Thursday, September 2, 2010

Inhabiting Paradise - 1

Is “sustainable agriculture” a contradiction in terms?

Does survival of the human species depend on our ability (or willingness) to turn away from what we call “civilization” and to “re-wild” ourselves?

What does it mean to be fully human…what have we lost and how do we reclaim it?

Does a life of hunting and gathering require a higher level of consciousness than our usual existence?

In the coming days I'll be posting excerpts from thinkers and writers who have inspired some of these questions.

First, another visit with Joe Hollis, via his 1992 article, “Paradise Gardening.”

We want to save the world, and we want to save ourselves. It's the same thing. The problems confronting us are enormous and at every level: personal, social, planetary. I will spare you a list. My aim is to suggest that they are all symptoms of one problem, and to propose a solution.

The problem: to find a way to live on Earth which promotes our health and happiness, conducive to the full development of our innate potential, and, at the same time, is "democratic," that is, available to all, not using more than our share, and harmonious with the biosphere's evident drive toward increasing diversity, complexity, and stability.


Paradise gardening is not agriculture. From chemical to organic agriculture is a step in the right direction, but only the first step. Agriculture itself is, after all, half of the one-two punch that knocked us out of Paradise in the first place. Good farmers, to be sure, love nature; but they love her in the context of plowing her up every year and deciding what to grow next. Our addiction to annual species and disturbed habitats has put us at odds with the main thrust of the biosphere (and with ourselves).


Like any other creature, we are our niche. By our physiology and behavioral programming we are born to live a certain kind of life. Paradise is our birthright and our duty.

Now, instead, we take up a niche in civilization. The premise of civilization is that if everyone is a less than complete human being ("I'll be the brains, you be the back"), it will be better for all of us. This insulting premise has guided us for so long that many of us are unaware of an alternative.


The last time we lived in paradise it was as "foragers": hunters and gatherers, omnivorous, opportunistic exploiters of a variety of environments. Specialists, not of disturbance, but of diversity.

This lifestyle has attracted much attention recently (at the very time that the last vestiges of it are being eradicated). The view that foraging is an adaptation superior to agriculture is now well established in academia and the same theme appears in popular literature (e.g. Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines and Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller, both inspiring).

A revolution in the study of the human niche was prompted by the realization that foragers, far from living on the brink of starvation, as previously imagined, actually had more leisure than anyone else since (Lee and deVore, Man the Hunter).


We have spread ourselves over the Earth, and used or burned just about everything that is easy to get. The age of the greedy ones draws to a close. (They don't know it yet). At last, we may hope, the 'competitive advantage' passes to the practitioners of permanence, rootedness, slow growth and steady accumulation, the vertical expansion of the human spirit into realms uncharted, or long forgotten.

-excerpts from Paradise Gardening, by Joe Hollis, published in Katuah Journal, Spring 1992.


John F. said...

A great topic and some wonderful quotes from Joe Hollis. I hadn't seen his essay previously, and am glad now to have found it. It's closely related to my own investigations and recent article:

Here's a nice John Zerzan quote:

"Conformity, repetition, and regularity were the keys to civilization upon its triumph, replacing the spontaneity, enchantment, and discovery of the pre-agricultural human state that survived so very long."

Look forward to your next installment.

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks very much for the comment, and your article is tremendous.

Anonymous said...

I definitely need to buy a bike!