Thursday, December 12, 2013

Design, Rather Than Permaculture, May Be The Problem Word

I listened to this interview of Dave Jacke, and I found myself thinking that, while I understood his objections to the word 'permaculture,' the real problem in communicating meaning may come with the more common word, design.

Dave Jacke's problem with the word permaculture is first that no culture can be permanent. This is an understandable objection, because it is true. Most permaculture advocates though, still think along old environmentalist population control lines, and I think this is part of the problem. If you want culture, whether it is a forest, or high civilization, you need a people to manage it. Other people are not going to manage it, so it is a mistake to look at the rest of the nine billion or so people on the planet and say, I need to limit my population size. No, you need children, children who learn from you, care enough to keep your food forest, farm, or the Mississippi River Valley cultured the way you want it. The culture may not be permanent, but it can last a long time if this is done. The supposed perma in permaculture is far less problematic falsehood than the images of design in modern culture, especially since one can cast permanence as a hope- something the people involved are trying for rather than casting it as a lie, because it only becomes a lie if people give up and stop working with nature again.

Kanye West thinks he's a designer. Le Corbusier was a designer. Design in the Western world is egoism.

Permaculture, Holistic Management, Christopher Alexander, and no doubt more are about humility.

The meek shall inherit the earth.

So, the humble go out, observe nature, and try to do whatever it is they are doing based on their observations and the subsequent feedback that they get.
This is extremely different from most designers. The closest one could get to this in mainstream design is the occasional industrial designer who figures out how to improve form via thinking about function. There is humility in focusing on function, but then industry churns out untold numbers of these designed things without regard to whether or not they actually fit the person they are sold to.

Dave Jacke also had problems with the over-selling of permaculture. Also a very true thing. There's a hippy version of the glorious paradise going on in places, but then, Kanye West thinks everything would be better if it were 'architected.' Okay, maybe I'm picking on Kanye; there are certainly plenty of upper middle class white people who think design is going to save the world- they tend to use Apple products. Design has been over-sold, probably by more people than have even heard of the word permaculture.

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