Episode-1556- Toby Hemenway on Liberation Permaculture — 27 Comments

  1. I don’t think socialism and liberty can co-exist, even in purely voluntary socialism. By its very nature it can’t be voluntary. I mean, for sharing to exist it must be betweenequals, correct? To be on equal footing with somebody you need to be fully providing for yourself, and they do too. As soon as you’re in a position of weekness or depending on somebody, they have authority over you. Authority is not liberty. I do not understand people who WISH to be dependent on others. “Oh yes, what I really want is everybody around me to decide how I live my life and be able to tell me my business. That sounds lovely!”

    Essentially, socialism either isn’t voluntary or it isn’t socialism. Voluntarily sharing based on their need if you think they deserve it isn’t socialism. Find a better word for it.

    Dependence breeds misery. Dependence breeds people living lives incongruent with who they really are because if they don’t conform, they get cut off. Dependence breeds fucking suicides.

    We do not need groups of interdependent people, we need groups of interCONNECTED people interacting on a voluntary basis through commerce and socialization.

    ****I mean, unless you want to live dependent on others through redistribution in utter misery, than go right ahead. Don’t call it liberation though please.****

    And I’d argue that wanting to kill somebody for reaping the fruits of their labors (“hoarding”) is psychopathic. If you don’t like it if somebody has more than you, get more for yourself! Or accept that having a bunch of shit isn’t for you but it’s for them and move on with your life. And because you’re providing for yourself as a free human in an anarchist society, it won’t matter what they do with it because you can take care of yourself. Oh, and them having more DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE TO HAVE LESS. There is not a finite “pie” to be sliced from. Case in point: plant a seed. How much food does one little seed give you, and how many more seeds do you get? “Fair share” is pure scarcity mindset. You want more, go produce more.

    Same applies to “equitable distribution of resources.” Here’s equitable: you plant three acres, you get the crops from it. You do nothing all day ever, you get nothing. Your three acres of crops fail, I’m probably going to help you out because I’m a decent person and I probably like you if you’re my neighbor.

    That’s not socialism, that’s just humans being humans. Just let people be people instead of trying to design social systems to manage them.

    • I think that socialism has become a poisoned word for many such as yourself just as anarchy has for many others.

      Let me be blunt we are social creatures and all human communities are socialist, the only way a person can be non socialist is to be a hermit.

      If I put you and 40 other people on an island with limited resources, you would either come up with what we can only call a socialist solution, or not soon down the road the majority of you, if not all of you will be dead.

      You are an environmentalist so you should know that some of what you say isn’t true. It may be true for money that for one person to have more that one need not have less but it isn’t true of true resources. We do not have unlimited resources and you know that right? There is a finite pie, we all know that, the only question is how much of the pie has been sliced, more importantly how much more should be?

      A corporation of multiple owners is a socialist group, co-managed, expenses, burdens and profits are all shared. The owners if good stewards grow a great organization and if they take more than is produced bankruptcy is the result.

      No US citizen has ever been as free as the tribes of what is now the North Eastern United States but no other word (when used accurately) can describe their SOCIAL structure other than socialism. Are you really going to try and make the case to me that any “American” was ever as free as a member of the Fox, Huron, Shawnee or Shinnecock peoples? Do you really want that side of a debate?

      Words such as anarchism, conservatism, liberalism, socialism, etc, have all lost their correct meanings, none really should describe a system unto itself but simply components of interaction. What has happened is various flavors of statism have assumed most of these names to hide behind a cloak of current “popularism” because no one even a communist wants to build propaganda around “the state” it is always built around “the people”.

      Have you not noticed that democracies and republics talk about “citizens” and socialist republics and pure communist states talk about “the people” are they not the exact same talking point? Do not both systems result in a state that first sees to the states needs and wants while claiming to be doing the business of “the people”?

      To be blunt when you described this,

      “Same applies to “equitable distribution of resources.” Here’s equitable: you plant three acres, you get the crops from it. You do nothing all day ever, you get nothing. Your three acres of crops fail, I’m probably going to help you out because I’m a decent person and I probably like you if you’re my neighbor.

      That’s not socialism, that’s just humans being humans. Just let people be people instead of trying to design social systems to manage them.”

      Well actually that is socialism, “from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs”. The sad fact is most people have yet to realize that the truth is always used to sell a lie. That so called tenet of communism plays to exactly what you said, “humans being human”, it is not a corrupt principle unto itself, it is the state that has corrupted the principle for its own gain.

      Trust me, close off exports and imports even in this country and you will find out how limited resources really are, very swiftly.

      In fact it is the taking from some at their expense and the redistribution to others by the third party of the state that creates an illusion of perpetual abundances without sufficient systems of production to establish them.

      Truthfully we are all benefiting from corporate socialism right now, as resources from the rest of the world are exploited for our own benefits. This is not the result of the fact that as humans we are socialists, this is the result of a facist cabal of the state and industry centralizing resources under a false banner of socialism/democracy/republicanism, etc.

      Each man and woman can be correctly described as a socialist, a communist, a conservative, a libertarian, an anarchist. These words are to be adjectives of our behaviors, not banners for the state to hide behind. If a lake was built in a community we both lived in, would you seek to fence even your portion of the lake? No, well that is socialist thinking. If your neighbor wanted a typical golf course looking lot would you force them to grow fruit? No, sounds like libertarianism to me. If you were told you can’t fill in the blank but found it to be wrong, something forced upon you and something you knew could not be enforced, would you do it, hey look anarchism! If something was working really good for everyone and someone wanted to change it just to gain personally would you allow it if you could object to it? No. Wow, look you just became a conservative! But if something was holding the whole place back and the only reason changing it was being objected was fear of things that don’t really matter, would you support the change, wow, look now you are a liberal.

      You want to control people corrupt a language until communication is impossible and you are a long way to doing so.

      • Oh and hey after that long answer, I only had to really object to your opening sentence of,

        “I don’t think socialism and liberty can co-exist, even in purely voluntary socialism”

        You do see the flaw in language correct?

        If I and those I choose to commune with are not able to set up voluntary socialism as it works for our as agreed upon by us, how can liberty exist for us?

        I still want to take a shot at something akin to PermaEthos 1.0 some day, a co-owned community with shared resources run as an anarchist group. Might not be part of PermaEthos LLC because the other partners may not want to do it that way and tie it to a successful co owned corporation.

        • You can voluntarily enter into an unfree arrangement. Debt, joining the military, and entering a socialist commune, for example.

          My question is, who decides how the resources are distributed?

          If Tom’s crops fail, but I have a great harvest, what if I don’t want to share with Tom? What if Tom is an asshole and he managened his land unsustainably for years despite our warning and now he’s screwed? What it I’m just selfish and I don’t want to give to somebody in legitimate need?

          You can say either give or leave, but that’s not freedom. That’s a mild degree of oppression you can easily leave.

        • Who decides the people involved, again, simply put this word has been ruined and no longer means what most people think it means. Why do you even feel the need to use “unfree” here?

          In an anarcho system, Tom would have likely been sent packing long ago.

        • It is unfree. “Our way or the highway” isn’t free. “Our way, or your way as long as your not hurting anybody else” is free. “Give or be gone” is not freedom. It’s not evil and it’s not wrong, because you voluntarily entered the community. But it’s not freedom.

          I don’t understand why people like the idea of depending on other people in a direct, they are feeding me fashion so much. It’s only ever led to misery for me, but maybe that’s because most of my family is crazy.

          Either way, my only objection to socialism is I wouldn’t want to live in it. I don’t debate its ability to function as a system the way you describe it.

        • Your brain is clogged with unreality vs. unfreedom. Our way or the highway has an entry point not just an exit.

        • You’re completely not understanding my point. Just because the highway has a voluntary entry point, and I know the highway sucks, doesn’t mean the highway doesn’t suck.

          In other words, voluntarily entering a community that sucks when I know it’s going to suck doesn’t make the community not suck, it just makes me stupid.

          And you can’t make the argument that a highly interdependent community based on voluntary sharing under an unwritten code of social norms wouldn’t suck for someone who hates all of those things.

          I know what socialism means vs what people think it means by the way, and I still don’t like it.

          It’s the interdependency and expectations from other people that make it suck.

          Also, would you agree that the Earth would be a pretty much anarchist system if it wasn’t for border restrictions and travel restrictions and policies that make leaving a country difficult? Multiple communities (really big communities) you can voluntarily enter and exit with their own system of social organization. Sounds like anarchy to me.

          Couldn’t a community within an anarchist region have a governing body and it still be anarchy as long as people are free to come and go between the communities?

        • Again you insist on making an adjective a system unto itself. You don’t want to understand this right now and your arguments don’t even apply to what is being discussed.

          With no state most of the concerns you have are pointless.

          I am part of a group, you are not, you live next to me, so long as you didn’t take your land from someone else, no one wants you to leave or takes from you. However if you don’t support us, we don’t support you. You want to live as an island so be it.

          The actions of my group don’t effect you. I know this is hard to allow yourself to understand in a word where words have been so poisoned.

        • Not to mention every human is dramatically dependent upon other humans for their own survival.

        • “I am part of a group, you are not, you live next to me, as long as you didn’t take your land from someone else, no one wants you to leave or takes from you. However if you don’t support us, we don’t support you. You want to live as an island so be it.”

          I’d be ok with living there. Nobody describes it that way though, hence why I wasn’t fully understanding the idea of socialism as an adjective. Socialism as a way of describing the way people interact without the expectation that I HAVE TO be involved, and me being free to contribute or not contribute as I wish without being judged or scorned by the community, fine, 100% ok with that. Community that says “don’t come here if you don’t want to live completely as part of the collective,” I’m not moving there.

          I have a hard time seeing people being able to maintain the attitude you described, and I can see people saying “well, one of the conditions of living with us is supporting us” as soon as things get difficult or they decide they don’t like me, etc.

          People tend to suck like that.

          This is why I like capitalism, I can’t produce all my needs directly by myself, but I can get really good at one thing and use that to produce a surplus to exchange for currency which I can use to get things I can’t produce for myself, and that way I’m not AS dependent on other people, who are probably going to be assholes and want to have a say in my life because people suck and they’ll use any excuse, like hey I’m feeding you do what I say, to suck more. This is based on all my experience with depending on people.

  2. Regarding Toby Hemenway’s discussion of “hill people” remaining separate or insulated from state hegemony: About a decade ago I returned to school to obtain a history degree and teaching certificate because I found that everything I read in my spare time was… history. I focused a good amount on the period around the Civil War and Reconstruction, and at the graduate level I focused even more on the southern independent farmers. One of the conclusions that I came to was that these southern independent farmers were the last remaining example of the yeoman ideal of the Revolutionary era — white, male heads of household who were able to live in freedom by the sweat of their (and their family’s) brow.

    One of the things that became apparent through research was that the further you got away from the coast — first to the piedmont region, and then to into Appalachia — the more actively people resisted the intrusion of the state AND the “free market” into their lives. They actively opposed the installation of improvements like river mills as a threat to their way of life. And what was this way of life based upon? It was largely about living within the natural limits imposed by their environment, and community life defined by a system of mutual obligations among kin and community. In this sense, people were both independent AND interdependent. And it’s probably also important to note the role that common rights had in these communities — the right of any person to harvest modest amounts of food, firewood, etc. from land that was held in common by the whole community. Examples of this would be harvesting shad from the rivers, use of canals on another person’s property to transport your goods, or gathering blueberries from the mountainside.

    This also fits with a description I heard applied to Americans around the time of Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” that they were a people consumed with a spirit of independence and community mindedness.

    Finally, a word about the term “socialism”. Socialism and communism are largely products of the industrial age. If you want a more accurate term to describe what Toby is talking about here, I’d suggest communitarianism, because it is based upon community as opposed to a much larger society. And if we look at the older hunter-gatherer or horticultural societies (or modern-day remnants), it’s easy to see how much these groups of people are based on common ownership of land and interdependence among members of the community. The removal of money as a means to conduct all transactions and the subsidy provided by far-away material extraction makes interdependence a pure necessity for survival — no man is an island under these circumstances.

  3. Jack, I believe you’ve come full circle: Republican, Libertarian, Anarchist, and now Socialist. I personally would not mind a monarchy provided I had a small, royal title and few subjects of my own.

    Great interview.

    • No I am not a socialist, nor do I endorse socialism as a system only as an adjective. In other words at times I am sad but I don’t endorse sadism, some times I am happy but I don’t endorse happism.

      Again the words have been damaged beyond their meanings. I am an anarchist, no rulers, no state, period. Just because I as I have always have believe in sharing between equals (which I said on air the first time in an episode in the 20s) doesn’t make me a socialist.

      Hell to see how little my philosophy has changed and how much simply my understanding of words has expanded may be you should listen to episode 11.

      • I don’t really understand the confusion but I haven’t heard this podcast yet.

        Where I grew up and pretty much anywhere out in the country, people share all the time. They’ll set up a tub near the road with free vegetables if they have too many, or ask around before throwing something away to see if anyone could use it.

        Nobody is forcing them, it’s just that people think it’s good to help out others and it may come full circle one day when you can’t get your truck out of a ditch.

        Most people like to help and share, but most people don’t like someone forcing them to, and people remember the assholes on their own.

        Maybe that’s socialism without the state, I don’t know. All these names are political tools anyway. We can thank the Frank Luntz’s of the world for this crap.

        • The confusion is UM feels a word means a system rather that it just is an adjective that has been made into the ideology of a system by the state.

      • There is a channel I subscribe to on youtube named the FastPlants. It’s got some awesome video on the Oneida tribes and their way of life. Land ownership was a foreign concept to them ( and I think to most native Americans) and the tribe depended primarily on their communal efforts. They were stewards of the land and trees and shared houses and harvest. I’m sure lazy people were asked to square away or hit the road. The same could be said about clans in Europe or the Appalachian people to some extent.

        I know what you’re saying, just giving you a hard time.

  4. =) – ahh words!

    It might just be easier to chop the ISM off of things. Generally you start with something great.. people like it so much that they make it into an IDOL and WORSHIP it.. and shazam! an ISM is born!

    So busy are they gazing upon their golden idol, that they turn off their brain, and become a zombie priest of their new religion. Which of course, like all religions.. MUST BE the ONE TRUE FAITH!

    Soon.. what was once great (without the ISM attached) becomes abhor’d by all those forced to deal with the stupidity of its zombie priesthood.. and even the original GREAT THING becomes associated with, and tarnished by its ISM doppelganger.

    Which of course.. by this point, has truly become its evil opposite.


    Seriously.. chop off the ISM.


    Those are good words, and fine concepts. I want to live in and support a COMMUNITY. I want to belong to and participate in SOCIAL groups.

    Without the ISM.. this is VOLUNTARY interdependence. IMO there can’t be ENOUGH of that.

    Interdependence = increased safety & stability, expanding wealth & happiness

    So.. please don’t be scared by the socialist or communist boogyman. If the word no longer works, think up a new one not tainted by decades of propaganda and use that. But don’t abandon the original idea.

    If you do, the thought police have won.

    • ism is only the action version of ist.

      I am a modern survivalist, so I practice modern survivalism, no state or authority is required.

      the suffix is ist, it means to specialize in.

      But I get what you are saying. It does amuse me though that people who have gotten to not fear the WORD anarchism can still fear the WORD socialism.

      In a system that is designed to have no state, no one has any real authority unless granted as a position of leadership.

      So Untitled Millennial’s concern is pointless.

      The basic answer is no one is sent packing the way we thing of with government mindset. Geographically.

      In an anarcho system the greedy guy he mentions that doesn’t want to help others will someday need help, the system will correct the imbalance when he doesn’t get it. The lazy fuck that won’t work won’t get help either, the solution is the same for both extremes. No one will make you share when you have plenty and a good member of your group is in need, but it is noted and you may find yourself out of the group, no support for you!

      When people here leave or sent away they always think geography, most have never been part of an anarcho group that has pledged loyalty to each other. So they don’t get it. In such groups banishment doesn’t mean you have to physically move, your property is your property, you are just OUT of the group. You no longer are protected by it, you no longer have the pledge of support, etc.

      It is really simple!

      • The thing is, people do this naturally already, but government always inserts itself as a middleman and then pats itself on the back and says “thank god we’re here for all you ignorant asses!”

        But once people figure out that they can lead themselves perfectly fine then a bunch of the other “leaders” are out of a job – it’s a threat to their existence.

        Back to the community aspect: I think people tend to underestimate the kindness of others and themselves. Back during hard times (before my time of course), my grandma used to feed hobos that stopped by. A lot of people just traveled around looking for work (this was Oklahoma). Nobody made her do it and she wasn’t the only one. There was just empathy among a lot of people because they all walked that fine line of having to make enough food to get by year to year. They understood that it might be them at some point standing outside someone’s door asking for help. If you were a hard ass for no reason, people would remember you as selfish. Nobody called the law for piddly little shit, like they do now.

        If your neighbors barn was on fire, you got there as quickly as you could. If you had an emergency out of town, you might leave your kids with your neighbor (and they’d better mind!). Etc.,ect. Hell, we used to have to share a phone line with several people that lived miles down the road and there was always someone who stayed on too long spreading gossip and they’d have to get called out sometimes – nobody called the cops.

        Few people lived close enough to see each other but it was still a community and people figured out most stuff on their own. I just don’t see much of this anymore and now there’s always some outside authority (committees, sub-committees, task forces, etc) to get permission from, to get forgiveness from, to fill out forms for, to pay, to complain to, or whatever and they’re always good about letting us know that there would be chaos without them.

        • Chad – I have a grandfather who’s still around at 96, and he grew up during the depression in rural Western PA, one of 9 kids in a house without running water or electricity. As he tells me all the time, “People today don’t know what hard times are — those were hard times.” But at least they had a 5-6 acre homestead with a milk cow and small coal shaft on their property, so they were probably better off than most.

          Anyway, my pap tells me about how other people in the community would come around and ask his father to give them some coal, that they would pay him back when they had the money. Every time, his father would give them the coal, and my pap would turn to him and say, “You know they’re never going to pay you back.” To which his father would just shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, what are you going to do?”

          I’ve found a lesson in this story, and it’s that my pap came into adulthood when wage labor really took hold as the way to “meet your needs” during the postwar boom, so he looks back on this as just giving stuff to people who were too lazy to make money to get it on their own. But his father was born in 1879, and grew up in a time and place where people were probably much more dependent on each other to meet their basic needs. When times were tough (like during the 1930s), and my pap’s father had more than what he needed, he likely saw it as his Christian duty to share with those who didn’t have enough. Because the alternative was to just keep it to yourself and be talked about as a selfish, greedy, heartless bastard, and thus be on the outside if you ever needed help — that’s just the way that things worked back in those days.

          And everyone was probably better for it in a lot of ways than under the system we have today.

  5. Great interview. I believe it is the “liberation” aspect of permaculture as I’ve heard from Geoff Lawton, Mark Shepard, and Toby Hemenway that makes the practice attractive to me personally and also to advocate to others.

    With any form of liberty, a permaculture one would not successfully survive apathy. From what I’ve heard about the Davis, CA subdivision that originated as a permaculture designed community, the fruits are largely being neglected and just rotting on the ground.

    There will always be a certain percentage of malcontents and apathetic individuals that no system of community has been able to address without some form of aggression.

    In a recent conversation with Jason of the Urban Farming Guys, he told me that everything they plant has to be done with the eye of what crime will be attracted or enabled by the greenery. He told me that with every tree that comes down there is a decrease in crime in his immediate area. I wonder how permaculture in truly urban centers can address this significant factor?

    • Social responsibilities and design.

      I’m not sure if i shared it on here, I think I did, but I recently realized that I probably should have discussed cutting down this small forest strip next to my house that exposed his house to mine. Not necessarily JUST to ask him permission, but to let him know what I was doing, why, etc. Also to be able to tell him I put in a privacy bamboo.

      Now, looking back he probably doesn’t care one iota about me doing that just because he isn’t around enough, but if he was, I exposed his back yard to my house and didn’t even tell him I was doing it. Not very neighborly.

  6. I’ve enjoyed this podcast very much. In fact I’ve listened through twice in addition to Permaculture Voices PVP 100 interview by Diego Garcia. Thanks Jack for bringing Toby onto your show and the excellent discussion.
    Perhaps its just my own perception bias, but around the 52-63 minute mark Jack leads Toby into a discussion of hierarchical governance to self governance (Anarchy).
    The perception bias for me was how this concept was beautifully and classically fictionalized by Tolkien in the next to last chapter of Lord of the Rings, “The Scouring of the Shire”, and the hopefulness of the concluding chapter “The Grey Havens” which blows the horn call for horticultural regeneration.
    Does anybody else in Jack’s broad audience agree or disagree with this parallel?