Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Sincerest Form of Reverence

I’ve commented more than once in these essays about the mismatch between history as it happens and history as it’s finally written down after the fact. Events that seem to pile up on top of one another in the history books are usually experienced, by the people who were there at the time, as widely spaced threads in a fabric woven mostly of the ordinary occurrences of daily life. Even when drastic changes break over a civilization, the people who are affected normally have to spend so much time scrambling to make ends meet that the scale of the transformation becomes evident only in retrospect.

I’ve come to think we’re in the middle of such a process right now. Recent headlines note events that most people would have considered cataclysmic not that long ago. The price of oil is bouncing along above $80 a barrel, the International Energy Agency has now admitted that peak oil happened in 2006, the United States is openly covering its debts by means of the printing press, and agricultural commodity prices have jolted upwards to unprecedented levels under the paired pressures of an increasingly unstable climate and a disintegrating global economic system, just for starters.

If I’d presented a scenario for 2010 ten years ago that included these details, most people who read it would have dismissed me as a wild-eyed prophet of doom. Yet here we are, and most of us in America, at least, are paying more attention to the upcoming holidays than we are to the accelerating dissolution of the only world most of us have known, and the rapid approach of a future that a great many of us will find very unwelcome indeed.

Still, this is normal. The human mind does not readily grasp the perspectives of deep time; it takes a fair amount of study and practice to get to that inner state where the mind slips free from the tyranny of daily life and grasps time on the grand scale. That inner state has been an option for a very long time; Mayan itz’atob, to name only one example from the past, were perfectly able to apply their knowledge of observational astronomy to time here on earth, and imagine a past that reached back over quite impressive periods and a future that stretches for millennia beyond the 2012 bak’tun-rollover that’s attracting so much undeserved attention these days. I doubt that such perspectives were easy to achieve then; they certainly aren’t easy for most people now; but they’re crucial for this week’s post, which focuses on one way that green wizards can take part in the process of evolution.

I use that word with a great deal of trepidation. There may be other concepts that have been as heavily frosted with myth, misunderstanding, ideological static and sheer unadulterated drivel, but just at the moment I can’t think of one. Our culture’s obsession with a Utopian future has turned Darwin’s simple and elegant insight into a shuttlecock batted back and forth by a flurry of ineptly handled intellectual rackets; believers in progress equate it with their notion of a future of infinite improvement, believers in apocalypse treat it as a flat denial of their faith in a future where everyone who disagrees with them will be roadkill on history’s highway, and a great many people who don’t manage to fall into either camp seem to have lost track of the fact that it means much of anything at all.

My favorite example is still the woman who put up her hand at the end of a talk of mine in a small and very liberal Left Coast town and said, “But don’t you think that children are so much more evolved than adults?” It took a few baffled questions on my part to figure out that by “evolved” she meant “nice,” from which I gathered she hadn’t spent much time around children lately. When I suggested that she might consider reading Darwin’s The Origin of Species before using the word “evolution” again, she looked horrified and asked, “Do I have to?”

Evidently so. In fact, I don’t think it’s going too far to ask my readers – especially those engaged in the Green Wizards project – to follow the same advice. Darwin was a more than capable writer; his The Voyage of the Beagle counts as one of the classics of travel literature; his scientific works are written in a more discursive and formal style than their modern equivalents, and this can take a bit of getting used to, at least for people – the majority these days, one gathers – who don’t usually read books older than they are. Still, The Origin of Species is not an intolerably long book. It can be read in a few evenings, and it’s worth investing that much time to watch the foundation of today’s life sciences being built by one of the modern world’s great minds.

Now it’s true, of course, that some of the details of Darwin’s theory have had to be changed since his time, as more evidence has come in. This doesn’t make The Origin of Species any less worth reading. There’s much to be learned, in fact, by treating the theory of evolution as an example of the process it describes: the intellectual mutation set in motion by Darwin’s work spawned a flurry of variations, which were then sorted out by the selective pressures of further research. As Thomas Kuhn pointed out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the same process can be traced all through intellectual history – one piece of evidence among many that evolution, in something like the sense Darwin gave the word, is a basic property of all complex systems.

One of those complex systems is the one we’ve been discussing in the last dozen or so posts, the backyard organic food garden. One of the first and most crucial things to keep in mind about that system is that it’s an ecosystem like any other; like many ecosystems, it’s primarily shaped by the actions of a single species, which in this case happens to be yours. This last point is sometimes exaggerated into the claim that a garden is somehow separate from Nature or wholly subject to human will, which is nonsense; that might be the case if you were growing your plants in a sterile growth medium sealed off from the rest of the world – a bad idea under almost any conditions, and particularly so in an age of diminishing energy and resource availability.

A more useful way to think of a garden, rather, is to compare it to those East African forests that are primarily shaped by the presence and activities of elephants, say, or the tallgrass prairies in North America that took their basic ecological beat from the pounding hooves of the buffalo. No boundary separates such ecosystems from the rest of Nature; countless other organisms evolve ways to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by the dominant species, which coevolves in turn to benefit from, or at least not get clobbered by, the other species in the ecosystem. It’s not the only way to run an ecosystem – there are plenty of ecosystems that have no single dominant species – but it’s tolerably common, and very often highly successful.

That’s what a garden is, when it’s worked in harmony with local environments and natural cycles; there’s nothing uniquely human about it at all. The one wild card is that human beings have pushed the trick of transmitting behavior by learning rather than instinct about as far as it can go, and a lot of our behaviors – in and out of gardens – thus can change far faster than the glacial pace of natural selection would permit. That’s our great strength as a species, and it’s also our greatest weakness; what it means in practice is that, on the downside, we can never be sure how well our learned behaviors are suited to the demands of our environment, and on the upside, if we pay attention to nature we can pick up useful behaviors in a tiny fraction of the time it would take for those same behaviors to get established as instinct by natural selection.

That’s also what a garden is or, rather, what gardening is. Human beings have been a dominant species in most environments since we spread out of Africa most of a million years ago; despite fashionable claims to the contrary, successful hunter-gatherer societies manage their environments, using fire and many other methods to encourage natural food production and discourage competition by other living things. What marked the shift from hunter-gatherer to tribal horticultural economies was not a change from blissful dependence on Nature’s bounty to brutal manipulation of the Earth, but rather a shift from one mode of ecological management to another, more sophisticated one. The key to the latter wasn’t planting things where they don’t grow naturally – archeological evidence shows that this was already being done in the Paleolithic – but taking a conscious role in the process of coevolution mentioned above. Instead of taking seeds from wild plants and scattering them in new places, as many hunter-gatherer cultures do, they began selecting seeds that had desirable properties and breeding new varieties of plants for their own uses.

Does that sound daunting? If you save the seeds of your own vegetables and replant them in your garden, you’re already doing it. Those seeds that don’t thrive well enough in your garden’s conditions to produce plants healthy enough to set seed themselves are being removed from the gene pool in the usual way; if you’ve got the sense the gods gave geese, you’re saving seeds from the healthiest and most productive plants, too, which means you’ve become an agent of natural selection, tilting the playing field in true Darwinian fashion in favor of the most viable variations.

It really is as simple as that. As I mentioned in last week’s post, saving seeds can be a good deal more complicated than it looks at first glance. Breeding new varieties of plants, by contrast, is a good deal less complicated than it looks; once you’ve worked out the details of saving seeds, all you need to do is pay attention, and you’re on your way. You aren’t going to create a new species, since you don’t have a million years or so to work on it, but you can certainly contribute to the genetic diversity and regional appropriateness of the species you’ve got.

This can be done equally well with perennial plants, and it can also be done with animals. Each of these have wrinkles of their own. Breeding perennials is generally a slow process, though this depends on the plant in question – when you plant an asparagus crown, for example, you normally have to wait for the third season thereafter to harvest asparagus spears and find out how they taste, so breeding a better asparagus is not a project to attempt in a hurry. Animals – at least the small and edible kind that make sense in a backyard garden – breed annually, and so developing your own breed is very much an option; you’ll need to learn something about genetics, but since most of your rabbits are going onto the menu before they breed anyway, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to select the traits you want to develop and exclude (and serve up for dinner) the ones you don’t.

If you decide to pursue this end of green wizardry at anything beyond the simplest level, The Origin of Species will become one of your better resources. Here as elsewhere in the Green Wizards project, the key to success is to figure out the way Nature does things, and copy her shamelessly. Just as, among human beings, imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery, I’ve come to think that when dealing with Nature, imitation may just be the sincerest form of reverence; put another way, it’s by learning Nature’s ways and adopting them as a basis for our own that we become better able to benefit ourselves and the biosphere at once.

Resources

The only worthwhile book I know on breeding your own vegetable varieties is Carol Deppe’s classic book, which sensibly enough is titled Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. Information on developing varieties of trees, vines, and other perennials can also be found in the more comprehensive books on individual crops, and those who are interested in breeding animals will find the information they need in books covering individual species. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species begins with a thoughtful chapter on the variations of domesticated species, and while it’s not a practical manual for the breeder, the principles Darwin sketches out in this book ought to be kept in mind by any green wizard.

50 comments:

beneaththesurface said...

Very insightful post. I too have observed how the word "evolution" has been used interchangeably with other words, such as "progress," that at least to me, have completely different meanings.

I am partway through your book The Long Descent (the chapter I've found most insightful and thought-provoking was The Stories We Tell Ourselves). But I've decided that the next book I'm going to read will be the techno-optimist's "The Singularity Is Near" (I'm sure you've heard off him). Why? Well, I'm afraid that find I almost solely read books that already coincide more-or-less with my worldview, and I think it might actually be stimulating for my thought process to read something a bit different. I too am very interested in cultural narratives and how they shape visions of the future, so in that sense, reading Ray Kurzweil's book is away for me to explore that. Also, I recently learned that a good friend of mine (whose visions of the future are very robot-filled) had read it and was comfortable with a lot of its conclusions, so it will give me a chance to have an interesting debate with him. (Actually the image of both you and Kurzweil in the same room attempting to have a debate was an amusing one that also came to mind : )

I agree how most people are not fully aware of major changes happening around them as they go through daily life. I, however, sometimes feel I have the opposite problem. My daily thoughts tend to be of a "big picture" nature...Wherever I am, I'm imagining the scene as it might be viewed from someone living 100 years into the future. This is not bad, but sometimes I have trouble focusing on the importance of the "little" picture too. Like growing a garden or learning a very particular skill. I guess it's a useful art to be able to focus on both the "little" and the "big" simultaneously...

Ryan said...

I must say that I do enjoy (and admire) the way you can bring a discussion on Darwin and evolution right back into the garden. I'll now be looking for both of the books by Darwin that you mention. It seems amazing to me that I have never read them.

I think I know which Left Coast liberal town you are referring to.

The Onion said...

This idea of relating so many things back to the home garden is quite interesting. In the future, if we have trouble funding formal schools, the home garden would serve as a nice laboratory for subjects from arts to, well, evolution.

It's as nice a place as any to have a 'kindergarten'.

John Michael Greer said...

Beneath, by all means read Kurzweil; the last thing I want is for people to accept what I say on my say-so. Myself, I see Kurzweil's claims as a rehash of Christian apocalyptic beliefs in sci-fi drag, but I'm sure he has equally uncomplimentary opinions of my views.

Ryan, you're in for a treat. As for the left coast liberal town, well, yes, you probably do.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

"nice" - I'm still smirking about that one. Children make poor company and I see few parents living their own lives. The parents seem to prefer a competitive and yet isolated existence. Very sad...

It's interesting that you write about complexity because I was having a discussion about it the other day and it was eventually agreed upon that complexity leads to apathy.

I'm interested in your point of view because I've noticed recently that in our society we seem to be increasingly subject to complex regulations. This happens for all sorts of reasons such as professional or trade capture (which is a profit driven motive) and regulatory capture (such as building controls) etc.

As the level of complexity increases though, peoples ability to cope across a wide range of issues becomes lower and thus they slip into apathy. Well, that's what I'm seeing at the moment. I'm also thinking that the incidence of this follows an inverted bell shape curve and we may be somewhere near the peak of that at the moment. Regulations are there for a reason, but it is the enforcement of those regulations that determine their level of effectiveness. I've also noticed that dysfunctional rules directly lead to dysfunctional behaviours.

It seems that this is a problem of wealthy societies (in my mind anyway), much like many of the other issues that we face at the moment. As I've stated before though, nature will sort out most of these concerns in time as the economic underpinnings of society begin to be undermined.

Another aspect of my above concerns is that it results in a mindset of fear. People become fearful with making bad decisions and end up making no decision.

This does relate to this weeks topic too! I say this because I still get people (who have never had their hands in the soil, let alone planted anything) be all to happy to give me advice about orchards and yet do nothing themselves. I'm usually very polite and listen even when the evidence is to the contrary.

A garden is like a huge experiment with nature. The best outcome is to take information from all areas and just keep experimenting and observing to see what works for your area. There is no substitute for experience and observation.

Good luck!

Sean Strange said...

John Michael, this comment is a bit off-topic, but since you’ve brought up Darwin, I’m curious about your general attitude toward science and technology. Most of your writing seems to be in favor of a return to older, less technologically complex modes of life, yet I know that you as a practicing magician must respect the wizardry that has made the modern world possible.

Have you tried visualizing a future that incorporates both advanced technology and “magical thinking”? This is where I see things going – to a worldview that is neither strictly materialistic nor a return to pre-Enlightenment conditions. I suspect that the rather linear-minded, materialistic types who project doom at places like the Oil Drum are going to be rather surprised when their Malthusian predictions fail yet again. And I suspect that it will be wizards of science and invention, in the tradition of Newton, Tesla and Jack Parsons, who once again change the rules of the game and render such predictions absurd, as they have throughout history.

I can’t prove any of this, it’s just an intuition or a vision I have. I see no contradiction between Green Wizardry and Kurzweilian Singularitarians myself – both are valid and compatible ways of imagining the future. My problem is with people who get stuck in a very uncreative “doomer” narrative and insist that it’s the only possible future. I can imagine much more interesting futures myself, and as all magicians know, the key to making changes in the material world is to first imagine them in your mind.

tel said...

Petr Kropotkin's Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution is a good companion to On the Origin of Species. popular understanding of evolution seems to focus almost exclusively on competition between individuals and species. I would guess that Kropotkin's alternative will have much more thouhtful gardeners.

Kieran said...

@The Onion: It's worth noting that Gregor Mendel, a contemporary of Darwin and posthumously regarded as the father of genetics, came to his laws of inheritance while breeding peas at his abbey.

@JMG: The paragraphs about thinking longer-term made me think of these guys (whose work I try to follow): http://www.longnow.org/

Their 10,000 year clock may seem hubristic, but the thinking processes it stimulates are inspiring.

Jason said...

How I wish that adolescent fool, Derrick Jensen, who is leading so many astray, could read this post. (Still I can link it wherever Jensenites gather.) So many value judgments about 'evil' agriculture are so lazily made by so many today, in an attempt to 'solve' the future just by being miserable enough about the past... it would do them good to read this nice summary of how strongly evidence is against them.

For a good counterbalancing view on Darwin the man, though, and an interesting one, I recommend Patrick Harpur's The Philosopher's Secret Fire.

blueridge said...

One practical problem with attempting to develop your own "land races" of vegetables is that you need to limit yourself to starting with a single variety of that plant in your garden. If you plant multiple varieties (we usually put in lots of tomatoe varieties) you will wind up with seeds that are mixtures of the parents. Unless you have a huge garden, it's not really practical to plant hundreds of mixed-parentage tomatoe seeds and see which has desirable traits.

I believe that we have even had zuccini squashes pollinated by nearby pumpkin plants - some volunteer seeds came up the following year with combined traits (and a poor flavor) that I called a pumpkini.

Don Plummer said...

Oh, the misunderstandings surrounding Darwin's elegant, and truly simple, observations!

Some of my students this quarter are studying nature writers for a research essay. At least one of them is researching and writing about Darwin. Last weekend I read drafts of their essays, and when I got to the Darwin essay, I read something about Darwin's discussing how DNA is recombined and genetic diversity maintained from generation to generation.

Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhh!!!!! I wrote in the margin that Darwin knew nothing about DNA or its role in heredity, since that wasn't discovered until much later. And Georg Mendel was still doing his research with pea plants when Origin of Species was published, so Darwin didn't know about genetics, either.

The students are supposed to read excerpts of the writings of these nature writers. I wonder if this student has read anything of Darwin's yet.

I need to read Voyage of the Beagle.

Bill Pulliam said...

blueridge --

If you start with heirloom varieties, they will have some residual genetic diversity in them to give you some starting material. It also helps to start with varieties that already do well in your garden and produce crops that fits your specific needs and wants, of course!

You don't necessarily need to plant hundreds of outcrossed plants for a breeding program. You can just plant a few and look for the happy happenstance. Remember that if you cross two (non-hybrid) varieties, the first generation will all be fairly similar, but it is the SECOND generation that will be all over the map and let you start selecting from a real range of types. Some will be complete duds bordering on inedible, but some might surprise you! If you plant just 6 each year and select the seeds from the one you like best, you can accomplish quite a lot.

Tomatoes (and a variety of other plants) mostly self pollinate; if you want to make hybrids you need to do some technical manipulation of the flowers.

Bill Pulliam said...

Some basic things to remind yourself of when you think about biological evolution:

Every living thing on the planet is equally "evolved," since we all sprang from the same common ancestor the same number of billions of years ago.

Biologist do not (now) use terms like "advanced." We will refer to an organism or a trait as being more "derived," meaning that it is more different than some ancestral form. A parasite that consists of nothing but a sack, a gut, and some gonads, having lost all appendages, sensory organs, breathing apparatus, etc., is very highly derived. Would you consider it "more advanced?"

Our own form is not that highly derived in many ways. We are called "primates" because our feet (hands) and teeth are not very different from the basic proto-mammalian body form. Look at your hand -- the "primitive" five digits, all similar in size and shape, all the usual bones, just one digit that is kind of stumpy and able to move in a funny way. It is much less derived than a horse's hoof or a bat's wing. So are we less evolved and less advanced than bats and horses? This is why these terms are useless; actually worse than useless, they are misleading and impede understanding.

BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION HAS NO GOAL, AND NO HIERARCHY.

hawlkeye said...

"I’ve come to think that when dealing with Nature, imitation may just be the sincerest form of reverence; put another way, it’s by learning Nature’s ways and adopting them as a basis for our own that we become better able to benefit ourselves and the biosphere at once."

Imitation could well be flattery and reverence both, but copying nature's ways is not yet the fork in the evolutionary road. That's still modern human interpretation of nature based on our limited understanding of it as a world put here for us to use as WE see fit.

Which is where our awareness remains as long as we view nature to be merely the bio-mechanical substrate upon which we construct our little heavens and hells.

Even the best-intentioned apple tree planter says "my tree, my yard, my plan; you grow HERE now" and no matter how many thousands I've paid for my permaculture certificate, I'm still a human manipulating the elements of my life support. Thinking that's ALL we can do is a dead end. What does the tree think about it? Where would the yard want the tree to be? Is it really my business alone?

I'm suggesting, no, insisting I suppose, that "nature" is intelligent and has its own point of view, one we can access and include in our human plans. Of course our atrocious, toxic, and corrosive industrial existence must cease. But it won't get any better just by pretending our playing with the building blocks is just a little more informed.

We need to grow beyond the manipulation of nature, however benign we might imagine that to be, and begin to co-operate as partners with the vital intelligence within all species.

I've gotten used to blowback from materialists about this, but isn't co-operating with the intelligence of nature a druid perspective?

I sincerely hope my insistence doesn't brand me a troll and get me blacklisted from the discussion.

John Michael Greer said...

Onion, as Charles Fort said, one can draw a circle beginning anywhere; a garden's as good a place as I can think of!

Cherokee, I'm not sure how much of the complexity of rulemaking is a cause of apathy, fear, and confusion, how much is an effect of these things, and to what extent both of them are products of other causes entirely. Still, shifting focus from the realm of excess regulations to some simpler and less controlled field of action is a good way to start regaining some sense of meaning.

Sean, that's an enormously complex question, not least because "science and technology" isn't one thing, or even two, but a flurry of different things lumped together for reasons that are not always straightforward or honest. The very short form, though, is that I see "science and technology" as a good servant, a bad master, and an even worse religion. To my mind, Kurzweil is treating it as a religion, and loading it with the same hopes of salvation evangelical Christians place on the Second Coming -- he's even got the Rapture in his mythos, in the form of uploading selves into robot bodies to enjoy eternal bliss in heaven -- er, outer space.

I've discussed the prospects for a society that uses relatively high technology on a sustainable basis in my book The Ecotechnic Future, which might be worth a glance. Still, there's a very large gap between Kurzweil's views and mine, and it's measured in the recognition -- which is central to traditional magical philosophy, by the way -- that limits exist, and that "that can't be done" is also a valid form of knowledge.

Tel, thanks for the recommendation.

Kieran, I have mixed feelings about the Long Now Foundation, but you're right -- at least they're making a very serious effort to think in the timeframes that matter.

Jason, Jensen is neither adolescent nor a fool. I see him as one of the most skilled propagandists of our time, remarkably adept at pushing the emotional buttons of today's self-proclaimed progressives and convincing a surprisingly large number of them to sign onto an agenda that most of them would reject with horror -- and deservedly so -- if they grasped its implications.

That's not to say I find Jensen's views palatable. The word "evil" is not one I use lightly, but it's hard to discuss Jensen's advocacy of violence and mass death in any other way. How many times do we have to hear somebody insist that X is so awful that any act is justified in opposition to it, before we grasp the fallacy there?

Blueridge, that's possible. I'd also check into the possibility that the zucchini seeds were from hybrids, which don't breed true and often turn out inedible results.

Don, argghhh indeed. This is why I keep on encouraging people to read books older than they are, and get used to the fact that ideas have a history.

Bill, good advice! Many thanks.

Stuart Pollack said...

Carol Deppe has a new website, http://CarolDeppe.com

She also has a new book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times
I've read it, and recommend it highly.

I also have a (long) thought about breeding backyard poultry.

Most people today obtain new poultry from commercial hatcheries as day-old chicks. The hatcheries incubate their eggs in large electric incubators by the hundred, or thousand at a time.

This creates two potential problems for those concerned with a low-tech future. One, we may not always have access to electricity to power these incubators. And two, the process of allowing all of the young chicks to be mechanically incubated leaves the mother hens, ducks, etc, out of the process. The mothering traits, broodiness, and the instincts to raise and protect young chicks, may or may not be passed on to offspring in this type of selection process, and in practice, it is often bred out of the hatchery raised poultry.

I found this lack of good mothering in the first poultry that I purchased some years back, even in breeds that were known for good mothers. I found, quite by accident, that when different breeds crossed, their offspring often had the good mothering traits that the parents lacked. In my case, I crossed Buff Orpingtons with Red Dorkings, and got a very desirable new breed. I've talked to others who raise poultry and they have experienced similar results with their birds.

And if you haven't raised poultry, but have thought through the process I outlined above, you will want to create your new breed of poultry while you still have electricity. The first few generations of the birds I raised--because they were not good mothers--required me to hatch out the eggs in a small electric incubator.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, I've been saying these things here and elsewhere for quite a while now. The point I'd make, though, is that in pragmatic terms -- not absolute ones -- and within a particular context, one set of adaptations can be better than another, and natural selection tends to select for those. As, of course, does the variety of natural selection we call "breeding plants and animals."

Hawlkeye, no, you're not being a troll, and I sympathize with the point you're making. The art of cooperating with the intelligence in nature is the endpoint at which green wizardry aims, but it's not something that can be achieved easily, and -- crucially -- there's a huge amount of self-deception and delusion surrounding that concept in practice these days. There are far too many people who have taught themselves to mistake their own psychological projections for the voice of Nature, or God, or what have you, and far too few who have learned the necessary skills of discernment and self-analysis to get anywhere useful with this. Learning to learn from nature, to imitate nature, and to move in some sort of balance with nature are early steps on the path to what you're suggesting, and "one step at a time" is good advice here.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

Dear JMG,

I'm with you all the way--read Darwin, Thoreau and Aldo Leopold during one year in late adolescence and have been off the beaten path ever since. Books do change lives.

Agree with you about the long view and the garden as not separate from nature.

As I've mentioned before, I grow many perennials: native berry bushes, herbs, rhubarb--but will try at least some tomatoes next year.

Bill P.: Thanks for the info on evolution and terminology. Very helpful.

Don P.: Oh the struggles to get students to read, much less think! I try to help the more receptive ones along as much as I can and the less engaged--well maybe some day they'll wake up. Two of my students keep chickens in urban gardens, and have shared their knowledge with the class, which helps enlarge everyone's perspective.

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG -- one apparent difference between consciously-human-directed selection versus the kind that happens without direct conscious intervention:

Natural selection, being non-anticipatory and non-goal-oriented, won't produce any "intermediates" or "transitional forms" that are not adaptive in their contemporary circumstances. In other words, you can't go through a step that requires sacrifices in functionality and fitness in order to get to a more functional and more fit point later on. In principle, humans directing selection can do this. If you wanted a blue tomato, and you figured out that the only way to get thee was through a step that was going to barely be able to survive and reproduce, you could work through this. But in reality, two things to consider:

-- We really know so little about the integrated function of whole organisms at every one of the myriad levels that we aren't likely to actually be able to anticipate these sorts of stages and steps that might get us to a desired end.

-- These "less fit" intermediates are not actually "less fit" since by deliberately selecting for them you have actually made them "more fit" than their seemingly "better" competitors.

So a chicken with a 2 foot neck might seem ridiculously unfit on the face of it, but if it is what you want and you are selecting for it and preferentially helping the strange freakish beasts to survive and reproduce, then they really are "more fit" in their environment so long as you remain around to care for them!

Don't know if this is really relevant to small farmers and gardeners managing their own crops' genetics, of course...

Jason said...

@JMG: Jason, Jensen is neither adolescent nor a fool. I see him as one of the most skilled propagandists of our time... The word "evil" is not one I use lightly, but it's hard to discuss Jensen's advocacy of violence and mass death in any other way. How many times do we have to hear somebody insist that X is so awful that any act is justified in opposition to it, before we grasp the fallacy there?

You and I simply have different definitions of adolescence and foolishness. I don't disagree with your use of the term 'evil' -- I've compared the logic of Al Qaeda attacks to Jensen's ideas before now -- but ultimately his 'skilled propaganda' only appeals to others who also are similarly adolescent and foolish, in the specific sense of considering wounded rage to be a sound basis for planning the future of humanity, which is the way an adolescent thinks. Jensen's persona is precisely that of the wounded adolescent emo -- that is the nature of his 'sincerity', such as it is. To substitute skilled whining for sound judgment is a common gambit in teen culture.

Houyhnhnm said...

It can be read in a few evenings,

Andy Brown said...

In studying anthropology we were expected to understand the term "teleology," and to carefully distinguish between processes that were teleological - that is they had a particular end built into them (like human planning) - and those that weren't (like biological evolution). But there is something in the human mind that loves the idea of destiny, and that, as much as anything else, ensures that most people don't understand evolution.

Of course, selective breeding fudges that distinction, and offers the easy path to talking with people about some aspects of this. But I'd like to turn the Darwinian lens back up from the garden for a sec, just to note that I appreciate your tolerance toward the other authors and experimenters out there. Given the uncertainties about what is coming (and thus the uncertainties about what will turn out to be "fit") diversity in our experiments will be the key to surviving the selective pressures that are about to come to bear.

That said, there's something un-specialized, opportunistic and rat-like to the Green Wizard approach that makes it seem like a good bet for part of the survival mix.

Fmagyar said...

"Still, The Origin of Species is not an intolerably long book. It can be read in a few evenings, and it’s worth investing that much time to watch the foundation of today’s life sciences being built by one of the modern world’s great minds."

Well I can attest to the fact that it's a considerably easier read than say, Gould's rather hefty tome, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory >;^)

Having said that, I must say I've almost resigned myself to the fact that most people won't take the time to read much of anything these days, because if they did, they might have to engage in, oh, horror of horrors, some critical thinking... god forbid!

idiotgrrl said...

Extremely OT, but - I followed a link to the Druid Order from your page and was surprised to find that one of the prominent druids had the same magical usename as I do! Same spelling, even, except that mine begins with the word "the." [I do want to assure the Druids that I came up with it entirely independently!]

Small world, isn't it?

The Grey Badger [female, BTW]

John Michael Greer said...

Stuart, this is fascinating. Please post this on the Green Wizards forum if you have the chance! (Same goes for other practical suggestions -- this is the sort of thing we're trying to collect there.)

Adrian, that's a great triad of books! We're in the process of revising the core curriculum of our study program at AODA, and Aldo Leopold is certainly being added to the mix.

Bill, well put -- especially the note about human selection making the apparently "unfit" fit in the very specific context of being selected out for, say, blueness. That's exactly the sense I hoped to communicate -- that deliberately breeding a plant, say, is simply a subset of ordinary evolution, skewed by the odd selective pressures of human beings with weird ideas.

Jason, well, I'm not going to argue. I have to admit the phrase "skilled whining" is one of the more unusual expressions I've run across recently!

Houyhnhnm, indeed it can.

Andy, exactly. You get today's gold star, for catching that the logic behind the strategy of dissensus that's central to the Green Wizards project is exactly that of Darwinian evolution.

Fmagyar, oh, I know it's probably a lost cause, but I can't resist luring the innocent with old books!

TGB, that's fascinating. The Grey Badger I know among the Druids is short, plump, genial, and fond of good scotch; if that also describes you, I'm going to start wondering about the relationship between animal names and destiny...

Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Jensen... My biggest question about him:

Why doesn't he have a beard?

Sure I can understand the point of the neoprimitivist activists who say "in order to be advocates we have to continue to live in the world we oppose," but come on, shaving? Are you serious? Yer not even walking the walk in the teeniest and easiest of ways, bro!

Many would consider this trivial, but to me simple straightforward things like this are significant indicators of someone's lack of sincerity and trustworthiness. Are we supposed to believe that agriculture is unnatural and evil and has singlehandedly destroyed the earth, but that hardened steel safety razor he scrapes across his face every day (to enhance his media credibility, probably) just kinda materializes out of thin air, totally unconnected to the industrial world?

OK rant over...

Houyhnhnm said...

Sorry about the fragmentary post. Obviously I hit a key I didn’t intend to.

I suspect I started daydreaming about having a class that could read The Origin of Species in a few evenings. I once offered an A for the course to any student accurately paraphrasing a few paragraphs by Thorstein Veblen. No takers.

Nineteenth century prose style completely flummoxes most college students. In my experience, most have trouble following the content of sentences of more than fifteen words and/or with idea complexity above the level found in USA Today. They read words, not sentences. More significantly, since most avoid reading, their skills remain minimal.

JMG recounts an excellent example: “It took a few baffled questions on my part to figure out that by “evolved” [the woman at the talk in the small, liberal town] meant “nice,” from which I gathered she hadn’t spent much time around children lately. When I suggested that she might consider reading Darwin’s The Origin of Species before using the word 'evolution' again, she looked horrified and asked, ‘Do I have to?’”

In a sad, academic sense, I loved the woman's misuse of “evolved.” It's a tell, a signal of her world view assumptions. I’ll bet this person also calls herself a “progressive” without considering that word's connotations.

Of course, Darwin gets mangled by most. Where I live, I often hear “survival of the fittest” to mean “bigger, badder, stronger—and heavily armed.”

What really struck me though was the woman’s reaction to your suggestion to read the book. You might as well have suggested she have a root canal sans pain-killers. From what I see and read, that's how most Americans, including many of the most well-educated, view reading.

As support, I offer a Bowker headline: "Nearly One in Two Americans Read a Book Last Year, According to Bowker's 2008 PubTrack Consumer Survey.” < http://www.bowker.com/index.php/press-releases/564>

NEARLY one in two.

A book.

How many want to bet that book was written by Darwin?

Houyhnhnm

Bill Pulliam said...

Hawlkeye -- sorry I missed your comment earlier when scrolling through.

What you call "the intelligence of nature" is critical; but since it is a non-verbal, non-rational intelligence it is something one learns more by experiencing, awareness, listening, and feeling. It's not all just mystical hoo-haa; if your footbridge keeps washing away maybe you are being "told" that you put it in the wrong place. I think it is related to the "chi" phenomenon that was talked about at length here a few months ago. You can think that it is the fairies or the trolls that don't like where you put your bridge, or that the feng shuey is all wrong, or than its a bad spot hydrologically speaking, but the result is the same: It is the wrong place, and just putting it back there again would be "stupid" -- counter to the intelligence of the land.

Apple trees indeed have very strong feelings about where they would like to be planted; a good orchardist (which I'm not; my apple trees complain to me constantly about where I plant them) can know where the tree wants to be and work that in with where s/he would like to plant it.

John Michael Greer said...

Bill, you know, that's a very interesting point.

Houhynhnm, I've come to think that the effective literacy of the US population -- taking "literacy" to mean actual participation in what was once called "letters," meaning the web of cultural creation expressed in writing -- is about the same as it was in your average medieval barony. That may be normal for human societies. Still, I try to encourage those who can be tempted to make the effort.

Bill, good. We can indeed learn to communicate with the intelligence of nature, but it ain't easy.

fishsnorkel said...

The Origin of Species should definitely be read by anyone with a real interest in the reality of life on earth, but can I also recommend The Decent of Man, with it's extended analysis of the evolution and natural history of sympathy and, as a natural extension of sympathy, morality? There are some profound insights about morality as a function of human herding behaviour, rather than any universal moral truths, that may be of interest to those interested in separating what they want to be the case from what is the case.

Kind regards,

Matthew

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG,

Thank you for your thoughts. I'm not sure either although I suspect an inability of people to understand the function of risk maybe intertwined with the problem as well.

I must confess though that I'm having something of an existential crisis! You wrote that the average person goes about their day to day activities even whilst great events are afoot. Well most of my friends are now living in the burbs quietly dreaming away without a single thought as to the events progressing around them. In their lifetimes I believe that there will be supply restrictions on oil which will impact most aspects of their lives. It seems common sense to me and the more I learn about our agricultural and energy production processes the more concerned I am, hence my current endeavours.

I no longer mention these concerns to others as people fight change and would maintain the status quo at all costs. It's also a very unpleasant conversation with others when I mention my concerns - they just don't want to hear it.

What are other people doing out there? I'm open to any and all suggestions.

I'm convinced that adaption, education and skilling which is at the root of the Green Wizards is the way to go. There's no arguing with people.

Good luck!

Don Plummer said...

A few musings over the comments here:

JMG, at the beginning of this week's essay, you list several "cataclysms" that are overtaking our civilization. One that you didn't mention, and that I would be interested in your comments on, is also one that seemed to slip under the radar of most Americans, most likely because it didn't occur here. I'm referring to the floods in Pakistan this past summer. From what I read and heard about this disaster, it is simply unprecedented; nothing like this has occurred in recorded history. It appears to be solid evidence that earth's climate systems are coming unhinged. What do you think?

Adrian: I still have to read Walden and A Sand County Almanac. They're sitting unread on my bookshelf. :-)

Regarding the comments by Hawlkeye and JMG's response, I wonder if humans can ever fully understand "nature" in the way Hawlkeye describes. (Are we ever going to be able to "fully cooperate" with natural processes in our work?) Even the garden that's most carefully designed to reflect and build upon natural ecosystems is going to be at best only a pale, simplified, imitation of the real thing. Although that fact should never, ever discourage us from trying, I think it's wise to keep it in mind as we work. As Wendell Berry is fond of saying, the world is a mysterious place. And even though, thanks to the work of great minds like Darwin's and others', we've learned quite a lot, the world is still a very mysterious place. I think we would lose our humanity if it ever became otherwise.

hawlkeye said...

Just having the goal of "balance in nature" instead of "profit at all costs" is a step in a sane direction. I'm all for one step at a time, but I rarely see the end-game framed as cooperation with nature. Most of us are still mired in the delusion that if we just tweaked the earth-stuff better than we have during the Age of Grease, then it'll all turn out okay. For us.

And granted, communicating with the intelligence of nature is fraught with projection and self-deception; articulation and discernment are required skills for effective communication in any language, especially the non-verbals!

Speaking of projection, Bill, c'mon, gimme a break here. Perhaps there's another option besides rank materialism and mystical hoo-ha? The only troll I mentioned was the internet species; throwing in all the other terms of cosmic detritus, as if I were their champion as well, actively evades my point.

How do you know your apple trees have strong feelings? Are they really complaining about where you planted them, or are they trying to get your attention to mitigate some other aspect of their lives?

You don't have to be a good orchardist to know these things; there are skills and techniques that can be learned by anyone to develop this level of discernment. (I could post some of these resources on the forum, unless they would be considered too far off topic...)

And, like learning any musical instrument, it takes a lot of practice and sounds like hell at first. But keep your eye on the concerto, and sweet tone will come.

For any beginner of anything, (wizardry is surely no exception) the first days are the hardest. But the greener we get, the closer we are to that fork in the road, co-operation or manipulation.

Can we consider the possibility of a meeting of the Orchard Council; Trees and Orchardist and Location all sitting down together and learning how to get along with each other? I know we can arrive at action steps more likely to succeed than more human whimsy. And I'd sure like to do it without the claptrap yoke of New Age jargon.

At my first lesson in pruning (of course it was an over-grown apple tree) my crusty old mentor at first wouldn't tell me anything; all the principles of sound pruning practice would come later.

He just said, ask the tree what it wants, and go from there. Now this guy was no mystic muffin-head, but it forced me to step out of my strictly human view-point, and begin to imagine the tree-view.

I guess I would like to see fledgling (sapling?) green wizards try some of this and see what happens, along with the verdant agenda of the best old books and tools.

Left-brain, right-brain, left foot, right foot. Walking sure beats hopping, and we're more likely to actually get wherever we want to go.

idiotgrrl said...

Short, plump, may or may not be genial depending on whether I'm cornered, and never did get into Scotch, but I like a good beer. And hot chocolate. And apple-flavored things.

Andy Brown said...

"dissensus" - ! - how has this word been hiding from me all this time? My current favorite word, thanks!

marielar said...

I would suggest Darwin "The variations of animals and plants under domestication". It's not as well known than the Origins. It's in two volumes and is much more focused on domesticated species.

nika said...

Bill: not all species are "equally evolved" and in Science we do not think in these terms other than when one is evaluating the number of generations out from some common ancestor and even then its not gauging some putative quantity of evolution (what would that metric be?) and is certainly not a measurement that tells us about evolution on some absolute or even relative scale.

Just ONE example for this discussion: Some species may experience rates of change that are different than other species. This can occur because a species may be in an established niche and does not experience challenges that ask it to adapt while other species, as required by a highly challenging niche, would have an accelerated rate of change that allows for faster genetic experimentation to fit the niche.

None of this informs us on "level of evolved status" because that idea is nonsense and anthropomorphic.

Michael - I personally would not point your average American to the Origins as reading material - they are not educated in even the rudimentary biology or basic English to be able to grasp the writing in Origins.

I am a cell biologist, a permaculturist, and an organic gardener (along with being a chicken mistress and goat herdmistress). True my education in developmental biology helps me grok the biological processes going on in my garden, there is something else that a successful gardener needs above book learning (and well before any book learning like Origins or even a good text on molecular evolutionary biology which is better than Origins at this point) and that is some something which is even MORE lacking in our society - patience to observe and learn FROM your garden.

Taking an empty mind zen POV would be far more productive than sweating over punnet squares.

Houyhnhnm said...

JMG, what was the level of "effective literacy" in the "average medieval barony"? If it was between two and five percent, I'm in agreement with you.

Like you, I "encourage those who can be tempted to make the effort." That's why I teach at a community college rather than a private one. The cygnet to duckling ratio strikes me as being a bit higher here because so many of the students have just never gotten the feed and big exercise yard they needed to grow and discover their wings. I guess five out of a hundred really isn't that bad.

Houyhnhnm

Richard said...

About the Pakistan floods, not only was the rain unprecedented but deforestation caused more runoff. Pakistan has dealt with deforestation for a long time, but I did hear that the Swat valley, one of the places hit hardest by the floods, was just heavily deforested by the Taliban in recent years. That much rain would produce flooding in any circumstances, but it and similar events should remind us of the need to preserve the water-holding capacity of our landscapes, both for flood control and for our own use on the land. I would highly recommend the books (two volumes) "Rainwater Harvesting" by Brad Lancaster. That book is geared towards arid climates but many of the same principles apply to me in Missouri, where annual rainfall is fairly high but there's still drought periods. Some don't such as I wouldn't want to plant a tree at the bottom of a swale or depression that catches water in this climate as he does in the Southwest.

I know someone in my area that has been building swales for over ten years on a couple acres of land, and he has a streambed that used to flow just after heavy rains and then dry up. Now it flows ten months of the year, only drying up in July and August. He also has had a couple springs appear that weren't there before. My own swale-building just started in the last year, but it's something I'm working a bunch on now this time of year.

Also, the Pakistani floods were linked to the Russian heatwave, which was also completely unprecedented, significantly more so than the European heatwave of 2003. Moscow had literally a nearly two month period with temperatures consistently averaging 20 degrees Farenheit above their average.

I can't remember where it was, but I read a few detailed articles about how a super-intense Asian monsoon which caused the Pakistani floods also caused the Russian heatwave. The monsoon involves rising air, which has to sink somewhere. Typically that's over the Mediterranean region, giving that area their hot dry summers. However last summer the intensity of the monsoon changed the pattern enough that the air sank over Russia instead.

joanhello said...

Regarding the misuse of the term "evolution", I've noticed that we in Western Civilization tend to re-interpret unfamiliar concepts as familiar ones. Thus the notion of good karma. In its original Hindu context, karma is always bad and eliminating it is one of the goals of spiritual practice, but when it came here, it became the new version of the good and bad deeds for which we would all get our just deserts on Judgement Day. Similarly, when evolution came along, popular understanding simply applied it as the new name for what had been known as the Great Chain of Being all the way back to ancient Greece. At the same time, with the prefix "spiritual", it became the new name for what had been known as spiritual progress, although people who don't do science and hear the term only in its spiritual context tend to drop the prefix and assume that "evolution" means spiritual progress, losing touch with other meanings. Thus the woman who thought "evolution" meant "niceness".

joanhello said...

@Hawlkeye: my home ecosystem, the temperate Northeast of North America, only came into existence about twelve thousand years ago when the glacier melted off. Humans were part of that ecosystem from the beginning and I think it's reasonable to presume that humans have been manipulating it from the beginning, given that most other human popluations that can manipulate their environment, do. The first explorers and settlers to leave records of their experience in English described a thoroughly manipulated environment.

In the 20th century, the Western notion of "untouched wilderness" has led to the setting aside of land which humans are forbidden to manipulate, a complete novelty in terms of the history of the Northeastern ecosystem. The result is forest that's not necessarily healthy or stable. The trees are used to the Algonquin and Haudenosaunee peoples after those eleven and a half millenia of co-evolution. The ecosystem doesn't work as well without them. Something similar has been observed for the West; the controlled burns the native peoples of California used to do protected against the sort of wildfires that have plagued the region in recent decades. (The introduction of eucalyptus, perhaps the most fire-loving of trees, hasn't helped, either.)

When the environmental movement and I were young, there was a notion afloat to the effect that all that needed to happen was for us, humans, to disappear, and the ecosystem would heal itself. Well, maybe, if that healing included developing another species that would do what the native humans did. If we aspire to evolve into such a species (and this is essentially what developing a sustainable way of life means), it is ironic that the first step for many of us must be to sit down with a good book on the ecology of the sugar maple, or whatever the keystone species was on our little patch of ground, and learn to see it in terms of its network of relationships. We've lost our lore, so we need the book learning before we can go out and see actual trees with any degree of comprehension. Maybe there are people out there with enough of a feel for plant life that they can, as your old teacher described, simply ask the tree what it wants, but most of us need to let nematodes and transpiration rates into our vocabulary in order to have the slightest beginnings of a clue.

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

A description of a book has just been published:

Social and Economic Change in the Pamirs

Since Olufsen and Schulz published their monographs on the Pamirs in 1904 and 1914, respectively, this is the first book to deal with the history, anthropology and recent social and economic development of the Pamiri people in Gorno-Badakhshan, Eastern Tajikistan. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, such high mountain areas were more or less forgotten and people would have suffered severely from their isolation if an Aga Khan Foundation project in 1993 to 1994 had not afforded broader support. The reader will be confronted by an almost surrealistic world: Pamiri income and living conditions after 1991 dropped to the level of a poor Sahelian country. Former scientists, university professors and engineers found themselves using ox-ploughs to plant potatoes and wheat for survival. On the other hand, 100 per cent literacy and excellent skills proved to be an enormous human capital resource for economic recovery. The first sign of this was an increase in agricultural production, something that had never occurred during Soviet times.

Frank Bliss is Profesor for Development Anthropology at Hamburg University and partner of Bliss & Gaesing - Associated Consultants, planning and evaluating participatory development programs.

SunsetSu said...

I'm intrigued by JMG's comparing the current level of American literacy to literacy levels in "your average midieval barony."

Even though most Americans are technically litatate, they seem to disdain reading and intelligent discourse. The brains of most Americans have been fried by extended exposure to flashing images and Fox TV propaganda.

I taught college students from 1981-2008 and noticed a continuous decline in literacy. By the time I retired, most students could barely write two connected and coherant sentences.

The Cult of the Stupid is in full bloom. People who insist on proven facts are branded as elitists or socialists. They embrace what Stephen Colbert calls "truthiness" Is this rabid anti-intellectualism peculiar to Americans, or is it happening in other "developed" countries?

mageprof said...

@ SunsetSu

I taught at an Ivy-League college from 1967 until I retired in 2005. I've noticed the same decline, though less pronounced. Most of the students here, after all, have been very well groomed and prepared for college by their professional parents, so they *can* write coherently. Yet many of them seem to prefer not to take the time.

My least successful assignments were those that required advance planning for a long paper: first the student has to hand in an outline and bibliography, a few weeks later a rough draft, and a few weeks after that the finished version of the same paper. This was simply beyond about 50% of my classes: many would not hand in the first two steps at all, even though they made up a substantial part of the grade; many others were incapable of sustaining interest in their topic for so long a period of weeks, and begged to change their topic from step to step of the process.

The single most striking new thing tha I noticed, however, was that from about 1995 onward many students began to challenge the very idea that it was *possible* to change people's minds at all, much less by use of reason and argument, data and evidence. "A person is going to think what he thinks, and that's the end of it. There is nothing anyone can do about it." I was never quite sure whether this was meant as a statement of fact, or an ethical norm, as if it were unethical to try to change a person's mind. Perhaps the students themselves weren't sure which of the two it was.

So from where I sat, it wasn't so much the cult of the stupid, as a principled rejection of the use of the intellect in human life.

There were, of course, many shining exceptions . . .

Don Plummer said...

@Richard:
Thanks for mentioning the unprecedented heat wave in Russia. I had neglected to include it.

Houyhnhnm said...

SunsetSu asked, "Is this rabid anti-intellectualism peculiar to Americans, or is it happening in other 'developed' countries?"

In his 1964 Pulitzer Prize winning Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter convinced me that rejection of higher education and intellectual life is as American as apple pie.

It may not just be us though. I take some hope from a line in a letter by England's Henry Fielding (1707-1754) in which he bemoaned the lack of literacy in the average undergraduate.

Houyhnhnm

Ruben said...

@SunsetSu,

"Even though most Americans are technically literate..."

I don't know about Americans, but I recently had occasion to look into Canadian literacy rates...

I believe it was something like 25% of Canadians cannot read an aspirin bottle. 40% cannot read a material safety sheet, such as you would need for janitorial work.

Kevin said...

I've heard Jensen speak. He's a very compelling speaker, and I did learn some things from him, but I agree with what seems to be the general impression of him here. I find his attitude excessively anti-human. Comparison with him seems to me a disservice to adolescents, not all of whom are so self-centered nor so filled with wounded rage as to yearn for the deaths of vast numbers of people.

Zoul said...

The clarity in which you view our predicament is refreshing. I read this blog every week, and I appreciate your words. I have been inspired by your call to green wizardry to compose my own Gaianomicon in the form of an actual leather-bound tome of linen paper.

It will start with a section on thermodynamics and entropy; then the birth and transformation of Gaia, outlining the formation and structure of the Earth, it's geological and biological eras, and detail on plate tectonics.

For this treatise, I have been scouring for knowledge of the sort that will be practical in the future, and I have found many gems. For example, a mixture of milk and water cures mildew-infected plants more effectively than modern chemical fungicides; if milk is not available, horsetail tea also works. Shrubs and woody plants can be propagated from cuttings by sticking them into potatoes and planting them.

I have been archiving information on all manner of potions, gardening techniques, food storage, animal husbandry, water filtration, bioremediation, architecture, and other practical tech. After my compilation is complete and organized, I will call on the help of my scribe friends in the SCA to set it down in calligraphy and artful yet accurate depictions. This project will doubtless take many, many years, but I am proud to be working on it.

Once, I had aspirations for founding an eco-village; but American law makes an actual village almost impossible, not to mention the fact that no one else seemed interested to committing to such a vision, even if they thought it was a good idea. Myself and my family, at least, have quit our computer-tech jobs, moved out of a densely populated area, and proceed to build a homestead on rural land, complete with a smithy.

idiotgrrl said...

I managed to pick up a couple of books on natural eating from the 1970s on Freecycle, one a Rodale hardback and one a paperback (now given away.) It's marvelous how far we've come in the availability of good fresh food in 30-40 years, but also amazing how deeply into electrical kitchen gadgets this book is.

And - a Mennonite woman has written a book called Living More With Less I have ordered and am going to try, along with its companion "More With Less Cookbook." I figure this the Mennonites can be trusted on the subject of simplicity.