Agriculture or Permaculture: Why Words Matter

by Jason Godesky

A few years ago, my mother began gardening in her backyard. She grows tomatoes, zucchini, and other vegetables, as well as herbs and spices. She grows stevia, dill, aloe, and a host of other plants. She’s far outdone whatever meager knowledge I’ve scraped together as a gardener, and I could hardly be more proud. But she’s also heard more than a few of my rants about agriculture, and so when she started on this endeavor, she loved to tease me: “Want to see my farm?” She insisted on calling it her “farm,” and herself a “farmer,” mostly because my face turned such a lovely shade of red.

Of course, it was funny precisely because we all immediately recognize that there’s a very real difference between “farming” and “gardening.” The images the two words conjure in most of our minds could hardly be more different. What color is farming? Brown. Gardening? Green. What do you farm? Wheat. What do you garden? All kinds of things. Farming is back-breaking labor; gardening is recreational. We could go on, but the point is clear—the colloquial understanding of farming is very different from that of gardening.

And yet, the term “agriculture” is brandied about with such carelessness that it makes the more general term—cultivation—uselessly redundant. When we allow such an overblown definition of “agriculture” to take hold, it begins to make nonsense of our language. Horticulture becomes an agriculture; that is, gardening becomes a particular kind of farming. This is nonsense, in a historical context, and in the framework of general, colloquial understandings. Anthropologically, we know that horticulture—gardening—preceded agriculture.

Even in technical anthropological definitions, this cultural confusion sometimes persists; horticulture will sometimes be called “hoe agriculture” or “swidden agriculture,” depending on context. Etymologically, “agriculture” comes from the Latin ager, meaning “a field”, and cultura, meaning “cultivation” in the strict sense of tillage of the soil. A literal reading of the English word yields: tillage of the soil of a field. Thus, agriculture is a fairly specific (though extremely common) kind of cultivation; to refer to a type of agriculture that does not involve tilling is certainly taking liberties with the term, at least etymologically. More importantly, it is misleading; tillage is a critical component of the popular understanding of what a “farm” is. Without tilled fields, one can hardly speak of a farm. Indeed, some anthropologists have honed in on this as the defining distinction between horticulture and agriculture. Consider this definition of agriculture:

Domesticated food production involving minimally the cultivation of plants but usually also the raising of domesticated animals; more narrowly, plant domestication making use of the plow (versus horticulture). (Hunter and Whitten, 1982)

And the matching definition of horticulture:

The preparation of land for planting and the tending of crops using only the hoe or digging stick; characterized especially by the absence of use of the plow. (Hunter and Whitten, 1982)

Another practice sometimes considered crucial is fallowing:

A baseline distinction between agriculture and horticulture is that horticulture requires regular fallowing (length of which varies), whereas agriculture does not.1

This again defies our normal understanding of these terms. Medieval serfs used fallowing periods; were they not farmers? Fallowing is often used in very clearly agricultural contexts. It is for complications like these that most anthropologists have abandoned the use of this or that practice to distinguish agriculture and horticulture, and instead look at a “cultivation continuum” of intensity:

plant cultivation carried out with relatively simple tools and methods; nature is allowed to replace nutrients in the soil, in the absence of permanently cultivated fields. (Ember and Ember, 1999)

And:

Horticultural communities may be distinguished from agricultural ones by (1) the small scale of the cultivation, using small plots of mixed crops rather than large field of single crops (2) the use of a variety of crops, often including fruit trees (3) the encouragement of useful native plants alongside direct cultivation (4) continued use of other forms of livelihood.2

This begins to get us somewhere, but this view carries with it the bias of the agricultural society it came from. We are still looking at cultivation solely in terms of production; we may have widened our view to consider the energy invested in cultivation as well as the food energy such cultivation provides, but there is still lacking from this perspective any consideration of how cultivation relates to the ecology it is based on. In those terms, agriculture and horticulture do not exist on a continuum together, but rather, on opposite sides of a yawning chasm, much of it owing to the nature of the plants that agriculturalists farm.

There is a very narrow group of annuals, however, that grow in patches of a single species and store almost all of their income as seed, a tight bundle of carbohydrates easily exploited by seed eaters such as ourselves. Under normal circumstances, this eggs-in-one-basket strategy is a dumb idea for a plant. But not during catastrophes such as floods, fires, and volcanic eruptions. Such catastrophes strip established plant communities and create opportunities for wind-scattered entrepreneurial seed bearers. It is no accident that no matter where agriculture sprouted on the globe, it always happened near rivers. You might assume, as many have, that this is because the plants needed the water or nutrients. Mostly this is not true. They needed the power of flooding, which scoured landscapes and stripped out competitors. Nor is it an accident, I think, that agriculture arose independently and simultaneously around the globe just as the last ice age ended, a time of enormous upheaval when glacial melt let loose sea-size lakes to create tidal waves of erosion. It was a time of catastrophe.

Corn, rice, and wheat are especially adapted to catastrophe. It is their niche. In the natural scheme of things, a catastrophe would create a blank slate, bare soil, that was good for them. Then, under normal circumstances, succession would quickly close that niche. The annuals would colonize. Their roots would stabilize the soil, accumulate organic matter, provide cover. Eventually the catastrophic niche would close. Farming is the process of ripping that niche open again and again. It is an annual artificial catastrophe, and it requires the equivalent of three or four tons of TNT per acre for a modern American farm. Iowa’s fields require the energy of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year.3

Agriculture Horticulture
Relationship with Succession Catastrophe Promoter
Emulation of catastrophe
(e.g., tilling, flooding, fire)
Always Rarely
Allowing succession
(e.g., fallowing)
Sometimes Always
Monocropping Always Never
Crops Small variety of early successional species Wide variety of various successional species
Role of native plants Death to Weeds! Essential to garden health
Place in society Sole (or nearly sole) food source Mixed with various forms of foraging
Wilderness Wasted cropland; home to vermin Precious resource; valued hunting grounds

Agriculture is cultivation by means of catastrophe.

Horticulture is cultivation by means of succession.

Cultivation is any animal’s conscious effort to promote the growth of particular plant species.

What divides agriculture and horticulture is less a question of a particular technique or even the intensity of investment, but rather, the ecological effect of their strategies. Horticulturalists in the New World created the Amazon rainforest and the Great Plains.4 By the same token, the first farmers laid waste to the cedar forest that once covered the Middle East and turned the Fertile Crescent into a wasteland. So here we have a workable definition: agriculture is cultivation by means of catastrophe. Tillage emulates catastrophe, and the plow is a catastrophe-emulating machine. By contrast, horticulture is cultivation by means of succession. Fallowing allows succession to advance; the lack of tillage and the plow is merely the lack of artificially-induced catastrophe to set back succession.

Both of these, then, can be seen simply in terms of biological succession—the process by which ecological communities achieve maximal complexity and diversity, and then establish a sustainable, “old-growth” character. Agriculture is cultivation that relies on suppressing succession. Weeds, “vermin,” and constant tilling—the back-breaking work we intuitively associate farming with—is the constant labor necessary to keep succession from taking over. Horticulture, on the other hand, works with succession and helps succession along, though it channels succession into specifically human-adapted paths, favoring plants and animals that humans favor. Nonetheless, horticulture, to one degree or another, depends on succession taking place, while agriculture is a constant fight against succession.

As ecosystems mature, biomass and complexity increase. Ecologist Ramon Margalef, in his landmark 1963 paper, “On Certain Unifying Principles in Ecology” (American Naturalist 97:357-374), suggests we think of biomass as “a keeper of organization, something that is proportional to the influence that an actual ecosystem can exert on future events.” In other words, we can think of biomass, complexity, and the other indicators of maturity as measures not only of the resilience of a system, but as a form of wisdom. That’s because as ecosystems mature, the aftermath of environmental tumult such as storm or drought depends more on the richness of the ecosystem than on the nature of the disturbance. A drought that withers a weedlot doesn’t faze an old-growth forest—the forest has learned what to do with drought. It has grown structures, cycles, and patterns that convert nearly any outside influence into more forest, and that protect key cycles during bad times. It has become wise.5

From this perspective, we can see that “sustainable agriculture” is an oxymoron.6 It also suggests a very different interpretation of passages like that found in Isaiah 2:4: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” As Daniel Quinn has suggested, agriculture is not an alternative to war, but simply an alternative war.

This is a great and famous image of people turning from war to peace—unless you happen to be in the habit of following my rule. If you turn this lined paper sideways, what you see in this business of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is not people turning from war to peace but rather people turning from one war to another war—from an inTRAspecies war to an inTERspecies war. From the conquest of nations to the conquest of nature—the mythological war that the people of our particular culture have been waging here for the past ten thousand years.

The plowshare has always been understood by the people of our culture as the sword they follow across the face of the earth. They followed it out of the Fertile Crescent eastward to India and China, they followed it northward into Europe, and finally they followed it westward into the New World.7

But neither does this indict all types of cultivation, because cultivation does not need to be a literal world-wide catastrophe; it can also be a pro-active human involvement in succession, and can allow us to take some part in rewilding the species we’ve domesticated and healing some of the ecological damage we’ve caused. This brings us to the question of permaculture, originally conceived of as “permanent agriculture” with the same, hyper-extended sense of the term that eliminates the word “cultivation” entirely. Later, it was revised as “permanent culture.” One of the movement’s two founders, David Holmgren, put it thus:

‘The word permaculture was coined by Bill Mollison and myself in the mid-1970s to describe an “integrated, evolving system of perennial or self-perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man”. A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs”. People, their buildings and the ways they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent (sustainable) agriculture has evolved into one of permanent (sustainable) culture.

Bill Mollison offers a definition, as well:

The aim is to create systems that are ecologically-sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.

Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area.

The fact that so many favorite permacultural techniques—enhancing edge, intercropping, guilds, and even many of Fukoka’s techniques like seedballs—are to be found among horticultural cultures around the world, is certainly instructive. Is there anything that can distinguish permaculture from horticulture? To date, I have been unable to find anything, leading me to the conclusion that permaculture is largely re-inventing the horticulturalist wheel. To what extent modern permaculturalists learn from primitive examples, the fusion of modern ecological principles with indigenous knowledge could produce precisely the kind of syncretic practices that we so desperately need in the shadow of agriculture’s global catastrophe.

Such potential is enormous; in her powerful article, “Ecological Collapse, Trauma and Permaculture,” trauma survivor Lisa Raynor outlines the striking similarities between the trauma of ecological collapse, and the personal collapse involved in trauma, as well as the ecopsychological connections between the two. She also details the similarities between permaculture and trauma therapy, and the potential for permaculture for healing the trauma of agricultural catastrophe.

While the so-called “cultivation continuum” between agriculture and horticulture is problematized by opposing relationships with succession that mark a clear ecological distinction between the two, there is a smooth continuum from horticulture/permaculture and hunter-gatherers. The world has never seen a “pure” hunter-gatherer society that never uses any kind of cultivation techniques. Some come much closer than others, but even the most extreme will scatter seeds or leave more of one plant behind than another so that there will be more of it the next year. Hunter-gatherers have typically used fire to reshape ecologies on a large scale, for instance, or cultivated vast “food forests” in which they foraged.

Until the late 20th century, western anthropologists studying both ancient and current tropical cultures viewed equatorial agriculture as primitive and inefficient. Archeologists thought the methods were incapable of supporting many people, and so believed Central and South America before Columbus—outside of the major civilizations like the Aztec, Maya, and Inca—held only small, scattered villages. Modern anthropologists scouted tropical settlements for crop fields—the supposed hallmark of a sophisticated culture—and, noting them largely absent, pronounced the societies “hunter gatherer, with primitive agriculture.” How ironic that these scientists were making their disdainful judgements while shaded by brilliantly complex food forests crammed with several hundred carefully tended species of multifunctional plants, a system perfectly adapted to permanent settlement in the tropics. It just looks like jungle to the naive eye.8

Billy the Bunny, comic #95 from Perry Bible Fellowship

The farm is a unit of human food production. If some plant finds its way into it, it is a “weed”; if some animal, “vermin.” “Weeds” and “vermin” must at all costs be eradicated, because cultivation by means of catastrophe creates a situation of constant scarcity and deprivation. Historically, the world’s “famine centers” have always been its agricultural centers (Manning, 2005). By contrast, horticulture/permaculture routinely creates rich habitat for other species, and even enourages it, in large part because, unlike agriculture, horticulture is not self-sufficient.

Just as no hunter-gatherer goes through life without some kind of cultivation, it is also true that no horticulturalist culture gets by without some measure of hunting and gathering. Even the most intensive horticulturalists rely on hunting for supplemental protein and gather wild-grown plants to supplement their diet. What permaculture establishes as a “good idea” or ethical imperative in “zone 5,” horticulture demands as an economic necessity for rich hunting grounds.

Where this system breaks down—for instance, in New Guinea, where domesticated pigs eliminate some of the need for hunting—we see the border-line cases of where agriculture develops. Alongside this, we also see the phenomenon of the Melanesian “Big Man” and the breakdown of the egalitarian societies that inhabit the hunter-gatherer/horticulturalist continuum, from simple band societies at the hunter-gatherer extreme, to more complex tribal societies at the horticultural end. Where reliance on wild foods ends, cultivation tips from horticulture to agriculture, societies tip from egalitarian to hierarchical, and ecological impact tips from beneficial to disastrous. These are all deeply related phenomena.

The distinction of “agriculture” from “permaculture” may seem quibbling or even pedantic, but it strikes directly to the heart of this phenomenon, the most important change in human history. As members of a culture on one side of that historical divide, we are naturally inclined to see our way as the only way, even though it is the novel, untested way. To call horticulture or permaculture a subspecies of agriculture is one symptom of this, a semantically Freudian slip that evinces and reinforces a much deeper cultural conviction, and a much deeper cultural narrative. By transforming the living world into nothing more than a unit of production, agriculture trains us to see all cultivation not in terms of ecological relationship, but as an economic equation of energy in and energy out. It makes our scale one of how much we modify the ecology, rather than the kind of modifications we make. Intrinsic to this view is our mythology of humans vs. nature, reflected most recently in the Romantic view of “wilderness,”9 but stretching back even further, to be found in the struggles of “human vs. nature” set up in Antigone with Antigone and Creon, and before that, in the Platonic dualism of the world of Forms, a mythic narrative of the literate mind.10 That is to say, what compels us to see horticulture as a kind of agriculture is precisely the underlying problems that define agriculture itself. Stepping beyond that gets us past clumsy phrases like Quinn’s “totalitarian agriculture,” aligns us with our colloquial understanding of the differences between “farm” and “garden,” and sets us in a point of view that immediately highlights the most fundamental crisis of our time: the catastrophic nature of agriculture, and the hope we still have in horticulture.

Works Cited

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  1. […] Secondly, two awesome pieces from my favorite bloggers on things post and pre-industrial and agricultural. John Michael Greer, the Archdruid, has written a very thoughtful piece which tackles the shock and doom scenarios of many peak-oil enthusiasts who insist that (a) we’re going to see a massive human dieoff, and (b) this is unavoidable (or even a good thing); as if lowering the population (necessary) necessarily equates to mass murder or catastrophe (bad). At the same time, Jason Godesky over at Anthropik wrote another typically compelling and clear piece on the difference between horticulture and agriculture. Doesn’t sound interesting? Try reading it. Jason’s got a head on his shoulders, and he’s unashamed to use it. I like reading what comes out of it. […]

    Pingback by Deathpower in Cambodia » Blog Archive » Two Awesome Things. Or, Lucifer’s Garden — 13 June 2007 @ 11:06 AM

  2. […] The Anthropik Network » Blog Archive » Agriculture or Permaculture: Why Words Matter(tags: sustainability agriculture primitivism blog society gardening environment civilization ) […]

    Pingback by Dead in the Midwest - del.icio.us bookmarks for 06-13-2007 — 13 June 2007 @ 8:34 PM

  3. […] do not exist on a continuum together, but rather, on opposite sides of a yawning chasm, much of it owing to the nature of the plants that agriculturalists farm. … …more […]

    Pingback by horticulture » Blog Archive » Agriculture or Permaculture: Why Words Matter — 13 June 2007 @ 8:47 PM

  4. […] Even though the proposal is couched in agricultural terminology, such deep integration will require horticulture or permaculture, rather than agriculture.41 Such horticulture could provide for much of Philadelphia’s food supply—Havana has succeeded in providing 30% of its own food supply through such methods. In the long term, however, such an approach would ultimately lead to smaller community gardens, with a breakdown of city life as the city becomes a collection of “villages,” each centered around their community garden, that simply happen to inhabit a fairly close geographical area. Looking longer term, horticultural tribes tend to relocate every decade or so; these villages will disperse, though they may continue to have long-standing relations with one another and see each other as a related people for centuries, or even millennia, to come. If the goal is a “sustainable city,” then disappointment is inevitable; but if the goal is a gradual, peaceful descent of energy and population into a sustainable pattern, then this pattern clearly has strong merits. […]

    Pingback by Nine Nations: The Longhouse (The Anthropik Network) — 3 July 2007 @ 9:52 AM

  5. […] A crucial distinction divides agriculture from permaculture, namely, the kind of change they effect on their environments. Agriculture cultivates by means of catastrophe, while permaculture (or horticulture) cultivates by means of succession. We can see the clearest difference in their ecological impacts: the first farmers turned the vast cedar forests of Iraq into the desert wasteland we know today, while Indian permaculturalists created the Amazon rainforest and the Great Plains. We can see examples of Indian civilizations, such as the Mexica (Aztec) already mentioned in the quote from Derrick Jensen. But notably, those civilizations did not take part in the great ecological terraforming projects that their tribal, permacultural neighbors undertook. They, like civilizations in the Old World, also created deserts. Why do we find this consistent behavior? […]

    Pingback by The Anthropik Network » The Nature of Cities — 4 September 2007 @ 10:44 AM

  6. […] can hardly escape the unsustainability of agriculture, cultivation by means of catastrophe. Tilling, the act from which the word “agriculture” etymologically derives, acts as an […]

    Pingback by The Anthropik Network » A Short History of Western Civilization — 6 September 2007 @ 1:18 PM

  7. […] have written about it in a way that I don’t feel needs improvement, most notably my friend Jason Godesky from the Tribe of Anthropik. Though I see the value of writing something “in my own […]

    Pingback by Urban Scout: Rewilding Cascadia » Blog Archive » Agriculture Vs. Rewilding — 6 December 2007 @ 2:56 AM

  8. […] meant by agriculture versus other forms of cultivation. Jason Godesky of Anthropik illustrates it thus: A few years ago, my mother began gardening in her backyard. She grows tomatoes, zucchini, and […]

    Pingback by The Edge of Grace » The Ecology of Success — 23 January 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  9. […] meant by agriculture versus other forms of cultivation. Jason Godesky of Anthropik illustrates it thus: A few years ago, my mother began gardening in her backyard. She grows tomatoes, zucchini, and […]

    Pingback by The Edge of Grace » The Ecology of Success — 23 January 2008 @ 9:04 PM

  10. […] Jason wrote an article on the subject, and now I completely understand Jasons frustration with the impressions about […]

    Pingback by Terms of Subsistence | Urban Scout: Rewilding Cascadia — 16 April 2008 @ 8:39 PM

  11. […] In other words, we’ll never know if it was sustainable because it was superseded so quickly by the patently unsustainable methods that have just about taken us into the twenty-first century. But here’s where we point out that ’sustainable agriculture’ is a contradiction in terms, and something Toby’s People never tire of reminding us: that organic farmers created the sand-blasted wasteland of the Middle East all the way to the Dust Bowl in 1930’s America, and that monocropping agriculture is a recipe for soil exhaustion like running a car engine in a garage is a recipe for carbon monoxide poisoning (read Agriculture or Permaculture: Why Words Matter) […]

    Pingback by Snippets on Enclosure « Rugged Indoorsman — 3 May 2008 @ 8:49 PM

  12. […] réactualisation moderne (écologie, science, contexte) des pratiques horticoles primitives. ¶ […]

    Pingback by Permabrégé — Blabla concis mais pas si con — 17 December 2008 @ 2:02 PM

  13. […] de production très respectueuse de la Nature. En effet la permaculture respecte l’évolution climatique de la végétation (la forêt dans nos régions tempérées), en plantant des plantes pérennes, en plantant des […]

    Pingback by Qu’est ce que la permaculture ? « 1+1=salade ? — 5 February 2009 @ 8:59 AM


Comments

  1. Hey –

    Good stuff, J. Maybe (okay probably not, but… :-) ) this will help to settle this recurring debate, or at least give you a short hand response when it does come up. You pull the argument together really tightly and simply at the same time. Sweet!

    Janene

    Comment by janene — 13 June 2007 @ 11:00 AM

  2. Thanks. :) That was precisely the goal—at least I can make a link from now on, rather than repeat myself all the time!

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 13 June 2007 @ 11:11 AM

  3. Some of you may remember a while back when we had to ban Taylor (at his own request). I won’t lift that, but I did get a comment from him in the filter which was reasonable enough, and others might be asking similar things, so I’ll answer it here. He quoted me in the article above:

    By contrast, horticulture/permaculture routinely creates rich habitat for other species, and even enourages it, in large part because, unlike agriculture, horticulture is not self-sufficient.

    And asked:

    Do you have any citations or sources to back up the reason for this? I don’t see any where I’ve seen this claim.

    I don’t imagine you have; as I argued in the article, this is a somewhat different perspective. Even permaculturalists and those interested in “sustainable agriculture” tend to see the problem as one of resources, rather than relationships: how to consume resources sustainably, how to cause a level of damage equal to or lower than the ecology’s capacity to regenerate, and so on. I’m taking a different perspective altogether, one that emphasizes ecological relationship, and thus, one that steps out of the agricultural mindset and into the horticultural/hunter-gatherer mindset, what we might also call the animist mindset.

    That said, take a look at horticultural practice worldwide. In contrast to the agricultural attitudes towards “weeds” and “vermin” (see, for instance, the video, “Death to Weeds!“), horticulturalists created the Amazon (see Charles Mann’s 1491), the most vibrant, diverse ecology on the planet. Surviving horticulturalists tend to live in the tropics, where agriculture has failed most spectacularly. As mentioned in the passage quoted from Toby Hemenway’s article above, these jungles are generally “food forests” cultivated by horticulturalists.

    Now, I did distinguish agriculture and horticulture in terms of their relationships to succession, so some might argue, “Hey, don’t most horticulturalists also emulate catastrophe, particularly with the use of fire?” That is true; in my more poetic moments, I sometimes also think of the difference between agriculture and horticulture as the difference between making beautiful love and rape, or between a vicious beat-down and a waltz. Making love or dancing both involve some give-and-take, and likewise, horticulture sometimes involves setting succession back. There’s still a crucial difference, in that horticulture always sets succession back in one area to increase edge, increase diversity, increase ecological health, and eventually to let succession go through again. This is vastly different from agriculture’s obsession with constantly repressing succession. Horticulturalists don’t weed, or fence off their crops, or open up the same catastrophe year after year in the same place. Their success depends on succession taking place and new plants filling in the holes they make. When that same process happens to a farm, the farm is considered abandon and unusable. So yes, it’s true that horticulturalists do occasionally set back succession, but that’s one thing they do—it’s not the only thing they do. And that’s why the long-term impact of horticulture is the Amazon rainforest, while the long-term impact of agriculture is the desert of Iraq.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 13 June 2007 @ 12:03 PM

  4. Further Musings on the Global and the Personal

    Such potential is enormous; in her powerful article, “Ecological Collapse, Trauma and Permaculture,” trauma survivor Lisa Raynor outlines the striking similarities between the trauma of ecological collapse, and the personal collapse involved in trauma, as well as the ecopsychological connections between the two. She also details the similarities between permaculture and trauma therapy, and the potential for permaculture for healing the trauma of agricultural catastrophe.

    This rather feeds into what we were discussing in the Neocolonialism thread about how personal and global issues feed into one another. In my case, glomming onto radical leftist ideology in order to convince society to work the way it supposedly should, is somewhat analogous to civilization itself resorting to contrivances such as industrialism and neocolonialism to make its way of doing things work. Both of these situations are also similar in that the proposed solution doesn’t really work and may in fact make problems even worse. Granted, undergraduate college-campus leftists may not have had the ability to change anything in the larger society, but you can see the fact that they don’t really have any solutions in the fact that the scene attracts troubled individuals, and the troubled nature of such people (yes, this included myself, big time) shows up in the way they behave in a manner difficult not to notice.

    Another analogy I could apply to my own life experience is in the difference between agriculture and horticulture. The agriculturist imposes his will upon the natural envrionment in an extremely heavy-handed way, and the results are always ultimately disastrous. The horticulturalist works with existing patterns in order to create something beneficial to both the natural environment and her human community because she recognizes that latter is not separate from the former.

    In my own life, I’ve noticed that whenever I try to make something happen in my life by going out and chasing after it the way the cultural mavens say I’m supposed to, it will simply not work out at all if I’m lucky. If I’m less lucky, this approach will be an unmitigated disaster. That’s kind of like how the farmer rips out the existing ecosystem and imposes monocropping and wages war against natural successoin reasserting itself. Both of these things are examples of trying to impose your ego’s will on the world outside your narrow, limited definition of yourself.

    The things in my life that have worked the best have been things that simply materialized as a natural outgrowth of the spiritual path I was on at the moment. That’s kind of like how a horticulturalists relies on “Zone 5″, the part of the cultivated area closest to its default natural state, for the health of her garden. (My analogy may be flawed owing to the fact that all I know about permaculture pretty much comes from reading stuff here, and while that’s a very good start, I really should know more.)

    A Type A person who vindicates his life with how big his bank account is and how far he has climbed up the corporate ladder would say that’s because I’m a fuck-up who is not really good for anything. (I also note how many of such people are “mature” and “rational” scientific skeptics who worship at the altar of “progress”.) My explanation is that if you’re more aligned with the realities of the spiritual world rather than aligned with the realities of the physical world, approaching things in a way that doesn’t have a solid spiritual foundation will be a lot less likely to work for you. To be sure, Mr. Type A “Science-Is-God-And-Technology-Will-Save-Us” has more tangible things to show for his endeavors, but he pays a high price in terms of the sort of person he has become and how much he has contributed to the world’s problems.

    So if your life is spiritually sound (I wish I could lay claim to truly being this sort of person, but I don’t think I really can), you’ll be like the horticulturist who has enough for herself and her community and has also enhanced the natural environment, but if you’re like Mr. Type A, you’ll have more material abundance in your grain silo in the short term, but the damage you’ve done to the natural environment when that cosmic bill comes to will make you realize that it wasn’t worth it. You will also realize that the conqueror’s arrogance that has taken over your personality has made you into a vicious, intolerant, and unpleasant person to be around.

    BTW, I’ve certainly noticed The New Look. Any particular reason for switching from red to blue? :-)

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 13 June 2007 @ 2:05 PM

  5. BTW, I think the permalinks to your two most recent blog articles need a bit of fixing.

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 13 June 2007 @ 2:21 PM

  6. You were experiencing some technical difficulties, Venus. They’re fixed now, so everything should be back to normal.

    Notice that Type A personalities also have a lot of self-loathing, and generally die young from stress-related heart diseases. I wouldn’t draw the line between “spiritual” and “physical,” either, as that’s precisely the kind of dualism that agriculture’s suggested to us. Oh, it’s very difficult to break these “monocultures of the mind,” this human dimension of domestication. It’s beyond any of our capacities to do it in just one lifetime, but we can do most of it, and pass on something far milder to our children. Getting rid of the last vestiges will take quite some time, however. Breaking the dualistic mold is a key starting point, though. I think that if you sat back and thought about it a little more, you’d see that what you’re calling the “physical world” approach has more to do with treating the universe as a collection of objects, and what you’re calling the “spiritual world” has a lot more to do with treating the universe as a collection of relationships. Of course, to deem the one “physical” and the other “spiritual” is to concede that agriculture’s logic is correct, and the universe we percieve is a dead, clockwork world, and we’re just being tricked into percieving it as alive. There’s the root of so much of this. You need to have the confidence to trust yourself and believe in your own perception of the world, that it really is every bit as alive as your senses tell you it is, and thus, that the whole thing’s all about relationship.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 13 June 2007 @ 2:44 PM

  7. You need to have the confidence to trust yourself and believe in your own perception of the world, that it really is every bit as alive as your senses tell you it is, and thus, that the whole thing’s all about relationship.

    I was going to say something to that effect, but I decided against because I’m trying to do what I can to make my essential point while at the same time containing the length of my posts. For pity’s sake, my four- or five-line sentences probably make my comments difficult enough to read as it is. (I’m trying to work on that one too. It’s just that it’s so much easier, at least for me, to say what I have to say more precisely by cramming a great deal into a single sentence.)

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 13 June 2007 @ 2:56 PM

  8. I’m trying to work on that one too. It’s just that it’s so much easier, at least for me, to say what I have to say more precisely by cramming a great deal into a single sentence.

    Work, perceived “ease”, precision cramming, words and more words…

    Great (unintended) example of the depth of our agricultural framework and “monoculture of the mind”.

    (No worries, VP, it just jumped out at me…)

    Comment by JCamasto — 13 June 2007 @ 5:33 PM

  9. I write blog posts that need a “Works Cited” list at the end. Obviously, I’m no more feral yet myself.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 13 June 2007 @ 5:38 PM

  10. Work, perceived “ease”, precision cramming, words and more words…

    Great (unintended) example of the depth of our agricultural framework and “monoculture of the mind”.

    It comes as no surprise. The values of the agriculturalist are the same values one needs to cope and function in the context of holding down a job in industrial civilization, whether you work in an office cubicle or at the grocery store as I do.

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 13 June 2007 @ 7:43 PM

  11. I don’t see how this can have any positive impact on the future direction of society? Out here in the wider world agriculture does not bear the narrow definition you’ve assigned to it, and nor does horticulture carry the meanings you’ve ascribed. The trouble with the future is that it’s built on the efforts of the people of the present, and attempting to re-educate them all on history, etymology and anthropology as a way to the future is probably not productive.

    The people you designate as understanding agriculture to be purely monocultural cropping are also the same ones who see horticulture as orchards and vineyards, sweeping lawns and profuse colour coordinated border plantings. When you speak of horticulture in the sense you use, you are only ever going to influence those willing to wade through and understand where your mark lies. Unfortunately the majority of people willing to do this are not the ones who currently hold and manage the land, and therefore they are not the ones well placed to begin making the changes that will help us in the future.

    If your target market is fellow anthropologists then your definition of agriculture is suitable for them perhaps, but for the rest of us, common usage actually reveals a broader and more rich understanding of the term, one that is eminently suitable to form the basis of something we can build upon for the future. As a pertinent aside, cultivation is actually derived from “colere”, “to till, to worship”, it is “culture” that is derived from “cultura”, at least according to my dictionary, which admittedly predates the internet. Cultivation, in addition to carrying the meaning “to till” is more suitably associated with “to civilise, to refine” and “to devote attention to”, even though such application may not suit the direction of your arguments.

    We see the idealised “wild land” and refine and civilise it through the devotion of attention, we worship it as a means of producing food. Utilising this meaning allows agriculture to neatly contain all of the things you assign to horticulture, even when horticulture reaches beyond the modern meaning and covers the scattering of seed and weeding out of invasive species that would threaten the succession of a “wild food garden” that is the subject of your horticulture. If we were looking for an oxymoron getting wild food from a garden would seem to be higher on the list than “sustainable agriculture”. Something cannot be wild and yet cultivated at the same time, yet your statement: “Where reliance on wild foods ends, cultivation tips from horticulture to agriculture,” seems to indicate this is possible.

    Where we have a wider population that can comfortably comprehend the terms “sustainable agriculture”, “permanent agriculture”, “organic agriculture”, and “broadacre agriculture” as all pointing to varied forms of food production methodology then we are best served to utilise that understanding, however errant in anthropological terms, in order to direct them to the future. Sure, you have your beef against agriculture as a cause of destruction, and it’s a valid beef, but trying to redefine people’s understanding is not going to readily facilitate change.

    It would be far better to embrace “agriculture”, to join the dark side so to speak, and work from within. By allowing people to keep their preconceived notions and expand upon them, rather than asking them to scrap their worldview and start with a clean slate you can actually achieve something other than a whole lot of confusion.

    It is far easier to introduce permanent trees to a field as an adjunct to a cropping or pastoral operation than it is to ask a farmer to dump the crops that feed people today (and make him or her an income) in the hope that planting the entire lot to forest will feed some people down the track. Asking them to adopt “sustainable agriculture” is not such a quantum leap as asking them to accept some anthropologically correct primitivist “horticulture” that looks nothing like any horticulture any farmer has seen in the last few millenia. Only by allowing people a foundation in their current worldview can they build upward. This essay, on the contrary, paints them all as demons, and gives them no way forward, which is, of course, the easiest way to create resistance.

    Comment by Geoff — 13 June 2007 @ 10:18 PM

  12. I’m not sure how you view the local food movement, but bringing agriculture back home could redress many of the ills of the current food production system. There is a commercial backyard farming system called SPIN-Farming which provides a process for making an income from farming on sub-acre land bases, and incorporates agriculture into the built environment. You can see SPIN in action at http://www.spinfarming.com. I am wondering if you see what SPIN is enabling as a positive development.

    Comment by Roxanne — 14 June 2007 @ 8:42 AM

  13. Roxanne, local food is a great start, but it’s nowhere near enough. Like “organic agriculture,” local food is basically just the way things were done before the Green Revolution. Local food stripped the cedar forests of Iraq and turned the Fertile Crescent into the desert you see today. Local food would be a great first step, but it’s nowhere even close to enough. Once you have local food, you can start changing the way you grow that food locally, morph it into permaculture. Then your community can pare itself down to something around 150 people, and you can cluster into a village around your field. Your religion will slowly morph into more and more animistic beliefs, your culture will be increasingly informed by the ambient sound of your ecology, and you’ll dispense with your various social hierarchies because, really, who has the time? Little Randy’s going to call himself “Mayor”? That’s cute, but it’s Lil’ Randy! Does he really expect anyone to take that seriously?

    At that point, you’ll be close to sustainable.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 14 June 2007 @ 11:58 AM

  14. Geoff, you’re a farmer, aren’t you? I can tell because these words all mean something very different to you than they do to most people. Like your popular conception of “horticulture.” 9 times out of 10, when I say “horticulture,” it doesn’t evoke anything in people’s minds—I get a blank stare until I say “gardening,” and then they say, “Ohhh,” and picture a well-landscaped area full of different plants growing together. Still not quite the same as what an anthropologist means by the term, but it’s a lot closer than if I were to tell them it was a kind of farming—and still a far cry from the “orchards and vineyards, sweeping lawns and profuse colour coordinated border plantings” you describe. No, my mother’s backyard garden isn’t the same as the horticulture you’ll find in the Amazon, but it’s a whole lot closer to a food forest than those corn fields.

    But more importantly, this isn’t “the narrow definition {I’ve} assigned to it.” That much should be obvious from all of those precise, technical definitions I cited and discussed. Look at what they keep bringing up: intensity, tillage, the plow, etc. They’re certainly all pointing in a similar direction, and a direction that actually does align with the popular conception of the farmer plowing his fields into neat rows of a single species of crop.

    The trouble with the future is that it’s built on the efforts of the people of the present, and attempting to re-educate them all on history, etymology and anthropology as a way to the future is probably not productive.

    I could hardly disagree more. I cannot tell you how much confusion, muddled thinking and failed experiments I’ve encountered over the years simply because so many people take the word “agriculture” to cover any kind of cultivation, regardless of its nature. When you understand the difference between agriculture and horticulture, the vague, ill-defined boundary between sustainable and unsustainable societies melts away, and you suddenly have the ability to check your ideas against the accumulated wisdom of the human species. Try looking up “non-totalitarian agriculture” in the Ethnographic Atlas. Now try “horticulture,” and tell me that it doesn’t make any difference. The only way forward is to learn from the past, and you can’t do that if you strip a word like “agriculture” of all meaning by making it a synonym of cultivation. We already have a word for cultivation—cultivation. I can understand why our culture pushes us towards this end, of course. It makes any other kind of cultivation unthinkable, like Newspeak in 1984. It makes it impossible to speak of a very specific kind of cultivation marked by tilling, monocropping and ecological devastation—agriculture—with precison. Instead, we get endlessly sidetracked into discussions about “sustainable agriculture,” which to you or I might mean something no one would recognize as farming, but because we use the word “agriculture,” and the popular image of the farmer is so entrenched, so many others will pursue as nothing more than monocropped, tilled, plowed fields of wheat. Maybe without Haber-Bosch fertilizer or chemical pesticides. A “garden,” on the other hand, is something very different, and everyone knows it.

    The wide usage of agriculture is mostly found among farmers. In the rest of the world, a “farm” is a world away from a “garden,” and my mother’s joke is just silly for that reason. Furthermore, correct usage emphasizes the ecological relationship of each strategy, maintains the etymological integrity of the terms, embraces their precise usage, and most importantly, aligns better with both popular and professional uses of the terms, allowing you to be better understood by laypeople, and to more easily look up references in an index.

    By the same token, expanding “agriculture” to mean “cultivation” limits the capacity of language to communicate by eliminating a term for a very specific phenomenon and instead giving us two words for the same thing (and thus obscuring the fact that this very specific phenomenon exists, instead conflating it as the “default” or “normal” mode, with all other modes of cultivation as mere varieties of it), frustrates the popular conception (who now have to trace the distant relationship between a food forest and a cornfield), defies all the precise definitions, necessitates nonsense phrases like “totalitarian agriculture” to fill the gap previously filled simply by “agriculture,” and eliminates the possibility of comparing present techniques with past experiences.

    Words matter. Good words allow communication to be more clear, precise and direct. Unfortunately, there are plenty of cultural forces that work at odds with clear, precise, direct communication, and they push towards an obfuscation of the issue, with this usage of “agriculture” so broad that it reminds me of the effect of Newspeak in 1984. This is something that must be resisted. It took me a long time to pin down what Daniel Quinn was talking about so I could find ethnographic examples, simply because he used the broadest definition of “agriculture.” Those are the kinds of setbacks that such imprecise language entails.

    When you speak of horticulture in the sense you use, you are only ever going to influence those willing to wade through and understand where your mark lies.

    Again, it’s not my mark. Look at the definitions above. When horticulture is understood at all, it’s routinely simply, “gardening,” just like “agriculture” is “farming.” These aren’t definitions I pulled out of my own ass; you can read the definitions above. Those are quite typical, and they match precisely what I’m driving at. All somebody needs to get from “horticulture” to understand me is “gardening,” and I’ll just as often simply say, “gardening.” Compare that to the broad usage—a food forest as a kind of agriculture. The gap betweeen a food forest and a cornfield is much wider.

    Unfortunately the majority of people willing to do this are not the ones who currently hold and manage the land, and therefore they are not the ones well placed to begin making the changes that will help us in the future.

    The ones who currently hold and manage the land are mostly ConAgra, Monsanto, and the other big agribusiness monoliths. Less than 2% of the U.S. population is currently involved in food production. The vast majority of the people we need to reach might have had a flower bed or a backyard garden, but that’s prboably the extent of their cultivation experience. Most farmers I know will continue plowing till they keel over dead, plowing dead dust; sure, some of them might be willing to try permaculture, but that can’t be the target audience or we’ll all be dead.

    As a pertinent aside, cultivation is actually derived from “colere”, “to till, to worship”, it is “culture” that is derived from “cultura”, at least according to my dictionary, which admittedly predates the internet.

    Cultura is, admittedly, a fairly complex Latin word, and very tightly bound into Roman conceptions of agriculture, civilization, pietas and progress, so those meanings all appear in Latin at some point, though the earliest meaning specifically referred to tilling soil. Later, this was used to suggest tilling soil for civilization and culture in a person, the same way the soil is tilled for wheat; later still, worship itself became a kind of ideological tilling. They’re all correct meanings, and all reveal the mythic framework of the Romans, who saw imperium, pietas and their glorious, totalitarian regime as the logical culmination of cultura.

    We see the idealised “wild land” and refine and civilise it through the devotion of attention, we worship it as a means of producing food.

    Exactly. That’s precisely the problem. The “idealised ‘wild land’” is something Other. Thus, the moment a human enters it, it ceases to be “wilderenss.” Its humans vs. nature, and thus, humans have no place in nature, humans are the opposite of nature. If a human is in it, it ceases to be nature; it’s “artificial” instead. Ergo, what happens to nature is almost by definition completely disconnected from what happens to humans.

    But agriculture allows us to take wilderness and turn it into a unit of food production. The refinement and attention is to make it something human, to rescue it from nature. It is not an ecology one relates to, but a unit of production. It did not have value as a living landscape; only human attention and refinement could give it value, and now its value is solely its productive capacity as a source of human food.

    That’s precisely the mindset that agriculture engenders, and strikes very much to the heart of what makes “sustainable agriculture” an oxymoron.

    Utilising this meaning allows agriculture to neatly contain all of the things you assign to horticulture, even when horticulture reaches beyond the modern meaning and covers the scattering of seed and weeding out of invasive species that would threaten the succession of a “wild food garden” that is the subject of your horticulture.

    Again, it isn’t mine; it’s the technical definition, the popular understanding of a “garden,” the term you’ll need to look up examples in an ethnography, and the word you’ll have to use if you want to be understood by someone else. The only people I’ve ever met who had differing opinions were people involved, in one way or another, in the “sustainable agriculture” movement, and I’ve been continually frustrated by how that term alone creates a nearly unbreakable mold in most people’s mind of trying to tweak a cornfield to make the weeding, plowing, tilling and monocropping a little nicer for the environment.

    At any rate, I think the above shows that this could hardly be further from the truth. That meaning really underlines the problems with agriculture. It’s very much the same problem that divides the animist mindset shared by hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists, from the dualistic mindset found in agricultural societies. Is humanity part of the world, or exiled from it? Is the world around us Paradise, or cursed for our sake? Is the world around us something we relate to, or a unit of production? Do we inhabit a universe of relationships, or objects? When you look at a photograph, what do you see first—the people in it, or the action?

    If these seem equivalent to you, then you very much missed the underlying point that some precise terminology reveals—the vast divide between a sustainable relationship with a living landscape where humans and other species coexist, versus the unsustainable usage of land as a unit of production.

    If we were looking for an oxymoron getting wild food from a garden would seem to be higher on the list than “sustainable agriculture”.

    Really? You never had any weeds in a garden? What are weeds if not wild food growing in your garden?

    Something cannot be wild and yet cultivated at the same time, yet your statement: “Where reliance on wild foods ends, cultivation tips from horticulture to agriculture,” seems to indicate this is possible.

    Before that, I’d also said that horticulture is not self-sufficient. It can provide a lot of your diet, but in no case has horticulture ever provided for a human’s complete dietary needs. It always needs to be supplemented, usually by hunting, and sometimes by gathering wild plants that are too hard to cultivate. In every case where this reliance on wild foods to supplement even a predominantly cultivated diet has been eliminated, it has happened by jumping that divide from horticulture into agriculture, by relying on catastrophe and suppressing succession. Only then can you provide a complete human diet solely on what you cultivate.

    Where we have a wider population that can comfortably comprehend the terms “sustainable agriculture”, “permanent agriculture”, “organic agriculture”, and “broadacre agriculture” as all pointing to varied forms of food production methodology then we are best served to utilise that understanding, however errant in anthropological terms, in order to direct them to the future.

    Even I’ve never heard of “broadacre agriculture” before. As for the rest, they’re all incredibly vague. “Organic agriculture,” for instance. Does that mean the USDA’s definition of “organic agriculture”? Most “organic agriculture” isn’t even much different from industrialized agriculture. Even where it is, it usually just means the same kind of agriculture that was practiced before the Green Revolution—the agriculture that helped spread deserts from Africa’s Atlantic coast, clear to the Great Wall of China and whipped up the Dust Bowl in North America. Industrialized agriculture may have intensified the pre-existing trends, but it by no means created them. Even after 50 years of industrial agriculture, most of agriculture’s historic devastation has been wrought by what we today call “organic agriculture.”

    And “sustainable agriculture”? Give me 10 people who practice it and I’ll give you 10 different definitions for it. “Sustainable” has a fairly precise meaning, too, but practices like “sustainable agriculture” routinely suppress or ignore inputs to balance their ecological impact on paper, leading so many people to the conclusion that “sustainability” is a meaningless, vague term.

    If you happen to be dealing with people who understand these terms (and remember, they are a distinct minority), then by all means, engage your audience with where they’re at. But even in these cases, I think you get further by exploring the problems with these concepts, because the reasons they don’t make much sense overlay precisely the major crises we need to address. The confusion of “organic agriculture,” for instance, gets us right into why agriculture was destroying so much of the world long before the Industrial Revolution. The vagaries of “sustainable agriculture” get right to the heart of externalities and ignored costs. These are some of the biggest problems we have to face. The complications in terms like these try to brush them under the rug of an awkward term, but by exploring the failings of those terms, we can come face to face with these problems, and why continuing our way of life requires us to try to ignore them as much as we can. And that will lead us to the really important conclusion: we cannot continue to live the way we have.

    Just as importantly, we’re going to need to learn from other cultures that haven’t destroyed the world, and that’s going to require the ability to map our practices to anthropological terms, so we can compare what we’re doing to what other cultures have done. On that level, too, precise terminology gives us a very significant advantage.

    Sure, you have your beef against agriculture as a cause of destruction, and it’s a valid beef, but trying to redefine people’s understanding is not going to readily facilitate change.

    But it’s not a redefinition. It’s right there in the popular and precise meanings we already have. It just takes a bit of thought to follow the implications of what we all agree, professional and layperson alike, what these terms mean, and to try to understand them in terms of ecological relationship. I didn’t redefine anything. I worked from the popular image, the etymological history, and a whole collection of precise definitions, and from there, I just followed the implications.

    By allowing people to keep their preconceived notions and expand upon them, rather than asking them to scrap their worldview and start with a clean slate you can actually achieve something other than a whole lot of confusion.

    And yet so far, the only result I’ve seen from those who’ve embraced that approach has been a whole lot of confusion. I can talk to ordinary people about “farming” vs. “gardening,” and they immediately get what I’m saying. The only people who’ve ever been confused about this have been the people with heavy investments in the “sustainable agriculture” movement.

    Working from within this notion of “agriculture” normalizes monocropping, tilling, and the viewpoint of land not as a living body of relationships, but as a unit of production. It means that every other kind of cultivation is merely an elaboration on that. The minute I use the word “agriculture” or “farm,” the other 98% of the people out there who aren’t farmers immediately think of rows of corn. We already have far too many people expecting to just set up a post-peak homestead and farm themselves some wheat out of the soil their grandfathers discovered couldn’t grow anything more, and that’s why they took up the Green Revolution. Trying to explain that when you say “farm,” you actually mean something that has nothing in common with what they’re thinking of, and it’s actually more like what they mean by “garden,” then you’ve just done them a grave disservice. They may never fully understand what a sustainable cultivation looks like, all because you used the word “farm,” rather than “garden.” To say nothing of the fact that they’ll never be able to cross this information against actual ethnographic data. They’ll never be able to compare it against others who’ve tried or lived that way. Instead, they’ll only be able to compare against the experiments tried by a few tinkerers in our own culture.

    It is far easier to introduce permanent trees to a field as an adjunct to a cropping or pastoral operation than it is to ask a farmer to dump the crops that feed people today (and make him or her an income) in the hope that planting the entire lot to forest will feed some people down the track.

    I don’t know too many farmers who’d even be willing to plant some trees. Less than 2% of the U.S. population is involved in food production. It’s the other 98% that need to start embracing permaculture and horticulture. It’s community food gardens in the inner city that will do the most to prevent massive die-off, or small groups using permaculture to help rewild the forests. I don’t worry too much about farmers; they’re far too committed to civilization, and far too small a minority in the West, to ever mean much to any kind of change. If farmers are the primary audience, then it’s already over.

    Asking them to adopt “sustainable agriculture” is not such a quantum leap as asking them to accept some anthropologically correct primitivist “horticulture” that looks nothing like any horticulture any farmer has seen in the last few millenia.

    Asking either is asking more than any farmer I know would ever be willing to accept. But the time’s not far off when farmers won’t be able to feed the other 98% of the country. It’s the people who are dependent on civilization now that need to know where to go, with no background in any kind of cultivation whatsoever. They need models of other cultures that have made it work; not just their cultivation schemes, but how that affected their social organization, and how they got along with each other, adn how that shaped their religion and their outlook, and how it created their whole culture. That’s the challenge that lies ahead. Ultimately, who cares what the farmers do? Farmers farm, and it’s precisely that scale that’s causing the problem. To ask a farmer to grow their food sustainably is to ask him to give up everything that makes him a farmer. Farmers aren’t going to have much impact on the future, I don’t think. It’s the people willing and looking for a whole different culture that are going to create those cultures that will survive.

    Only by allowing people a foundation in their current worldview can they build upward. This essay, on the contrary, paints them all as demons, and gives them no way forward, which is, of course, the easiest way to create resistance.

    From my experience, they’re already resistant, always have been and always will be. But in the end, there can’t be any kind of “reformed agriculture.” What it will take to survive the downslope will be a whole different culture—a different way of cultivating, yes, but a whole different worldview and a whole different economy and a whole different approach. In the end, you’re going to have to ask anyone who’s going to be part of the future to jettison everything they’ve known and embrace a whole different way of life, because that’s what it ultimately comes down to—our way of life doesn’t work. We can’t keep on living the way we have been. Any baby step you make towards that is a good one, but that doesn’t mean you can pretend that a tiny step like “organic agriculture” gets you there.

    Which is precisely why I doubt farmers will have much impact. The farmers I know are more committed to this way of life than anyone else. They live for it, and they will gladly die for it. There’s not much I can do to change that.

    But the other 98% of the U.S. population is very quickly getting tired of the way things are, and more and more of them are looking for a completely new culture. There’s the hope that I see for the future, not in farmers necessarily, but in everyone who wants a different way to live, to go beyond civilization.

    My mother never planted anything before she started that backyard garden. We used to talk about her “black thumb” because of how quickly she could kill plants inside the house (of course, then she’d call me & my brother her “little flowers,” which would scare the bejeezus out of us). But I see more hope for the future in her little garden than I could ever find in all those corn fields we drive past everytime we go up to the forest.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 14 June 2007 @ 11:59 AM

  15. That’s cute, but it’s Lil’ Randy! Does he really expect anyone to take that seriously?

    I heard he was just trying to impress Pretty Sally. I also heard it didn’t work. :-D

    Comment by venuspluto67 — 14 June 2007 @ 1:06 PM

  16. “agriculture… needed the power of flooding, which scoured landscapes and stripped out competitors… as the last ice age ended, a time of enormous upheaval when glacial melt let loose sea-size lakes to create tidal waves of erosion. It was a time of catastrophe.”

    Aha! Now THAT’s an environmental reason for the rise of agriculture I can get me teeth into. Ran describes the likely post-collapse environment as a “Planet of Weeds,” but, if we take ‘weeds’ to mean the first plants to seed themselves on post-catastrophe land, it could be argued that that’s exactly what we live on now, surrounded as we are by wheat, rice and corn. No wonder farming is such hard work - Nature is trying to do our weeding for us, and we insist on trying to subvert the process.

    Comment by cheeba — 15 June 2007 @ 10:07 AM

  17. That’s pretty much it exactly, cheeba, though I’m a little surprised that this is the first time you’ve heard that around here. I guess going back and reviewing the basics from time to time is pretty important to actually say those little things we feel like we’ve said a thousand times, but never actually said. :)

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 15 June 2007 @ 10:19 AM

  18. So apparently, Tamarack Song from the Teaching Drum commented on this article (thanks, Curt!), so I wanted to share his comments here as part of the discussion:

    If you haven’t yet, I encourage those of you with an intellectual interesting the effects of agriculture, to take Glenn’s suggestion and a look at Jason Godesky’s piece at [Essay Address].

    Not knowing Jason or having read much of his writings, I can only comment from my impression of this particular piece. It appears to be pretty solidly a systems approach, which has him immersed in clarifying semantics and identifying and labeling symptoms. If done well, it can be a self-satisfying task.

    The pitfall of the systems approach is that it lacks perspective. Systems analysts define the issue from the perspective of the issue, and thereby come up with issue-based analyses and solutions. The analysis appears to fit the situation, and the resulting solution may appear to work, and yet the core imbalance which brought about the situation was never identified. Think of it as controlling a fire by focusing on the fire rather than the reason for the fire.

    Rather than a set of systems, life is a web of relationship. When one area of the web is torn, it affects the entire web. No longer will the web respond in its intended way to the crashing force of a Grasshopper flying into it; no longer can Spider respond to the crash in her time-honored way.

    My reply to Curt’s post was:

    That’s funny, since what I said was precisely that agriculture and horticulture differ in how they relate to the ecology, to the land as a living thing. He’s right that I do a lot of what you’d call “systems thinking,” but systems aren’t necessarily lifeless things. A group of friends and the social dynamics among them make up a system, for instance. Webs of relationships are systems. In fact, I’d say that’s at the root of systems thinking–examining the relationships more than the supposed “objects.”

    I’m still on the fence about the Teaching Drum, but I know a lot of graduates are around, so if you’d like to tell us what your experience was like in the forums, I’d love to hear about it. I can’t entirely shake the allegations of cultural appropriation, and I’ve never gotten a real, thorough account of what the place is like from someone who’s been through it, so I’d love for someone to shake me off the fence one way or another and tell me enough for me to form a solid opinion!

    Even so, I’m on the fence precisely because, beyond the allegations of cultural appropriation, Tamarack Song has also done some unambiguously great stuff, and the Teaching Drum just might be the best place for to learn primitive living in North America right now. So, knowing that my humble work circulates around the Teaching Drum is pretty cool.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 15 June 2007 @ 3:44 PM

  19. “I’m a little surprised that this is the first time you’ve heard that around here.”

    Which bit? It’s been a year or so since I read all the way through the 30 theses, but I don’t remember the ice-age-flooding-agriculture element in there. If it isn’t, might you consider adding it in? For me at least, the reasons for the sudden disruption of tribal life is a vital pivot-point of the primitivist argument.

    If it’s the ‘weeds’ bit you’re referring to, that was more in the line of a sudden paradigm flash on my part, probably brought about by planting my spinach beet a couple of days before and seeing all sorts of other coloniser sprouts emerging in the newly disturbed earth! Nothing like a bit of tacit knowledge to flesh out the theory…

    [actually, looking at TTTs again, and from my own experience of writing, I imagine you probably have to resist the temptation to tinker with them on a regular basis. Understandable if you want to leave the house of cards well alone!]

    Comment by cheeba — 17 June 2007 @ 11:44 AM

  20. I remember being irritated with you over at Ishcon for talking about this, but I never really understood it until now. This makes perfect sense and I totally see why it is important to make these distinctions. I feel like I have “thrown out” all three methods described here (agriculture, horticulture, cultivation) because I assumed they all just meant the same thing, more or less. This makes me get how you can “give back” when you garden, etc. Thanks for this post.

    Comment by Urban Scout — 17 June 2007 @ 2:25 PM

  21. Hey Jason, I’d say you really need to just come visit the year-long camp at the Teaching Drum for a week and see for yourself. You’ll get to meet with and talk to Tamarack, Lety, and Chris (the guides for the Wilderness Guide Program) and all the seekers out at our wilderness camp. You’ll see them interact in real-time, right in front of you. No question is taboo, and you’ll get first hand, in the dirt, no-holds-barred, no-bullshit, real-world experience of the Teaching Drum. There’s just no substitute that can be gotten over the internet, and that’s why we require that visit before folks are even allowed to apply to the program.

    It’s a measly $200 donation for seven days. Even if you wind up hating the Teaching Drum, you’ll still get a week of dirt time in community. I say, just do it.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 17 June 2007 @ 9:53 PM

  22. Cheeba, the bit about agriculture born out of a time of disaster. It was my operating premise, but I think it may have been one of those things I considered so “obvious” it didn’t need saying. Gotta watch those things, eh? I’m not surprised you missed my explanation, but surprised that I never mentioned it along the way.

    The Thirty Theses will be seeing significant revision, but not online. I’m going to work them into a book next.

    Scout, that’s all the vindication I could ever ask for. Sometimes I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall, but then you get those moments where it “clicks,” and people understand each other, and what used to be a point of contention suddenly becomes new common ground for forming new alliances. Those are the moments that keep me going. Thank you.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 June 2007 @ 10:12 PM

  23. Btw, I’m glad to see someone posted Tamarack’s response on the Teaching Drum egroup here. I posted the link to this article over there with some excerpts because we had had some similar discussions over there, and thought this might help clarify things for some of the people on the TD egroup. It’s always interesting to see where Tamarack goes with this stuff, however…as best I can tell, for him it’s never just a matter for the head to figure out, the heart-of-hearts always has to have final say.

    Anyway it’s good stuff and I totally agree that the issue is pretty simple when you let go of the words “farming” and “agriculture” and just talk with the 98% about hunting, gathering, and gardening.

    I grew up on a 2600 acre farm that devastated the Alaskan landscape and went bankrupt only to be purchased by a big land speculator. I hated working for my dad on that farm’s dusty mile-long dead or mono-cropped fields. I picked sticks, drove massive bulldozers and tractors, plowed fields, spread chemical fertilizer, and sprayed pesticides. Wasn’t much fun.

    Also every year, I helped my Mom in our subsistence garden where we raised over half of our years food on a quarter acre with very little effort.

    Also every year, we caught salmon and shot moose, caribou or buffalo for nearly all of our meat. As a kid, I hunted and trapped squirrels and rabbits.

    Also every year we went berry picking and gathered all our year’s fruit in a matter of less than a week.

    Even as a kid it never made sense to me how we could provide all our food via hunting, gathering and gardening with so little effort and yet my dad had to put so much work into so much land and still couldn’t provide for our (simple, working class, not-at-all-greedy) monetary needs.

    My Dad used to joke that he worked second jobs “to support his farming habit”.

    This is the kind of reality we need to speak from (as we get our own experiences with gardening, hunting and gathering…comparing them to the experiences of farmers), and in layman’s language it fits with the academic language Jason is using here. That way we can talk to the “average joe” and the college professor with equal clarity. Seems like a win-win situation to me. And like Jason, I think the only people who don’t get this are those in the “sustainable farming” and “renewable energy” movements trying to b.s. people into thinking solar panels can light our whole foods grocery stores while biodiesel fuels the tractors on our organic farms and we all live happily ever after.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 17 June 2007 @ 10:25 PM

  24. It’s a measly $200 donation for seven days. Even if you wind up hating the Teaching Drum, you’ll still get a week of dirt time in community. I say, just do it.

    Unfortunately, I’m still stuck in a civilized economy. I have a rent to consider, for instance, and that requires holding down a job. A week I could swing, but more than that, I’ve got to be ready to take the plunge, because much more than that threatens my ability to keep my job. Even that week, the money isn’t nearly the investment that the time is. I get two weeks off for the whole year, so that’s half of everything they give me, plus the long drive out to Wisconsin … I recognize there’s a lot lost in that kind of translation, but I’d like to hear a little more before I put in that kind of investment, you know what I mean?

    As for relating with clarity, thanks; that’s about as much as I could hope to shoot for.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 June 2007 @ 10:38 PM

  25. It’s one week and you live a day and a half’s drive away. I’ve been a working class fellow my whole life, yet my wage slavery would have to be pretty deep to make that unreasonable…maybe if I had a three or four children to support, it would be a problem, but otherwise I have a hard time seeing this as a barrier.

    That said, I’m here right now (though I could be asked, along with Tamarack, any question on the public Teaching Drum e-group at any time). What questions do you still have?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 17 June 2007 @ 11:03 PM

  26. I just map quested. Correction, you live one day’s drive away.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 17 June 2007 @ 11:14 PM

  27. 14 hours—I did that going down to NC, but man, that was one hell of a drive. And half my year’s vacation—I’m not saying it’s not worth it, but I want to know what I’m getting for that investment, y’know?

    It’s the cultural appropriation issue that still concerns me most. A yearlong, full-immersion program is perfect, and it sounds like the proper emphasis is placed on patterns of relationship. I’ve had my own run-ins with some of Tamarack’s critics, and they didn’t impress me very much, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Cultural appropriation is a serious issue—does the Teaching Drum deal with that at all? Is it taking inspiration from functioning culture, or is it just “playing Indian”?

    If the Teaching Drum is guilty of the cultural appropriation I’ve heard about, then that’s not something I’m too interested in taking part in. But if that’s something they deal with responsibly, maturely and directly, then I’ll have to figure out when I came make it up there.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 June 2007 @ 11:41 PM

  28. I should also mention, I’ve been asking these questions of people who’ve been through the Teaching Drum for a while, and I’ve never gotten a real answer. Nobody who’s been through has ever been willing to really share their experiences; the response is always that I need to go and see for myself. That kind of puts me on edge. A lot of cults use that kind of approach, so that you have some kind of investment before they tell you anything. That makes you more reticent to say anything negative, because that’d make you a fool for investing in it; you’re more likely to accept it yourself, too, because you’ve put so much into it. By the time Scientologists tell you about Xenu, for instance, you’ve already sunk maybe millions of dollars into the Church—who, at that point of investment, is going to say, “Prince Xenu? That’s crazy!”

    I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but it’s the vibe I’m starting to pick up. That disturbs me quite a bit. I don’t want to think that’s what’s going on, and that doesn’t mean that’s what’s happening. Really, one good, straight, honest answer would be enough to pop the whole thing.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 June 2007 @ 11:48 PM

  29. I guess I’d have to know how you define cultural appropriation (as different from appropriate cross-cultural sharing) to answer that question.

    If you can be clear and specific about what your standards are, I’m sure I can be clear about what we do here.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 17 June 2007 @ 11:48 PM

  30. Well, I’ve written about cultural appropriation plenty of times; see “The Wise Indian” section of “The Savages Are Truly Noble,” and “Entering Merlin’s Domain.” I see no problem with “comparing notes” against healthy cultures and learning from the ways they do things, but I don’t think you can just pick those practices up and drop them into your life and call them your own. You need to do the creative, syncretic work of reworking the principles behind those cues into something that works into your own culture. So if the sweat lodge ceremony I keep hearing about is just an Indian sweat lodge ceremony, simply performed by a bunch of white people without the cultural context to really follow it properly, I’d call that cultural appropriation. But if draws inspiration from Indian sweat lodge ceremonies, adapts it to the local ecology, and then works that into our own cultural notions of the sweat lodge, ceremony, and so forth, that’s not cultural appropriation, that’s syncretism, and that’s exactly what we need.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 June 2007 @ 11:57 PM

  31. Hey Jason,

    The simple answer is no, we don’t do an “indian” sweat lodge ceremony without “the cultural context to really follow it properly”. We draw our inspiration from the Ojibwe elders Tamarack sweated with for decades, from sweating northern cultures around the world (including European ones), the local ecology, the necessities of our lifestyle, and the particular needs for authentic healing that come from our civilized american cultural context.

    And sorry buddy, but one thing I’m not going to do is research your writings on cultural appropriation just so that I can answer your question about our program. If you had been interested in answering your own question, you’ve had plenty of resources available to you. Tamarack has written an entire book on the sweat lodge that is available through our website (for the cost of printing), and the sweat lodge is a topic that both Tamarack and I have written about (and would write more about) on our e-group just about any day of the week. Cultural appropriation too.

    It seems a bit strange to me for you to sit over here on your turf complaining about how we aren’t answering your questions about what we do. Especially since I’ve come to your site multiple times and I don’t remember you ever stating to me that my words were “to vague” or “didn’t really answer your questions”.

    I’ve certainly told you to come see for yourself, but in my world, that’s just good sense. What we do here is done in the real world with real people (warts and all), not in a pc virtual reality where I could just give you all the “correct” answers because I worked as an activist on native rights issues for multiple years and know all those answers.

    And $200 for a weeks visit isn’t an
    “investment”, it does little more than cover the extra effort involved in feeding you, showing you around, and making sure you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else while you’re here.

    Our sweat lodge is very simple and is done because the physical and spiritual demands of our outdoor foraging lifestyle in this particular bioregion make it necessary. If you’ve ever lived without a hot shower and soap through a northwoods winter, you’d know why.

    Just like the shelters we build, the fires we make, the clothing we design and the foods we forage, our sweat lodge is dynamic and adjusts to the needs or our particular community in our particular context and environment. We don’t do anything here just “because that’s how the indians did it”. If we do things that resemble what the Ojibwe did or do, it’s because we share a bioregion and many of the basic necessities of a core life-way (i.e. primitive foraging) with them. We emigrated to their country.

    So, (for instance) you aren’t going to see much (if any) indian bead work, jewelry or dream-catchers around here either. You might see a few feathers here and there, but most likely we got those out in the woods from birds we know personally.

    Does that help?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 18 June 2007 @ 12:51 AM

  32. Of course I should point out that not everyone here knows about all the meanings of our sweat lodge (i.e. to talk about them). That’s experience that’s gained the more it’s lived, and I still learn more about what the sweat lodge means every time we sweat together as a community.

    In fact, those who’ve done few sweats tend to be the most verbal about all the “symbols” involved in the sweat lodge ceremony. The longer I sweat, in some ways, the less I have to say about that. The lodge’s meaning isn’t necessarily known through words.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 18 June 2007 @ 1:10 AM

  33. The simple answer is no, we don’t do an “indian” sweat lodge ceremony without “the cultural context to really follow it properly”. We draw our inspiration from the Ojibwe elders Tamarack sweated with for decades, from sweating northern cultures around the world (including European ones), the local ecology, the necessities of our lifestyle, and the particular needs for authentic healing that come from our civilized american cultural context.

    OK, that’s good enough for me. That’s exactly what I mean about creative syncretism. In that case, it’s awesome, and the critics are way off-base.

    And sorry buddy, but one thing I’m not going to do is research your writings on cultural appropriation just so that I can answer your question about our program. If you had been interested in answering your own question, you’ve had plenty of resources available to you. Tamarack has written an entire book on the sweat lodge that is available through our website (for the cost of printing), and the sweat lodge is a topic that both Tamarack and I have written about (and would write more about) on our e-group just about any day of the week. Cultural appropriation too.

    And how reliable is that? If you go up to someone and ask, “Are you a con-man?” what answer do you expect to get? If he isn’t, he’ll tell you no honestly; and if he is, he’ll tell you he isn’t, because he’s a con-man! By the same token, seeing if Tamarack Song engages in cultural appropriation isn’t something you can figure out based on what Tamarack Song writes. You’ve got to hear it from people who’ve been through the Teaching Drum, that you can trust, and are willing to be open about what they experienced. So, I thank you for providing some of that, because that’s something I can trust.

    It seems a bit strange to me for you to sit over here on your turf complaining about how we aren’t answering your questions about what we do. Especially since I’ve come to your site multiple times and I don’t remember you ever stating to me that my words were “to vague” or “didn’t really answer your questions”.

    Well, you’ve also never really told us what it was like. No one else has, either; I’ve run into plenty of other Teaching Drum grads, but I’ve never gotten one of them willing to really relate what they experienced. It’s always about how I have to go up there for myself. That kind of creeps me out a bit.

    I’ve certainly told you to come see for yourself, but in my world, that’s just good sense. What we do here is done in the real world with real people (warts and all), not in a pc virtual reality where I could just give you all the “correct” answers because I worked as an activist on native rights issues for multiple years and know all those answers.

    Nobody’s disputing that there’s no substitute for first-hand experience. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell us what it was like. We all know that it’s your experience, and that it only reflects the full extent of what goes on, but it also gives us a glimpse. When nobody seems willing to share that, it’s only natural to get a little suspicious of what’s going on. Doesn’t mean that that suspicion has anything to do with reality, but that’s the impression that’s created.

    And $200 for a weeks visit isn’t an
    “investment”, it does little more than cover the extra effort involved in feeding you, showing you around, and making sure you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else while you’re here.

    Again, it’s not the money nearly as much as the time. I’ll probably spend more than that driving there and back. It’s the investment of time. What am I getting for that? Is it a glimpse of a place that could really help me rewild, or is it brainwashing for a creepy cult? When nobody’s willing to share their experience of what it was like, either extreme is possible. That’s not a statement about what the Teaching Drum is–I can’t make a statement on what the Teaching Drum is, I’ve never been there–but that is the impression you’ve put on me, at least. The Teaching Drum just might be the best primitive skills course out there. Or it could be a “plastic medicine man” cult. You’ve given me a little more here that I think I can trust, and the “cult” option is looking more like the skewed perspective of an outsider; thank you for that. I hope it is everything that a few hopeful glimpses have suggested, because that would really be exactly what we need.

    Our sweat lodge is very simple and is done because the physical and spiritual demands of our outdoor foraging lifestyle in this particular bioregion make it necessary. If you’ve ever lived without a hot shower and soap through a northwoods winter, you’d know why.

    Oh, absolutely. I’m well aware of the sheer practicality of it.

    Just like the shelters we build, the fires we make, the clothing we design and the foods we forage, our sweat lodge is dynamic and adjusts to the needs or our particular community in our particular context and environment. We don’t do anything here just “because that’s how the indians did it”. If we do things that resemble what the Ojibwe did or do, it’s because we share a bioregion and many of the basic necessities of a core life-way (i.e. primitive foraging) with them. We emigrated to their country.

    That alone puts most of my concerns at ease.

    So, (for instance) you aren’t going to see much (if any) indian bead work, jewelry or dream-catchers around here either. You might see a few feathers here and there, but most likely we got those out in the woods from birds we know personally.

    Hallelujah!

    Does that help?

    Immensely. And I hope you can understand why ignorance breeds suspicion. Thank you for sharing; it really helps putting my mind at ease.

    In fact, those who’ve done few sweats tend to be the most verbal about all the “symbols” involved in the sweat lodge ceremony. The longer I sweat, in some ways, the less I have to say about that. The lodge’s meaning isn’t necessarily known through words.

    That certainly sounds right to me. Of course, I’ve never been involved in any kind of sweat lodge ceremony, but that’s been my usual experience with sacred things in general.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 June 2007 @ 9:50 AM

  34. RedWolfReturns,

    Thank you for your comments. I’ve been considering for a few months now coming to the school next year. As of this week, I’m done with my debt, and the next months of work will go primarily to saving money for travels, and very possibly, this program. It will be a bit tough logistically for me to get out there, but as time draws nearer, I’m sure I will, if my interest remains as high as it is.

    I also feel, as Jason has expressed, that some of my concerns have been allayed. Again, thank you for sharing your experiences, and perhaps our paths will cross in times to come.

    Comment by Archangel — 18 June 2007 @ 1:36 PM

  35. On the topic of cultural appropriation:

    I have seen nothing at the school to make me think that anyone is co-opting another culture for profit. The whole thing is an ongoing experiment in the practical necessities of primitive living, borrowing from the local indigenous culture as a matter of practicality; the exploration of specifically Ojibwe culture was always peripheral, or so it seemed to me.

    The only thing I can think of that might legitimately fall in the category of cultural appropriation is the sweat lodge. Frankly, I don’t have enough knowledge of Ojibwe traditions (or any other Native culture’s ways, for that matter) to say if it is culturally consistent or not. One point that might be raised is that Tamarack sings in the Ojibwe language during the sweat (at least the ones I’ve been in). Since most or all people who take part in Teaching Drum’s activities are not fluent in Ojibwe, that may qualify as “taking part without cultural context.” However, by and large, the sweats I’ve been in at Teaching Drum have been rich, authentic experiences.

    Well, you’ve also never really told us what it was like. No one else has, either; I’ve run into plenty of other Teaching Drum grads, but I’ve never gotten one of them willing to really relate what they experienced. It’s always about how I have to go up there for myself. That kind of creeps me out a bit.

    I’d have to say that my experience there was both positive and negative; but I agree with Glenn, if you really want to know about a place you have to visit it for yourself. Teaching Drum tends to have kind of a Rorschach-test effect on people. It is what it is based on what you’re looking for and who you are. It’s not something that can be as easily evaluated with simple criteria as a weeklong skills course.

    Comment by David — 18 June 2007 @ 4:02 PM

  36. I’d have to say that my experience there was both positive and negative; but I agree with Glenn, if you really want to know about a place you have to visit it for yourself.

    Whoops, Glenn = RedWolfReturns. Sorry Glenn. :)

    Comment by David — 18 June 2007 @ 4:03 PM

  37. Thanks, David. As I’m sure you know, there’s no shortage of people who’ve been very vocal about the Teaching Drum being extremely guilty of cultural appropriation. I’ve never been there, so I don’t know if that’s true, but what you and RedWolfReturns tells me jives very much with what I see as very, very necessary. I’ve been learning Seneca, for instance. It’s slow-going, and I’m nowhere near fluent, but Native languages are influenced by the same sounds as the ecology. Learning Seneca is part of “becoming native” to the place I’m from, so I can’t fault Tamarack Song for using the Ojibwe language in the land that produced that language. And I’ve been accused of cultural appropriation by the same people, so their accusations don’t carry too much weight with me. Even so, it’s something I’d like to hear addressed, and you and RedWolfReturns have done that. Thank you.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 18 June 2007 @ 4:20 PM

  38. I should qualify my above statement by saying that I haven’t been back to Teaching Drum in several years, and I’ve heard that in more recent years there has been more emphasis on other concepts/practices that might also touch on the cultural appropriation issue, such as dodems. So I can’t speak for or against those things. I’m sure others can though. Just FYI.

    Comment by David — 18 June 2007 @ 8:42 PM

  39. Just a clarifying question- I’ve noticed this before, but didn’t think to ask. Is agriculture, in your definition, confined exclusively to wheat, corn and rice? Because that seems to be what you’re arguing won’t be around, whereas lots of other cultivated crops will be.

    Or is agriculture the row-cropping, with long swaths of particular crops that have to be weeded and maintained meticulously?

    For a long time, my operating understanding of agriculture wasn’t confined to the three big grain crops, or even those plus the animal domesticates. It also meant tomatoes, and lettuces, and squashes and berries and roots, stems and leaves of all sorts? Are these agricultural crops? Does it depend on their cultivation practice (i.e. does its cultivation depend on succession)? Is it something else?

    Thanks for any clarification!

    Comment by Archangel — 21 June 2007 @ 8:07 AM

  40. Agriculture’s the row-cropping, with long swaths of particular crops that have to be weeded and maintained meticulously, regardless of the species. It just so happens that over 90% of all the farming we do is for either wheat, corn or rice. That makes sense; as catastrophe crops, they lended themselves to this kind of pattern, and we developed this pattern to grow cereal grains like that. Of course, we’ve applied that kind of cultivaton to other plants since then, and that’s certainly agriculture, but agriculture is, was, and ever shall be, first and foremost, a question of cereal grain cultivation.

    Tomatoes, lettuces, squashes, berries and so on can be grown agriculturally, or by any other means. Even cereal grains could conceivably be grown in a permacultural manner (look at Fukoka’s rice growing techniques). So, it’s really a question of how you grow the plants, rather than what plants you grow. But there is a connection, in that the agricultural method really arose from, and is largely concerned with, cereal grains specifically.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 21 June 2007 @ 9:44 AM

  41. Jason wrote: “Well, you’ve also never really told us what it was like. No one else has, either; I’ve run into plenty of other Teaching Drum grads, but I’ve never gotten one of them willing to really relate what they experienced. It’s always about how I have to go up there for myself. That kind of creeps me out a bit.”

    I guess I don’t know who or what you’re talking about here. I’d be curious to know what graduates you’ve been talking to? As far as written sources, I’ve written lengthly articles on my own experience of the year-long (most recently for wilderness way magazine) and have related my experiences in a number of internet forums. There’s a alumni webpage with articles from a number of graduates and a complete book written by another. David chronicled nearly his entire year on his edge-of-grace blog. With just a little bit of online research, you could access volumes of stuff written by graduates about their experience at TD.

    All that said, if you visit the year long and eventually do the year long, you will be having your own experience, and it will undoubtedly be different (perhaps very different) than any of the folks who’ve written about theirs. Two people doing the program side by side often have experiences totally different from one another. David and I are a prime example of this — if you read his accounts and mine they are very, very different, yet we did the year long together and have been good friends (more like brothers, in fact) ever since.

    Jason wrote: “Nobody who’s been through has ever been willing to really share their experiences; the response is always that I need to go and see for myself. That kind of puts me on edge. A lot of cults use that kind of approach, so that you have some kind of investment before they tell you anything. That makes you more reticent to say anything negative, because that’d make you a fool for investing in it; you’re more likely to accept it yourself, too, because you’ve put so much into it.”

    This seems way over-the-top to me…paranoid even. Do you believe Tamarack might own some kind of secret mind-control device? Do you really have so little trust in yourself that you think one week around a certain group of people is going to take away your ability to think for yourself? I mean really, I spent three years in the army, went through basic training, got exposed to the best brainwashing the most powerful empire the planet has ever seen had to offer, and yet I’m still capable of thinking for myself. In my experience there’s no magic spells to “brainwashing” the human psyche. “Mind control” is mostly a myth…the real techniques used to control people’s behavior should be well known to any student of psychology. For anarchy’s sake, have a little trust in yourself, eh?

    Jason wrote: And I hope you can understand why ignorance breeds suspicion. Thank you for sharing; it really helps putting my mind at ease.”

    If my words here have put your mind at ease more than my statement to “see for yourself” then I’d just like to follow up by suggesting you trust your own experience more than you trust my word or anyone else’s. Life is full of tricksters, and Tamarack is as much a coyote teacher as he is anything. I myself don’t even trust Tamarack, I trust the experiences I’ve had and the abilities I’ve gained through my encounter with him.

    Also, I’d like to point out that ignorance can breed curiosity just as easily as it can breed suspicion. It just depends on a choice really. In my life, I’ve gotten a lot further with careful curiosity than I’ve ever gotten with suspicion.

    Jason wrote: “Of course, I’ve never been involved in any kind of sweat lodge ceremony, but that’s been my usual experience with sacred things in general.”

    One of the reasons people can only share so much about their experiences of the year-long is for the same reason people can only share so much about what happens for them in the sweat-lodge. There really isn’t much separation between the sacred and anything else being learned during the year-long. The most important lessons of the year-long are hard to talk about for this reason.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 26 June 2007 @ 4:13 PM

  42. And I definitely have to agree with David on the “Rorschach-test effect” Teaching Drum (and especially Tamarack) tends to have on people. A lot of what Tamarack does as a guide is to hold up a mirror to people, so from what I’ve seen, it’s rare that two people experience the same Tamarack.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 26 June 2007 @ 4:17 PM

  43. I guess I don’t know who or what you’re talking about here. I’d be curious to know what graduates you’ve been talking to?

    Well, there’s you and David (who has been quite open about what he experienced); I don’t think Devin’s a graduate (at least not yet), but he was up there for a while.

    As far as written sources, I’ve written lengthly articles on my own experience of the year-long (most recently for wilderness way magazine) and have related my experiences in a number of internet forums.

    If you have any URL’s handy, I’d love to read those.

    All that said, if you visit the year long and eventually do the year long, you will be having your own experience, and it will undoubtedly be different (perhaps very different) than any of the folks who’ve written about theirs. Two people doing the program side by side often have experiences totally different from one another. David and I are a prime example of this — if you read his accounts and mine they are very, very different, yet we did the year long together and have been good friends (more like brothers, in fact) ever since.

    Oh, absolutely. I wouldn’t expect anything else.

    Do you believe Tamarack might own some kind of secret mind-control device? Do you really have so little trust in yourself that you think one week around a certain group of people is going to take away your ability to think for yourself?

    Devices are hardly necessary. There are plenty of people who have that kind of effect; just look through the lives of any number of cult leaders. It’s not a matter of not trusting myself; quite the opposite, it would be quite arrogant to think that I’d be uniquely immune. This type of person is absolutely out there. Is Tamarack Song such a person? Of that, I have no idea, though your replies have assuaged the suspicions I was starting to garner, and I’m more inclined to think not now. Full-blown “mind control” is usually overkill; all you really need to do is find the useful parts of your personality that are already there, and simply feed them. But I’m not afraid of becoming a zombie nearly so much as I am of wasting a week’s time on it.

    If my words here have put your mind at ease more than my statement to “see for yourself” then I’d just like to follow up by suggesting you trust your own experience more than you trust my word or anyone else’s. Life is full of tricksters, and Tamarack is as much a coyote teacher as he is anything. I myself don’t even trust Tamarack, I trust the experiences I’ve had and the abilities I’ve gained through my encounter with him.

    I didn’t say my idea of the Teaching Drum is now identical to yours. :) But as I said, ignorance can breed suspicion, and it was starting to feel like anybody I’d ask about what the Teaching Drum is like would immediately clam up. This made me very suspicious. That you’ve now been willing to tell me something about it makes me much less suspicious. As far as what I think of the Teaching Drum, it’s still an outsider’s perspective, because I haven’t had that experience, so it’s worth very little. Still, that’s all we ever have to go on to decide if that’s really an experience we want to have.

    Also, I’d like to point out that ignorance can breed curiosity just as easily as it can breed suspicion. It just depends on a choice really. In my life, I’ve gotten a lot further with careful curiosity than I’ve ever gotten with suspicion.

    As have I, but the difference really lies with what you smell. Ignorance is rarely complete; if the little bit you do know is enticing, curiosity follows. If what little bit you know is distressing, suspicion follows. What little I know of the Teaching Drum is a very mixed bag, and that makes me suspicious.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 26 June 2007 @ 4:33 PM

  44. Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:08 PM

  45. My own account (from the article I submitted to wilderness way magazine):

    Into the Wild: A Journey through the Teaching Drum Outdoor School’s Wilderness Guide Program

    By Glenn Helkenn

    It’s Friday afternoon and I’m doing paperwork in the office–filling out dozens of forms to prove to my boss that I’m doing the job I get paid for. In reality, all the papers show is that I spent most of the day doing paperwork in the office. Across the room, I overhear two of my co-workers discussing their retirement accounts. “Only fourteen more years and my life is mine? one of them mentions with a dark hint of sarcasm. Glancing at the clock on the wall, I notice the workday is nearly over. Another week is gone and it’s time for the weekend.

    On the bus ride back to my apartment, I fantasize about getting out of the city and maybe going camping. My thoughts carry me away from the bump and jerk of the bus with its faint mix of diesel fumes and people smells to the last time I sat around a fire with friends, breathed fresh air and wood smoke, slept under the stars, and awoke to a sunrise heralded by birdsong. The daydream ends when I remember that tomorrow I need to take my van in for repairs. On top of that, my apartment really needs cleaning and I’ve got laundry piled up. I console myself with the thought that I’ll still have time to catch a movie with my best friend tomorrow night, and I resolve to call another friend I haven’t seen in weeks, to see if she might be free for breakfast on Sunday. On the walk from the bus stop to my apartment, I stop at the grocery store for a frozen pizza and a six-pack of beer.

    Later, the empty discomfort I experience in the silence of my studio is washed away by the flickering light and canned laughter coming from my TV and the buzz entering my brain as I finish my third beer. During a commercial, I hit mute on the remote control and stare blankly out the window. I find myself thinking…just what is reality? What is the truth of my life?

    Fast-forward several years, and I’m fishing along the shore of a glassy lake surrounded by deep green forest. I have no idea what day of the week it is and no reason to care. The sun is tracking low in the west, telling me it’s time to rejoin my campmates for our evening meal. My gathering basket contains five good sized pan fish, one for each of us. Today, things have gone my way and my wild relations have been generous with their gifts. On the way back to camp, I stop at a meadow to gather a few spicy wild greens (Peppergrass and Wood Sorrel) to accompany the fish. I notice tracks in the soil telling me that Black Bear has passed by here today. My senses heighten, and I notice more signs that tell me what Bear was eating. As I continue on, I spot Porcupine lounging in an overhead Aspen, lazily munching a branch. In the distance, I hear the call of a Loon.

    As I approach our primitive camp the smell of wood smoke and sounds of spontaneous laughter tell me my campmates are already back from their day’s activities. I join them around the fire where we share food as well as stories of another day’s adventures, joys and hardships. Milkweed greens, Burdock roots, and Nettles are added to our meal by two of my campmates, one of whom used his bow-drill to provide the fire at which we sit. Another contributes some Clams gathered at a distant lake she was exploring. Our fourth campmate gifts a large basketful of Raspberries for dessert and a story of his brief, but powerful encounter with the very same Bear whose tracks I noticed earlier. We discuss the signs left in that area, and realize Bear has drawn our attention to an herb we hadn’t noticed before. We kick around ideas as to what family the plant belongs to, and plan to ask our elder guide about its edibility the next time he visits. Near the end of our meal, we consider how the wind shifted toward dusk, and surmise that tomorrow is likely to bring rain. From the darkness, the distant howls of Coyote drift through our consciousness as we bed down for the night and prepare to enter the mysterious world of our dreams.

    I have been involved in primitive skills for a little over seven years now, and like most modern “abos?, began heeding my personal “call of the wild? after picking up a few books on wilderness survival. Each time my friends and I went camping, we would experiment with a new skill, such as setting up a deadfall trap or making fire by friction. Often we would identify an edible plant or mushroom from our field guides. It was a lot of fun, but for me the occasional weekend excursion just wasn’t enough. In short order, I had signed up for the first of a number of week long primitive survival classes. These were certainly a joy, but something important still seemed missing. My hunger for a deeper encounter with the wilderness continued to grow, and it wasn’t long before I fixated on the dream of immersing myself in primitive living. I wanted more than just another course or campout; I wanted to join a band of fellow abos for a real experience of what it might mean to “go native?.

    To that end, I searched until I discovered the Teaching Drum Outdoor School’s Wilderness Guide Program. The “Year-long? as it’s commonly referred to around “the Drum? is a one-of-a-kind course where around a dozen people come together and commit to spending a full four seasons learning the ways of hunter-gatherers. This is done under the mentorship of a team of guides led by Tamarack Song. The primitive camp where this all takes place is called “Nishnajida? (Algonquin for “camp where the old ways return?), which is located on the edge of a pristine lake surrounded by the Nicolet National Forest and bordering the largest wilderness area in the North woods of Wisconsin.

    The purpose of the Wilderness Guide Program is not to “play Indian?, but to re-connect with the core of our native heritage as human beings. This is our ancestry regardless of race or ethnicity, since all our lineages began with people who hunted and foraged, wore skins and sat in circle around an open fire. Daily life involves activities such as building primitive shelters, tanning hides and furs for clothing, making fire by friction, weaving baskets and doing other crafts, predicting the weather, tracking wild animals and wildcrafting edible plants. Other skills practiced that may seem less obvious, yet no less important are; gaining deep awareness of and attunement to the natural world, listening carefully and speaking honestly in our relationships, developing acceptance and respect for all our relations, and knowing ourselves for who we truly are.

    After arriving at Nishnajida, I found that the first few weeks (living in tents and with food provided by the school) seemed a lot like camping. This is as it should be, since if one were to get dumped straight out of civilization into the wilderness with no modern technology and no prior primitive experience, the first weeks would be the beginning of a life-and-death struggle for survival with a very slim chance of success. This is not because nature is a hostile place; rather it is because we have been raised in modern civilization to live in a state of complete institutional dependence. This isn’t always obvious, because money can provide the illusion of independence. However, our basic situation is one where we are totally reliant on huge impersonal systems and completely unable to get what we need from any direct source. This combination may give us a false sense of security, yet it makes us both un-resourceful and unobservant in the natural world (i.e. the real world), which then becomes little more than wallpaper surrounding the stores and shops where our necessities come from. Ultimately, the tracks, signs and news of the real world go unnoticed as mass media feeds us our reality.

    In a word, we have become domesticated. This creates a powerful division between our awareness and that of our wild relations. Similar to how a housedog sees the world compared to a wolf. The dog knows the house, the yard, his master, and food bowl — while the wolf knows no master, and comprehends the whole wild world. If you throw a dog into the wilderness it will soon become wolf bait, and the fate for most of us would be little better. The difference between the dog and us however, is that it has been bred to be dependent, whereas we have merely been educated to be so. While that dog cannot change its breeding, we can change our conditioning, even though it may take considerable time and effort.

    At about the same time as I was getting a handle on starting fires with my bow-drill and catching mice with deadfall traps (and yes, eating them), springtime brought me face to face with some of that conditioning. The personal changes that I needed to make in order to feel at home in the natural world became obvious when I started having strong compulsions to run into town to binge on junk food and buy stuff I thought I needed. My dreams became troubled and I fought against myself — I wanted to run back to what was familiar and comfortable. Eventually, I learned that struggles like these are to be expected when one is required to change entrenched habits and adapt to a new lifestyle. This is because emotional comfort is largely based on maintaining familiar ways of doing things. Also, the clear mirror of the natural world can reflect on the self in ways most of us are not used to, because we are acclimated to civilized society’s near constant distractions (TV, movies, music, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sugar, chocolate, books, magazines, work…and the list goes on). Because of this, facing one’s self honestly can be a frightening experience that most of us are simply not prepared for.

    Around mid-summer, as my campmates and I were working together on the wigwam, earth-lodge and lean-to shelters we would eventually need for winter, I began to realize the importance of relational skills as being crucial to survival in the primitive way of life. We were having trouble speaking openly and respectfully about our thoughts, feelings and needs, and this was undermining our ability to work as a harmonious group. In survivalist circles we sometimes forget that humans live best by cooperating, much as wolves do. A lone individual living off the land will have a very difficult time compared to a tightly knit group that can flow well together to get things done. However, when people share nearly all aspects of life together and must depend on one another daily, conflicts naturally arise. If these are not faced and resolved honestly, the festering resentment that follows will undermine the group’s flow and make life harder for everyone. For us out at Nishnajida, this meant we had to begin dealing with conflicts immediately as they came up. We used the tool of the “talking circle? to create a forum for sacred speech while learning to listen respectfully and speak our truth clearly.

    As I became more comfortable with my personal situation and as our camp relationships began to flow more naturally, the abundance displayed during late summer and early fall gave me a new perspective on the natural world. I began to see the wild not as a place where we must struggle to survive, but as a place where we have the potential to truly thrive. Each morning for breakfast my campmates and I would feast on wild Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Bunchberries, and June berries. Dinners would commonly consist of venison or fish cooked with savory wild Leeks and a diverse mix of forest greens. Sometimes we would enjoy a salad made up of everything from Basswood leaves to Sweet Sicily, then mixed with colorful Clovers and Daisies and spicy Peppergrass or lemony Wood Sorrel. During these long fall days we would heighten our knowledge of the weather by attempting to predict hot and windy afternoons for tanning our buckskins, or cool, calm days for smoking them. The challenge of efficiently drying herbs for winter use added more incentive to gain awareness of the weather. At the same time, frequent forays in search of quality firewood for our winter lodges increased our understanding of the surrounding forests.

    Winter’s arrival shifted our energies to more reflective and introspective matters. Our nightly dreams became important to us, and began giving guidance on how to overcome some of the domesticated conditioning I mentioned earlier. We were enjoying the fruits of our summer construction efforts while learning how to keep a smokeless fire safely in the middle of a shelter made of flammable Birch bark and sticks. Evenings around these fires were filled with tales of our day’s adventures tracking over distant, snowy landscapes. Mysterious markings were pieced together until they revealed powerful wild dramas. In the shadows and flickers of firelight, we envisioned starving Owls swooping down on death defying Snowshoe Hares, tenacious Coyotes tackling Whitetail Deer in scenes of bloody chaos, and Red Foxes romancing each other in the frolics of mating season.

    Mid-winter included a nomadic shift from our base camp to outlying camps where we erected snow lodges and hasty brush lean-tos. While initially skeptical that nothing more than snow could keep me warm in the sub-zero temperatures of a Northwood’s winter, I soon came to appreciate its insulating value. On nights when the temperatures would drop to a biting twenty degrees below, the inside of my snow lodge would remain above freezing (a difference of over 50 degrees), warmed by nothing more than my own body heat.

    As the seasons turned full circle back to springtime, our energies quickened once again and our guides began preparing us for a return to the civilized world. Fire circle discussions centered on how to take our newfound awareness with us, and integrate what we had learned with the demands and challenges soon to be faced. We began to see that many of the core abilities we had been developing, such as our deepened respect, expanded awareness, newfound relational skills, resourcefulness, adaptability, self-motivation, and self-reliance would serve us no matter where we went or what we endeavored to do.

    My own journey since the Year-long took me back to the city for a couple of years to work as an addictions counselor with the homeless – a job I don’t think I could have done had it not been for the personal and relational insights gained during that wilderness experience. The journey didn’t end there however, and the “call of the wild? has brought me back to the Teaching Drum Outdoor School, where I now bridge the civilized and primitive worlds by helping to provide for others experiences like those gifted to me at Nishnajida.

    The Year-long experience has left me with the conclusion that self awareness and respect for my relations were the key lessons gained from that deep encounter with primitive ways. I have found that metaphorically speaking, I am a child of mother earth, and she cares for me just as she has done for my ancestors over countless millennia prior to the advent of what we call “modern civilization?. However just like in any relationship, this only happens if I spend the quality time necessary to know both her and myself for who we truly are in relationship to each other.

    This is what I think indigenous peoples often mean when they talk about “walking in balance? with “all our relations.? When it comes right down to it this isn’t just rhetoric, it is a baseline and completely practical survival skill that makes the difference between whether one sees the earth as a nurturing and caring mother or one views life in the wilderness as being “nasty, brutish and short?.

    [Glenn Helkenn grew up on an Alaskan homestead and has traveled all over North America in pursuit of the old ways. He graduated the Year-long in 2002 and is now doing the “Life-long? as part of the volunteer staff at the Teaching Drum Outdoor School.]

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:11 PM

  46. And btw, Devin has never been a student, he was at the Teaching Drum for a couple of months as a volunteer. He had a very different experience than would a student in the Wilderness Guide Program.

    Jason wrote: “Devices are hardly necessary. There are plenty of people who have that kind of effect; just look through the lives of any number of cult leaders. It’s not a matter of not trusting myself; quite the opposite, it would be quite arrogant to think that I’d be uniquely immune. This type of person is absolutely out there.”

    So what’s the difference in your mind between a “cult leader” and any other leader who might possess personal charisma or inherrent leadership ability? (I.e. anyone who leads without the support of an institutional, i.e. state or corporate, social structure)

    Do you believe there are particular people out there who possess the power of “mind control” somehow different from being a leader based on one’s personal power — i.e. different from what happens for all leaders in every species of animal (from wolves to hyenas) that live in packs and therefore have a social propensity toward a leadership dynamic?

    If so, where did this develop in the evolutionary journey of our species and what evolutionary purpose does it serve?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:32 PM

  47. I remember hearing a story about a high school friends grandfather, who, for some reason I forget, had attended a Nazi rally in which Hitler was speaking. As was related to me, he had to deliberately sit on his hands in order to avoid joining in the ‘Sieg Heil’.

    I think there are people who have an astonishing level of presence, charisma and personal influence on others. I’m disinclined to call it “mind-control” tho’, nor would I say that this is necessarily bad. But to my mind, it’s better to be aware than to be surprised. I s’pose that holds true for most situations tho’, no?

    Comment by jhereg — 5 July 2007 @ 12:48 PM

  48. Also, how does it work? How is this mind control actually accomplished?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:49 PM

  49. In the case of the nazi rally, I would say your uncle was responding to the energy of the crowd more than to the personal power of hitler himself. I feel the same thing at U.S. sporting events and pep rallies.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:51 PM

  50. Oops, I meant to say “friend’s grandfather” not “uncle”.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:53 PM

  51. Oh, and my question about how this “mind control” works was meant for Jason as part of my earlier questioning (I didn’t yet realize jhereg had posted).

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 12:56 PM

  52. In the case of the nazi rally, I would say your uncle was responding to the energy of the crowd more than to the personal power of hitler himself. I feel the same thing at U.S. sporting events and pep rallies.

    Good point and quite likely true, but remember also, that such “peer pressure” tactics are well used by those who would manipulate others. It’s actually one of the fairly standard techniques of so-called “mind-control” and “brainwashing”. But, regardless, it was still Hitler directing the crowd.

    Oops, I meant to say “friend’s grandfather” not “uncle”.

    S’aright :-)

    btw, I didn’t think about this until after I had already posted, but I’m [b]really[/b] not trying to create a parallel between Hitler & Tamarack Song! It’s just that story has stuck w/ me and seemed appropriate to the topic.

    Comment by jhereg — 5 July 2007 @ 1:01 PM

  53. Yeah, there’s always a energetic relationship between the people and any leader that attracts them. Hitler, Ghandi, MLK, or whoever…the “great leader” is nothing without the people behind him or her (and of course the people might not go the way they’re going without the leader as well). To me the issue has more to do with social dynamics, rather than anything particularly sinister about an individual. Once one recognizes this, one can decide for one’s self what energies to feed and what leaders to follow from a place of freedom (grounded in one’s own core vision and perspective) no matter what others (i.e. leaders or followers) do. This is the path of true freedom, and anarchy is impossible without it.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 1:55 PM

  54. There couldn’t have been a hitler without the character and resentments of the German people, just like there couldn’t have been an MLK or Malcom X without the character, struggles and resentments of american Blacks.

    We create our charismatic leaders at least as much, if not more, than they mold us.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 2:02 PM

  55. There couldn’t have been a hitler without the character and resentments of the German people, just like there couldn’t have been an MLK or Malcom X without the character, struggles and resentments of american Blacks.

    We create our charismatic leaders at least as much, if not more, than they mold us.

    I definitely agree that at a distance, we’re really talking more about societal issues. But that doesn’t remove the impact of such things on an individual, it only makes the impact more insidious, and consequently more dangerous for those who, for one reason or another, are [b]not[/b] fully conscious and aware of the societal issues in question (and the assorted ramifications).

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a properly self-aware person is highly susceptible to these techniques, but, imho, part of being properly self-aware is knowing your own weak spots, and [b]everyone[/b] has [b]some[/b] vulnerability to manipulation. At least everyone who’s civilized. Tho’, I really suspect it’s just everyone. :-)

    To me the issue has more to do with social dynamics, rather than anything particularly sinister about an individual. Once one recognizes this, one can decide for one’s self what energies to feed and what leaders to follow from a place of freedom (grounded in one’s own core vision and perspective) no matter what others (i.e. leaders or followers) do.

    Yeah, sure! I’m just saying that part of recognizing all that is knowing how one can be manipulated into doing things and subsequently taking whatever precautions seem appropriate to ensure that a conscious choice is made. All that to say, any time someone starts to feel pressured into something, my own warning signals start to go off, so that’s a boundary I tend to put a lot respect for, whether I see any pressure being applied or not. It’s generally a sign that Something Is Afoot, tho’ it could be somthing as simple as miscommunication (that’s a fairly common occurrence, sad to say).

    Comment by jhereg — 5 July 2007 @ 2:45 PM

  56. jhereg wrote: “Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a properly self-aware person is highly susceptible to these techniques, but, imho, part of being properly self-aware is knowing your own weak spots, and everyone has some vulnerability to manipulation.”

    Could you define precisely what techniques you’re talking about? What techiniques do you see as constituting manipulation?

    And I would definitely say that we are all susceptible. We’re “susceptible” because we were all at one time children who needed to be “programmed” by a community of adults in order to participate in culture (and especially in this culture, we are programmed for neoteny, i.e. to stay in a more adolescent or childlike role than to assume an adult one).

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 5 July 2007 @ 3:25 PM

  57. Thank you for those accounts, Glenn. They help a lot. I know Devin never went through the full program—I even said that before—but he’s certainly seen more than I have.

    So what’s the difference in your mind between a “cult leader” and any other leader who might possess personal charisma or inherrent leadership ability? (I.e. anyone who leads without the support of an institutional, i.e. state or corporate, social structure)

    There’s a whole universe of attained leadership (leadership that doesn’t come from occupying a particular “office”), from the relatively benign, “leads by example” type, to the more sinister ends of the cult leader. That end of the range is marked by the use of fairly sophisticated methods of isolating people’s frame of reference and manipulating their psychologies. You know many of these methods—you’ve read Derrick Jensen extensively, and he frequently discusses how abusers use such means to dominate their victims. Cult leaders use many of the same techniques to dominate their “faithful.”

    Do you believe there are particular people out there who possess the power of “mind control” somehow different from being a leader based on one’s personal power — i.e. different from what happens for all leaders in every species of animal (from wolves to hyenas) that live in packs and therefore have a social propensity toward a leadership dynamic?

    Well, there are certainly those with a greater intuitive understanding of human psychology, and certainly some people who move more naturally towards a position of control, who have a deep-seated need to feel in power. Jim Jones, for example, probably did not set out to become a cult leader, but he had a natural understanding of human psychology and a fairly deep-seated need to be in control, so you end up with Jonestown. An understanding of other peoples’ feelings is obviously an adaptive trait; its combination with a will to power can easily turn it pathological, though. The “will to power,” I think, is more a kind of sickness that develops among people who lack any personal autonomy. True freedom is something they don’t know, so they reach for the next best thing–power, to be the one in charge instead of the one being bossed around. In our society, of course, such a sickness becomes so endemic that you get to the point where it’s not just normalized, you get someone like Nietzsche proclaiming it to be the root human impulse.

    In the case of the nazi rally, I would say your uncle was responding to the energy of the crowd more than to the personal power of hitler himself. I feel the same thing at U.S. sporting events and pep rallies.

    Yes, and organizing events where you get to leverage that is how you manage to cultivate power like that. You can’t dismiss the phenomenon just by outlining the mechanic.

    To me the issue has more to do with social dynamics, rather than anything particularly sinister about an individual. Once one recognizes this, one can decide for one’s self what energies to feed and what leaders to follow from a place of freedom (grounded in one’s own core vision and perspective) no matter what others (i.e. leaders or followers) do. This is the path of true freedom, and anarchy is impossible without it.

    Surely you’re not suggesting that it’s impossible for anyone to manipulate such pressures in a sinister manner, are you? There’s never been a child abuser, there was never a Jim Jones or a David Koresh? If you’re expecting such figures to be manipulating some wholly otherwise unknown element of human psychology, you’re setting up a straw man. All brainwashing is, is the subtle manipulation of existing psychological impulses towards more sinister ends.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that a properly self-aware person is highly susceptible to these techniques, but, imho, part of being properly self-aware is knowing your own weak spots, and everyone has some vulnerability to manipulation. At least everyone who’s civilized. Tho’, I really suspect it’s just everyone.

    Exactly. If you think that a properly charismatic person can’t manipulate you, then you can’t be terribly self-aware. Everyone can be manipulated, it’s just a matter of where you’re vulnerable.

    Could you define precisely what techniques you’re talking about? What techiniques do you see as constituting manipulation?

    It’s something of an open-ended list; there are whole series of books and classes on this kind of thing, so I’ll just mention a few examples.

    One Derrick Jensen talks about is how abusers will take away all frame of reference. They isolate the abused, so that the only viewpoint is the abuser’s. Over time, the abuser’s logic seems perfectly normal, because no other logic exists. Of course you get beaten for doing the dishes improperly; how else could it be? This one is extremely common; think of Jonestown’s isolation.

    Milieu control, to create an insular sense of identity and community that can be more easily controlled.

    And many more discussed on Wikipedia’s Mind Control article.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 10 July 2007 @ 2:30 PM

  58. So Jason, how much do you think the immediate fear reactions nearly everyone has to “cult” stereotypes are a part of our own culture’s “brainwashing” (i.e. the way it controls our frames of reference)?

    And given that, can you precisely lay out what your fear is about the Teaching Drum? What specific techniques of manipulation are you concerned about, and how do you think these might result in you or others being abused by Tamarack?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 10 July 2007 @ 4:11 PM

  59. I ask because the links you gave me on Milieu control and Mind Control include dozens of techniques that apply to all the well known cases of abusive cults (i.e. jim jones, david koresh, hitler, child molesting parents etc.,) that obviously have no bearing whatsoever on any evaluation one might make of the Teaching Drum or Tamarack.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 10 July 2007 @ 4:21 PM

  60. So Jason, how much do you think the immediate fear reactions nearly everyone has to “cult” stereotypes are a part of our own culture’s “brainwashing” (i.e. the way it controls our frames of reference)?

    Not much. It’s a fairly natural fear to worry that you might become dominated by someone else.

    Which is precisely why our culture uses that fear to keep us away from people who question it. There’s absolutely no doubt that “cult” gets thrown around for political purposes all the time. The fear of it is pretty reasonable; the use of that fear is another matter altogether.

    And given that, can you precisely lay out what your fear is about the Teaching Drum? What specific techniques of manipulation are you concerned about, and how do you think these might result in you or others being abused by Tamarack?

    As I said before, the difficulty I had encountered getting any full account of what the yearlong entailed was unnerving, particularly coupled with the constant reminder that I’d never truly understand until I visit. This is a fairly common technique that relates to the first example I mentioned, where you isolate someone so they have no other standards to judge by. It also relates to milieu control, and often results in the kind of isolation you see at, say, Jonestown. Members are frequently pressured to keep what goes on inside secret for precisely that reason.

    I wasn’t ready to say that was what was going on, but my experience had been that when I tried to find an account, I couldn’t, and the response was always, “You have to go there to see.” From that, can you appreciate why I was somewhat unnerved?

    The URL’s you provided and your own account fairly eliminate that as a possibility, so I don’t think that’s what’s going on at the Teaching Drum. I just happened to have followed a particular line of experience that suggested the possibility, the way a shadow in the moonlight can look like something it’s not, no more, no less. I think my reaction was understanbable given my experience, but now I can see that isn’t the case.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 10 July 2007 @ 4:26 PM

  61. …that obviously have no bearing whatsoever on any evaluation one might make of the Teaching Drum or Tamarack.

    Really? None?

    • Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.
    • Sacred Science. The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.
    • Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.

    None of those sound the least bit familiar? The Teaching Drum doesn’t present a fairly black-and-white struggle between civilization and “the Clan Ways”? Do you find a lot of encouragement to question whether the “Clan Ways” are just a bunch of savage baloney? You don’t have any loaded language—like “Clan Ways”?

    Heck, I can see some of these right on this site—and around Daniel Quinn, and Derrick Jensen, and pretty much everyone who’s ever taken an unpopular stance. I think they have some bearing, or you’re just turning a blind eye. That doesn’t mean it’s “mind control,” though.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 10 July 2007 @ 4:31 PM

  62. Couple of things.

    I didn’t mean to say that none of the things listed on those websites couldn’t apply to the Teaching Drum, though I can see now how my words might be taken that way. What my statement was meant to convey is that out of maybe two dozen factors listed, a few might apply, and that these were not the ones involved in the worst cases of “cult” abuse.

    There are no weapons, threats of violence, long sermons, or feelings of the larger society being “out to get us” at TD (just to name a few).

    When it comes to people telling you to come and see for yourself, does it ever dawn on you that they’re not asking you to move in and join up, but only to come for a week and then go back to your own life and milieu for months or years before making a decision to do the year long?

    And finally, the three things you listed as applying to the Teaching Drum apply to the Tribe of Anthropik as well.

    But yes, some of the dynamics are of course familiar, since the point of the year-long is to make a nearly complete break from the entire milieu of civilization and open up the human brain to being re-patterned by the wild natural world as well as a more natural cultural milieu very, very different from a civilized culture.

    In order to actively guard against such cult psychology, the TD requires that WGP graduates leave for at least a year before returning to TD as volunteers or staff. Also, TD staff actively seek engagement with the local community.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 11 July 2007 @ 8:29 AM

  63. When it comes to people telling you to come and see for yourself, does it ever dawn on you that they’re not asking you to move in and join up, but only to come for a week and then go back to your own life and milieu for months or years before making a decision to do the year long?

    Well of course. That’s my first thought. It was only in repitition and in conjunction with the rest of my experience that I began to feel suspicious.

    And finally, the three things you listed as applying to the Teaching Drum apply to the Tribe of Anthropik as well.

    And Daniel Quinn, and Derrick Jensen, and pretty much everyone who’s ever taken an unpopular stance, exactly like I said. I didn’t say the Teaching Drum is acting like a cult, I said some of those could be applied. That’s just being aware and honest.

    In order to actively guard against such cult psychology, the TD requires that WGP graduates leave for at least a year before returning to TD as volunteers or staff. Also, TD staff actively seek engagement with the local community.

    That’s interesting–how do the neighbors feel about the Teaching Drum, in general?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 11 July 2007 @ 8:51 AM

  64. In general I’d say the neigbors probably think we’re just very interesting. Nearly every local I’ve talked to has been fascinated by us in the “that’s amazing” and/or “cool” but “I could never do that” category.

    I’ve heard some of the local fishermen get a bit excited over stories of naked women bathing in the lake near our primitive camp.

    Though I’m sure some of the locals just assume we’re a pagan cult full of pot-smoking hippy freaks.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 11 July 2007 @ 9:56 PM

  65. That’s pretty cool. All too often groups like ours have trouble getting along with rural communities. It’s good to hear that you’re able to get along with the locals, that says a lot.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 11 July 2007 @ 10:20 PM

  66. Jason wrote: “It was only in repitition and in conjunction with the rest of my experience that I began to feel suspicious.” and “As I said before, the difficulty I had encountered getting any full account of what the yearlong entailed was unnerving, particularly coupled with the constant reminder that I’d never truly understand until I visit.”

    You’ve mentioned this a couple of times, yet you said earlier the people you’ve talked with about TD were me, Devin, and David (who you said has been very open with you). So who of us did you feel was avoiding your questions and giving you this creepy feeling? You’ve certainly never said anything directly to me in our past conversations, and from my perspective I’ve been very up front in answering your questions on a number of separate occasions.

    From my viewpoint the majority of this discussion just doesn’t seem to add up. I guess I’m a little baffled.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 11 July 2007 @ 10:21 PM

  67. Jason wrote: “That’s pretty cool. All too often groups like ours have trouble getting along with rural communities. It’s good to hear that you’re able to get along with the locals, that says a lot.”

    Yeah, we’ve never been issolationist in our orientation, and have put a fair bit of energy into connecting with the locals over the years.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 11 July 2007 @ 10:24 PM

  68. I’m terrible at remembering specifics; I find a pattern and promptly forget the points that suggested it. That doesn’t always work well….

    There were maybe two or three others, but I can’t remember who they were. I do seem to remember asking you in the past, and you told me I had to visit. I got the same answer from others in the past, I remember that much.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 11 July 2007 @ 10:27 PM

  69. Well, ultimately you will have to visit if you’re going to have any real encounter with what its like. There’s just no way around that.

    At some point, media simply fails to convey experience. Imagine asking a !Kung-San to tell you over email what being a bushman is like.

    I guess it never occured to me that this (truism in my mind) could create such cause for suspicion, or that my fairly extensive online writings about TD might be hard to find.

    But if I remember right, the first time I visited this site and we talked about TD your attitude was already one of suspicion even then (though you didn’t indicate to me at that time that my answers to your questions were anything less than satisfying).

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 11 July 2007 @ 10:57 PM

  70. At some point, media simply fails to convey experience. Imagine asking a !Kung-San to tell you over email what being a bushman is like.

    Wouldn’t that be an ethnography?

    I guess it never occured to me that this (truism in my mind) could create such cause for suspicion, or that my fairly extensive online writings about TD might be hard to find.

    The Drum doesn’t seem to have a very high PageRank….

    But if I remember right, the first time I visited this site and we talked about TD your attitude was already one of suspicion even then (though you didn’t indicate to me at that time that my answers to your questions were anything less than satisfying).

    Actually, I was pretty enthusiastic about TD the first time I heard about it. The first I heard of it was simply the yearlong. Later I heard the charges of cultural appropriation, and some of the other things on “As the Teaching Drum Turns.” I tune most of it out as simple slander, but there’s enough floating about to make a reasonable person suspicious.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 11 July 2007 @ 11:09 PM

  71. Jason wrote: Wouldn’t that be an ethnography?

    Are you kidding? Do you really think any bushman would feel that an ethnography captured his or her experience of what it means or what it’s like to live as a bushman?

    Jason wrote: “Later I heard the charges of cultural appropriation, and some of the other things on “As the Teaching Drum Turns.” I tune most of it out as simple slander, but there’s enough floating about to make a reasonable person suspicious.”

    As far as I know, the source for virtually all the negative stuff about TD online can be traced back to the one person who does the astheteachingdrumturns blog. If you know of anything else out there, I’d be interested to see the urls so I can take a look for myself. I’d be especially interested in any reasonable criticisms out there, for their constructive & self-refective value.

    Jason wrote: “The Drum doesn’t seem to have a very high PageRank….”

    See again, this just doesn’t make sense to me because from my experience, one would have to dig much harder to find what little negative stuff there is on the drum than to find all the other stuff.

    Often when we dialogue you reference multiple vague, unrevealed sources of negative words as if you found quite a few of them, while also saying you couldn’t find much of anything else. Same goes for the unremembered people you say avoided your questions about what TD is like. I just don’t get that.

    Also, when I consider that the Teaching Drum is probably the only school anywhere in the world whose program is taylored so completely to realizing the stated mission of the tribe of anthopik, it just baffles me how little effort you seem to be willing to put into looking into the reality of the matter.

    Hell, even if TD did turn out to be nothing more than a cult of wild-eyed new-age indian wanna-be’s, a week’s visit would still give you some great information on what it takes to rely on the bowdrill through the winter or what it’s like to actually eat a paleo diet for a year (or maybe even some good information on the social dynamics of wild-eyed primitivist cults so the tribe of anthropik can better avoid ever becoming one…).

    I find myself wondering if the real fear here is that the Teaching Drum might be a culture-appropriating cult or if the real fear is that the Teaching Drum might be exactly what you’re looking for (and so actually challenge you to get off the computer and put your life where your words are).

    For me (being one who also came to “primitivism” via mostly academic pathways), THAT was (and often still is) the real fear that comes up around what happens at the Teaching Drum.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 12 July 2007 @ 12:22 PM

  72. Are you kidding? Do you really think any bushman would feel that an ethnography captured his or her experience of what it means or what it’s like to live as a bushman?

    You’re starting to sound like an existentialist. Sure, true communication is never possible, but you can get pretty damn close. No ethnography will ever capture the full experience of another culture, but they’re still useful things to have around, a useful approximation that you might use as a stepping stone into more, or might be enough to satisfy your curiosity all on its own. None of us ever follow every path we’re presented with, after all.

    See again, this just doesn’t make sense to me because from my experience, one would have to dig much harder to find what little negative stuff there is on the drum than to find all the other stuff.

    Take a look: Google search for “Tamarack Song Teaching Drum.” #1 is the TD site, #2 is “As the Teaching Drum Turns,” and the Drum is nowhere on the first page. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t even see it in the first five. I’d never seen it before you posted the URL’s here.

    Often when we dialogue you reference multiple vague, unrevealed sources of negative words as if you found quite a few of them, while also saying you couldn’t find much of anything else. Same goes for the unremembered people you say avoided your questions about what TD is like. I just don’t get that.

    Like I said, I’m better at remembering patterns than specifics. I’ve heard others talking about cultural appropriation besides “Dragonessa.” I also remember reading an article where someone who said he’d been through the yearlong said he’d spent most of the time doing writing exercises, but I can’t remember when or where I read it.

    Also, when I consider that the Teaching Drum is probably the only school anywhere in the world whose program is taylored so completely to realizing the stated mission of the tribe of anthopik, it just baffles me how little effort you seem to be willing to put into looking into the reality of the matter.

    I’m not sure that it actually is, that’s why. There are two pitfalls in wilderness schools to be navigated between like Scylla and Charybdis: the mechanical, “survivalist” approach, and the Romanticized approach. Most schools fall into the former; Tom Brown seems to lean that way. The Teaching Drum, it seems to me, falls squarely into the latter. I don’t want to sit here and rip on the Teaching Drum, but if you’re not going to respect my right to make my own decisions, I’ll tell you the reasons why I’m not an unmitigated fan of the Teaching Drum. I’m on the fence; what pushes me towards it is precisely what you’ve laid out. What pushes me away is the “cult of wild-eyed new-age indian wanna-be’s.”

    I find myself wondering if the real fear here is that the Teaching Drum might be a culture-appropriating cult or if the real fear is that the Teaching Drum might be exactly what you’re looking for (and so actually challenge you to get off the computer and put your life where your words are).

    Did you think I’d be too proud to admit that much? :) We’ve often talked about the Teaching Drum being our next step, but right now, I feel like it would be somewhat wasted on us. There’s too much for us to do now, where we are. We have too much catching up to do. Once we’ve worked our way up to average, then the Teaching Drum (or some other school) will have a lot more to offer. We’re going to the Raccoon Creek classes, we’re practicing primitive skills, we’re working on the basics. It’s like finishing elementary school before you start looking at colleges, the way I see it. I just think that at this point, the Teaching Drum would be somewhat wasted on us right now. We should do the work we can to get started, and then take a look around for something like that. And the Teaching Drum is pretty high on that list, but I gotta say, at this point I’m feeling damn near harassed. Is this the treatment people recieve at the Teaching Drum when they’re not sure what’s going on around them is necessarily all good?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 12 July 2007 @ 12:43 PM

  73. Poking around, it seems I’ve been hearing a lot about the 2002 yearlong.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 12 July 2007 @ 1:59 PM

  74. You’re feeling harassed?

    Fair enough, I’ll back off.

    However, you might consider that the bulk of this conversation has been all about whether my friends and I are “sinister cult members” trying to draw you into a web of abuse. How do you think I might feel about being and having my community be characterized like that? How would you feel if that’s what people were saying about Anthropik? Especially since all of the reasons you give for this prejudice are vague, emotionally charged, and come from sources you won’t reveal and/or “cant remember”. Even your last post seems like you’re fishing. For my part, I’m feeling like I’m being toyed with and gossiped about.

    Btw, the 2002 year long was the third year-long ever attempted, and turned out to be a fairly major flop. A lot was learned from that, and those mistakes haven’t been repeated since.

    If you wanted, I could put you in contact with nearly every person who has graduated the year long for at least the past three years. Many of them are publicly active in rewilding and primitive skills around the world. Or if you came to visit, you could meet, look straight in the eye, and talk candidly with everyone in the year long right now. You could also see for yourself how Tamarack, etc., interacts with the students on a daily basis.

    But you coming here would just be a chance for us to “get our clutches in you” right?

    You say I’m not respecting your right to make your own decisions? I guess that’s what would be expected, since I’m probably a member of a sinister cult eh? Whatever.

    I thought we were having a conversation between adults here.

    I’ve been completely up front with you, providing you with loads of information. My ultimate interest has been to see the Tribe of Anthropik work together with people I know who share the same goal and have tons of experience they could share…if you’re actually serious. Personally, I have my doubts.

    Internet drama and intrique is just so much more interesting isn’t it?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 12 July 2007 @ 5:29 PM

  75. However, you might consider that the bulk of this conversation has been all about whether my friends and I are “sinister cult members” trying to draw you into a web of abuse. How do you think I might feel about being and having my community be characterized like that?

    Except that accusation was never really made. I pointed out Tamarack Song’s response to this article, and said that the Teaching Drum “just might be the best place for to learn primitive living in North America right now. So, knowing that my humble work circulates around the Teaching Drum is pretty cool.” You invited me to come visit, and I said I wanted to hear more about it first. You pressured me about it, insinuating that I’m a hypocrite if I’m not willing to spend $200 and half my year’s vacation to visit, and it was then that I mentioned that the pattern I’d experienced was somewhat unsettling. Nowhere did I say that the Teaching Drum is any kind of cult. I just pointed out that my experience so far has been unsettling with some disturbing parallels. And that’s something I dropped over 40 comments ago, immediately once the pattern was broken. Since then, I’ve just been defending that my suspicion wasn’t unreasonable.

    How would you feel if that’s what people were saying about Anthropik?

    No need for the hypothetical; people have said it about Anthropik. Sometimes I could understand the suspicion, and I simply set it straight. Other times it was a hollered accusation, so I pointed out the holes in the comparison.

    Especially since all of the reasons you give for this prejudice are vague, emotionally charged, and come from sources you won’t reveal and/or “cant remember”. Even your last post seems like you’re fishing.

    What, you think I’m lying about that? That’s quite a stretch. I’ve even admitted that the primary source of my concern is not trustworthy. My last post was the product of me actually going out and trying to reduplicate my efforts just so I could dig up some of the stuff I read a year or more ago to satisfy you, and I found out that most of what I was remembering had come from people in the 2002 class.

    Btw, the 2002 year long was the third year-long ever attempted, and turned out to be a fairly major flop. A lot was learned from that, and those mistakes haven’t been repeated since.

    That’s why I mentioned it; I suspected as much, and that would mean that many of my concerns are fairly irrelevant to the way things are done now. I had read several accounts that were apparently all from people in 2002, but I hadn’t realized they had that in common. It made it seem like a much more general problem with the school than it actually is.

    Or if you came to visit, you could meet, look straight in the eye, and talk candidly with everyone in the year long right now. You could also see for yourself how Tamarack, etc., interacts with the students on a daily basis.

    But you coming here would just be a chance for us to “get our clutches in you” right?

    I said from the start that the main issue is that I don’t have the time. And I said in my last comment that I’m also not ready for the Teaching Drum yet. I’m working my way up to that. You might as well keep pressing a kindergartner why he hasn’t applied to Harvard yet.

    You say I’m not respecting your right to make your own decisions? I guess that’s what would be expected, since I’m probably a member of a sinister cult eh? Whatever.

    Christ, I never said anything more than that the response I was getting was creepy, and why, and I dropped that as soon as you gave me a good reason to. Why are we still on this? I already said my suspicion was wrong, a few dozen times now. When are you going to let it go and realize that from the perspective I had at that time, that was a fairly reasonable suspicion? Now I have a better perspective, and I can see that’s not the case. How many more times do I have to say that?

    I’ve been completely up front with you, providing you with loads of information. My ultimate interest has been to see the Tribe of Anthropik work together with people I know who share the same goal and have tons of experience they could share…if you’re actually serious. Personally, I have my doubts.

    And that’s what’s really getting on my nerves—if I don’t do it your way, on your schedule, I must be a hypocrite? If I don’t come visit the Teaching Drum—now—or if I have any concerns about it, then I’m just a complete hypocrite, right? For Christ’s sake, I’m not even attacking the Teaching Drum. I very deeply appreciated how much you’ve shared with us about the place. I said from the start, and I quote, “the Teaching Drum just might be the best place for to learn primitive living in North America right now.” It was already in our long-term plans, the way other people plan out where they’d like to do their post-grad studies. We’re just not ready for it right now. But you keep pushing us and pressuring us and insinuating all along the way that if we don’t come visit or if we have any doubts about the place then we must be hypocrites who don’t really care about rewilding.

    Well hell, now I am actually concerned about some kind of cult dynamic up there, if this is anything like how dissent is handled at the Teaching Drum, because this kind of pressure and insinuation is classic brainwashing material.

    Or maybe it’s just you seeing a fight where there isn’t actually one, and maybe there are plenty of ways for an earnest person to take a different path. And maybe, just maybe, a little patience could end up with them on the same path after all. I was planning on coming to visit the Teaching Drum and maybe try to get into the yearlong eventually—after we’d taken the classes at Raccoon Creek and done some of the Kamana Program. But I have to say, this thread and the way you’ve been acting towards me has made more reticent about that than any of the stories I’ve read from “Dragonessa.”

    Now I’d much rather believe that this is just a stupid “internet drama,” and you’re just getting angry and protective because you feel like your people are under attack. So I’ll say it once more: they’re not. I like the Teaching Drum. I like a lot of what Tamarack Song has to say. One day, I may well end up there. I had a unique pattern of experience that made me suspect for a moment that they might be something bad going down there, but it turned out to be nothing. It was a reasonable fear given my experience, but it turned out to be a product of ignorance. Now I have a clearer perspective, and I can see that.

    I may still end up at the Teaching Drum. But I’m not ready yet. I’ve got a lot more work before I’ll be ready. I missed a lot of those basic “boy scout” experiences as a kid.

    Is that satisfactory?

    Now, can you do something similar? Can you admit that given my experience at that point, that my fears were reasonable? And that just because I’m rewilding on a different timeline doesn’t make me a hypocrite?

    If those are things you can say, then hopefully, I think we can have some reconciliation here and finally close this out. I don’t want to have some big fight with you, and I never wanted to spend all this time enumerating my various doubts and misgivings about the Teaching Drum, but you keep asking me what they are, and then yelling at me to tell me that my concerns aren’t legitimate. I can see how you’re just trying to stick up for your people, but I’d like you to be able to see where, from my position of admitted ignorance, some things don’t look like what they are. And I do thank you for everything you’ve provided to straighten that out and correct for some of our ignorance. And no, I don’t imagine that any amount of such information could replace an actual visit. But can you understand why we’re just not ready for that yet?

    I hope you can take a moment to try to see this from my point of view, too, because there’s o reason for us to be enemies on this. We’re largely agreed. Really, I just need you to appreciate the fact that I can follow a different path than yours and not be a hypocrite for doing so. I can see that you’re largely speaking from a deep, emotional response to the very fact that I ever doubted, since you’re going back to things I’ve denounced several times now. I can understand that, and as I said, it was a wrong conclusion born of ignorance. You corrected my ignorance enough for me to see that. More than that, I can’t really offer you. I can’t apologize for my suspicions or tell you they were baseless, because what little I knew did give my suspicions a base. All I can say is that it was a response of ignorance, and that relieving my ignorance showed me that I was wrong.

    Now, can you put yourself in my place, and see how an earnest but ignorant person could think that? The only remaining issue I see here is that you won’t accept that my feelings were legitimate, and that you’re accusing me of being some kind of hypocrite because I’m not at the Teaching Drum yet.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 12 July 2007 @ 6:18 PM

  76. Well, for my part I’ve never wanted to pressure you to do anything. It’s always been a foregone conclusion to me that you should do what you want to do.

    My only agenda is that I really do want you to judge the people here at Teaching Drum (and eventually make a decision one way or the other) based on actual personal experience of us, not just written accounts and/or gossip.

    I think it would be a terrible shame if the tribe of anthropik wrote off TD without even coming to see it for themselves for a week.

    I can see how you might feel pressured by what I said, however. I can also understand your cult suspicions, since (especially having grown up christian) cults have always been a big fear of mine as well.

    I have gotten annoyed a number of times in this discussion, and I hope you can see how that might be reasonable from my point of view. “Cult” is a big insult in my mind, and my own anarchist pride stings when I hear it tossed about in relation to my community.

    Besides that, I’ve litterally put my whole life and heart on the line more than once in the pursuit of rewilding (sold all my possessions down to a backpack and went out west looking for people to rewild/study with in 1999, then graduated the year-long in the spring of 2002 dead-broke with nothing to my name but a duffel bag full of tattered, smoke-smelling clothes and a few primitive tools). So hearing from someone who lives in the suburbs that $200 and a weeks vacation time might be too much to ask is hard for me to accept. My inner hardass (ingrained from growing up on a farm and the years I spent as a soldier back in my 20’s) starts to get riled and judgemental thoughts jump into my head. Anyway, that’s all my stuff, and I realize you don’t deserve to be the target of it. Rewilding is not a “manly competition” and I know this. Do what you need to do on your own time schedule. I’ll respect that. We all have our own particular starting and ending points in this life.

    Hell, even as we speak I’m packing up and leaving the Teaching Drum to go back to Alaska looking at the possibility of pursuing graduate school in Anthropology or Cross-Cultural / Native studies. Not sure if I’m even destined to go any farther along the “full-on” primitive / hunter-gatherer / communal-living path myself.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 12 July 2007 @ 8:19 PM

  77. I think it would be a terrible shame if the tribe of anthropik wrote off TD without even coming to see it for themselves for a week.

    It’s never been written off. One day, when we’re ready, we are going to visit. May even do the yearlong. But I’ve heard a lot of good and bad. That’s why I’m not a TD cheerleader. But I haven’t written it off, not by a long shot.

    I can see how you might feel pressured by what I said, however. I can also understand your cult suspicions, since (especially having grown up christian) cults have always been a big fear of mine as well.

    Thank you. And for what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean to pressure me, even though that’s certainly how it felt. And the information you’ve provided here goes a long way towards dispelling any cult suspicions anyone might have about the Teaching Drum. Cults aren’t as forthcoming as all the material you’ve provided here, so you’ve done a lot here to ease my mind.

    I have gotten annoyed a number of times in this discussion, and I hope you can see how that might be reasonable from my point of view. “Cult” is a big insult in my mind, and my own anarchist pride stings when I hear it tossed about in relation to my community.

    I understand that part completely. “Cult” gets thrown around a lot to shut down anything that’s too anti-civ. Of course, there are genuine cults out there to muddy the waters. I can perfectly understand why you’d bristle at the charge. That’s rather why I was so careful to talk about the impression I was getting, rather than simply stating it as true—well that and, all I had was an impression. I knew I didn’t have enough information to make that connection, even if it was seeming to take an unpleasant shape. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, eh? Thank you for providing the only known antidote to a little knowledge: a little more knowledge.

    So hearing from someone who lives in the suburbs that $200 and a weeks vacation time might be too much to ask is hard for me to accept. My inner hardass (ingrained from growing up on a farm and the years I spent as a soldier back in my 20’s) starts to get riled and judgemental thoughts jump into my head.

    I can understand that somewhat, and I’m actually looking forward to the day that I can throw my whole life on the line for it. But civilization is a tricky thing. If I lose my job, it could be difficult finding another one, so I can’t afford to risk it unless I’m ready to throw my whole life on the line. If I did that now, I’d be dead in a week. I’m not there yet. Throwing my life on it now would just get me killed. But I’m working to fix that, and one day—probably sooner than I expect—that’s a gamble I’ll be able to take with a much better chance of surviving, even flourishing.

    Whew! Well, I’m glad that’s all behind us. Thanks, Glenn; you’ve provided a lot of great info in this thread, and you’re a good man for resolving this little bump so gracefully. Niawên’!

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 12 July 2007 @ 9:21 PM

  78. Yep, wild peace bro.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 13 July 2007 @ 9:35 AM

  79. One last thing I want to touch on before I go (the car’s just about packed for Alaska). Awhile back Jason wrote: “You’re starting to sound like an existentialist. Sure, true communication is never possible, but you can get pretty damn close.” (In relation to my analogy about bushmen and those who have done the year long being able to communicate their experiences.)

    I guess I am a bit of an existentialist, actually. I think perhaps one reason for our missunderstanding here is that from my perspective words can only reference experience, and experience is most fundamentally grasped on an emotional level. Some of us like to think that intellectual precision is the foundation of good communication, but in reality it’s only one small piece of the puzzle and probably much less important that what’s happening on more basic levels.

    As I see it, true communication becomes possible to the degree that experience is shared on an ever deeper level, and therefore to the degree that a shared emotional “flow” can be established between two beings.

    I think this is why cross cultural communication between primitive hunter-gatherer peoples and people from western culture (even trained anthropologists) has such a long litany of failure in achieving a common understanding between people.

    That’s also part of the reason why we have such a hard time hearing the voices of our wild relations (the way hunter-gatherer cultures can), we don’t share, and therefore can’t very well empathize with their experience.

    If you’ve always gone to the woods with a backpack full of gortex and packaged food, how well can you relate what deer or bear (or bushman) are telling you?

    Without comparable emotional experience, communication becomes (sometimes pretty severely) stunted. That’s why we often spend so much time in conversation looking for “common ground” and then tend to build on that into areas where it doesn’t exist.

    Its also why arguing rarely gets us anywhere until at least one party is willing to throw out an emotional “olive branch” and create space for a little empathy to take root.

    On a side note, I think this is part of what killed the “Grizzly Man” Timothy Treadwell. Anyone who has actually had to forage their own food would never have missed the cues given by a gaunt & struggling old grizzly facing the prospect of another long Alaskan winter. If I was that grizzly I probably would have eaten Treadwell as well.

    Anyway, just a few parting thoughts…

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 13 July 2007 @ 10:38 AM

  80. Good points, all.

    Comment by jhereg — 13 July 2007 @ 11:03 AM

  81. I think perhaps one reason for our missunderstanding here is that from my perspective words can only reference experience, and experience is most fundamentally grasped on an emotional level. Some of us like to think that intellectual precision is the foundation of good communication, but in reality it’s only one small piece of the puzzle and probably much less important that what’s happening on more basic levels.

    I actually agree, but I think existentialism takes it too far. Perfect communication is impossible. That doesn’t make it not worthwhile, though. We can communicate some vague impression of our experience, and the better we are at communicating, the clearer that impression can be. We can convey some amount of the emotion with it. It will never be perfect, it will never be a substitute for the experience itself, but it can be extremely effective. We can appreciate language’s capacity to share some part of our experience and recognize that it is imperfect at the same time. The ability to share some amount of our experience through communication actually gives us the capacity to experience far, far more. We can add to our own experiences the impressons of others’ experiences. It’s not as good as a genuine experience of your own, but it’s a good companion to have.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 13 July 2007 @ 1:50 PM

  82. I’m curious Jason, have you ever read “Original Wisdom, Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing” or “What it Means to be Human” (same book, different editions) by Robert Wolff?

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 13 July 2007 @ 6:00 PM

  83. Yup, it was great.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 16 July 2007 @ 5:48 PM

  84. How do you think the people Robert writes about in that book would describe their experience of living if one of us civilized folk asked them to do so? Would their descripton sound anything like an ethnography? Might they be at a loss for words to communicate the most profound and important aspects of their lives, especially if they were talking to someone who had no comparable experiences to draw upon?

    The people Robert Wolff talks about in that book are very skilled communicators…to the point where Robert believes they possess almost telepathic communicative abilities with each other, and yet, this does not work between the people and Robert himself, at least not until some things change for him, and his own experience and perceptual abilities deepen.

    Believe it or not, (I know this might sound a bit woo-woo) but that’s similar to the trouble year-long graduates often have telling people who haven’t been through the experience what it’s like.

    Another less “woo-woo” (but nonetheless appropriate) analogy would be that war vets often have the same trouble talking about their experiences with civilians.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 16 July 2007 @ 10:51 PM

  85. How do you think the people Robert writes about in that book would describe their experience of living if one of us civilized folk asked them to do so?

    I imagine they’d describe it the same way they described it to Robert. After all, Robert was a civilized guy who asked the same question; the book is made up of the answers he got.

    Would their descripton sound anything like an ethnography?

    Well, yeah; Original Wisdom is an ethnography.

    Might they be at a loss for words to communicate the most profound and important aspects of their lives, especially if they were talking to someone who had no comparable experiences to draw upon?

    Sure; Original Wisdom is only an approximation of their experience, not experience in itself.

    Believe it or not, (I know this might sound a bit woo-woo) but that’s similar to the trouble year-long graduates often have telling people who haven’t been through the experience what it’s like.

    Another less “woo-woo” (but nonetheless appropriate) analogy would be that war vets often have the same trouble talking about their experiences with civilians.

    Oh, I believe it. And no one expects to really know all the intricacies of Sng’oi life just from reading Original Wisdom, but it gives you a glimpse. And as we both know from reading that book, it’s an invaluable glimpse, isn’t it?

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 17 July 2007 @ 9:34 AM

  86. Robert Wolff was an outside observer, and a trained academic author. He spent years working over that book to be able o communicate what he did. However, when you ask a year-long grad about their experiences, you’re not asking an ethnographer or a trained outside observer. By analogy, you’re asking a Sng’oi. I don’t remember Robert getting any easy answers from them, mostly what they said was difficult for him to understand…especially until his experiences with them caught up to his questions.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 19 July 2007 @ 10:47 PM

  87. At best, someone who goes through the year-long might be feral, but he’s still not wild. We share a lot of cultural common ground to make communication easier.

    Secondly, asking for an account of what it was like is a good order of magnitude less than what Wolff asked for.

    Given that, I still don’t see where it’s such an outrageous request. Obviously, such accounts have been made, and somewhat commonly; you linked to them. Nobody’s saying it replaces a visit, but it’s still a useful glimpse.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 20 July 2007 @ 11:26 AM

  88. I never said your request was outrageous Jason. Instead, I provided you with the information you asked for.

    It would be nice, however, if you could give at least some acknowledgement or sign of understanding that what I’m saying makes at least a little bit of sense to you, and/or that the responses you’ve gotten from other year-long graduates were not completely “outrageous” as well.

    My point is pretty simple really (and doesn’t imply that yearlong grads are “wild” btw). I don’t see why it’s so hard for you to acknowledge that there’s some truth to it, unless you’re reading into it much more than I’ve intended.

    A year of communal living in the wilderness makes for an experience that goes well beyond anything a suburban american has ever known. Telling a suburban american what “it’s like” is not necessarilly easy. That’s all I’m trying to point out.

    Comment by RedWolfReturns — 21 July 2007 @ 3:19 PM

  89. Where this system breaks down—for instance, in New Guinea, where domesticated pigs eliminate some of the need for hunting—we see the border-line cases of where agriculture develops. Alongside this, we also see the phenomenon of the Melanesian “Big Man” and the breakdown of the egalitarian societies that inhabit the hunter-gatherer/horticulturalist continuum, from simple band societies at the hunter-gatherer extreme, to more complex tribal societies at the horticultural end. Where reliance on wild foods ends, cultivation tips from horticulture to agriculture, societies tip from egalitarian to hierarchical, and ecological impact tips from beneficial to disastrous. These are all deeply related phenomena.

    But obviously it is still horticulture, for many New Guinean tribes still relied on hunting. Daniel Quinn, used the Gebusi, one New Guinean tribe, to make that point (he called them hunter-gardeners). So obviously one can still include domesticated animals or livestock in horticulture and still rely on hunting. It does not necessarily have to be agriculture.

    Comment by Taylor — 28 July 2007 @ 10:28 PM

  90. Quinn, in general, is a lousy anthropologist, and New Guinea is a very varied place. You have out-and-out hunter-gatherers in New Guinea, like the Fore, and you have agricultural people, like you find in the highlands, and everything in between. The Gebusi, if I recall correctly, are actually hunter-gatherers. They don’t keep livestock, or do much horticulture at all.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 28 July 2007 @ 10:38 PM

  91. I was referring to the reference Daniel Quinn about the Gebusi that he discusses in the “Story of B.” I won’t argue with you about the Gebusi–I haven’t been able to find much on the Internet about them.

    Comment by Taylor — 29 July 2007 @ 9:22 PM

  92. I know what you were referring to, that was obvious. And no, I haven’t found much on the internet about them, either. But Quinn deals with very general concepts. He doesn’t deal with exceptions or many nuances, and as an anthropologist, he often confuses things a lot more than are necessary (e.g., “totalitarian agriculture,” as above).

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 30 July 2007 @ 8:48 AM

  93. [i]Just as no hunter-gatherer goes through life without some kind of cultivation, it is also true that no horticulturalist culture gets by without some measure of hunting and gathering. Even the most intensive horticulturalists rely on hunting for supplemental protein and gather wild-grown plants to supplement their diet. What permaculture establishes as a “good idea” or ethical imperative in “zone 5,” horticulture demands as an economic necessity for rich hunting grounds.[/i]

    This doesn’t entirely make sense. Why does horticulture have to rely on hunting in order for it to be sustainable?

    Comment by Chenoweth — 13 April 2009 @ 8:14 PM

  94. Because you can’t grow enough food to keep yourself alive with horticulture alone.

    Comment by Jason Godesky — 14 April 2009 @ 11:33 AM

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