But, I’m Not Using My Physics In My House

One problem with our media-heavy life is that good things come and go unnoticed because 1) they are buried amongst an avalanche of junk, and 2) we are always going on to something new.

But in order to make something our own we have to sit with it a while, chew it over some, set it aside, and then come back to it again with new eyes.

In that spirit, I’d like to revisit an Alan AtKisson interview with Bill Mollison published in In Context magazine in 1991. (There is a lot on this site that is worthwhile, and still relevant — check it out at:  http://www.context.org/

Back then Bill was always being asked  to define permaculture, and always struggling to do so. Part of his genius was that his mind was forever shooting off in a hundred different directions at once. So it was easy for him to see endless possibilities, but hard to catch and hold down one simple formulation that would satisfy inquirers. But by 1991 he was saying quite clearly that permaculture is a design system — a “Design for Living” (which is the title of the interview).

“Why is it,” Bill asked, “that we don’t build human settlements that will feed themselves, and fuel themselves, and catch their own water, when any human settlement could do that easily? When it’s a trivial thing to do?”

We (in Western cultures) need to change the way we see things, change the way we think, change the way we separate our knowledge from the way we live our lives.

Take physics professors, for example: “they may teach sophisticated physics at the university. But they go home to a domestic environment which can only be described as demented in its use of energy. They can’t [even] see that.”

“Once you’ve said to yourself, ‘But I’m not using my physics in my house.’ or ‘I’m not using my ecology in my garden — I’ve never applied what I know to how I live!’” the changes begin to “unroll like a carpet” in front of you.

So — permaculture is a design system and “One of the great rules of design is ‘do something basic right’. Then everything [following] gets much more right by itself. But if you do something basic wrong (a Type I error) you can get nothing else right.”

He also takes time to warn us against excess ‘individualism’. Permaculture, he says, means ‘complete cooperation’ with people and all of nature. “You can’t cooperate by knocking something about or bossing it or forcing it to do things. You won’t get cooperation out of a hierarchical system. You get enforced direction from the top and nothing I know of can run [well] like that.”


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