Manifesto

Should I make a manifesto for a society in which work and pleasure are all within walking distances? That is, a society in which human-sized tools replace fossil-fuelled machinery and in which commons of perceptive good behaviour replace the imperceptive amorality of power’s enclosures. Do I need a banner to mark where I stand? If I criticise the banners of others, then I must show where I stand, so that I too can be criticised.
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Horticultural Society
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I say that cultures must retreat and so let the wilds expand. Of course, hunter/gatherer cultures have integrated with the wild as one species among the rest, but that is a far-off dream for us – of paradise before the fall.
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Although we cannot have a secure food supply, without also creating surplus to carry from good years to bad and between the scarcity/surplus of regions, we must grow food within as small a space as we can. That is, we must think of both time and space.
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What is humanity’s ration of soil? Thinking of rations is more helpful than thinking of limits. We shall explore that later.
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What is humanity’s ration of oil? We consumed it many years ago. We should think of it as zero, plus a large measure of shame. We cannot think of it as zero, plus dispensation for negative emissions. Only the wilds can “draw down carbon”. That is why we must shrink our culture to just humanity’s ration within the larger ecology.
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Many, on the green side of arguments make large sequestration claims for a variety of growing systems (negative emissions). These views are often held with a passion, because they provide personal dispensation. With regards to fossil fuels, what’s done is done – no dispensations, pardons, or indulgencies can remove that shame. In all cases, those negative emissions are a fiction.
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Religions have existing frameworks for dealing with shame – stories of agriculture’s Fall from God-given nature are almost universal. They are deeply embodied in cultural tradition – and have been repeated forever. Now, after thousands of years of repeated misbehaviour, we are faced with a final reckoning, which asks of us, and of atheists like me, just how far can we continue to fall?
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We continue to fall too fast if we:
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1 – Fail to replace oil-sized tools, with human-sized tools.
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2 – Continue to replace natural systems with designed systems for the subjugation of nature, by fossil fuels, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and artificial fertilisers.
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3 – Continue to claim false dispensation for our various niches through “organic”, “permaculture”, “vegan”, “pasture-fed”, “agroecology” and “agroforestry” virtue signals. None of those systems will “draw down carbon” further than an optimum point – although they can restore soil vitality to that optimum point of balance. Often, husbandry mistakes, combined with a naturally par-blind human understanding, will bring us to the wrong side of that balance. Nevertheless, organic and etc are the cyclic systems we must follow, but accompanied by less hubris and more uncertainty.
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4 – Continue to disconnect elements of agricultural economy. A field, a town and a monetary system are all parts of the same whole. Organic, permacultural and agroecological organisations, have all been guilty (and dangerously so) of that disconnection. For instance, we find organically-grown produce in super markets, retail parks and internet-based box schemes. How can that be?
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5 – Continue to think that we can escape the fall. Agriculture is the fall. We can go a long way to diminishing its ill effects, but never entirely. For atmospheric stability, we must depend on the complex efficiencies of the wilds, while shrinking cultural footprints as much as we can – That is, a shrinkage towards our central goal – a society in which both work and pleasure are within walking distances, in which husbandry becomes human-sized (horticulture) and in which energies of tide, sun, wind and gravity propel a far less powerful culture. We must do without much that fossil fuels and biofuels have provided. They cannot be replaced. We must quench nearly all our fires.
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While accepting that hunter-gatherer cultures provide the true lesson, large-population agricultures can only continue indefinitely by:
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1 – Integrating with the wider ecology as much as they can.
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2 – Accepting a limited agricultural ration of that larger ecology, in which husbandry is observant, quick to adapt and efficient. Optimum crop yield from an allotted volume of soil and water must be accepted as a moral necessity. In that way, human-controlled acreage can be reduced, so that the wilds can expand. We must accept this moral statement – Only the wilds can draw down further carbon. Good husbandry can only aim for balance, while accepting that it will often fall short of that balance.
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That means a change from an agricultural to a horticultural mindset, in which large numbers of people with human-sized tools, replace the prevailing and now impossible mindset of very small numbers of people with very large and powerful tools. That greater number of people, also means a greater capacity for perception, ingenuity and quick adaption.
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3 – Arrange for work and pleasure to sit within walking distances, by re-centring suburbia, into towns and villages interspersed with productive fields, gardens and orchards and by reviving the ancient home of trade and the trades and also of pleasures – existing towns and villages.
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Without fossil fuels and biofuels, we shall have no energy to spare for transport. Wind, solar, hydro and tidal powers will prove sufficient, only for domestic and commercial heat, light, refrigeration and cookery. Don’t forget that such a demand will more than double – perhaps triple, current electricity demand.
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Of course, wind will provide truly-renewable power for sail-trade and similarly, wind, tide and water (gravity) can provide truly renewable power for direct traction of pumps, mills and manufactories.
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Once upon a time, every large town and city was built on a shore line, estuary, or navigable river. The early industrial revolution solved the inland problem by building canals. Those structures, though decayed await revival. Not only by canal and river, trade has also been by shore-hopping between small harbours along every mile of coastline. Can we have the electric railway? I may be wrong, but I think not. Electricity will have many more essential demands – principally heat and cookery.
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This manifesto will prove schismatic to most, because it proposes that bio-fuels contribute far more to climate heating than fossil fuels. It says that they diminish both biomass and biodiversity, while also massively reducing the power of photosynthesis to “draw down carbon”. I include the innocent-sounding domestic log burner, or biomass boiler in my list of evils!
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It follows that for ceramics and metal working (or rather, reworking) it would be better to use coal, gas, or oil than both timber and charcoal. Such uses for fossil resources would leave biomass and diversity to live and breathe, but would also require the use of yet untried carbon capture and storage. CCS would, in any case, be needed for biomass, or charcoal burning. CCS has provided the great excuse for those wishing to continue the current (suicidal) status quo, so I present the possibility with diffidence and with insufficient knowledge. It remains true that burning coal with effective CCS would be far less destructive than burning timber with effective CCS.
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There is one exception to the biomass rule – that is anaerobic digestion of wastes to produce useful methane, while also returning biomass “digestate” to the soil. The burning of methane emits carbon dioxide, but the digestate grows compensatory photosynthetic biomass. I don’t know if anaerobic digestion will end the right, or wrong side of a carbon balance. But consider this – fermentation of some kind must happen anyway – in soil, or out of soil – plants need the simple minerals, which fermentation provides. I suspect a balance depends on both efficiencies of production and efficiencies of agricultural return. Certainly, we cannot dedicate crops for gas production, since our difficulty is to grow enough food on as small an acreage as we can. Gas production can be used as an alternative to aerobic composting of wastes – not as an end in itself. It may prove valuable, on a small scale, for domestic cookery, or heat.
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Grassland and animals.
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Even though ruminants convert grass that people cannot eat, into food that they can and even though well-managed grassland can undoubtedly prove to be a more, or less balanced system, nevertheless the acreage will be too extensive. Such a system cannot “draw down carbon” beyond an optimum point, as many proponents suggest. Such grassland will be better used for re-foresting, or re-wilding – that is for photosynthesis, biomass, biodiversity and some timber production. Communities will have a greater need for timber than for meat. Such a reversion may also provide the settlement of an ancient social injustice – that is a return of the commons from the vicious enclosures of past centuries, which turned people from the land, in return for the wealth of a few in the golden fleece. Woodland provides more employment than sheep ever could.
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Even so, grassland as green manure in crop rotation is ancient and effective. Animals for milk, meat and eggs, can add to, rather than diminish crop rotation. They do not increase the horticultural acreage. Rather, they diminish the considerable energy needed for cutting and mulching the same acreage of green manure. Green manure will prove essential for a regenerative agriculture and animals are an energy-efficient way to use it. Don’t forget that horticultural acreage will include cereals and the considerable manual labour involved. Will we have the energy for regular cutting and mulching of green manure? – I suspect “dog and stick” will prove a welcome physical and dietary relief. In a ratio of two acres of green manure to one of cropping, we can still have eggs, milk and meat – but rationed for feast days, weekends and holidays.
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With regards to the new wild, which we hope will re-find its evolutionary balance of plant to animal, hunter-gatherer codes of good behaviour may guide a new and rationed supply of wild meat for settled communities.
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I think a weakness in vegan agriculture is that it ignores the lessons of that evolutionary balance. Even so, I respect vegan goals to tread lightly and vegan crop rotations are valuable lessons in similarly treading lightly. Those vegan goals have made us think more productively about perennial systems – beyond orchards and nut trees, we can also consider perennial cereals (the Land Institute). Considering perennial cereal cropping, we’d also have to think (paradoxically) of rotation. Since we’d remove both seed and straw, a harvest would remove a lot of soil vitality. We’d still need that two to one ratio – and again, grazing would provide a productive respite from the scythe – not that the scythe is an unpleasant tool – in good company on a sunny day.
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Commons, or enclosure. Rations, or limits.
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Let’s consider this – Enlightened, peer-reviewed education has brought us to a cliff edge of utter catastrophe – the end of human cultures as we’ve known them and the extinction of very many species, which have accompanied our common evolution to this point. Yet still, people will declare, “What we need is education” to educate farmers, builders, fishermen, climate change deniers… Listen to the science! say campaigners.
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Yet, it is plain that education has taught farmers the efficacy of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides… and has made the educators rich and both farmers and their lands, very much poorer.
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Only a handful of farmers have survived that educated, peer-reviewed invasion and they continue to disappear.
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Architects have replaced the functional, elegant and appropriate work of builders, with inappropriate, ugly, but educated design. In the process architects have become rich and builders, poor. (I do not speak of builders who have become rich by idle accumulation of land value). Is there a single architectural design that can match the beauty of a simple parish church – or almost any house before the seventeenth century? Almost no beauty and none of the ingenuity, dexterity and deep understanding of a builder, for her terrain and her materials has survived the manipulation and rent-gathering of architects.
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In short, the real economy of households and the trades has bled dry by education. Enclosed professions demand terrible rents for their professional status. GPs, solicitors, architects and consultants of all kinds will commonly demand £300 per hour from the ordinary wage of someone who earns £10 per hour.
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Status enclosure, money enclosure (interest is rent), land enclosure and intellectual property enclosure will eventually bring any economy to its knees. Educated opinion has created the idea of austerity, so that remaining money-flow can remain in those same hands.
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Anyone, who writes of stories such as this, will be asked for peer-reviewed sources from within that same rent gathering, educational system.
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Here’s a thing – There are many fine permaculture practitioners. But we must beware of permaculture designers. They are educators extracting rent. Let them emerge from the enclosures to become practitioners – otherwise they may inflict the same old educational harm.
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Thinking of species extinction and climate heating, almost all influential ideas – that is, those accepted by news sources, governments, politicians and NGOs, come from the peer-reviewed, or rather, career-reviewed people of educated status. That status has no senses – it is truly senseless. Of course, true science must remain sceptical and outside moral preconception. It can have no application, because every act has consequence and every consequence must have a moral. Sadly, I see little evidence of that true science, although, of course it has survived as history has always depicted – not in shiny laboratories, or hallowed halls, but in dusty attics. Meanwhile, leaving true science to her studies, it is up to those who act, to morally decide what to do. The pragmatic ingenuity of a trades’ person may be curious for the science, but nevertheless, it is the trades’ person who must decide how to act. Of course, any householder is in that same position.
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This manifesto calls for householders and trades’ people of every kind to shrug off the enclosures and to apply the love, skill and ingenuities that only they can find. We cannot “improve” the enclosures. We must abandon them and if we can, step back onto the common. We have very little time.
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Enclosures have limits – thin lines within which behaviour can be as we choose. Soil, resources and bad behaviour can remain undefined within them. Trespassers will be prosecuted.
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The common has rations – of both time and space – of what we can do and of where and how we can stand. A ration can be loved and shared – it has qualities – tastes, touch, scents, sights and sounds – it is distributed in fair shares of both chores and pleasures. It is received from ancestors and must be bequeathed to descendants. Such commons survive in the household, where they are easily understood. I behave by a filial code. But in the work place they are lost. This manifesto is largely a call for their revival. If we can behave well in the household, then we can also do so at work. A culture is what people do, not who they are, or claim to be.
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Population
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I will not speak of population statistics. Overpopulation is here and now, just as and because of our wild use of fossil fuels. There are no remedies, but to leave fossil fuels in the ground and to personally consider the need to bring more babies into an over-crowded world. I will not engage with those who use over-population as a means to ridicule attempts to find ways to integrate cultures into the ecologies which must sustain them. The currently tragic effects of both fossil fuels and too many people are what they are. What’s done is done. We must endure them, while living differently and so not adding to those problems. The present creates the future. Our present of over-population, species extinction and catastrophic climate heating was created by the past – including our personal pasts. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. That may seem obvious, but studying social polemics, plainly it is not. That it is unlikely we can reverse catastrophic climate heating, does not make attempts invalid. Rather, it makes the attempt, romantic, beautiful, egalitarian and essential to even a temporal happiness. Mention of sail-trade and the scythe will attract ridicule from nearly every green and educated NGO, and yet truly, there is no other way. The educated must be ignored, or more hopefully, de-schooled, to be re-awakened to the soil, sun, wind and rain and also to true happiness.
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5 Responses to Manifesto

  1. Michelle says:

    You are quite uncomfortably lucid, Patrick. One does want a bit of shade to hide in, or, as you put it a personal dispensation. I appreciate the lucidity, however. The planting of the standard. Although your vision is, for its very lucidity, impossible. The world will continue to be a tragically jumbled place. Yet that lucidity is important because otherwise we lie to ourselves too much. Maybe a little lying is necessary to keep going along, but its good and necessary to be reminded of what the harsher truths are.

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    • bryncocyn says:

      Thank you Michelle and I agree. You’ll often find me hiding in those shades, and our own farm is a long way off course – in its various hiding places. The loveliest refuge is the present – in companionship and pleasures – sights, sounds, scents… But when I step from the timeless present to time again, the horror would overwhelm me, but for the utopian light, the other side of darkness. Utopia is not fanciful (our lives are that) – it is imaginative and true. Utopia is possible. It is our weakness which makes it apparently impossible. That leads to another journey – companionship in our common folly – in forgiveness, charity, comedy and tragedy. That journey is one of utopian compromise. However, nearly all “green” and egalitarian solutions, which we find in places such as resilience.org are compromises, on the last debunked compromise. I’ll not have that! I say, we must return to the original Utopia. That is, we compromise the beautiful and true.

      I’ve not noticed anything but that in your writing Michelle. I think we are fellow travellers.

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  2. Michelle says:

    “But when I step from the timeless present to time again, the horror would overwhelm me, but for the utopian light, the other side of darkness.” Oh gosh, thatʻs a great sentence.
    Iʻm completely honored to be considered a fellow traveller in the dark and the light.

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  3. Joshua Msika says:

    Ah well-written post, with many ideas I like. I would only add more ideas, rather than remove any.

    “Here’s a thing – There are many fine permaculture practitioners. But we must beware of permaculture designers. They are educators extracting rent. Let them emerge from the enclosures to become practitioners – otherwise they may inflict the same old educational harm.”

    Yes. Practice is the basis of knowledge and knowledge to be shared, not enclosed. One day I might have enough experience of my own systems that I would be able to share it with others in similar situations and they would find it useful.

    However, what about the book-writers? All those that have inspired me? Do they not deserve some return for their labour in “enclosing” their experience and that of others onto a printed page? Making me dream of what might be possible in my garden/home/life/work?

    No more time today.

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    • bryncocyn says:

      Yes! – A book is a thing. It is made by a crafts’ person. Rather than enclosed expertise, if it is functional & elegant, beautiful & true, it becomes the voice of the commons. After all, the books we return to are those in which self has been removed & the author has found deeper commons, universal to everyone. In music, painting and the page we find the voices of ancestors. A proper contemporary book enters that same flow of inherited and bequeathed commons. Many books remain worth reading, in spite of their very human flaws of opinion and ego, because in fragments, they may also cross over to those deeper truths. In any case, people have stories to be told – we are all still gripped by, Once upon a time… Enclosed expertise, waiting its peer reviews is a matter for the enclosures, in which trespassers will be prosecuted. It seldom makes sense in the wind and rain – although when it does, as sometimes happens, it will have escaped to find those same commons.

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