Adam Brock is an award-winning social entrepreneur and permaculturalist based in his hometown of Denver, Colorado. His work lies at the intersection of urban agriculture, sustainable business, and social change. In 2009, Adam co-founded The GrowHaus, a food justice nonprofit, and served as its Director of Operations until 2014. He is active in the local and national permaculture communities, serving on the board of the Denver Permaculture Guild and organizing committee of the inaugural North American Permaculture Convergence. He has been a TEDxMileHigh speaker, a contributor and guest editor of Permaculture Design Magazine (formerly Permaculture Activist), and serves on Denver's Sustainable Food Policy Council. Willi Paul interviews Adam here to discuss pattern theory as it relates to permaculture. Email Adam at WildGreenYonder [at] gmail.com.
Willi: How is our preoccupation with screens and instant gratification working a pattern?
Adam: I think our addictions to screens and instant gratification are great examples of behaviors that stem from our ten-thousand-year hallucination of separateness. In both cases, anti-market forces have hacked our ancient neural patterns in order to sell more stuff and prevent us from spending our hours wisely.
“No matter which subject a pattern language describes, a pattern tends to follow the same general rules, first used in Christopher Alexander’s original work:
• A pattern has an easy-to-remember and highly descriptive name. It must be general enough to be applied to very different systems within its context, but still specific enough to give constructive guidance. For instance, Alexander’s pattern a place to wait addresses bus stops in the same way as waiting rooms at a doctor’s office, while still proposing helpful and constructive solutions.
• A pattern must characterize the problems that it is meant to solve, the context or situation where these problems arise, and the conditions under which the proposed solutions can be recommended.
• A pattern provides examples (best practices) of successful use of the pattern in the real world.
• A pattern will describe relationships to other patterns in the language, both larger and smaller.
Contrary to the common definition of pattern, the patterns in a pattern language aren’t necessarily visual. Instead, a pattern can refer to any set of conditions that are frequently repeated.
With the multitude of tools and patterns in your book, how should we prioritize a personal vision?
The patterns represent a "toolshed" of solutions to social design. However, only the reader can decide what to create with those tools. Each person's personal vision needs to emerge from our own unique backgrounds, passions and talents... in that regard, the patterns GOING HOME, RIGHT LIVELIHOOD, SANKOFA and SACRED ACTIVISM might be helpful guideposts in arriving at an appropriate vision.
What does your world look like in 2050?
The world I envision in 2050 is no utopia, unfortunately. It's one in which conflict, suffering and quality of life have all taken dramatic turns for the worse. And yet in spite of - or perhaps because of - these circumstances, it's also a world of full of humble heroes, a world in which communities are brought closer and inspired to reawaken their creative potential.
How do instincts support or interrupt patterns?
That's a great question. I think it depends, first of all, on how we define "instincts". There are plenty of behaviors that have been socialized into us through generations of conditioning, in ways that might not actually be very helpful for us. We need to do some protracted observation of our institutions and our own thought processes, and work to re-establish functional patterns. Patterns like DECOLONIZATION and COMMONING that I talk about in the book represent aspects of that process. It's like a food forest that's been neglected and overgrown — we need to go back and do some pruning, weeding, and replanting.
Meanwhile, there are the reflexes that are more genetically engrained, that go much deeper than any particular culture. It's much harder to alter those, and overall my patterns lay out a strategy of working within those physiological and psychological limitations rather than trying to expand or alter them. Fortunately, many of those deeper instincts are actually quite supportive of the kinds of communities I think we need, and it's the dysfunction of our current society that's preventing us from acting on them.
Are patterns similar to archetypes?
Yes! Patterns are totally archetypes. Lots of folks get confused by Alexander's use of the word "pattern", and archetypes is one of the alternative words I use to explain what he's getting at.
What are the dominant patterns that are destroying our goodness and an ethical future? How do we change them ... and insert more sustainable patterns?
At the root level, I think the most damaging idea that our species has been telling itself is that our relationships with other humans and other species are primarily ones of separation and competition rather than collaboration. That attitude, in turn, has created the dynamics of colonialism and capitalism that are undermining our long-term prospects for survival.
Unfortunately, these dynamics are actually incredibly effective at doing what they aim to do - extracting value from ecosystems and communities to enrich those at the top of the pyramid. They are classic hierarchies, and it's my belief that they can only be taken down my more "mycelial", or networked, thinking. That means small groups of people working to undermine anti-markets and authoritarian governments from all angles - cyberwarfare, local currencies, direct action, social movements, court challenges, and many more. Think of a swarm of bees bringing down an elephant on a rampage. Critical to this strategy, however, is liberating ourselves and our communities from our dependence on those institutions that are killing us.
Are we aiming for one grand pattern that would be like the "Big Bang" of patterns (or a meta-pattern for change)?
No, I think that would be the wrong approach. There are no cookie-cutter solutions to this struggle, and the search for simple, scalable strategies will only perpetuate the dynamics that got us into this mess in the first place. As I mentioned above, I think our best bet lies in every person, every community, doing what they're best at.
Your patterns seem to be about incremental change. Do we have time to advance consciousness with such a pace?
What we don't have time for is to act out of haste. We live in a fractal matrix of complex systems, and the way complex systems work is through feedback loops that can be hard to detect at first. We can be doing something over and over, thinking that it's not making any difference, until a certain threshold is reached and all the sudden it's making all the difference in the world. I believe that, as long as we each trust in our own efforts to heal ecosystems, create peace, dethrone anti-markets and restore commons, we're already doing the right thing. To be sure, we each need to become more effective at what we're already doing, and perhaps more connected with allied movements across the globe. But I tend to see our present work as that of mycelia, slowly building an underground network that, when the time is right, will fruit in rapid and unexpected ways.
Your patterns seem to be practical guidelines. Do you have spiritual or theoretical patterns? How might these types compare or interact?
As I discuss in SACRED ACTIVISM, I believe that some connection with forces larger than ourselves is critical to this work - but that connection can take any number of forms, from scientism to Paganism to Christianity. I have my own patterns of spiritual development that help guide my path, but I didn't feel like this book was the appropriate place to share them.
Are some of us trapped in long-term patterns? Why?
All of us are trapped in unhealthy long-term patterns, due to the circumstances in which we are born. Every time we make a mortgage payment or pay rent, we're accelerating the concentration of financial capital. Every time we get on an airplane, we're helping heat the planet another fraction of a degree. Even the most well-intentioned among us make racist, classist and sexist decisions every day of our lives. I don't think it's possible to live a life free of these damaging patterns.
But what we can do is learn to recognize them, make sure that we don't let our guilt drive us crazy, and instead channel our resolve towards building healthy patterns to replace them.
What are the key patterns when one is in between negative and positive patterns?
All of us, in some form or another, is in a transitional state between the destructive present and the regenerative future. To keep us moving down the path towards the latter, we need to develop SPIRALS OF ABUNDANCE, engage in regular COMMITMENT PRUNING, and surround ourselves with friends and colleagues that see the world similarly and push our own personal EDGE OF CHANGE.
What are top three threats to humans? What patterns would you pick to counter them?
2) Anti-markets - COMMONING
3) Authoritarianism and consolidation of political power - NONVIOLENT STRUGGLE
Willi Paul is Principal of Willi Paul Studio and founder-publisher of Planetshifter.com Magazine. He contributes interviews, articles, new myths and workshops in the sustainability, permaculture, transition, sacred nature, new alchemy and mythology spaces. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn and DPA.com.
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