SES and Permaculture

Some more thoughts on Ken Wilber and SES: I think there is a strong tendency to reject all his theories outright by many people, simply because of the way he writes and the fact that he bases many of his “facts” off of sweeping generalizations. But I really think that it is pointless to completely reject someone’s viewpoint altogether simply because of personality or because of some flippant usage of data. In any attempt to integrate seemingly disparate philosophies and sciences together, there are bound to be discrepancies, because how can you be deeply embedded in any particular one enough to know every facet of that viewpoint? He is taking what he finds useful in the core of each and plotting a map that bares their similarities and binds them together. The end result is a general perception of potentiality. I find that his critics generally pick at his conceptions of science or his interpretations of spiritual philosophers, or even just lambast him personally, and conveniently avoid dealing with the most interesting aspects of his discourse.

When I read something like SES, I am not looking for a definitive explication of what the universe is. I am looking for some ideas on how to live my life better, or how to improve my outlook on the world. And there are a few such ideas contained in that book, and I simply take those ideas and utilize them to cultivate my own perspective, and I leave alone all the confused, egotistical, or simply angry parts of the book that I don’t need. And this is essentially, I think, the process that Wilber himself is using in regards to the sources from which he draws. The main problem, of course, is that he at times writes as if he’s got all the keys to the universe in hand, and so all the kinds of people out there that line up at the door of the latest “guru” immediately fawn at his feet.

In reading any self-proclaimed “integral” philosophizing (as in “i’ve got the world figured out, y’all!), you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt, and acknowledge the subjectivity–and subsequent confusion of definitions–that is involved. I think Wilber himself gets a little confused in this area. But there are a few gems that he pops out, like re-introducing the concept of “holons” into intellectual discourse. Or challenging the reader to step outside of their conventions and re-evaluate their entire worldview. These are worthwhile endeavours, however steeped in heady new-age intellectualism.

As I said, take Ken Wilber as a theoretician, and not as a spiritual leader, and you’ll be doing both him, and yourself, a favor.

As I’ve been reading up more on permaculture, I find that it really seems like the real-world application of the ideas that Wilber is trying to get at. Wilber is trying to replace mankind as the evolutionary culmination of the Kosmos, but without the pathologies of domination, aggression, and environmental destruction. Permaculture harmonizes the creative intelligence and spiritual depth of the human designer with the primal energy and fecundity of Mother Earth. Permaculture is battling against the prevalent view of earth and nature as the slave and bitch of mankind–which results in the current agricultural devastation that we call “agri-business”–and trying to cultivate an empathic relationship with natural processes, to intelligently craft design systems that are sustainable and based solidly on the lessons learned from nature. But this doesn’t necessitate a subservience to nature, as some environmentalists’ viewpoints tend towards. It is a willful harnessing and enlightened acknowledgment of nature’s incredible power, used for the purpose of human benefit. For in the enlightened viewpoint, what benefits the world also benefits you. So you are modeling systems upon nature, but you are modeling them not out of idealism, which is always dangerous in any context, but because you are aware that the best possible design will work with nature and diverse communities, and not against them. This is exactly the kind of outlook that this world needs right now.

Because let’s be honest here: people like Republicans and CEO’s have absolutely no interest in idealism. They care only about one thing, and that’s usually something like themselves or money. That’s obviously a major pathology. But the point is that they won’t listen to any one attempting to moralize with them about their impacts on the environment and society, etc. They don’t understand such idealistic philosophizing. They only want to hear about what directly impacts them. So you have to talk to such people not from the anger and frustration of ethics, but rather from the perspective of what makes things better for them. And the fact is that sustainably designed systems work better for individuals, not only for the environment and communities. You talk too much about communities and the bigger picture, and these people immediately think of communism.

Anyways, enough for now, I’m tired and should have been in bed two hours ago (it is in fact only 9:30 right now but I haven’t slept in 2 weeks, so I’ve got some serious making up to do). What I was trying to get at in writing this whole spew of bullshit is that I am seeing an interesting linkage in the perspectives of SES and permaculture. Like I think that if Wilber took his head out of his books, he would probably be designing permacultural gardens.


Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

2 thoughts on “SES and Permaculture”

  1. mark. an excerpt from something i once wrote ( about the amazon that pertains to your comments on SES and gardening (maybe):


    the amerikan philosopher Kenneth Wilbur has a section in his (incredible) book “Sex, Ecolology, and Spirituality” (he means gender, dfky) describing different interpretations of nature. The narrowest, which he calls, understandably, “nature”, refers primarily to elements of the biosphere — bugs, beasts, minerals, acid rain, ozone, anthills, kudzu, and maybe unicorns — and excludes human culture and designs. A broader understanding of nature, dubbed capital “Nature”, expands the definition to include all sensory and perceptual experience, including cars, computers, petanque, and Big Pharma. Wilbers third and rather clever term, “NATURE”, is meant to signify the entire “Kosmos” — all of the diverse expressions of “Spirit” unfolding together in our Reality (one hesistates to stop at universe, you understand), including agents physical, biological, philosophical, and mystical. The point here is not to enter into a discussion of eastern or western metaphysics, nor try to hint at That Which Lies Beyond, what rationalism is afraid of touching and what commercial mysticism can only cheapen, but to insert the missing link that Wilber left out: AMAZON.

    AMAZON, is, of course, the term Matt gave — in a post-epileptic fit of genius back at the house — to the teeming yet unified presence we had experienced. Or that had forcefully experienced us. It is the immediate — in that it absolutely refuses mediation, and any sort of mediation (such as this very missive) must necessarily miss its essence — expression of “Spirit” in all its thorny, creeping, multifarious glory. The revised diagram of how can we talk about the world which surrounds us, which we developed breathless and reunited with cholmes back at the house, looks this:


    nb: it helps to imagine them as concentric circles, with each larger circle transcending yet including its smaller brethren…

    At this point, travelers, cartographers, and listeners might care to interject that the Chapada Diamanta national park, in which Vale do Capao, this magical river, and the three young men are all situated, is NOWHERE NEAR the Amazon. Indeed, we decided to go there because we didn’t have the gold or mettle to get to the Amazon. So what’s with the misnomer? Well. You can turn to your “(Extremely) Rough Guide to (Some Place in) Brasil” guidebook and see that the Amazon System covers nearly half of Brazil. And I had spent 95% of my time in Brazil in Aratuba, not in the Amazon. So clearly, having left Aratuba, we were thick in the Amazon. Or, to put it another way, the AMAZON is so expansive, so visionary, and so powerful, that you don’t even half to GO THERE to feel it. The Amazon came to us — either by way of outpost or raiding party — to teach us some very important lessons.


    – ank

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