creative commons

The Movement to Dismantle Civilization

Why all permaculture designs should include supporting a culture of resistance

This essay originally appeared at Colorado Permaculture Guild

By Jennifer Murnan / Deep Green Resistance

Currently, permaculture operates in the realm of bright green environmental activism and seemingly believes that the current culture can be transformed. Why should permaculturalists choose to align themselves with the deep green environmentalists that support dismantling civilization in the belief that it is irredeemable, and, in fact, is destroying life on our planet?

Here are the few reasons that have occurred to me:

The Permaculture movement has always run counter to the beliefs and principles of global civilization. It views nature as a partner, a teacher, and a guide whom we honor and are totally dependent on. This is completely contrary to the cultural view of western civilization; that the natural world is here to serve us, to be used and abused at will, and that this abuse is justifiable.

Permaculture practice, by definition, is an attempt to depart from the model of exploitation and importation of resources necessitated by civilization. To live permanently in one place is the antithesis of the pattern exhibited repeatedly by civilizations. Civilizations cannot live in place. They violently import and exploit their human and natural resources, exhaust their ecosystems, experience population overshoot, and collapse leaving an impoverished land base in their wake. Western industrial civilization is currently playing this scenario out on a global scale. Permaculture not only cannot exist within the confines of civilization, it cannot coexist with a civilization that is devouring the world. I believe it is neither ethical or practical on the part of permaculturalists to attempt to do so.

Another reason lies in the common visions of the primacy of the earth shared by deep green and permaculture activists. The first ethic in permaculture is “Care for the Earth.” Without this basis, the second and third ethics, “Care for people,” and “Redistribute surplus to one’s needs,” are impossible. Healthy organisms produce a surplus as a way to feed and enrich the ecosystem in which they exist. Simply put, there is no health unless the earth is cared for first.

As Derrick Jensen states in Premise Sixteen of Endgame “The Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything.”

There are attitudes shared by Permaculture and the Deep Green movement. Permaculturalists believe in working with nature and not against it. Fostering a respect for all life is inherent in permaculture practice. Valuing people and their skills creates more diversity, creativity and productivity in permaculture and deep green communities. Alignment between Deep Green and the Permaculture movements is especially apparent in two permaculture design principles. Seeking to preserve, regenerate and extend all natural and traditional permanent landscapes is a goal of both communities. Preserving and increasing biodiversity of all types is recognized as being essential for survival by both Deep Greens and Permaculturalists.

A primary reason for permaculture to become part of a culture of resistance is that permaculture’s two guiding principles logically mandate dismantling civilization. The precautionary principle states that we should take seriously and act on any serious or destructive diagnosis unless it is proven erroneous.

Civilization has proven itself to be destructive to ecosystems since its inception. Western industrial civilization is causing the wholesale destruction of every ecosystem on Earth.  Aric McBay writes, “The dominant culture eats entire biomes. No, that is too generous, because eating implies a natural biological relationship; This culture doesn’t just consume ecosystems, it obliterates them, it murders them, one after another. This culture is a ecological serial killer, and it’s long past time we recognize the pattern.”

A large scale and effective response to this destruction is necessary. The tactics of the environmental movement, up to this point have been insufficient. We are losing. It is time to change our strategy. This is why the Deep Green movement is advocating for all tactics to be considered as a means to stop the murder of the Earth. This includes, but is not limited to, practicing permaculture, legislation, legal action, civil-disobedience, and industrial sabotage.

There are problems with holding the permaculture movement as the sole solution to global destruction. While transitioning to sustainability in our personal lives is important, even more important is confronting and dismantling the oppressive systems of power that promote unsustainability, exploitation and injustice on a global scale. In fact, if these systems are left in place, the gains made by the practice of permaculture will be washed away in civilization’s tidal wave of destruction.

“Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral and stupid. Sustainability, morality and intelligence (as well as justice) require the dismantling of any such economic or social system or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase,” said Derrick Jensen.

The second guiding principle of permaculture, “intergenerational equity,” also necessitates immediate action in response to the destructive force of civilization. This principle states that future generations have the same rights as we do to food, clean air, water and resources. This statement applies to all humans and non-humans equally. On a daily basis entire species are being eliminated from this planet as result of the activities of industrial civilization. “intergenerational equity” for them has ceased to exist and every day this destruction continues more species go extinct. Allowing this to continue is unconscionable.

Permaculture is based on close observation of the natural world, and I believe can only realize its full potential in a human community that acknowledges the natural laws of its land base as primary. Practicing permaculture in any context other than this necessitates subverting our principles and betraying everything that nurtures and sustains us, all that is sacred, our living earth. We can only truly belong in a culture of resistance.

Both permaculturalists and deep greens know that the earth is everything, that there is no greater good than this planet, than life itself. We owe her everything and without her, we die.

This is it, we need each other, everyone, every tactic we can muster in defense of the earth.

We have never been able to afford civilization.

Lierre Keith: “The task of an activist is not to navigate around systems of oppression with as much personal integrity as possible. It’s to bring those systems down.”

10 thoughts on “The Movement to Dismantle Civilization”

  1. Jennifer Murnan is correct in many ways regarding the intent of permaculture practice. She did however leave out the elitism of permaculture pedagogy. Many people can’t afford the thousands of dollars required to experience on the ground perm instruction. Likewise, many people who are interested have no access to land. If permaculture was really about healing the planet it would have an open source component and efforts to mentor those who are have rich intentions but poor pocketbooks. In my mind, permaculture, which is an off-shoot of indigenous land relationships, is merely another manifestation of market forces for landed elite to make themselves feel good. The revolution must be open-source and inclusive.

    1. A lot of permaculture does cater to the middle class, with the marketing and gimmicks which go with that. But I found it very easy to learn permaculture on a near-zero budget by reading everything I could get my hands on, interning on a farm, and designing and implementing food forests on other peoples’ land. An abundance of free videos online today make it even easier to learn the theoretical basis.

      And since permaculture design can be applied to almost any design, it doesn’t require access to land; you can design your kitchen layout, or a balcony garden, or the organizational structure of a volunteer group.

  2. Dear Jennifer,
    what a great article! So glad i found it. Ever since I’m into permaculture, I felt that there is a gap, or a blind spot we must look at. You put that into very clear and powerful words.
    I always wished that there would be some connection between Derrick Jensen’s work and the permaculture movement. As you express so elegantly in this article, both movements share the same basic assumption: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable.
    But… I read a lot about permaculture and politics lately, like this article:

    There seems to be a slow shift to a more political, more radical approach. Shouldn’t permaculture be more political? The world is being destroyed before our eyes, right now and with increasing speed. Providing alternatives like permaculture does is absolutely crucial, but will it be enough? We can live our hippie-dippie-permaculture dream on our small-scale
    properties, but if the world around us is being destroyed, it doesn’t help much.
    Shouldn’t we use more offensive tactics to protect and restore whatever is left of zone 5?
    The importance of zone 5 is being discussed here:

    Zone 5 is the mother of all zones, but permies tend to focus merely on zones 1-4.
    Zone 5 needs to be defended and restored offensively. Not only should we protect whatever is left, me must regain much of the land, stolen by civilization to be used up and destroyed, for zone 5. Besides, this would be the best strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change.
    Without zone 5, there will be nothing left. Or as Bill Mollison puts it: “People must see these forests and wilderness as the greatest educational system that we have on the planet. If we could lose all the universities then we would lose nothing, but if we lose the forests we lose everything.”

    I’like Toby Hemenway, cause i think he closes the gap a little…

  3. Hi Jennifer, I just did some searching for your work since I’ve been so inspired by our conversations. Thank you, for writing this excellent article. We spoke a bit about this subject in person, & I’ve been mulling about it ever since. As a permaculture designer myself, I have been a student of DGR for some of the exact reasons you address in the article.

    I wanted to share an example of a permie turning a blind eye to the destruction. A person on one of our local permaculture network boards posted that we didn’t have to concern ourselves with the frackers that are moving in upstream because we could just do so much permaculture design that it wouldn’t matter what they did. When I type this out, it feels like listening to magical thinking. I immediately came back & first spoke about the ethics, the first of which is care for the earth. This ethic alone is basis for shutting down industrial civ.

    I then went through some of the design principles. Observe & interact: if one observes that there is benzene & other toxins being put into the water directly upstream, it is important to apply oneself & respond to feedback. About the yield, frackers upstream are also taking billions of gallons out of the watershed to pump into the ground risking a leak, plus the drilling process gets poisons into the aquifer. This will reduce available water, lower the yield, not to mention sicken & kill beings that one loves very much.

    Respond to change is the 12th principle, & responding to industrial civ in an effective way is a logical progression of the principles.

    In the long run, it’s not just the ethics that lead us to taking down industrial civ. If one honestly & deeply follows the design principles, I believe it leads to the same conclusion. Protection & restoration of zone 5.

    My main teachers at PDC, Jerome Osentowski & Peter Bane, are staunch protectors of zone 5. There continues to be much discussion around this. No matter whether one comes at this from logic or pure heart felt emotion, it leads us here where we can work together in solidarity. <3

  4. If I were to smash your head in because I disagree with your general sentiment, which I do not, many would call it uncivilized. Such an assault, and display of aggressive authority would almost universally be seen as unproductive and wrong. Not the “civilized” way to respond. All of us need to take care to not alienate the majority of our listeners and potential allies when speaking. Only a “civilized” person would even have the opportunity to read this content. Please take more care to ensure, that you are not driving away the very audience that needs to hear and comprehend this message. “Dismantle” is about power and domination, the very thing you seem most disturbed by. Maybe, by the use of a more applicable word, you could find a more useful philosophy to promote, and thereby open doors to wider communication in a larger audience.

    1. Thanks for the comment. We have actually gone to exhaustive lengths to define civilization for the purposes of our argument, notably Aric McBay’s piece “Definition of Civilization,” If you’re interested in a more in-depth analysis we suggest Derrick Jensen’s book Endgame Volume I: The Problem of Civilization and the preface “The Problem” to the book Deep Green Resistance, by Lierre Keith:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *