Wednesday, September 30, 2015


EcoSynthesis (the name is taken from David Holmgren's managed use of non-native species to create ecologically stable collectives, but the concept has been vastly expanded by yours truly) is a form of ecodesign derived from––and improving upon––vitalist, organicist and anti-intellectualist forms such as  permaculture. It can be thought as a kind of ecodesign-without-"Nature" (see Tim Morton's excellent book, Ecology Without Nature).

Permaculture designers talk about basing their systems on "patterns found in 'Nature'". If there is no such object as "Nature" (a reified thing over there that is separate from us and therefore observable by us), and if "Nature" doesn't even consistently work as a normative concept (it doesn't), then what they are really talking about are patterns found in the minds of permaculture designers, transmitted to students and enthusiasts (permaculturists: yes, it is an ideology), and projected onto a vast array of discrete beings that don't actually "fit" into anything without a lot of work.

My favorite iteration of the permaculture mode so far is Mark Shepard's Restoration Agriculture. Shepard is a brilliant guy. Probably without fully realizing it, he has incorporated Speculative Realist philosophy into his approach. "Is it agriculture, or is it eco-restoration?" asks the bewildered USDA. "Look," Shepard replies, "the cosmos is not either/or: it's a sloshing back and forth of different things."

Tim Morton says "flickering" instead of "sloshing", but it's the same idea! This acceptance of the liminal, this enlightened violation of the Law of Noncontradiction, this sympathy for the excluded middle, is precisely Dark Ecology and the Object Oriented Ontology that is its deep philosophical informant.

Unfortunately Shepard's teacher was Bill Mollison, and so he also gets mired in the metaphysics of presence in a way that contradicts his own enlightenment when he insists that "You have to know the difference between a concept and an observation!" Oh, really? How do you do that, now? This idea that some "Nature"-people (who only ask for a small couple grand to teach you their secrets) can somehow do what nobody else can––determine where an object's appearance ends and its true being begins––is a leftover from Mollisonian junk-vitalism and 1980s ecomimeis ("I am part of 'Nature'"), the effect of which is mainly to divide needs from resources in a manner fully on board with the agrilogistics that have been destroying living beings on Earth for twelve thousand years. But that's how permaculture designers make their money.

Although I would generally avoid Mollison as anything but a caricature (and some of his students are worse: check out online talks by Larry Santoyo if you want a derisive laugh some time), I'll be the first to tell you that he's also brilliant. The last chapter of Permaculture: A Designers' Manual, chapter 14, is called "Strategies for an Alternative Nation". In this, Mollison reveals himself as the shrewd anthro-economist on whose work much of my own "sustainable economics" work was based; it was also the part permaculturists were least interested in, and I actually got very little work. 

If I do try to set up my Ecosynthesis project as something to teach, I will be telling permaculturists that politics, economics, race, class, literature, quantum mechanics, skyscrapers, banks, universities and plutonium have to be included among what they call your "design elements", for the simple reason that there they are. You can't destroy them by pretending they have no place in your design. They are your design, whether you "did" or "made" them or not, because their existence puts them in absolute proximity to your design project. 

Stay tuned...

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