Did I miss something? Before you turn back to rational permaculture topics, are you going to share what the brush with the world beyond the [veil] was? -Steve Carrow
[This started out as a reply in the comments section of the previous post but, as you can see, quickly became its own post.]
Hey, Steve. I guess different people have all sorts of different triggers for experiences like mine, but it's the results of that experience that seem to validate it more than the actual trigger - what a born-again might refer to as the "fruit." I suppose that's why I spent all my time talking about how it changed me instead of talking about what actually happened.
It's kind of mundane really. I was watching a YouTube interview with permaculture co-originator (his own terms) David Holmgren, talking about his new book "Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability" when it hit me. David was talking about how aggressive pioneer "weeds" will capture and occupy a disturbed site, forming a monoculture or restricted oligoculture, and remain until the site's energy resources begin to decline. At that point the stranglehold of the dominant population becomes maladaptive, and increasing biodiversity and cooperative relationships begin to emerge in an effort to more effectively utilize a declining energy base.
The parallels between that weedlot community David was talking about and human cultures on Earth hit me across the head like a 2x4. All of a sudden I recognized the gravity of global energy peak and what it would mean for our species. I saw colonial Eurasian farming culture (us) for the aggressive, (to borrow ecological jargon) r-selected, pioneer monoculture that it is, and energy descent as the very beginning of our people's return to a more normal, more reverent, mixed-strategy existence. And probably the emergence of a new, far more spiritual, far less material, ecological culture.
[To define the disturbance that lead to the aggressive mental monoculture currently in existence, I would place the initial disturbance on the doorstep of agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago, and a much greater disturbance on the shoulders of the fossil fuel era, which encompasses roughly the last 300 years. Eurasian farming culture simply multiplied its initial agricultural disturbance when it figured out how to harness the awesome power embodied in fossil fuels.]
But suddenly my anger toward our exploitative, extractive (and ultimately suicidal) economic mode subsided, not because I was suddenly OK with it, but because I knew it wasn't going to last forever. Couldn't last forever. I knew that our Earth would begin to recover now, and that humans, being part of the Earth, would too. That's the real silver lining of energy descent!
[Like every other liberal "progressive" I formerly believed in fantasies like "free energy," "weightless economies," and a soon-to-be-generally-affluent-if-we-could-just-get-those-other-idiots-out-of-the-way global culture, but the systems thinker in me subconsciously knew that that wasn't going to turn out well. It caused me a lot of anguish. The recognition of peak oil and subsequent energy descent as an inevitability was really a huge sigh of relief...]
Being an ecologist I had a decent mental grasp of how very differently populations tend to behave in a contracting energy scenario than they do in an expansionary one, and realized suddenly that the behavior of the average Westerner was eventually going to be altered, and probably altered radically, in favor of a more permanent, (to continue the ecology lingo) K-selected culture. A permanent culture. Permaculture.
Oil being what it is to us, the industrial world that is, and the U.S. particularly, peak oil meant that humankind's expansionary phase was coming to a close. It meant that our inertia toward one world order (controlled by us, the aggressive monoculture) was about to make a U-turn. In other words, peak oil equaled peak exploitation, of the Earth, of other people, and of ourselves. And that understanding changed me deeply. I consider my experience to be a full-on mental paradigm shift. Whether it constitutes a brush with the "sacred" is certainly debatable, but I've never experienced anything like it, nor heard more than a handful of stories that could compare. Among Westerners in particular they seem vanishingly rare.
Everything I started predicting 5 years ago, based on this new revelation, is coming true. I predicted that food would get perpetually more expensive as average real wages continued to decline in tandem, and it has, as they have. I predicted that more and more affluent industrial people would be gardening and keeping small livestock every year from now on, and they have done both, with gusto. I predicted that specialization would begin to decline and that the return of the generalist was at hand, that herbal medicine would start to regain its former prominence as the desirability and efficacy of allopathic chemical medicine came increasingly into question. On and on. All of which is the case today. Just look at how much energy the dominant culture is investing in maintaining the status quo! Since then I've read lots of similar opinions and of course tend to gravitate toward them - the writings of John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, Masanobu Fukuoka, Toby Hemenway, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison of course, cyclical historians Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler, Colin Campbell, Ianto Evans, etc.
And now Stephen Harrod Buhner's writing on indigenous herbalism is altering my perception profoundly once again. Maybe we'll have this talk again one day! I hope that answers your question well enough because a lot of this is fairly hard to articulate, but thanks for that little stroll down good memory lane...cheers.
And now, back to permaculture...