Zach Elfers | Pittsburgh City Paper

Zach Elfers 
Member since Oct 30, 2013



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Re: “Wild Times Ahead

I share many of the same sentiments as Tucker, and am myself a forager and gatherer (with minimal but increasing hunting experience... my next step in the rewilding process). Where I disagree with the anarcho-primitivist line, however, is in where I see the problem. Anarcho-primitivists place the blame with civilization; I blame the blame with character. Civilization is a _manifestation_ of our dysfunctional relationship to the earth: our flawed character. But it is not the cause.

However, the complicating factor in all of this is that civilization is indeed a compelling force in its own right. Just as the economists (wish I could remember the names!) who observed that it would seem that rather than people wielding power, it would be more truthful to describe the situation as power wielding people, the same is true of civilization. It's a big dependency web. And so long as we are its dependents, it controls us, and not the other way around. So there's a two-way interaction now. The problem is not only its cause, but the compounding of the cause and the problem. Because it's a dynamic interaction, we can ameliorate the problems of civilization by exercising good character. Likewise we can strengthen character by reforming civilization. The difficult thing in this is that it can be quite the struggle. Being aware of influences gives you the freedom to choose not to be influenced, but if you let you vigilance down, then you are swept away again. There is a lot of turbulence to wade through.

Therefore I'm pursuing a middle-way path. I advocate re-wilding, but not necessarily so that we can leave civilization behind to burn and implode upon itself, but so that we can return to it, now wiser, and liberated from its dependency-web. When we are a free and understanding people we will be able to choose. What are the good things to keep? What are the bad things to discard? Choice is such a fundamental instinct and privilege.

I see permaculture as the best movement and method toward pursuing a middle-way path. Permaculture, which is short for permanent agriculture (or permanent culture, more broadly), is a design philosophy where you start with well-articulated goals, and then use ecological design principles to design a self-sustaining system for living and land-use. It sits in the middle of the spectrum of Nature Agriculture/Farming. In practice, permaculture can result in man-made food-forest gardens where you harvest as if you were foraging. See the work of Dave Jacke, Eric Toensmeier, Sepp Holzer, and others, etc., for examples of how this works in practice. Permaculture is being put into practice around the world with great success.

In the end, I have a much more optimistic outlook than Tucker. For example, I find his estimate that as hunter-gatherers, we could support a world population of 500 million too low. Maybe that is true for non-cultivator hunter-gatherers (I do not know, and cannot do the math myself). But many/most cultures have historically NOT been strict hunter-gatherers, but practiced forms of land-management much closer to what is called permaculture today (See M. Kat Anderson's wonderful treatise on the subject "Tending the Wild").

In such a middle-way system where hunting-gathering is the method of harvest, but the landscape is still cultivated, maintained, and manipulated for human needs, the earth can support quite a large population indeed. In fact, it is estimated that when Columbus stumbled upon the island of Hispanola in 1492, there was already an indigenous population there of 18 million! New estimates describe the New World population prior to Europeans as perhaps around 1 billion. The inhabitants of Hispanola -- and many indigenous groups across the American continents -- practiced just such a system of large-scale cultivation of the environment, where they would later come through and forage.

With permaculture, I don't doubt that we can support a population of 7 billion if we play our cards right and use the best management practices and good stewardship. But I do think a smaller population is more desirable, ultimately!

2 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Zach Elfers on 10/30/2013 at 12:21 PM

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