Hypocrisy -a defining feature of the civilised psyche, #1 (part two of two)

In the first part of this post I described the typical hypocritical mindset of the modern ‘civilised’ person, which is reflected by the impossibility of ‘ethical consumption’ in our globalised consumerist culture. We are forced to continually ‘bracket off’ the uncomfortable truth about the human suffering and environmental destruction inherent in even the most ‘ethical’ of modern lifestyles.

I then put forward six criteria for truly ethical consumption, as benchmarks to work towards. I recommended that we treat our hypocritical failure to achieve these criteria, as ‘moral persons’, with gentleness, vigilance and humour. Also, let me here inform you that this post ends on a very positive / constructive note.

Now I want to look at the underlying narratives and stories that we tell ourselves as a society, which allow the continuation of our gross hypocrisy.  These narratives and stories are often pushed aggressively by the institutions, including corporations, of the financially richest people on Earth, in order to shore up their positions. This aggressive pushing is often not done consciously -it is a manifestation of unconscious (perhaps genetically driven) patterns of domination of certain quarters of society over other certain quarters, but amplified through technology and the powerful marketing machine of global corporate capitalism.

Thus, although these aggressive narratives are bringing humanity and whole ecosystems to the brink of extinction, characterised by their promotion of deeply unethical consumption (as opposed to the six criteria I have laid out), this is not something we can blame individuals for. Nevertheless, the behaviours of some individuals must be stopped.

My perspective on how unconscious narratives (as well as conscious stories) guide human behaviour from day to day is strongly influenced by my reading of Vivien Burr’s introduction to social constructionism’.

According to social constructionism, a branch of social science that also serves as a critique of the social sciences, the whole of reality is socially constructed, meaning that so-called ‘facts’ are only facts by social agreement between human beings. Obvious examples are institutions like nations and money, which are only real insofar as we believe in them and act in their image. What is harder to understand is the contention that even the ‘facts’ of physics and biology are social constructs with no objective reality.

The ‘critical realist’ branch of social constructionism contends that there are ‘brute facts’ underneath our linguistic and socially constructed understanding of reality, but of course we can never see them objectively -only through our perspective of human language.

I am not a postmodernist, in the sense that I think that clearly, there is an objective truth of ‘brute facts’. The critical realist branch of social constructionism is useful in helping us understand knowledge in a fluid and social way. Once we realise that, regardless of brute facts, the way that knowledge is gathered, understood and expressed is by social agreement, and so is highly political, then we can begin to understand how better to understand and express reality in ways which promote environmental and political justice.

‘Narratives’, in social constructionism, are wholly unconscious drivers of human behaviour -threads of meaning which tie the social constructs of reality together.

Various hypocritical narratives (or stories that become hypocritical when they are internalised by so-called moral people, which most of us think we are) in modern global culture, prevent the six criteria of ethical consumption from being realised.

One such narrative is the one that says ‘capitalism makes everyone richer’. When we look at the living conditions of half of the population of the world, and the traditional community ties, including ties of efficient resource use, that have been broken by capitalism, we can easily see that this narrative is false. The narrative becomes hypocritical when internalised by folk who see themselves as moral, who unconsciously lean on the narrative to maintain their affluent lifestyles. I am not exempt from this.

This narrative and other related narratives have become deeply embedded in our culture and so in our psyches. You could say they are a means by which hypocrisy has become an essential feature of a functioning modern psyche. How could we live with ourselves without this integral hypocrisy? Because it is integral, it causes most of us minimal stress, except in moments of crisis and breakdown (which may become increasingly common as the current version of global civilisation reaches its natural resource limits and we are confronted with the truth). These hypocritically internalised narratives are not only abstract ideological bases for the continuation of a destructive global culture. They are stories that are continually lived and re-invented from day to day, in the culture that we consume and create, and in our social interactions and conventions of speech. These capitalist and related industrial lullabies (for an industrial communism of luxury is just as bad as industrial capitalism) are embedded in even the simplest of objects and phrases that we use from day to day.

For instance, vague and seemingly benign phrases like ‘hard work always pays off’ tend to be used in contexts which encourage us to equate hard work with personal profit to be spent at the expense of other people and the environment. ‘Organic and fair trade’ cotton clothes from halfway around the world persuade us that we are moral in how we clothe ourselves, but such goods could be worse overall for maintaining our hypocritical psyches than goods compared as ‘unsustainable’.

To reiterate and rephrase, as modern individuals we internalise and constantly refine and redefine a complex system of narratives, in unconscious agreement and compromise with one another. The narratives that dominate in contemporary civilisation are the ones that are pushed most ubiquitously and aggressively by the marketing forces of capitalism and the richest people on the planet. We internalise them despite ourselves. These marketing forces don’t just work in obvious channels of advertising, but in the very categorisation and expression of human knowledge and experience. In fact, the essential underlying driving narratives of capitalism are themselves forces of marketing. Forces of marketing which are internalised by aspiring moral human beings as hypocrisy.

The complex system of narratives that we draw upon daily includes ethical narratives which take us in the direction of planetary repair, community building and even the positive evolution and transformation of global civilisation as a whole. However, these constructive narratives yet have a relatively small purchase on our psyches, compared to the prevalent destructive ones. This truth, and our knowledge of this truth, compounds our general hypocrisy. This again brings home the importance of taking our integral hypocrisy as modern beings, lightly. Taking a harsher approach could easily be the recipe for mental breakdown. While on the positive side there is a human tendency to attempt a moral synthesis of all narratives within the self (largely on an unconscious level) there is also the tendency of narratives to fragment and interfere with each other. Thus, even the most noble of narratives become polluted and co-opted by the more dominant and oppressive narratives e.g. stories of capitalism and the related patriarchy.

Conflicting narratives within individuals, groups, nations and humanity as a whole can be rooted in differences in ideology, climate, race, historical culture, national identity and so on. While most of these differences are social constructs i.e. not objective or at least not ‘final and fixed’ differences, considering the ‘brute facts’ – or let me say ‘beautiful facts’- of Nature, we can use what we know of Nature and Natural events to provide a grounding for new synthesized global narratives which are regenerative of humanity and the planet, and which actually hold true. However, it is not enough to ‘create wonderful stories of how we want the world to be in the New Age’, although I admire the efforts of philosophers and others in this area, and they do have positive stories to contribute to the synthesized whole. Much more than this, it is vital for a more sustainable human civilisation i.e the next stage of human civilisation that will emerge after the coming turmoil, that the current dominant and oppressive narratives, especially the hypocritical stories of capitalism, are subverted and integrated into new forms. For the advance of humanity, to attempt to ignore or destroy the momentum and oppressive power of capitalist narratives would be naive, and cause the unnecessary mental breakdown of individuals -something which will increasingly happen too often anyway.

A truly regenerative, wholistic and therapeutic narrative is one that is not only ‘true’ as far as is possible in a socially constructed reality, (thus reducing hypocrisy) but one that magnetises, subverts or integrates less sustainable and more oppressive narratives / narrative aspects to or with it. Such narratives potentially are simplifying beacons and purifiers within the whole over-complicated global narrative complex that we carry around with us from day to day. In social constructionist terms, the most ‘true’ stories are the most sustainable ones. I personally think that narratives must be simple and dynamic in order to become unconscious driving forces in a wide diversity of human beings.

Let me give you an example. Related to the narrative of ‘capitalism makes everyone richer’ is the narrative of ‘anyone can make it as an entrepreneur. All you have to do is work hard and believe in yourself’. Clearly this is bullshit, and creates hypocrisy, although thousands of YouTube videos would have you believe otherwise. Ability to succeed at running your own business depends very much on which country you live in, what kind of education you have had, etc etc. This is not to deny the value of individual self-belief, hard work and passion to make change (and some ecopreneurs I think, do make relatively positive change, if they are working ultimately towards supporting the six criteria of ethical consumption).

But this narrative can be subverted and rephrased to support relocalised, sustainable human culture, in a way which minimises hypocrisy. This could also be called ‘ethical marketing’. Try, ‘anyone can make it as a productive local community member. All you have to do is work hard and believe in yourself’.  This is a thousand times more true than the equivalent entrepreneurial narrative. It may seem that I am making an obvious point. Perhaps I am, but it is also a profound one. If this alternative narrative were marketed in the right way, and to the right level, as part of a strategy of narrative re-telling and re-marketing in general across society, significant cultural shifts could be achieved, and many aspiring entrepreneurs could be subverted to support community and Nature. The point is, it is not enough to perpetuate this narrative in the same old ‘alternative’ circles. (Although it is fine to do that.) For a smooth Transition / Descent to a relocalised post-corporate-capitalist culture, there is a clear need for some of us to challenge dominant oppressive narratives more thoroughly by engaging with the whole contemporary marketing system and subverting it. This is about using a very powerful tool, while we still have it, to reach as many people as possible, to lessen the potentially increasing hardship inherent in our current civilisation reaching its natural limits.

This implies accumulating capital, in as ethical a way as possible, to fund the ubiquitous telling of these new integrative stories. However, perhaps so much capital may not be needed. With the rise of social media and near zero marginal cost of online content creation and sharing across the internet, narratives such as ‘anyone can make it as a productive local community member’ can be spread as never before, and indeed this is beginning to happen. To truly challenge and integrate dominant oppressive narratives however, and win over audiences, the new narratives must mimic (and perhaps gently mock) the old narratives, and the way that the old narratives have been told, as closely as possible. It is common business knowledge -and true- that it is notoriously difficult / unwise to try to change a potential customer’s behaviour. The key to gaining customers / audience members is ‘giving them more of what they want’ or in this context ‘giving them a more sustainable version of what they want’. This cannot be done by telling people that their current consumption habits or entrepreneurial aspirations are wrong. Not without giving them clear and attractive alternatives.

I would like to bring up my concept of ‘Deep Story Telling’ here. Deep Story Telling acknowledges that the underlying narrative complex in society is perpetuated across all social interactions and in the entire physical human-made environment, including the online and virtual environments. The re-telling of narratives and the telling of new ones, to support Transition, means story-telling on the level of the conscious reconstruction of language, including the phraseology of the everyday, the reconstruction of how we associate and understand ourselves as social human beings (including online), the reconstruction of economics, and the embedding of positive sustainable futures -epic tomorrows- in every building, and every object that we use.

This is an exciting opportunity for all of us to create literary, artistic, entrepreneurial and practical forms which obviously or subtly manifest a fresh and Nature-integrated narrative landscape. One that is permeated with truth i.e. deep sustainability. One that normalises a new kind of civilised human psyche which is not dependent on hypocrisy -such a moral psyche as has never before evolved. This moral narrative landscape must be shared online as much as possible, to subvert the dominant oppressive narratives. The hypocrisy of using an internet which may itself be unsustainable, can be acknowledged and integrated.

Finally, it is crucial that we live out the new story-complex as we create it. We cannot tell stories of relocalisation without at least beginning to relocalise ourselves. The great ecological advice for our times ‘think global, act local’ might be more helpfully redefined, for some of us doing this Deep work, as ‘think global, tell stories online, live them out locally’.

If, by telling these stories some of us are able to accumulate global capital, in order to redistribute it and further propagate sustainable Deep Story Telling, whilst at least living in a relocalised way some of the time ourselves, then I suggest that this could be a viable and noble path. We may have to sacrifice ourselves to hypocrisy more than we would like, in order to enable more of humanity to live sustainably and hypocrisy-free in the future.

 

 

 

Hypocrisy -a defining feature of the civilised psyche, #1 (part one of two)

We are all a bunch of hypocrites. It defines us as civilised people, and it defines us as modern people, but bear with me -there is a positive way out.

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There is a lack of coherency in my moral stance towards the world. There is a constant presence in my subconscious of the hypocrisy at the heart of modern civilisation, which includes me within it.

This is a hypocrisy which allows members of a society (the ones that perceive that they care) to claim a high morality whilst they conveniently ‘bracket off’ the past and current enslavement and exploitation of peoples around the world. Without the exploitation of workers around the world, modern ‘moral persons’ (myself included) would not be able to enjoy their affluent post-industrial standards of living, including their complex high morality.

Similarly, the destruction of the non-human natural environment is depended upon for the continuation of our luxurious -and morally luxurious- lifestyles.

We can claim to live ethical lifestyles by making so-called ethical consumption choices, but really, ethical consumption choices are extremely rare. Almost all consumption choices support a global economic and political system which is founded upon unlimited economic growth on a planet of finite resources, and also a system which has resulted in the richest 1% in the world owning half of the world’s wealth. Just think about that for a second. This is a problem when those richest 1% are not doing all they can (to put it mildly) to address the global crises that afflict our species.

Exceptional, truly ethical consumption, within the current global capitalist system, and considering the global crises, would have to adhere to the following criteria:

1) Products and services would have to be sourced and produced locally to their point of consumption, meaning that every element in the supply chains of that production would have to be local. Local production allows the highest transparency of process and thus highest potential energy efficiency of production. Also, the least transportation involved, the greater resource efficiency. Local production is also more resilient to global and remote events, including crop failures and environmental disasters. Finally, fair trade and the fair treatment of workers can be assured if the whole production process is within local reach. ‘Local’ is of course a subjective value, but should be taken to mean within decades of miles, rather than hundreds and thousands of miles. ‘Local’ does not necessarily respect state boundaries as state boundaries are not a criteria of sustainability (just look at the military conflicts around the world).

2) Products and services created / consumed would have to result in minimal ‘waste chains’ in production and consumption i.e. processes of waste and disposal, and such processes would have to be kept local. Truly ethical consumption implies that there is no ‘waste’ whatsoever in the product consumed, although ‘waste outputs’ may have been converted into inputs into other systems / processes, run by other agencies in the community.

3) Products and services consumed must be made using sustainably sourced materials. The definition of a ‘sustainably sourced’ material is open to debate, but common definitions include lack of ‘damage’ to the environment in the material’s extraction and processing, as criteria. This is conveniently vague. I would suggest that a sustainably sourced material is one that, in its harvesting and processing, preserves or even enhances local habitats, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

4) Truly ethical consumption pays attention to all the workers that have been involved in the creation and selling of the product or service. Beyond fair trade and fair treatment and payment of workers, if any workers commute over long distances to get to work in private fossil-fuelled vehicles, and arguably even private vehicles fuelled by a renewables-based energy grid, then the sustainability of the product is seriously open to doubt. (Unsustainable is unethical). Commutes may be mitigated by incorporating into them other functions useful to the community. Additionally, the coherence and sustainability of human culture is damaged by excessive mobility. Fragmented culture in turn can result in a further disconnection from and degradation of the environment.

5) Similarly, it is highly questionable whether products and services that rely on consumers from distant places, including via the internet, can ever be sustainable or ethical. As in 4) above, waste of fossil fuels and other energy sources, degradation of the environment, and fragmentation of human culture are all implied.

6) Finally, the nature of the product or service itself, including what it is used for, how it is used and what narratives it plays a role in / supports, is implied in ‘ethical consumption’. If the product or service encourages the consumer to disregard these six principles in any other products and services consumed, then it is unethical.

Now we can see why some form of ‘protectionism’ of local economies (although that word has negative connotations) is a desirable thing. Refer to the writings of David Fleming on this.

Perhaps you think my definition of ‘ethical consumption’ is too strict. If so, please enlighten me with your definition. I would be happy to debate this. However, the point is that most so-called ‘ethical’ products and services hardly begin to address the reasonable six criteria detailed above. Or, where one or two criteria may be addressed thoroughly, others will be relatively neglected.

But we must not dwell in guilt! We must not beat ourselves up. We are now all part of an infinitely complex global economy and civilisation. The infinite complexity is rooted in an infinite complexity of interactions with the natural environment, some less ethical / sustainable, some more ethical / sustainable. A compounding factor is that the complexity is almost unfathomable / untraceable. The only way to ensure a mostly benign impact on the planet and other people, is to live radically at odds with modern society. The most realistic way to do this would be to live in an insular community of likeminded individuals. A level of civil disobedience of ‘the law’ is also implied.

We have been heavily conditioned since childhood by the marketing forces of consumerism, to want what we don’t need. We can aim by degrees to support the truly ethical consumption criteria detailed above. This implies supporting the relocalisation of culture and economy, globally. Meanwhile, we can take our hypocrisy lightly. For instance, for the time being I prefer to view the internet as an incredible tool, which in one light it truly is, that can connect me, paradoxically, to a global movement of ‘relocalisers’ who are questioning and attempting to slowly transform the current global economy -at least theoretically which is a good start.

Hypocrisy seems to be essential to all large, centralised civilisations. It was certainly essential to Rome, where luxurious strides forward in philosophy and culture belied and depended upon the Roman slave-holding system. (For an interesting perspective on this, read Abdullah Ocalan’s ‘The Roots of Civilisation). We can conceive that in a future decentralised version of civilisation, hypocrisy may not be so necessary. However, once we accept that hypocrisy is ingrained in us as (modern) civilised people, there are various psychological responses available to us. We can use all our emotional and intellectual repertoires to treat ourselves and our consumerist habits (and behaviours to which we are bound by law) with, for instance, gentleness, vigilance and humour. We can then at least begin to restrain ourselves to the extent that ‘no consumption’ is the best kind of consumption, when the criteria 1) through 6) above cannot be achieved.

In the second part of this first post on hypocrisy and modernity, I will look at the underlying narratives and stories that we tell ourselves as a society, which allow the hypocrisy to continue. I will look at how we are often living out fragmented and conflicting narratives, compounding the hypocrisy that is already inherent in some of those narratives. I will draw on the insights of ‘social constructionism’, a branch of psychology which is also a critique of the field of psychology.

I will also look at how we can consciously create alternative more helpful narratives which support relocalised futures, using techniques of Deep Storytelling.

Finally, let us celebrate the fact that we are hypocrites and be joyful about it! For if we are not conscious hypocrites, we are unconscious ones -the most dangerous and destructive kind. Either that or we are consciously cynical or worse, consciously immoral. These are cowardly and defeatist positions to occupy.

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? Part three of three:

In the first two parts of this three part series I explored the concepts of human culture, especially global human culture, Earth culture (human plus non-human culture on Earth) and how these have become unnaturally divorced from one another in the modern world, with the accelerating help of the internet. The divorce is an illusion, but nevertheless is damaging. It would be tiresome and depressing here to have to describe the worsening health of the ecosystems here on Earth -by ‘health’ of course I mean the ability to support human life. I am of course human-centric in my perspective; it is virtually impossible not to be. The mental health of all of humanity is indirectly -and sometimes directly- related to the health of global non-human ecosystems. I will go into great length in future posts.

So!

I am actually hopeful for humanity’s evolution to the next stage of civilisation, which in some respects, to some people, will necessarily look like uncivilisation.

Where does ‘Permaculture’ come in? Firstly, a brief description of origins: Permaculture with a capital ‘P’ refers to a ‘systems thinking’ approach to the ecological design of human-made edible crop systems, but also incorporating other useful crops, and sustainable settlements centred around these systems. The original meaning is ‘permanent agriculture’. The crop systems mimic non-human ecosystems (or more accurately, Earth culture ecosystems) to achieve resilience and minimal negative, perhaps even positive, ecological impact. The most common example of the designed Permaculture system in temperate climates (e.g. the UK) is the ‘forest garden’ which mimics the climax habitat of mixed deciduous woodland, with edible types of flora to represent all the various canopy and ground cover and shrub layers to be found in a natural woodland, especially in the most productive and diverse, woodland edge habitats. The first manual on Permaculture was written by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren and published in 1978, titled Permaculture One.

Over the years, Permaculture has been adapted to a variety of climates and contexts around the world, and has given birth to a tradition of Permaculture courses (the standard introductory course being the Permaculture Design Certificate or PDC) where invaluable knowledge and skills of agroforestry and other elements have been passed on to thousands. Although there has been and still is a question mark over Permaculture’s ability as an approach to provide food for large numbers of people, it has been clearly shown to conserve and enhance soil health -key to the future of biodiversity -including humanity- on Earth. (This brings up the issue of excess human population. Let’s look at that another time.) Additionally, the concept of permaculture has expanded to include ‘permanent culture’; a way of looking at and designing the whole of human culture with deep sustainability in mind; at its root, learning from the infinitely renewable patterns and resource flows at play in Earth culture as a whole.

Now, a few words about the capitalist protection of knowledge in modern culture. Why did I refer to Permaculture ‘with a capital P’? Well, as with all areas of knowledge in a capitalist society, there is some implied ownership of the ideas; of the approach, by the people who originated it and teach and practice it today. If you are not an accredited teacher, you cannot teach Permaculture with a capital ‘P’. In an often chaotic global culture, where the truth can be anyone’s guess, the building up and protection of banks of knowledge and practice, especially as regards ecological sustainability, can be worthwhile. On the other hand, the PDC can be seen as a middleclass pursuit with a middleclass pricetag, despite there being subsidised places on some courses. The protection of knowledge in this way also perpetuates the fragmented, alienated and atomised consumer culture discussed in parts one and two of this post series. Admittedly, as long as friends pass books between them, and free libraries and internet facilities still exist, there will always be a slow dissemination of Permaculture knowledge to the rest of society -in the way of most human branches of knowledge. Most importantly, as Graham Bell notes in his excellent book The Permaculture Way, ‘permaculture with a small p’; those aspects of human conservation, agricultural and sustainability knowledge included in Permaculture, that have been practiced for generations as our natural biocultural heritage -otherwise known as ‘common sense’- is available to all of us. We can be ‘doing permaculture’ without even realising it, just as we are ‘doing culture’ all the time, and the culture we do, can always be said to be more, or less, permaculture than it could be.

Now here is where we get to the crux of it. For me, Permaculture (and ‘permaculture’) as an approach to designing sustainable human society, has the potential to be both a containing basket for all of modern global human culture, and a weaver of that culture into something deeply sustainable in the long term. It is a criticism levelled against permaculturists that the term ‘permaculture’ is used very vaguely by many, as a New Agey concept that bears little practical fruit for society as a whole; a concept that attracts dreamers, more than doers, despite the practical PDC courses on offer. I take on board this criticism, but I respond that, just because a set of ideas and practices inspires contemplation, poetry and envisioning, it doesn’t mean that those ideas and practices aren’t also very useful, (effects on biodiversity and soil health as compared to other agricultural systems, for instance, are proven.) For me, it is the sometimes vagueness of the term ‘permaculture’, with a small ‘p’, that is its strength; in these twin paradigms we live in of obsolescence of the dominant civilisation-mesh (Nature-destroying) and Transition to the new one, it is precisely because we don’t know exactly what the future holds, that we need flexible approaches and concepts to get there…

-But more than this. I think that Permaculture, or permaculture, whatever, has the potential to develop a branch of ethical social science. The ethical social science of Permaculture would be rooted in the observation of Nature and other principles of Permaculture as they stand. Principles such as ‘maximising edge’, ‘integrating functions’ and ‘creating no waste’. Integrated with current grounded Permaculture practice, and branching out from those roots, the ethical social science of Permaculture could develop  a vocabulary of theory, research and consensual society-design which is cross-disciplinary, integrating the language of ecology and sustainability with the language of the social sciences. As the social sciences often don’t question the foundations of modern culture on which they rely, the new ethical social science of Permaculture, with its key feature of reintegration of segregated and protected areas of human knowledge; a grounded and cross-disciplinary approach, would also have the overtly political aims of environmental and social justice at its core. (Where existing social sciences are generally unconsciously / covertly political, at maintaining unhelpful social and economic structures).

The ethical social science, (or sociocultural science?) of Permaculture could be a key developing discipline -and may it be rigorously disciplined!- in creating what permaculture -permanent culture- purports to be. Specific elements of the science would tackle the alienation, atomisation and fragmentation of the dominant modern global culture, and also the tracking and potential guiding of emergent global culture as defined by the internet. It has been concluded by many, more well-researched and scientifically grounded than I, that relocalisation of culture, including a ‘powerdown’ of natural resource use, will also be key to the sustainability of global human culture in the longterm. This fits entirely with the necessary project of de-alienation and de-stratification that I have implied in all three parts of this series, which works on renewing and building culture that is grounded and based on our experiences and face to face human interactions in the here-and-now.

Mental health and well being are inseparable from this grand project of permaculture, including the protection of planetary biodiversity, and the ethical social science of Permaculture would explore, track, describe and influence human well being in a way that is reintegrated with Earth culture (human plus non-human culture).

Key to mental health is cultural empowerment. We must all feel able to comprehend and further influence the (now global) culture we live in. This comprehension and influence depends, in turn, on our power and agency as narrative-makers, story-tellers and engaged actors and audiences in and for the stories that are, hopefully consensually, told about us and to us.

 

*

A final thought: The relationship of modern human culture to truth, is ambiguous. Well, that includes this blog post. How much of this is really true and how much is based on the theories of academics who don’t get out much? Academia is itself an isolated and alienated area of stratified modern culture i.e. a key symptom of this culture which is potentially (and often actually) out of touch with the way we as individuals live our various cultures from day to day. Thus the ethical social science of Permaculture will fail if it relies on academics; if it is not constantly informed by the way that all subcultures of human beings live from day to day, and how we all perceive ourselves, including culturally. 

I’m looking forward to getting outside again after writing this, and socialising some more with the folk in my neighbourhood. I’ll catch you next time.

 

  

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? Part two of three:

All human cultures are contained within a single global human culture. This is at least a useful concept, as all human beings have ways of being in common; but more than this: the existence of an interconnected global human culture is more real than ever since the proliferation of the internet and fast digital communications. Since peoples first made contact with each other, historically we can speak of ‘global culture’, but the modern difference is that now there is a constant two way process of creation and assimilation working between (relatively) every individual (even if they only hear of global changes from others) and global human culture as a whole, comprised of course of all of humanity. Indirectly, if we have ever had any contact whatsoever with the internet or digital communications, then we have influenced all that is human in the world. This is quite a staggering truth!

Global culture that is technologically interconnected and thus technologically defined in this way is emergent (it’s very young) and so it is not properly understood. This emergence is difficult if not impossible to fully track and process. However, trends and dominant features of modern global culture reflect those national and international cultures that have the fastest communications and the most developed technologies relating to the internet, as well as the biggest corporate online presence. (Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are all American companies). Thus, although all cultures have their positive and emancipatory aspects, the problems of political cultural oppression by dominant cultures and by individuals, consciously and unconsciously, as noted in part one of this post, are potentially amplified by online culture. (At the moment, American culture dominates by a long way).  However, online culture contains a potential amplified resistance to oppression within it, (whether the oppression is basically internet-facilitated or not). As long as basic online freedoms of information search and social association are maintained…

There are potential and real joys of a modern interconnected world, with its inspired sense of collective identity and diversity of lifestyle choices open to often culturally and politically aware agents of co-creation. However, modern global culture is alienating more than grounding if it provokes a preoccupation with what is happening elsewhere, away from our geographical localities and away from our physical bodies. Additionally, since modern global culture (including online) is dominated by capitalist economics, in general treating individuals as isolated economic units, there is also a general ‘atomising’ effect as well as an alienating one, where the social and indeed explicitly cultural aspects of humanity are subordinated to our capacities for production and consumption. ‘Culture’ then becomes predominantly something we consume, dependent on financial purchases and the associated ‘free’ consumption of certain elements, (which often are not free if you don’t have access to a computer or computer literacy skills). This results in more alienation of our cultural experience from what is actually happening in the here-and-now of our bodies and physical environments, as well as what is happening to global non-human culture (wholesale destruction) to keep the momentum of our cultural experience going; cultural experience which is largely unaccountable in its global ecological impact; so multifarious are the origins of every modern cultural experience.

The very modern experiences of culture discussed above, although demonstrating potential to seed alienated subcultures which could be means to ends of less alienated ones, in general speak of an increasing fragmentation and incoherency of global culture, even as it emerges, (an emerging chaos). To summarise, via technology we have seemingly, although not actually, divorced human culture from non-human culture, approaching a peak with the tech advance of the internet -with fragmentation and incoherency resulting.  Experiences of non-human (and within it, human) ‘Nature’, we consume online and through other media, and the actual Nature experiences we are subject to, are too often for most of us an escape from, or a distraction from, not a way of, ‘being’ in the modern world. Needless to say, the mental health of all of humanity is jeopardised; mental health being rooted in the physical environment and a coherent sense of culture -more on that another time. It is nothing new to say all this. It’s still frustrating to have to say it. It’s still all so unrealised by people in general, partly because of the complexity of the situation, and partly because people don’t want to learn more about what they feel powerless over. Bear with me, things can get better… Something called ‘permaculture’ may have the answer. Well, my version of it anyway. I’ll explain next time.

 

What is culture? What is permaculture? (The New Year According To Who?!) Part one of three:

‘Happy New Year’ I suppose. Although I would rather celebrate New Year around the Spring Equinox, as Persians, Kurds and some Neopagans do. Starting the new year in the middle of the winter is a ‘rum affair’ if you ask me (in the language of an Agatha Christie novel. We live under the Gregorian calendar; it wasn’t the butler did it but Pope Gregory XIII). Also, note that there are thirteen moons in every year, and the first new moon of this calendar year isn’t until 17th January. Anyway, structuring the year is always going to be tricky, and there are various cultural implications of when and how we celebrate New Year. For a sense of culture and social cohesion, maybe I should have destroyed my health with alcohol last night afterall. Ah well, like I said, it’s a rum affair.

‘Culture’ is a word that is bandied about a lot but it is difficult to pin down. I think of human culture as ‘the sum of everything we do’, particularly those things that we do from day to day, repetitively, that define our collective and individual identities. Culture in this broad sense doesn’t just include all of our doing, but all of our thinking too. Everyone ‘does’ culture in every moment; we are all a part of a universal human culture which is different from the cultures of other species and the human culture of the past; although, past culture bears on present culture in a continual process. Human culture is also influenced by and interdependent with non-human culture; the non-human ecosystems that make up Earth. Together with non-human culture we are ‘Earth culture’.

The online Oxford Living Dictionaries definition of culture that fits loosely with these ideas is the second one listed, which says: ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’, (and I would add, ‘or species, or planet’ etc). Visit the full page here.

On the human level, we can talk of the cultures and subcultures of geographically located places, like our villages, towns, regions and countries. There are also subcultures that are defined by points of view and types of behaviour; for instance subcultures based on types of music. Subcultures are also based on socioeconomic status, or class. The habits, ways of doing things and thinking of members of one economic class will share certain likely common characteristics not common to other classes. Cultures of many types and on different scales overlap each other or nestle inside each other in complex ways. Our individual and collective senses of identity are also very much rooted in culture. Additionally, ‘online culture’ refers specifically to the culture of the internet, and ‘digital culture’ to digitally enabled or digitally altered culture.

Definitions of culture usually focus on the social element; those behaviours etc in a society or group that are overtly shared. Particularly strong expressions and reinforcements of culture are shared rituals and celebrations which are repeated over time; and so tradition usually plays a strong element in any culture. However I would also like to add that even our most private thoughts and private moments are culturally defined and in turn have a cultural impact; in other words, every part of our experience has a social (or consciously anti-social) element which bears on how we relate to others from day to day, and the various cultures and subcultures of which we are members.

To complicate things, the cultures which we perceive ourselves to be members of are not necessarily the cultures whose members would generally embrace us, and additionally, people in general may perceive us to be members of various cultures (depending on the perspective) that we don’t actually identify with. Others’ perceptions will affect how they behave towards us and can become self-fulfilling, so that we are pigeonholed into subcultures from a lack of personal motivation and /or skill on our side to be identified otherwise. This process of pigeonholing can further affect the lifestyle choices and cultural options available to the pigeonholed. There is a real power dynamic here of the labeller over the labelled. We can see that culture and labelling -of self by self and other- are closely related. So far we can also see that ‘culture’ indicates a very complex and uncertain reality for individuals in the modern world, although great opportunity is also implied.

Cultures of all kinds are woven together by underlying stories or narratives which can be truthful or not, and harmful or not. These are unconscious for most of the time and may remain obscure to many of the members of these cultures (for instance, the story of ‘infinite progress’ that underlies capitalist culture). There are also many stories consciously told within and across different cultures, of course; many wonderful (and not so wonderful!) diverse and colourful stories, all of which play a role in shaping cultures, from classic myths, through novels to blockbuster films. These do not only shape the cultures they originate in, especially in the modern human world which is interconnected more than ever before.

Some stories and elements of stories -both conscious stories and unconscious narratives- are told by cultures (as ‘tellers’) about other cultures (as ‘the told’); again this can become self-fulfilling for the told, especially when the tellers have the greater political power and cultural reach. In fact, some of these narratives serve to maintain the dominant cultural position of certain tellers, resulting in a very real oppression of the told (or in this context read ‘minorities everywhere’ for ‘the told’). Women as a whole have also been and continue to be culturally dominated by men, largely unconsciously on both sides (but consciously in key places of power), using such insidious stories. With these features of ‘labelling’ and ‘story-telling’ discussed, culture becomes a very political concept and also one that has a huge impact on mental health, dependent on whether people feel culturally empowered or not, within the mesh of overlapping cultures which they are subject of and to.

I think it is true to say that as modern individuals we all have a ‘cultural repertoire’ which I would define as ‘the sum of all the attitudes, feelings, thoughts and behaviours internalised within us which we can choose to employ variously and selectively according to cultural context and personal cultural aspiration’. In fact I would say that everything about us can be used as a cultural instrument by us or by others acting on us, or with us. Although ‘feelings’ are typically described as more reactive than the other more proactive elements of ‘thinking’ and ‘behaving’ etc, actually we have a lot of choice about the way we feel and how we process or use that culturally (without going into how others can use our feelings for their own cultural ends).

Personally I am very lucky: I realise that I have a large cultural repertoire at my disposal which allows me to move fairly comfortably (but never completely comfortably) through many quarters of society. But this has become a deliberate cultivation and survival strategy for me -borne partly from a former mental breakdown- and is partly a sign of a culturally incoherent modern society. My ultimate position is to assume membership of a complex global culture, but grounded ecologically in my home region of mid-Devon, or more widely and conveniently, southwest England. I have a great feeling of cultural freedom. Some people don’t have the privilege of cultural understanding that I have or do not take on identifications like this with much confidence (my own intellectual confidence borne in part from my privileged white liberal middle-class culture); and so culturally they may retreat, more or less, into subcultures -including physical localities- which in modern times are often incoherent and fragmented. (I touch on this incoherency and fragmentation a little more in Part Two of this post).

I theorise that many people don’t realise the extent of their cultural repertoires or don’t have the skill to employ them effectively. Many more people are culturally impoverished, meaning that there is a lack of cultural options available to them -in awareness, and practically. Also, their socioeconomic status or ‘class’ may make it very difficult for them to realise the extent to which their culture is actually impoverished, the extent to which it is dominated by insidious cultural stories from other quarters, and the extent to which it is unnaturally divorced from the land and (mostly non-human) Earth culture (more on this in Part Two). Then again, even those in the most culturally dominant quarters e.g. the nation state culture of governments, and the technological culture of Silicon Valley and the like, do not usually realise the extent of their unnatural divorce from Earth culture or rather, are in denial.

On the plus side, although it may be partly a spuriously neoliberal view, in modern times there is more opportunity for some, including those traditionally from quarters of the culturally oppressed, to develop larger and more diverse cultural repertoires than ever before, especially using the online culture of the web, which includes the ability to group with others to form subcultures in the pursuit of social and ecological -and hence cultural- justice. Yet, the choice not to have so much choice has been taken away, potentially at the expense of the model of the grounded, nurturing, localised culture that some would like to have the option of ‘returning to’ though they might have never personally experienced it. On the positive side again, via internet culture there are currently many inspiring ways to connect with and be touched by people and events from around the world, which can bring emotional fulfillment and nurture certain aspects or identifications of culture that we hold within ourselves. Additionally, internet-based subcultures, for instance formed around special interests, can provide support and well being for individuals who are otherwise relatively isolated.

This is where I am right now; I am relatively isolated and lonely; I exist between worlds, the rural and the urban, the individual and the communal, the unemployable and the entrepreneurial; and currently, although I am lucky to feel part of a global as well as regional culture, it’s all a bit confused. 2018 for me will largely be about how I define myself culturally amongst all the cultural options open to me (and open to most of us). How I redefine myself culturally will also be key to how I move the Epic Tomorrows blog forward. I have high hopes and aspirations that internet culture, despite its shaky ecological foundations, can be a massive force for helping shape emergent global culture -and all the subcultures and individuals nestled within- in a way that has social and ecological justice at its core. In Part Two of this post I will look more at the concept of ‘global human culture’. In Part Three I will explain why I think Permaculture, with a big ‘P’ and permaculture with a small ‘p’ both have potential to be the containing baskets, as well as the weavers, of a globally sustainable culture. I will explain why I think a branch of permaculture needs to develop as a fully fledged ‘ethical social science’, in order to facilitate globally sustainable culture.

And now, feeling a little uplifted that I have finally finished (Part One!) of this post, I feel more genuinely able to say, with great cheer, and a herbal tea instead of a beer…in a culturally reinforcing kind of way…Happy New Year!

 

 

Ideas (maximising edge)

Two nights ago, whilst asleep I had a vision. I call it a vision and not a dream because it had no narrative; it was just an image. Soon after I saw the image, I woke up. It was an image of a Permaculture tanker. It was a converted oil tanker, half a mile long, converted into a floating forest garden -based alternative community and human economy, growing its own biodiesel for the engines as well as having wing sails attached for extra propulsion. Who will help me realise this dream? You can buy a second-hand oil tanker for a few million on websites such as this: Tankers

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Two days ago I joined the monthly meeting of the Hatherleigh Edges Permaculture and Community Regeneration Group. This group is not just open to folk from the village of Hatherleigh, but also anyone who can get to the meetings who is interested in sustainable, ecology based community work, starting from Hatherleigh and expanding outwards. After feeling lonely recently, it was great to connect with my neighbours about issues and ideas such as supporting isolated elderly people in our local community and seed swapping.

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Yesterday morning, on my 30 mile cycle to Dartington for continuing counselling foundation skills training with Heartwood, I was simultaneously inspired and disgusted. Inspired by the Devon hedgerows and dry stone walls on the edge of Dartmoor, and disgusted by the fumes from passing vehicles that I could not help but inhale. Where is the network of motor vehicle – free bridleways criss-crossing Dartmoor, allowing cycle and horse travel between towns? Where are the public stables and undercover bike shelters? How’s this for a business idea?: a pub that caters specifically for cyclists and horseriders, with stables (as used to be common) and dormitory accommodation.

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And another thing: Is it Council for the Protection of Rural England or Council for the Protection of Industrial Agriculture?

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Yesterday’s Heartwood training was an introduction to Gestalt theory, in the context of counselling. A gestalt is an organised whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.  Thus, a human being is a gestalt of sorts. Gestalt-based counselling and psychotherapy aims at greater integration of all the parts of a person with each other / the whole, including the physical body and all the various aspects of the mind / personality. There is a focus on the experience of the present moment, and how psychological integration can be achieved in this present moment. How could this approach be used to integrate human society better with itself and Nature? I would love to start a discussion on this theme. Please comment below! Here is some more on Gestalt: Gestalt

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Sometimes, distinct words will pop into my mind as if from nowhere, in the voices of different kinds of people that I have encountered in the past. There is often emotional content to these words, and they often have a double or triple meaning. For instance, yesterday as I was approaching Newton Abbott by bike, the word FTSE / ‘footsie’ appeared in my mind, and I heard it spoken by a woman of my age or perhaps a little younger, with some humour and warmth. It was spoken in a confiding way, as if advising me on the direction I should take (the words often have this feel). The meanings were that first, I could do with paying more attention to the stock market (it could be useful for any entrepreneur) and secondly that it is ok for me to be in a warm, flirty place with women, although I struggle with this. Does this experience sound bizarre? It is just part of my gestalt; it is how my unconscious sometimes alerts my conscious; by using semi-fictional identities of generic characters, based on people I have met in the past or encountered through digital and other media. I think my unconscious has developed this dynamic guiding process in line with my very conscious yearning to ‘learn from everyone in order to help everyone’.

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Positive affirmations: they only work if you imbue them with emotional content, and if you also work to manifest what they relate to. Otherwise they can result in internal conflict and soul-destroying disappointment.

Here are some positive affirmations and wisdom sayings I’ve used, some self-penned, some assimilated from elsewhere: ‘I am enough’ /// ‘I am innocent’ /// ‘I am fearless’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…total observation of Nature’ /// ‘Love is the Law, Love under Will’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…beginning everything with death in mind’ /// ‘Enlightenment is…total freedom from addiction’ /// ‘Character is greater than personality’ /// ‘The best heroes have a combination of vulnerability and strength’ /// ‘Anxiety and stress can often be a sign of doing too much or too little’ /// ‘Private victory before public victory’ /// ‘Victorious warriors win in their hearts before going into battle’ /// ‘Everything is me’ /// ‘The opposite of addiction is connection’ /// ‘Be proactive’ /// ‘Begin with the end in mind’ /// ‘I am not afraid to be a leader. I am not afraid to explore uncharted territories.’

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City-country conduits: Statistics like these show that the world’s population is increasingly urbanised. Articles like these show that humanity could be at risk of a major breakdown of civilisation either this century or the next. Since cities import most of their food, energy and water from outside the city limits, their densely-packed populations are more immediately at risk from a society-wide breakdown in economic and energy infrastructures.  I have long thought that the resilience of civilisation as a whole could be improved by establishing conduits between city and country in a way which increased understanding and communication between rural and urban populations, as well as flows of energy and resources both ways to reduce the impact of infrastructure breakdown on cities, and the potential burden on the country of fleeing urban citizens. This would in essence be a releasing of pressure on cities by ‘merging’ them better with their rural surrounds, but not in an environmentally destructive way. Regional food security is also implied in this vision, so that ideally, polyculture food growing systems would surround the city and provide all of its food needs (not a new idea). Most importantly I would like to see well-planned and sustainable mobility between city and country increased significantly. I smile at the prejudice of ignorance that exists between city and country dwellers. When I am in the city, sometimes even my most intelligent city friends may make ignorant remarks about rural dwellers and rural life, and when I am around my rural home, I will likewise hear fearful and ill-informed remarks about city-dwellers. This isn’t necessary! This kind of two-way prejudice will only make any serious large-scale infrastructure shocks -which as I’ve said are not unlikely this century- be felt worse and dealt with less efficiently.

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Ensuring Earth is fit for the next seven generations: This is the ‘7th generation principle’ of governance and human culture in general, as propounded by various Native American tribes. It is the idea that every human action and every human decision should have a benign or regenerative effect on the next seven generations of humans to live on the planet, by caring for Nature as a whole (that which supports us). By average modern understandings seven generations amounts to 7 x 25 years = 175 years. This benchmark of sustainability is often quoted in modern movements towards ecological living, but we don’t always stop to appreciate that seven generations is 175 years. Perhaps we should. I advocate sitting in meditation, alone or as part of a group, and trying to envision what the Earth might be like in 175 years. It is almost impossible to guess at, which is precisely the point. How often do communities, businesses and governments plan this far ahead? With the the increasing intelligence of our software, one hopes that more of this will be directed towards scenario planning and global strategy with Earth’s overall ecology at its core. If well-directed, and that means by human beings with deep empathy and experience of Nature, AI could be a force for greatness in putting the 7th generation principle into practice. It’s time to bring the wilderness into Silicon Valley!

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DEEPLY SUST: sustainable events management. Don’t you think it’s a good name? Use it if you like and please feel free to credit me. This is just a vague idea I had for a company. Festivals, even the most ecological ones, have dubious sustainability credentials. They involve the transportation of materials and people from miles around, sometimes even from abroad, to all converge on one poor overburdened location before being transported all the way back again. A truly sustainable events management company would look at how different festivals and events could better network with each other and share infrastructures and materials. It would also advise events and festivals within a given region or even nation on how to organise and synchronise calendars for maximum efficiency, skill-share, custom and positive ecological impact between all. Additionally, lasting legacies for all local communities that hosted festivals and events would have to be looked at. How about that for sustainability?

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‘REAL BOYS’, ‘REAL GIRLS’ and ‘TRANSREAL’: Where are the magazines for real girls and real boys, and for that matter, trans kids and the genderwild? When I walk into a big newsagents and look at the magazines sections for children and teenagers, I want to throw up. They are full of damaging stereotypes, plastic toys and the usual bullshit obsession with celebrity. I know that isn’t what every child wants, but somehow, because it’s what most children have been convinced they want, this vacuous culture revolving around Barbie and Action Man -like stereotypes still dominates. Apparently there are no risk-taking entrepreneurs in the children’s magazine industry. Where is ‘Real Girls’ magazine? ‘Real Boys’? ‘Transreal’?

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CO-OPETITION: My idea for a co-opetition is a competition that rewards co-operation over competition at every step of the process. I understand this is a paradox. It would take some clever designing to create motivating and sustainable co-opetitions with prizes. I know there are people doing this already, and maybe I / you can join them. We need innovation to save the world from ourselves, but innovation does not just happen in ruthlessly competitive contexts, as the hyper-capitalists would have us believe. Innovation happens in regenerative community contexts, indeed it must if society is to survive.

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POSITIVE SCENARIO MATHEMATICS: Where are the software designers and mathematicians working together with ecologists, permaculturists, alternative financial analysts, energy experts and complex systems theorists to design scenario planning apps for the lay person, and the activist or business organisation, ensuring the greatest positive ecological impact of all our trajectories, in ways which reflexively weave as many human life-paths as possible into well defined mutually agreeable outcomes? Come on people, get to work!

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ECOMOVES: Where are all the companies that offer to clear houses and bankrupt business premises in the most ecologically sound ways possible? Including the recycling and ‘upcycling’ of objects and materials and selling for profit, using the timing of moving to new homes and premises to introduce more sustainable practices and materials as standard? These companies could build up databases of sustainable clients and businesses with which to woo their customers, providing much more than standard removal and installation services.

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PSYCHEDELIC CARE-HOMES: Where are all the psychedelic carehomes? I mean the ones playing 60’s and 70’s music, the ones with space hoppers, magic mushrooms, meditation, radical politics and all the other signs of the counter-cultural revolution? I haven’t visited any care-homes for the elderly in a while, but the people who turned 18 in 1960 are now aged 76. Are the more alternative and radically left wing elderly types being catered for? Are they being catered for enough?

Coppicing

I’m full of semi-wild ideas. I may as well share them all with you. Some of them may even come to something.

I’ve long had an idea for a consolidated network of coppices in Britain, including hazel, sweet chestnut, ash, willow and oak coppices, which could provide the British Isles with the materials to make some mass products that are currently made out of plastic. See the following link for a basic description of coppicing: Coppicing basics

This coppicing network (.co.uk? .org?) would serve many purposes. Fundamentally it would help conserve and promote biodiversity. Research indicates that there are many ancient coppices that have fallen into neglect in this country, since the latter half of the twentieth century. Accurate data on this is hard to come by. Such coppices would benefit from regeneration, from a wildlife as well as a human productivity perspective.  My proposed network would also consciously include the smallest land-owners and forestry enterprises, and encourage the planting of more coppice, as part of biodiverse, mixed habitat woodlands, managed according to a balance of conservation, agroforestry and Permaculture principles. Thus, mixed land-use livelihoods would be supported by the proposed network. In mixed food and timber forest gardens, non-native species providing harder wood could also be integrated (I’m thinking of bamboo, particularly).

My proposed network would only work in close partnership with a team of producers of products that people actually want, on a large scale, in conjunction with a team of creative marketers, including social media marketers. Sometimes the managers of the coppices would also be producers and marketers. Specifically, I think there is scope for developing coppice wood products to replace common products that are currently made from plastic i.e. oil. Standard predictions show that oil as a global resource will became more scarce and expensive over the coming decades.

Here are a few common products used globally, that are currently often made out of plastic (oil). I used the following website for most of these: Polyplastics ; lighting stands, blinds, pan handles, chopping boards, mixing spoons, storage containers, toothbrush handles, hairbrush handles, soap holders, disposable razors. My question is, could these products be made out of coppiced wood native to temperate zones (particularly the UK)? Obviously some of them can be (and have been) made from bamboo.

I understand that it would be no small task to produce and distribute and market products made from materials farmed by a diversity of small- and large-scale growers, and difficult to replace products in the marketplace that have been made from plastic for so long (such as toothbrush handles). I share ideas like this in the hope that someone with more knowledge than me, but with just as much enthusiasm and diligence and vision, might develop the ideas into something productive on the ground.

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I had a great day the other day coppicing in a patch of hazel in mid Devon, and passing on the skills. It was a cold November day, sunny with showers. My muscles were given a workout from the hand sawing (I didn’t personally use the chainsaw although there was one on site). My mental health benefited from the light, and the knowledge that I was helping the biodiversity in that particular woodland. There is relatively little woodland cover left in the UK. With what is left being in isolated pockets, human intervention in the form of re-instating and propagating semi-wild coppices to provide different heights of woodland canopy, and woodland edge habitats, could help ensure that biodiversity is maximised. Any development of sustainable coppice products that reduce our dependence on plastic, would be a bonus.

I’m really interested in hearing from anyone who has any thoughts on my ideas. How could this be developed? Please comment below, and ‘follow’ my blog to get my posts weekly to your inbox. Thanks.