There is a principle in Judo called kuzushi that refers to the art of unbalancing one's opponent. Stated simply: push when pulled, pull when pushed. The 'ju' in judo or ju jitsu, its direct ancestor, can be translated as soft, gentle or yielding. Conceptually, it is the bamboo or water principle in action. Bamboo bends in the wind, water flows around obstacles, bamboo springs back, water wears down stone. Translated to martial arts, the velocity of an attack is not resisted directly, force to force, but yielded to, blended with and turned by indirection to the defender's advantage. It flows like water. It uses the opponent's strength against him. It is the triumph of wisdom over power, yielding over force, weak over strong.
What are people to do when the political class, financial elites, national security apparatus and legal system turn against them? What do you do when your bank steals from you, your representatives ignore you, your government spies on you, your doctors prey on you and your culture shits on you?
What do you do when decades of organizing, marching, voting, protesting and political struggle produce a big-assed boatload of too-little-too-late?
What do you do when your government becomes totally useless?
Perhaps the answer, or one of them, is that you don't resist the assholery directly. You back up and go around. You yield, blend and spring back. You push when pulled, you pull when pushed.
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I think there is a tendency in society for people to see the world as it was in their youth or young adulthood. People, like societies, tend to ossify rather than remaining fluid, flexible and nimble. At some point we seize up and quit evolving with the times. The world changes faster than our capacity to adapt. It's future shock in action. We all, at some point, live in the world as it was. We're coming to a point where that will no longer do. We just can't keep fighting the Vietnam War. Present realities require that we be here now.
I think our society is in the midst of a seismic shift, and I think we probably haven't seen the least of it yet. And while there are many negative effects, some of what's going on is very hopeful. It's about changing paradigms. It's about realigning ourselves with reality. It's about permaculture, sustainability and a whole new way of living. A way of living in harmony with nature and science.
We're a pretty resistant species when it comes to changing common frames of reference, and we can be slow to catch on, but a new realignment with present truths, I do believe is coming. It is certainly long overdue. Bad things are happening environmentally and socially but there are some helpful responses emerging. So, while in one sense we're screwed, in another way we are being reborn. Our way of life is coming to an end, but a whole new way of living is emerging. Like orchids in the cracks, little rays of hope are popping up all over. And every little ray of hope is welcome in the present environment, I think.
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Once upon a time upon the planet Earth among the mammalian species known as humans, there evolved a systematic means of regulating and controlling the production and distribution of goods and services known as capitalism. It served the common needs well enough, or so it was reckoned by many, and was especially favored by those who learned to exploit the system to their own disproportionate benefit. There came and went alternate approaches, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, but capitalism came to dominate over time, arguably because it ran on human greed, a self-perpetuating human quality of which there is an unlimited supply.
It is not my intent to critique capitalism as there are so many better qualified to do that, but merely to point out that it is an artificial construct that has led us down a problematic path to a unique and unenviable point in the history of our species.
The good news is that young people are paying attention. Very many of them are at least, and as the Internet generation, they have a uniquely open and informed view of global realities. Mainly through my son I have been kept apprised of new and notable developments, social trends, tech trends, etc. more than I might otherwise have been. We old guys just can't keep up after a certain point (speaking only for myself). It's that old ossification thing again. Future Shock in action. Too much change in too short a period of time. So it's cool to have a direct line to the perspective of our best informed youth, for they are well informed indeed.
In a recent extended conversation with my 22 year old son as we spent several hours together in the car, we spoke of the modern miracle of the Internet and tools like Google (yes, I know it's complicated and 'do no evil' is just a slogan, but as a tool it's phenomenal). When I was my son's age, if I wanted an answer to a question or three, I had to go to a library, master the mystery of the Dewey decimal card catalog system and tediously comb through stacks of books and periodicals or spend hours at the microfiche reader and often go home empty-handed. It was difficult then to imagine that one day anybody with a common appliance could get the answer to virtually any question within minutes (with obvious exceptions and limitations).
I reminisced to my son about how hard we had to pound on the type-writer keys to get a firm, legible impression, about typing whole pages over again because of typos or misspellings. I told him about carbon paper and the high value of copies, and how messy it all was and about mimeograph machines where you physically cranked out stinky purple copies one by one. We marveled over how far things had come and how quickly the science fiction future has arrived, and how many doors it has opened for his generation and those who will follow.
I recalled to Daniel how I was there for the advent of the personal computer revolution that began well before his birth. One of the first things to interest me about it (after the potential for art) was the ability to access remote databases with a pc and an acoustic coupler using the phone lines. I recognized the enormous power of that idea. Citizens with personal computers and access to remote databases and the vast volumes of information they contained was an exciting prospect. My dim view of the future Internet was through a glass darkly, to say the least, but the power of that basic idea was hard to miss. I saw the potential for the democratization of society. Power to the people, baby. There was a time when only the government had that kind of power. And that's what access to information is - power.
For his part, Daniel, a practicing permaculturist, caught me up on the permaculture institute's latest work. We discussed Michael Pollan, Paul Stametts, and the permaculturists Bill Mollison, Geoff Lawton, Paul Wheaton, Joel Salatin, Mark Shepard and Sepp Holzer and how key permaculture is to our future. There is a movement to spread it as far and wide and as quickly as possible.
Permaculture in a nutshell
Permaculture is about strategically designed food producing systems based on science and nature. A new way of farming where farms are self-sustaining and require diminishing inputs with increasing outputs of organic, chemical-free fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables. These systems are polyculture, not monoculture – there are no huge fields of any one crop. The idea is to farm food forests, not fields, designed as an entire ecosystem consisting of companion plants that assist each other in various ways, with strategically placed swales (level, contoured water-catching ditches), using non-intrusive planting (no plowing) and, once established, requiring only harvesting and minimal or no maintenance. It is the intelligent way to cooperate with nature while producing large quantities of healthy food, sequestering carbon and rapidly producing rich fertile top soil. It is a way to heal the earth. It is the agricultural equivalent of push when pulled, pull when pushed.
Daniel told me about the permaculture pioneer, Masanobu Fukuoka and his zen (or zen-like?) approach to natural farming. There are some Taoist implications in there too, it seems to me. The concept of the Tao: all are parts of a whole, all is one. And, back to the zen, the direct embrace of nature/reality. Seeing without screens or filters. And back to the Tao: a way of harmonizing with the universe, a way of blending with nature, of accepting it as it is.
Masanobu Fukuoka (福岡 正信 Fukuoka Masanobu?, 2 February 1913 – 16 August 2008) was a Japanese farmer and philosopher celebrated for his natural farming and re-vegetation of desertified lands. He was a proponent of no-till, no-herbicide grain cultivation farming methods traditional to many indigenous cultures, from which he created a particular method of farming, commonly referred to as "Natural Farming" or "Do-nothing Farming".
Call it “Zen and the Art of Farming” or a “Little Green Book” Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge presents a radical challenge to the global systems we rely on for our food. At the same time, it is a spiritual memoir of a man whose innovative system of cultivating the earth reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world. As Wendell Berry writes in his preface, the book “is valuable to us because it is at once practical and philosophical. It is an inspiring, necessary book about agriculture because it is not just about agriculture.”You don't resist nature, you blend with it. You don't conquer nature, you cooperate with it.
Daniel told me that Master Fukuoka's response to agricultural problems was most often mu. Do nothing.
That reminded me of the concept of mu shin in martial arts. No mind. Pure action.
Which led my mind to kuzushi. Not resisting force directly. Yielding, blending and springing back.
It's funny how insight reverberates and echoes across disciplines, how wisdom transcends boundaries, how all is one.
Harmonize with the way of things. Don't resist. Blend.
This is a long but excellent video (if nothing else, grok the title):
Toby Hemenway - How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization
People are building sustainable food-producing oases to sustain themselves and others. They are creating perpetual, self-sustaining/low-maintenance permaculture food forests that provide high quantities of healthy, chemical-free food while sequestering carbon, building rich topsoil at accelerated rates and healing the earth. These things are springing up all over like orchids blooming in the cracks of a decaying society. This is a wonderful development and we can only hope that it goes absolutely viral. There needs to be somewhere to turn as the ravages of climate change take their toll, our socio/political institutions die and the old unsustainable ways fall apart.
It can certainly be argued that this is all too little too late, and it may well be. But it is a rare ray of hope, and that is one thing a young person today contemplating the future desperately needs.
And it's not just permaculture, or any one thing. We spoke of Anonymous, Wikileaks, Occupy, the tiny house movement, maker culture, Michael Reynolds, the earthship guy, and Kim Dotcom and his plan to encrypt all Internet traffic. And this is just scratching the surface of all that's going on.
There is an emergent subculture, a sometimes rebellious, anarchic, disobedient, alternative human backlash, an amorphous amalgamation amounting to a mass movement, a new reality springing from disparate and multiple sources, a natural organic reaction to the madness and emptiness of modern life and the wrong-headed trajectory of our species, an almost primitive instinctual response to impending danger – only it is thinking. It is thinking about climate change, sustainability and survival...for starters. People are looking for and finding better ways to live, smarter ways to live. People are figuring out how to deal with an onrushing and unforgiving future.
From the evolution and proliferation of personal computers and the Internet, there has emerged an entity anticipated by few, a virtual creature with netizens for cells. Internet culture amounts to a distributed organism consisting of millions of individual nodes connected electronically to the same shared backbone. Millions upon millions of technologically networked biological nodes with one or more humans at the end of every Internet connection sharing consciousness with the hive. There is a sense in which this generation is the Internet and the Internet is them. The Internet, more than any other single thing, represents new possibility and hope for the human race.
There is a famous saying by the Internet pioneer, John Gilmore:
“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”We are alive to witness the global presence of the world's first Internet generation, where each person is a separate but connected node, and how this human network, like the underlying technology, interprets censorship (and all other obstructions) as damage and routes around it. Water flows around obstacles. And wears away stone.
John Gilmore (activist and co-founder of the EFF)
Push when pulled, pull when pushed.
There is a zeitgeist developing (or already developed), that there has to be a better way to live our lives, to organize ourselves while respecting each other, to sustain ourselves while treading more lightly on the earth, to achieve a harmony with our environment while meeting our needs sustainably, ethically and intelligently.
Today, any smart kid with a common appliance can answer virtually any question in minutes if not seconds. Things have changed - and profoundly so. The outlines of just how this new reality will shape the future are only beginning to emerge.
There is an evolving sense among the bright young people who have grown up participating in a polycultural/polynational Internet subculture that this new reality has profoundly changed the playing field - in ways we haven't even figured out yet - much less adjusted to. It's hard to know where this quasi-cosmic consciousness is going exactly in this day of ever-shortening future optics, but it seems a hopeful development on many different levels. There is a lot of information instantly available and the tools for using and sharing it have never been so powerful – and it's never reached so many people. And there are people doing difficult but important things by mastering the technology and making profoundly positive use of our unprecedented access to information and communications. There is a mass movement to figure things out and do things differently, and it's leading to some very worthy places and likely solutions.
Watch this must-see series of videos. It's about rescuing the environment and the re-thinking of agriculture. It shows what's possible in terms of reclaiming barren land and healing the earth (links to next in the series and further info. at the end of each video).
Greening the desert – Part 1
It's time we got about the much delayed business of the shifting of the gears. It's time for the new paradigm to slide into place. It's time to get aligned with reality. It's time to square up with the universe.
It is good to be reminded that while the future is for some to be mourned, it is for others to be prepared for...in a clear-eyed and intelligent fashion. People get ready. There's a train a comin'.
Some cool links: