What are working relationships?

Learning, the Permaculture Way was a pre-conference workshop by David Eggleton and me at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference (PV2) in San Diego. Our session drew about 50 participants, some of whom continued a dialogue that seemed—on the surface—to have a narrow focus but, over the five days of PV2, grew wider, broader and was deepened considerably through Meet-Ups and collaboration with the Mycelium team of facilitators.

Working Relationships

One Day You Will Turn To Sustainability

A relationship that works is a relationship that does well with difference.
(Roger Fisher & Scott Brown)

Resilient Design yields results

Resilient Design yields results

For sustainability to function and endure, the overarching relationship that must function well is between people(s) and place(s). A resilient ability to balance the twin goals of being a Whole Person and living in a Whole Place is the aim and outcome of working well with the differences between peoples and places.

Many permies emphasize living in a Whole Place, so the Meaningful Makeover instrument brings an equal emphasis to being a Whole Person by elaborating the “Care of People” permaculture principle with insights from Stephen Covey (author of The 8th Habit and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

Creatively identifying the interconnections and interdependencies between the two “paradigms” of Whole Person and Whole Place yields four working relationships that serve as touchstones for life-long learning and permaculture coaching. With the additional half-hour Diego gave us this year, we asked participants to gather in small groups organized by Working Relationship and come up with a guiding question relevant to their journey through PV2.

Two Paradigms/Four Questions

Motivation: a whole heart.

Motivation: a whole heart.

The Whole Place paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: interspecies and interelemental.

The Whole Person paradigm invokes two Working Relationships: intrapersonal and interhuman.

The overarching questions created by small groups this year were:

    1. Interspecies: How do we reconcile/balance our desire to integrate wildlife and net biodiversity (whole ecosystem health) with the human need for a system that ‘produces a yield’?
    2. Interelemental: How do my design elements fit together as a system?
    3. Intrapersonal: How can we become our best whole selves to care for ourselves, our communities, & the earth while at the same time welcoming the reciprocity of those things caring for us, our communities, & our earth?
    4. Interhuman: How do I connect with the right people, how do I properly communicate, and how do I create/find community?

 Working Well with Differences, Interhumanly

Soirée noted some problems with the phrasing of the interhuman question:

I would like to point out that the three-part inter-human question resulted when we were not able to distill the community question further in the time allotted. It’s my impression that “right people” was not intended to imply some people were wrong but rather how do I find people for real connection rather than a passing fancy. [Also] I’m not entirely clear what “how do I properly communicate” meant to the contributor…

Rick pursued a different but related question: “How can I improve community stability?

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

Our Silences: an installation by Rivelino

During the Meet-Ups and in the Closing Break-Out Session, we talked a fair bit about trying to increase the diversity of future Permaculture Voices conference participants and presenters. One strategy included becoming more aware of whiteness and how it can unconsciously get in the way of inclusion and diversification. More thoughts about how we/human beings can work well with the differences among us/human beings are shared at this Permavoices page. You are also invited to contribute.

permacultureVOICES2015-01-24 at 8.24.56 PM

This workshop at the 2nd Permaculture Voices conference in San Diego will help you plan how to maximize your PV2 conference experience by applying a tool for lifelong learning. Learning throughout your life involves steady investments of attention, time and energy. In this session, you will acquire and work with a set of considerations that set guideposts for navigating intentional learning for as long as you want, beginning with this conference and continuing through the rest of your life. With these considerations and a tool specially designed for PV2, you’ll gain clarity about the choices that brought you to the conference, the choices you have while here, and choices you’ll have henceforth.

David Eggleton, an artist and permaculture designer, and Steph Kent, a sign language interpreter and communication activist, will introduce a system of considerations that merge learning theory with the permaculture principles. We’ll then lead you through a customized worksheet to help you optimize your path through the many rich and exciting opportunities at PV2. Applying the considerations immediately to your conference plan will reinforce their value for the long run while enabling you to get the most from your PV2 experience.

The Imitation Game is impressive in two distinct ways. One is the deployment of cinematic license to dramatically convey what Turing expert Professor S. Barry Olson describes as “the objective truth” about the invention of the counter-machine that cracked Enigma, the Nazis supposedly unbreakable coding machine.

However, Christian Caryl’s criticism isn’t completely wrong: stereotypes about gay men do inform Benedict Cumberbatch’s representation of Turing, and could support homophobic attitudes about what is/isn’t a security risk. That said, Cumberbatch does strike a nice balance between the story of the man and the story of the technology within the constraints established by the script.

In the end, as far as the significance of this film goes, as much as Turing deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as, say, Stephen Hawking, in historical terms it is the computing technology that eclipses the identity of a gay man. This leads to the second, most impressive aspect of the film, which is of a certain metonymy: The Imitation Game is representative of the material birth of postmodernity, in which time and space have been collapsed by the digitalization of communication.

The Ultra project at Bletchley Park brings to mind the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos. Although the film rightfully celebrates Turing’s life and achievement of “the unimaginable,” like most forms of innovative knowledge his invention has a dark side, too. Unlike the development of the atomic bomb with its obviously ethical aspects, the creation of the computer appears neutral. The ubiquity of computing today feeds ambivalence about the ethics of computing which might render its unintended consequences all the more dangerous because of their subtlety.

The dark side of computing is not videogaming or social media or the proliferation of cute cats on youtube or data mining or even threats to privacy or cyberterrorism (because both of these can still be contained, if enough of us act soon and in concert). Nor is it the deep canalization of subgroups being reinforced by targeted advertising, although this may outrank all the others by perpetuating attitudes of ethnocentrism and prejudice. The difficult challenge of computing is the social construction of time as a race that only the fastest can win.

The race of Ultra vs Enigma prefigures Edward Snowden, #Anonymous, and the Lizard Squad, the latter claiming to be ”working to get access to some of the core routing equipment of the Internet.” This cyber/cipher “game” is as serious now to human life and death as it was during WWII, if not more so, with the entire planet at stake. The Imitation Game should win the Oscar for its historical relevance on top of all the excellent acting and flawless production. Imitation champions anti-sexism and anti-homophobia while skirting wide of racism, “the uncontrolled imaginings of the white mind,” which make it a politically safe contender at this volatile moment of “I can’t breathe” and #BlackLivesMatter.

The imitating that Turing and contemporaries created is far more than a game. As a technology, computing has sped up the rate and pace of human social interaction. Turing’s invention was perfectly in keeping with that era of industrialization: radio, telephones and television were spreading information faster and further than ever before, and assembly lines were improving efficiencies and cranking out products at ever-increasing rates. People were (and are, even moreso now) being trained to the clock, not to any natural rhythms of the actual earth or a biological species.

Conceptualizing time and humanity’s relationship to time is tricky territory, not least because science hasn’t yet figured out where time comes from or what it is. “We’re not in a war with Germany, we’re in a war with time,” is the most important line in the film. The meaning of the scripted line is transparent in relation to the calendar and the clock, to the exigencies of battle: factually and descriptively, it is true enough. Metonymically, however, the meaning is deeply representative, even reifying, of the effect of civilization on the modern and postmodern construction of time.

It wasn’t long after the war when Claude Shannon (also a code-breaker) wrote the foundational paper on digitalization. Turing and Shannon were working on different but complementary problems at the same time. Shannon’s application of Boolean algebra is where all those 0s and 1s come from, the key being that all digitized information is forced into one or the other value. This is (so they say) a great boon for copying but there is also loss of variation, at least some of which has artistic value and intrinsic human merit.

Digitalization forces communication to flow along extremely rigid channels. All analog communication, that is, all human communication, has to be broken down into a binary code: either a zero or a one. There is no variation. (Hence, for instance, the return to vinyl for musicians attuned to the richer quality of analog sound.) The unintended consequence now known as the postmodern condition is an effect of digital forcing. Increases in the speed and ability of communication to reach across distances have outpaced humanity’s ability for sane and sustainable cultural adaptation. It’s as if human society has been sucked into a wind tunnel; people find themselves either in the main flow or in the turbulence. Few seem able to find their balance within the onrush, let alone establish positions adequate to attempt healthy and restorative counteractions.

For proper historical context and relevance, The Imitation Game needs to be understood in parallel with Citizen 4. Whether you approve of Snowden’s action or not, you should see Laura Poitras’ film capturing his conversations with journalist Glen Greenwald as news reports unfolded on our television screens and online news sources. Citizen 4 should win Best Documentary because of the time manipulation it achieves in service of art and social justice. Humans now have the means to recognize and record significant historical moments as they happen. Awards aside, to understand what The Imitation Game can teach us about living through this perilous era in human history, it is necessary to be informed about the stakes of cyber-surveillance and cyber-security’s cipher games. The new imitation game (made visible by the Sony hack with its political fallout and economic consequences) not only threatens privacy, real democracy, and genuine social justice, but is also a crucial playing field where humanity’s efforts to evolve enough to avert climate disaster will be determined.

The Imitation Game is more than a good movie; it allows a rare window for comprehensive reflection on the highest stakes of life and living, here and now.

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