Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Something for your struggles

Treading water beats the pants off of drowning. Respect yourself for doing the work to survive. You are not to blame for your bad ideas. Feeling awful can be more actual work than feeling good.
Do not confuse your strengths for virtues, or your weaknesses for vices. It is just as important learning to live with our weaknesses, than learning how to use our strengths.
Knowledge only becomes wisdom after we have practiced it and made it part of ourselves. It is hard enough to see the paths forward, let alone being ready to attempt them. You can see the path up a mountain, but not have the strength or tools to climb it. Yet.
When we are on our hands and knees in the dark, the smallest obstacle can block our way forward. Uncertainty can lead to fear, and fear can lead to panic, making us make worse mistakes than staying still. The smallest effort can give us back some feeling of control, even if it's just pulling the blankets over our faces, or counting to three before we cry or scream.
The smallest positive action can be the glimmer of hope that gets us through to morning, when the thing we thought was blocking us reveals itself as something we just need to step around.
Our bad ideas don't go away, just because we’ve seen all the ways we were mistaken. Even when we’ve seen how we were wrong, it takes effort to resist falling back into negative thought patterns, and when we’re stressed sometimes that effort is too much. Don't beat yourself up for feeling bad and “knowing” you shouldn't. The effort you are making to keep your demons at bay would probably make the “strongest” of us weep.
It is possible to fall into the same holes in the road again and again, until we master how to climb out of them, then avoid them, and eventually, possibly take a different road entirely.
None of it is easy, but the old philosophers were wise when they said the beauty of one moment can undo the darkness of 10000 years. But so can the darkness of one moment, so know the demons you are struggling with are real, they are negative neural pathways in our heads. They don't just disappear when we've learned that they are wrong.
But if we are lucky, smart, strong, or just pigheaded, sneaky and stubborn, we can learn to recognize our demons, acknowledge them, even respect them in all their terribly seductive beauty and their fury. And then step past them, and get on with some kind of day.
They may never go away, but some of them we will tame, if only for a little while. We can hopefully turn them into butterflies, who remind us, like Death over our left shoulder whispering “None of this is forever” so do what you can, while you can and remember that the challenges we overcome, are part of the beauty of what it is to be alive. Stay alive.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Flossing might save the World

All of our wonderful technologies can't save us without a clear moral tool box for making the right decisions.

Advances in green technology make equitable choices easier - if we can bring electricity to new places while not enslaving the 'beneficiaries' then that changes the trajectory of human civilization - it tilts our searing landscape towards progress - but without the inner technologies - the ethical systems, philosophical rigour of acting justly - taking full responsibily for the consequences of our lifestyles and actions, they are useless.

'Humanity has all the technology it needs to live justly and sustainably'
The only technology humanity needs to live in peace is a stronger moral compass.  If we all took 20 minutes a day to study philosophy or meditate - to quiet the fears and anxieties that drive our greed and selfishness, we could look around and see: oh we can stop climate change while redistributing wealth, strengthening democracy, and lifting billions out of poverty.  The wellness of my neighbour directly increases my own health and safety and liberates all the resources spent on wars to lift humanity out of scrabbling and fighting in the dirt and upwards towards the stars.

Each of us needs to stare Death in the teeth, and floss.  We're going to die, but we won't live in Fear, and when we pass it will be with a full set of chompers.

(image from Ottawa Dental Care)
So do not give into Fear.  Know that we already possess the tools to build a better world and the moral, philosophical and spiritual systems to use them.  And then act righteously.

Know that if you spend money on vanities we see you are insecure.

If you feel the need to dominate it's because you are too afraid to submit yourself to a higher purpose.

That humility, gratitude and effort opens yourself to life everlasting.

That anyone who has learned to not live in Fear has already found Heaven and immortality.

So stop being an asshole - we're all douchebags, from time to time, but we know we can do better.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Divided we fall? Does Regenerative Agriculture need a good dose of Marketing?

What if human civilization was wiped out because ‘Permaculture’ was a weird word?

What if the atmosphere of the planet burns off into space because the people who did know what needed to be done were squabbling over what to call doing it?

I am a babe in the Permaculture food forest woods – like some of you, I’ve always been interested in the natural world, came across Geoff Lawton’s videos, and ended up taking the Online 2014 Permaculture Design Course.

I’ve done my design, tried to explain Permaculture to a lot of people, and followed a lot of like minded groups on Facebook and other places.

And then was struck by the fact that as confusing a word as ‘Permaculture’ is – there’s about twenty other words, than mean almost the same thing.

Restorarion agriculture? Regrarianism? Agroforestry? Beyond Organic? Silvoculture? Agroecology? Biodynamic? The Amish version: Advancing Eco Agriculture. The list goes on and on. And these are only SOME of the English ones…

To reach the tipping point Geoff Lawton talks about for sustainable agricultural and food growing practices to go mainstream it would help if we could simplify the message.

In looking up the origins of these various strands of sustainable food growing systems I had to revisit the three ethics of Permaculture, which, as a newcomer, I’m not proud to admit I’d forgotten about.

Earth Care, People Care and Return of Surplus.

Earth Care – that the systems we design should not harm the Earth, but rather help all living systems.

People care – that our systems are designed to feed people, AND to provide safe, healthy places to live and meaningful lives within them…

And Return of Surplus – that in order to care for the Earth and it’s people, we must constantly return energy and materials to the environment to allow it to gain in fertility and abundance.

Now these ethics do distinguish Permaculture from similar, strictly technical food growing systems – but they are also a little hard to explain, and unfortunately, not something everyone is able to accept.

To my mind the overarching theme that unites permaculture and other sustainable food growing systems is: “Feeding people without harming the planet”. Already there’s an obstacle here for going mainstream because a lot of people don’t believe that industrial agriculture IS harming the planet. And like it or not, we may never convince them otherwise.

If our primary goal is keeping the Earth liveable, we might just need a little marketing to reach a wider audience.

And part of that work, might make a few people very uncomfortable.

We might have to set aside some of what is so near and dear to us about the ethical foundations of permaculture, in order to reach people who quite frankly philosophically and constitutively will never proactively accept people care and earth care as the same moral imperatives that we do.

In talking to a friend about the urgency of action on climate change to help people in countries at risk his response was: “But I have enough trouble caring about other Canadians”. And he’s a very nice guy. Generous, caring, etc.
So how can we get these people onside?
How about money?
If we can demonstrate that sustainable food growing systems are more profitable than business as usual, well then a whole extra tranche of people might suddenly become interested.

I know a lot of people will object to this, arguing, rightly to my way of thinking but not to everybody’s, that the pursuit of profits at all cost has gotten us into this mess.

And I will admit I’ve not thought about this long enough to think through all of the repercussions of what I’m proposing. I’m hoping this will trigger a debate on what I do think is a fundamental challenge to shift people towards sustainable food growing systems to avert environmental catastrophe.

We don’t all share the same motivations. The ethical motivations that attract some of us to permaculture might actual repel others from coming on board. “Too hippy, communist, etc.”

So what do you think?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Of naive Liberals and repulsive Conservatives

A conservative can no more help being repulsed by chaos and disorder than a liberal can inevitably fail to underestimate human perfidy. They are cognitive biases. Demonstrable tendencies to see the world in certain ways.

We all have them - they have likely been selected for by evolution and to some extent are inescapable.

But - a little self knowledge is a powerful thing.

Knowing our own biases, we can actively practice reassessing our first impressions. I need to actively rein in my desire to please everyone in order to conserve enough energy and resources for my immediate social group. I need to question my tendency to trust and think the best of people, with the reality that some people are selfish and take advantage. It is a rosy pair of glasses I get to wear, and I've told myself endless stories about how wonderful I am for finding everyone so swell, but it's a predisposition and no more 'accurate' than it's opposite.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

We would all do well to understand our differences, and to respect them - because they have likely proved useful in the past.

The conservative who is repulsed by the unknown is less likely to eat a strange fruit that may or may not be poisonous. And that cautionary instinct probably saved many of each of our ancestors.

The liberal who seeks to please strangers likely helped someone who ended up being of great assistance to the propagation of the liberal's genome.

It's life's rich pageant. Like every great cliche, the value of listening and trying to understand the opinions of others, is immensely adaptive. We each see the world in unique, yet statistically demonstrably common ways, and recognizing our blind spots - recognizing when and how we disagree, gives us access to contexts and perspectives that help us make better decisions.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Neil de Grasse Tyson and the Dangers of Philosophy

The NdGT controversy I think comes down to the question of thinking versus acting. Of determining some form of balance

Neil de Grasse Tyson recently made some comments that have been interpreted as saying 'philosophy is useless' -- as a man of want to be action, usually navel gazing, I didn't look too deeply at them, but rushed instead to form an opinion.

I did in fact read part of a transcript from the nerdist here (I think) and thought NdGT's comments were not out of line.

They come down to the existential dilemma we face every day. Acting without thinking versus thinking without acting -- and how we must each find a liveable balance between the two.

For years I made the joke about how hard it is to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning because we're all going to die.

Which is an extreme form of 'where do I turn my spade?' - which was the phrase used in some philosophy course I took. When do I stop questioning and just do something?

Where we fall on the gradient between active and introspective is likely the usual combination of genetic and cultural influences. Look at some identical twins separated at birth raised in different cultures and see how they score.

I believe NdgT's point was that you don't want to spend your entire life 'just thinking'. Or just introspecting. He seems to have been saying that scientists look at the world 'out there' and see endless questions that they may be able to find answers to.

I know that I'm prone to doing ALOT of introspection, but over the years I've had help identifying some of the times when you need to get your head out of your ass and look around. Negative introspection, when you keep telling yourself bad things about yourself. Throw up a flag, and consciously change what you're thinking/doing. Endlessly pondering a decision - at some point you have to weigh the cost of delaying a decision against the cost of making a wrong decision. And sometimes the decision is between two good things so there's little downside to EITHER! So you have to ask yourself - in these cases the SOONER I choose, the better. Procrastination - all the instances of challenges, like doing the dishes, where the amount of work won't change, but the amount of enjoyment of that work depends on when you do it. Doesn't mean you can do EVERYTHING right away, but it's a mental tool to remind yourself - hey, if I do that NOW, then I won't have to do it later.

Anyway - now I have to stop ruminating and work. But I think MAYBE NdGT's comments have been blown out of proportion, by peoples overthinking.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Patterns and Power Laws

In Geoff Lawton's Permaculture design course a lot of participants had problems with the video on patterns.

In it, he asserts that in nature, most if not all patterns in a whole raft of phenomena (river sizes, relative bone lengths, etc) occur in between 5 and 9 orders of size. ie there's a recognizable and limited number of classes of sizes of the object.

I've started to attempt to explain my take on it. I think, like on the video about entropy, he's 'onto something' but missing some of the explanation. And as both entropy and natural patterns are such big topics - we observe the phenomena and really want a good explanation for it - they can't be glossed over.

Draft the first - on Patterns in nature:

Patterns and power laws

What I take away from this discussion of pattern is that it is as a heuristic, or rule of thumb, when we observe natural patterns that they often show between 5 and 9 orders of size.

It’s not a “law” but a useful tool to use while looking for patterns. “Many” natural patterns show between 5 and 9 orders of size, so see if you can spot between 5 and 9 orders of size, before concluding the pattern you are observing has fewer or greater orders of size.

As for the scientific and mathematical rigour of the assertion …

A quick search came up with two links that might help understand “why” natural systems do this.

1) examples of the Fibonacci sequence http://jwilson.coe.uga.edu/emat6680/parveen/fib_nature.htm

2) a description of rank-size distributions http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rank-size_distribution

From the description of rank-size Wikipedia says :

"(The) rule “works” because it is a “shadow” or coincidental measure of the true phenomenon.2 The true value of rank size is thus not as an accurate mathematical measure (since other power-law formulas are more accurate, especially at ranks lower than 10) but rather as a handy measure or “rule of thumb” to spot power laws."

Which I paraphrase as "many natural systems exhibit similar recurring patterns because they are following some power law relationship (in the mathematical sense) ie surface area increases as the square of the radius (radius “to the power of 2”) while volume increases as the cube of the radius (“to the power of 3”)

And because many natural systems must contend with these types of interactions – the two dimensional surface of water being pushed by wind that contains a three dimensional volume of liquid – similar patterns occur.

This is a good description of natural patterns.


And one of the “reasons” these patterns occur is because they are either energy maximizing (in the case of the distribution of leaves to capture sunlight) or minimizing (spheres are the minimum surface area to contain a given volume)

Natural selections favours organisms that use energy most efficiently, and physical and chemical systems follow the least energetic path (I.e water rarely flows uphill and products of combustion rarely reassemble into reactants)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Greening" the green movement

In order to revolutionize global agriculture and help save the planet, the green movement has to demonstrate how in the short term farming smarter will put money in your pocket.


"La tendance est au desespoir"

It takes a not inconsiderable amount of energy to filter out the bad news and find the good. Lately, faced with the seemingly relentless stream of catastrophic climate change reports, political ass-hatitude, etc, I began actively seeking out good news to, you know, curtail my drinking.

I had been following the Permaculture Research Institute's email newsletter for awhile, and when they started pushing their online permaculture design course I looked into it.

Permaculture is a term coined by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978.

"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system." - Bill Mollison [Mollison, B. (1991). Introduction to permaculture. Tasmania, Australia: Tagari.]

It's a tricky term to explain and needs some better branding.

In essence it is about designing systems to feed and support humans using natural processes that are self-regenerating and increase system fertility and productivity.

Farming smarter. Or S.M.A.R.T.E.R Farming - Sustainably Maximizing Agricultural Returns Through Ecological Resiliency. (I'm not so much a marketing guy...)

Modern industrial farming is very good at maximizing crop yields through the intensive application of chemical and mechanical inputs. i.e we throw a shit tonne of fertilizer and machines at a single species at a time and maximize it's yield per acre.

It works, it's allowed the world's population to explode, but it's carbon intensive and sucks fertility from the soil. As long as there's ever more land to farm, and fossil fuel in the form of fertilizer, diesel, etc, to throw at it, it "works".

But as arable land becomes scarce or impoverished, the costs of fuel and fertilizer rise, and the impacts of climate change increase, the tenuousness and fragility of stretching a few crop species to their limits become apparent.

Like a race car or professional athlete, you can achieve incredible things by pushing your capacities to the limits, but the risk of catastrophic failure or debilitating injury increase.

Minor perturbations can cause massive disruptions and almost everyone not being paid not to, agree we're in store for a few of those.

Now permaculture, and the various other names it goes under - regenerative organic agriculture [ used by Tom Newman and others, The Carbon Underground ], etc. create systems whose aim is to maximize yield and increase fertility through the intelligent design of interconnected ecological processes.

Every element in the system has many functions, and every function is supported by many elements. i.e if one part fails, other elements pick up the slack.

You maximize yield and fertility by acre by recycling all the resources available to the system - sun, water, wind, animal, vegetable and human waste streams etc, as many times as possible.

It's taking the most efficient energy and material converting processes on the planet - living systems, and arranging them to best serve our needs.

By returning sufficient organic material to the system, it builds resilience and increases yield with only the fertilization the system naturally provides.


I've fallen into the same trap I was hoping to avoid - telling people about the science instead of showing people the money.

In order for this "better" way to farm to be adopted, a number of options are open.

1) through force and coercion - people mount bloody revolutions or get their governments to enact policies that require better farming practices.

Not super likely.

2) grassroots activism and education - by spreading the good word, greenies enlist support and win over people to their cause

Generational - it's perhaps 'happening', but slowly

3) Money - Permaculture and regenerative organic farmers open their books and show the world how profitable smart farming can be.

While some of 1 may unfortunately occur, and some of 2 is to be applauded, "liked" and "shared" until our slacktivist clicking fingers are calloused and bloody, 3 - to me - is what could turn another "good idea" into reality.

If we can demonstrate, through audited financial statements showing yields per investment of time and money, that Smart Farming is better - everyone will jump on board.

If we can show small hold farmers all over the world that current industrial methods are expensive and impoverish the soil, while ecologically sound farming is cheap and produces greater yields, well then we're off to the races.

And I think this is the way forward.

As long as permaculture remains something we "should" do, or "could" do because it is "better" - it requires individuals to exert themselves to do it - either willingly, out of conviction, or reluctantly because they are coerced to do so.

But if the business case can be made - under current legislative regimes as overturning vested industrial agricultural interests will take some doing, then people will adopt these practices in droves.

It's a lot like exercise, eating healthily, tracking your budget. We can "know" they're good for us, but until we experience it for ourselves or see their positive impacts directly in others, it's just more shit we ought to do. Governments and proselytizers can encourage us, but the cheapest positive action is the one we take freely by ourselves.

So smart farmers - open your books, and show the world the "green" way forward.