Sunday 11 July 2010

Don't wait until you have a design, just start (a proposal for a new pattern).

Today I am celebrating growing all my vegetables and fruit for a full year.
That was one reason for reflection, the other one was that I attended the Introduction to Permaculture course yesterday that Brenna taught at Grow Our Own allotments.
It made me notice that in permaculture two things are used that I think are contradictory: on the one hand an attempt to emulate ecosystems, on the other hand a focus on teleological design.
Ecosystems don't get designed to a master plan, they take form as nature asks in each instance: does this new piece (organism, metabolite, etc.) fit?
(This last sentence is not quite agnostic enough to my liking, but I can't find a better way of expressing that I see no evidence for a teleological universe.)
I reflected on this, because I think a focus on a master plan can slow us down unacceptably.*
It presupposes that we have made all the relevant observations, reflected on them, and that this told us which choices to make.
Let me give you an example.
In 2001 I decided I wanted a sustainable ecological footprint.
I had no idea how I was going to achieve that, and in the meantime I've lived in 4 different countries, so if I had waited to get settled enough to buy a house with a quarter acre garden within cycling distance of work, I wouldn't have achieved this goal in 2009.
So I was very glad when Rob Hopkins suggested that the 12 steps of forming a transition town were too prescriptive, and that instead we can identify these patterns that form part of the language, the song, that allows us to sing our world into existence.
It fits.
Part of what I'm suggesting above is described in patterns 2.6 Visioning, and 2.5 Measurement.
But I would suggest that there is a missing pattern.
When I suggested in April that measuring quality of life could be a guide in decision making, I was criticised for the implication that quality of life could be measured.
I partly agree that, as Robert Pirsig pointed out, we immediately recognise quality (of any kind), and that we can only try to rationalise or quantify that after the fact, and sometimes we can't.
But I think even so it's useful to be very specific and so I will propose a new pattern: the Moral yardstick, and while recognizing the danger in this as noted above, I still think our need to choose between alternate visions is such that a specific yardstick is still desirable and that it is even possible to formulate one: will it take us towards a world in which the difference between the richest and the poorest human being is less than a factor 10?

* The world is changing fast.
We're changing slowly.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Erik,

    Really interesting post as ever! It's good to have a measure, so you can test your skills and imagination out. With a rigorous plan life can come in with its marvellous unpredictability and play havoc. Without a plan, nothing happens. The interplay between chaos and structure IS life really . . . well it is in my life and certainly how I go about writing, or cooking, or growing cucumbers, or Transition.

    The Patterns are not fixed either. As I understand it they are observations and suggestions that initiatives can play with, report back on and "flesh out" and that way co-create the second Handbook. It's a work-in-progress.

    Our participation and engagement with the work is what makes it come alive.

    Best wishes,