted me dead.  Not just dead, extinct.  You wanted all my wisdom, all my history, to be forgotten, forever.

You destroyed my home.  You said it was no good, you’d make me a new one.  Then you made me pay for it.  This is no home, it’s an empty shell.  There is no life, no feeling in it.

And you are always here.

And now you want reconciliation.  You want me to say everything is fine, of course you can stay.  You want me to forgive.  You won’t even acknowledge what you’ve done.  You say you’re sorry, but I know you don’t mean it.  If you were sorry, you’d give back everything you’ve stolen.  If you were sorry, you’d leave.

You abuse me still.  To you it’s normal, it’s the way you are, the way life is.  You don’t hear my cries.  You don’t care at all.

I never chose this relationship.  I never wanted you in my life.  I fought you all the way.  But you were always stronger, more violent.  You had all the weapons.  You took mine away.

I will not reconcile with you.  I will make you leave.  Enough of my people have been killed.  Now it’s your turn.  Leave this land or you will die in it.

Leave this land or you will die in it.

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Who am I, as someone who was born into, and continues to live in the colonist culture, to speak for those abused by this culture?

Yet, who am I, as someone who has heard the stories and views of many indigenous people, to keep these to myself?  They need to be spoken far and wide.

And who am I to silence the voice that told me this story?  This is a voice that demands to be heard.

Degeneration, sustainability and regeneration

 degenerative regenerative

Sustainability is the mid-way point on a scale between degenerative and regenerative.  It’s not an end point of anything.  As an aspiration, its not saying much to achieve sustainability.  For an activity to be sustainable, just means that you can keep doing it over and over again indefinitely.  Its not saying you’re doing it well, just that it can continue to happen.  We can do better than that.  And to aspire to be “more sustainable” is an even lower ambition.  It only requires shifting in the direction of the centre point, without ever intending to reach it.

With sustainability as our greatest ambition, the possibility of doing something well, of healing, repairing, making things better, this isn’t even considered.  More sustainable is just less harmful, it isn’t beneficial to anyone.  To aim for sustainability is to believe that all human activity is harmful, and to aim for the neutral point between harmful and helpful is the best we can do.

Aiming for sustainability rather than regeneration, this is like aiming to improve your state of health from terminal illness to a hardly-better state of being able to continue to live (to sustain life), while still being extremely ill.  As a civilization, we have been so ill for so long that we can’t even imagine being in a state of health, and no longer desire it.  Our illness is our identity.

So lets try for regeneration.  For healing from the sickness.

Regeneration or sustainability can’t be achieved while there is any degenerative activity going on.

So for either of these to be possible, all harmful activity must be stopped first.

To look away from the harm, this is like trying to build more storeys on a building while the ground level is being demolished.  You can’t build something sustainable on a degenerating foundation.  The foundation needs to be repaired first.degeneration graphIf all degenerative activity stops now, this is the range of possible scenarios.  If it doesn’t stop, follow the descending curve to zero.

The graph isn’t an exact measurement of degeneration.  Given that 98 per cent of old growth forests have been destroyed, 94 per cent of large fish in the ocean are gone, and 80 per cent of rivers worldwide no longer support any life, and the rate of destruction increasing exponentially, I’d say it’s a reasonable representation of recent history.

Once degeneration stops, regeneration may happen quickly, or slowly.  The point of no return for the complete collapse of the biosphere may have already passed.

Degenerative is anything that destroys life at a greater speed that it replenishes it.  This includes mining, manufacturing, commercial fishing, land clearing, agriculture, war, cities, dams, and anything that doesn’t enhance life.

Regeneration is the return to life, the recovery that happens when harm stops.  This part’s easy, life regenerates by itself.

No one person, or one community, can be sustainable while the rest of the world burns.  We all live on the same planet.  Act local, sure, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

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Footnote rant about sustainability:

Products that claim to be sustainable are nothing of the sort anyway.  They are responsible for just as much pollution and resource use as any alternative, they just hide it better.  Think solar and wind energy, cloth shopping bags, bamboo fibre, recycling, light bulbs, shower heads, and imported organic foods.  Sustainable is just a marketing ploy to appeal to a certain target market.  It’s about the image of being “green”, which has no connection to reality.  Even if these products were less harmful, something has still been destroyed in the making.  You can’t make something out of nothing.  The only way a product could ever be sustainable is if plants or animals are harvested from the wild at a lesser rate than they reproduce, and any processing is done with hand-made tools, and the product is transported by walking only.  Good luck making a sustainable solar panel.

Why did the Australian aborigines never adopt agriculture?

Why did the Australian aborigines never develop agriculture?

This question was posed in the process of designing an indigenous food garden, and I could hear the underlying assumptions of the enquirer in his tone.  Our culture teaches that agriculture is a more desirable way to live than hunting and gathering, and agriculturalist is more intelligent and more highly evolved than a hunter gatherer.

These assumptions can only be made by someone indoctrinated by civilization.  It’s a limited way to look at the world.

I was annoyed by question, and judged the person asking it as ignorant of history and other cultures, and unimaginative.  Since many would fit this label, I figured I’m better off answering the question.

This only takes some basic logic and imagination, I have no background in anthropology or whatever it is that would qualify someone to claim authority on this subject.  You could probably formulate an explanation by asking yourself: How and why would anyone develop agriculture?

First consider the practicalities of a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

What plants would be domesticated?  What animals?  What tools would they use?  How would they irrigate?

Why would anyone bother domesticating anything that is plentiful in the wild?

To domesticate a plant takes many generations (plant generations, and human generations) of selecting the strongest specimens, propagating them in one place, caring for them, protecting them from animals and people, from the rain and wind and sun, keeping the seeds safe.  This would be incredibly difficult to do, it would take a lot of dedication, not just from one person but a whole tribe for generations.  If your lifestyle is nomadic, because food is available in different places in different seasons, there is no reason to make the effort to domesticate a plant.

Agriculture is high-risk.  There are a lot of things that could destroy a whole crop, and your whole food supply for the year, as well as your seed stock for the next.  A storm, flood, fire, plague of insects, browsing mammals, neighbouring tribes, lack of rain, disease, and no doubt many other factors.  A huge amount of work is invested in something that is likely to fail, which would then cause a whole community to starve, if there isn’t a back-up of plentiful food in the wild.

Agriculture is insecure.  People in agricultural societies live in fear of crop failure, as this is their only source of food.  The crops must be defended.  The tools, food storage, water supply and houses must also be defended, and maintained.  Defended from people, animals, and insects.  Growing and storing all your food in one place would attract all of these.  Defence requires weapons, and work.

Agriculture requires settlement.  The tribe must stay in one place. They cannot leave, even briefly, as there is constant maintenance and defending to do.  Settlements then need their own infrastructure:  toilets, water supply, houses, trading routes as not all the food needs can be met from within the settlement.  Diseases spread in settled areas.

Aboriginal people travel often, and for long periods of time.  Agriculture is not compatible with this way of life.

Agriculture is a lot of work.  The farmers must check on the crop regularly, destroy diseased plants, remove weeds, irrigate, replant, harvest, save seeds, and store the crop.  Crops generally are harvested for only a few weeks or months in the year, and if they are a staple, must be stored safely and be accessible for the rest of the year.

Domesticated animals require fencing, or tethering, or taming.  They would be selectively bred for docility, which is a weakness not a strength, so a domesticated animal would be less healthy than a wild animal.

The people too become domesticated and lose strength with the introduction of agriculture.  The wild intelligence needed to hunt and gather would be lost, as would the relationships with the land and other beings.

Agriculture requires a belief in personal property, boundaries, and land ownership.  Australian aborigines knew that the land owned the people, not the other way around, so would never have treated the land in this way.

Agriculture needs a social hierarchy, where some people must work for others, who have more power by having more wealth.  The landowner would have the power to supply or withhold food.  Living as tribal groups, aborigines probably wouldn’t have desired this social structure.

Cultivated food has less nutrition than wild food.  Agriculturalists limit their diet to plants and animals that can easily be domesticated, so lose the diversity of tastes and nutrients that make for an ideal human diet.  Fenced or caged animals can only eat what is fed to them, rather than forage on a variety of foods, according to their nutritional needs.  Domesticated plants only access the nutrients from the soil in the field, which becomes more depleted with every season’s crop.  Irrigation causes plants to not send out long roots to find water, so domesticated plants are weaker than wild plants.

Agriculture suggests a belief that the world is not good enough as it is, and humans need to change it.  A land populated with gods, spirits or ancestors may not want to be damaged, dug, ploughed and irrigated.

Another thought is that agriculture may develop from a belief in scarcity – that there is not enough food and it is a resource that needs to be secured.  Indigenous belief systems value food plants and animals as kin to be in relationship with, rather than resources to exploit.

Agriculture isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.  Indigenous tribes engage with the landscape in ways that encourage growth of food plants.  People gather seeds of food plants and scatter them in places they are likely to grow.  Streams are diverted to encourage plant growth.  Early explorers witnessed aboriginal groups planting and irrigating wild rice.  Tribes in North Queensland were in contact with Torres Strait Islanders who practiced gardening, but chose not to take this up on a large scale themselves.

A few paragraphs from Tim Low’s Wild Food Plants of Australia:

“The evidence from the Torres Strait begs the question of why aborigines did not adopt agriculture.  Why should they?  The farming life can be one of dull routine, a monotonous grind of back-breaking labour as new fields are cleared, weeds pulled and earth upturned.  The farmer’s diet is usually less varied, and not always reliable, and the risk of infectious disease is higher…It is not surprising that throughout the world many cultures spurned agriculture.

“Explorer Major Mitchell wrote in 1848: ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilized men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilized earth to forsake it for tilled soil.’ ”

After all this, I’m amazed that anyone ever developed agriculture.  The question of why Australian aborigines never developed agriculture is easily answered and not as interesting as the question it brings up for me: why did twentieth century westerners never develop hunter-gatherer lifestyles?

The twin sides of the fossil-fuel coin – climate change and energy decline

Guy McPherson presents some projections for an economic crash, peak oil effects and climate change impacts in the near future.  Total economic collapse is expected within months, and climate change expected to lead to the extinction of all sea and land life (yes, that does include you) and leave the planet without oxygen, by 2050.

Resistance to global power structures is the only strategy available to us that could save at least some living beings from this annihilation.  Sustainable living, renewable energy, nonviolent protest, or a few cans of beans in the pantry, won’t help anyone.  Guy doesn’t say this.  He says plant a radish.  I don’t reckon a radish would be at all useful in the face of total global destruction.  Let’s start thinking outside the vegie garden box.

from Nature Bats Last