I’ve posted very little over the past month or so, since the end of my CCMusic project for NZ Music Month. June/ July is the middle of winter here in Aotearoa, and I like to take a bit of midwinter downtime, to observe the winter solstice (”midwinter Christmas”) and celebrate Matariki, the “Māori new year”, marked by the reappearance above the southern horizon of the constellation known in European cultures as the “Pleiades” or “Seven Sisters”, and to the Japanese as “Subaru” (from which the car company gets it’s name and logo).

But I did see the John Oliver’s video about net neutrality and figured I might as well as join all the USAmericans taking up Oliver’s invitation to tell the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the US government department that regulates broadcast media and telecommunications, to GoFCCYourself.com. Here’s the message I sent to the FCC, and I invite the NZ government and any government department involved in drawing up and enforcing regulations that affect the operation of the net and the web to take note.

The internet is and must remain an international common carrier, just like the postal system, the telegram system, and the telephone system before it. All internet-connected network operators, whether commercial or non-commercial, must be legally allowed, indeed obliged, to pass on all traffic as it arrives, without prejudice, discrimination, or tollgates. Only under these conditions is the internet is a level playing field, in which services and ideas can compete on their own merits, rather than buying influence through backroom “payola” deals with network operators.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a new year evaluation of my various projects, and setting some priorities for the next few months. Watch this space.

Filed July 11th, 2017 under Uncategorized

This is a generic version of an email I recently sent to a not-for-profit organisation that runs a web-based platform for community exchange. Feel free to use it as a model for encouraging other not-for-profits to use and promote free code software.

————————————–

Greetings

I recently received an email from GratisService.org [insert here the name of a not-for-profit running a gratis, web-based service] asking for a monetary donation. I really value the GratisService.org service, and I’ve [description of how I used the service] through your website on many occasions. However, as a point of principle, when a not-for-profit’s primary activities are software-based, I only donate to them if they respect the software freedom of the people who use their services.

There are two elements to this:

1) using only free code (or “open source”) software to provide the service

2) providing a page linked from the front page of the website, listing the various free code packages used to provide the service, including code developed by other groups, and code developed by the group providing the service.

I’ve looked around GratisService.org a few times, but there’s no indication of what software it uses. Adding such a page (eg as a technical FAQ) would satisfy point 2). I’m guessing that most of the software you use to run the service is free code. In order to satisfy point 1), if you have proprietary dependencies I’d be happy to help you find free code replacements for them, and if you have internally developed code that hasn’t been released as free code under a software freedom license yet, I’d be happy to help you do that.

This guide provides more detailed information about these issues: https://copyleft.org/guide/comprehensive-gpl-guidech2.html

In the meantime, keep up the good work.

Warm regards

Danyl Strype

Filed June 17th, 2017 under free software

640px-SoundscapeHamilton.jpg 

(SoundScape Hamilton 2011, by Nzwj - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)

New Zealand Music Month (NZMM) is over for another year. I managed to promote 37 CreativeCommons-licensed kiwi music releases on the Fediverse, 38 if you count the one that ended up being posted a couple of minutes into June, and 39 if you count this year’s Turnbull Mixtape (#5: Time to get schooled). These releases covered 35 different music acts, across a diverse range of genres (no ukelele bands yet!).

To be honest, I was originally worried that I might  be scraping the barrel to get to 31 (one for each day in May). In the end, I ran out of May long before I ran out of releases to promote, mainly thanks to the Turnbull librarians and their mixtapes from the last few years. Thanks Turnbull folks!

A couple of thoughts on CC Aotearoa/ NZ engagement with kiwi musicians going forward. Firstly, it would be great to contact as many of these artists as possible about their CC use, and how they feel its worked for them (or not). Trying to interview all of them before next NZMM would be an average of about one a week, which would be a huge ask, so it might be good to aim to get a handful of interviews across a set of categories. Some of the obvious categories are;

  • always use CC
  • only used CC for one release
  • used to use CC then stopped for newer releases
  • started using CC after numerous ARR releases.

Another distinction I noticed was digital downloads offered gratis with no obvious way to pay/ donate, downloads on a ‘pay what you want’ basis, and downloads with a fixed price, just like a physical record. Some may have even used multiple styles across different web platforms (eg fixed price on BandCamp, free streaming/ download on SoundCloud). Again, it would be interesting to find out what motivated musicians’ choices here, how they feel it worked out for them, and whether they intend to experiment with a different approach in future.

Secondly, there’s definitely enough music acts using CC licenses to put on some amazing concerts for next year’s NZMM. Maybe even a CC music festival, or a touring roadshow! This would be a great chance to raise awareness of CC licensing among musicians and their audiences, and creative communities generally. Roll on NZ Music Month 2018!

Filed June 5th, 2017 under Uncategorized

I’ve been collecting information on free code chat software for a while now as part of research for the Core Us project. If anyone is keen to join an organised testing team and have a regular online chat session, using different chat systems, please get in touch. Today I’ve been looking into which chat systems might be the best options for integration with a Loomio, a web-based deliberation and decision-making platform.

My evaluations

 Etherpad: Text chat only. Collapsed until clicked. Once clicked, appears as a smallish GoogleChat-alike box in the bottom right of the screen. Can be expanded into a sidebar, or collapsed back down.

 Meet.jit.si: Demo of Jitsi Meet/ Videobridge. No login required on the demo site, just create a “room” (eg meet.jit.si/loomio), and anyone who enters the URL for that room automatically joins the chat. I recently used it for a one-to-one, voice-only chat. Other than a tiny bit of lag, which was only mildly disruptive, the experience was good. Supports text chat, (collapsible sidebar), voice, video, screen-sharing, text editing using an integrated Etherpad. A livestreaming output allows a 2-way chat among a small group over people to be streamed to a larger, listen-only audience (akin to Hangouts on Air), and presumably recorded for later viewing.

 MetaMaps: chat is in the form of a sidebar, collapsed until a button on the side of the screen is clicked, collapse back with a second click. Each map has its own chat ‘room’, and text comments made on a map persist in the chat box for that map between sessions. Supports voice and video, not yet tested. A bit harder to evaluate without setting it up on your own server, because they’re currently in invite-only beta.

Mumble / Murmur: Mumble clients are available for all major platforms, but the default interface is basically like IRC plus voice (no video), and may be confusing for people who aren’t used to IRC. Each Murmur server can host many rooms (rooms within rooms). If you are in the same ‘room’ as another user, you can hear each other, and it easily supports large numbers of users in the same room. Mic can be always-on, but I strongly suggest using push-to-talk, which reduces background noise, feedback, and bandwidth use. Plus, the user’s avatar visibly changes when they push-to-talk, giving some sense of who is waiting to speak.

Palava.tv: A WebRTC stack like Jitsi Meet, but only supporting the bare bones text/ voice/ video chat. The interface is much less polished than Jitsi. Would be interesting to compare the call quality between the same two people, on the same equipment and network connections. Palava also seems to be a patchwork of code in a bunch of different languages, whereas Jitsi (and Etherpad) are pure Javascript, and might be easier to integrate with a RoR application.

 Riot.im: A text chat server with multiple ‘rooms’. Basically a prettier, federated, web-based version of an IRC/ Mumble type interface,  but using the Matrix protocol. Also supports file sharing. Has annoying no-reply email notifications turned on by default, but you can unsub from the bottom of each email, and the notification control in the Settings is pretty fine-grained. Overall pretty similar to RockChat (but without the WebRTC voice/ video extensions), and I imagine pretty similar to MatterMost, as they are all basically free code Slack-a-likes.

 

Process of elimination

Trying to re-engineer a system expressly designed to be P2P chat seems like a fools errand, especially when those P2P tools are the various parts of Tox, an outgrowth of 4Chan with a tumultuous history, and somewhat consistent development progress. Ring is a more promising P2P chat project that recently joined the GNU Project, but it’s still in beta, and voice/ video conference calls are still bleeding edge. It doesn’t seem like there is protocol support for XMPP (plus MUC and Jingle), which may be a smoother way to handle conference calls (although maybe less secure), but adding that would be a huge engineering challenge.

Re-using code that’s designed for the web is probably simplest approach. Of the Slack-a-likes, Riot is probably the most interesting because it can federate with Matrix protocols, but as a consequence, it’s probably also the most bleeding edge. Besides which, federation is fairly low down the priority list for integration with a group-based app like Loomio (or Crabgrass, also RoR), which doesn’t currently support any kind of server federation. The ideal candidate would be a module that’s intended for adding chat features to a web application, written in languages that work in nicely with RoR.

 

Shortlist for possible Loomio integration

  • Etherpad is pure Javascript, and adapting the chat box modules of their code might be a way to add a collapsible, text-only chat box to Loomio. This might be a good experimental first step, as its likely to introduce fewer bugs than a chat box with voice and video too.
  • MetaMaps is a Ruby on Rails app, like Loomio, so it may be possible to add a similar chat sidebar to Loomio using the same modules MM chat depends on, or if necessary, by modularizing those parts of the MM code. This might be a good experiment #2.
  • Meet.jit.si ticks a lot of the right boxes. A self-hosted version of their stack could be set up alongside a Loomio server, with rooms sharing the same namespace and access permissions as Loomio groups and subgroups, and the same authentication layer. This would provide a full-featured live collaboration environment, including collaborative text drafting with the Etherpad integration, which is currently a missing feature resulting in a lot of Google Docs. It’s a complicated stack though, with a lot of moving parts, and some careful thought would have to be given to how to integrate the two interfaces smoothly.
  • Mumble: Building a web client for a system server designed to work with desktop clients can work (eg webmail and web-based IRC and XMPP clients), but this would be a major re-engineering job with no certainty of success, and using Mumble for a text only chat feature would certainly be overkill. A minimal web GUI that uses a Murmur server as a back-end for voice conference rooms, obscuring the fiddly business of connecting to a server and navigating through rooms, would make it much easier to use, and would most likely scale better than WebRTC. Underneath the GUI, Mumble rooms could be associated with Loomio groups, and rooms inside each rooms associated with subgroups. This could be a long term solution, but would take a lot of building.

    You will have all seen Zuckerberg’s answer to Mein Kampf, heard about the Trump campaign’s strategic use of FarceBook to discourage their opponents from voting, and glanced at the various “e-democracy” apps funded by the same venture capitalists who brought us FarceBook, PayPal, Uber, and Palentir. You may also be aware that a number of kiwi political parties, including some who should know better (Greens and TOP), are using NationBuilder. I laid out a few of the *many* reasons why this is a bad idea in an open letter to the Greens a couple of months ago.

    In the face of this, to focus on preventing the corruption of the voting process is to miss the point. Elite interests don’t need to control or corrupt the voting process, if they can control and corrupt the public discourse that informs whether or not people vote, and what they look for in the candidates and parties they vote for. The problem is that when such powerful discursive manipulation systems an be applied anywhere, from anywhere in the world, “representative democracy” (or more accurately, temporary elected dictatorship) is fundamentally impossible to secure against such attacks.

    Digital voting can’t fix this, and neither can keeping elections paper-based. Whatever voting system is used, the only way to reduce the damage caused when they get pwned, is to stop using voting to elect an elite of individuals to form governments and then give them absolute state power, even temporarily. To replace it with a system where the powers of the state are strongly limited, and highly distributed, and where decision-making is participatory, not representative. Deep democracy, whether using digital platforms, public meetings, or a combination of both (which is probably ideal) is now our best possible future.

    Now it’s true that these systems too will also be attacked, both directly and by discursive manipulation. For as long as economic power, and ownership of the mainstream news media, is concentrated in a handful of global corporations, democracy will always be under attack. Economic organisations and media too need radical democratization, and cooperative companies and not-for-profit social enterprises are making exciting progress on developing models for doing this. But in the meantime, it’s much harder for the 1% to effectively monitor and manipulate a flood of millions or billions of distributed, ‘citizen government’ decision-making processes, than to monitor and manipulate a trickle of representative government decisions that happen one at a time, per country.

    Deep democracy is not a perfect solution, there’s no such thing. But as far as I can see, it’s the only alternative to a corporate-controlled technocracy, where elections and political “news” remain as a circus to distract the people from where the real decisions are being made.

    Filed May 29th, 2017 under Uncategorized

    I recently made this valedictory post on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is joining FarceBook, Skype, and Google, on the list of corporate platforms I no longer intend to use.

    I’m going to be deleting my LinkedIn account by the end of the year. I probably won’t log in again until it’s time to action that. If I don’t respond to your message here, or accept your invite to connect, it’s not about you. Happy to hear from you some other way. I just need to stop spending my time performing unpaid data entry for corporate platforms like LinkedIn, especially when the data I’ve entering for them is my own.

    The truth is, I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about LinkedIn. If LinkedIn was transparent about the source code of all the software it runs on, and especially if it was a platform cooperative, owned by its members, or even by its technical and administrative workers, I think it could be a great community resource. But as it currently exists, it’s like FarceBook and the rest of The Stacks. It’s a proprietary platform whose prime directive is not to serve their users, but to privatize and monetize people’s need to socialize, and to manipulate users to make sure they stay keep clicking around the site for longer.

    The second reason I’ve looked sideways at LinkedIn is the company they keep. In late 2016 that incorrigible rascal Tim O’Reilly put on ‘Next:Economy‘, a pep rally celebrating the “Sharing Economy“, that rash of trendy new corporate platforms using mobile apps to make huge profits from other people’s peer-to-peer trading. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weinar was on the speaking list with the exploiters running Uber, AirBnB, Lyft, and so on.

    But then, lots of cool people I know are on LinkedIn. People I do want to connect with. In fact, now that that I look more carefully, there were heaps of cool people on that speaking list too, like MJ Kaplan from Loomio, ‘Life Inc.’ and ‘Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus’ author Doug Rushkoff. People who understand that the real Next Economy will be a post-corporate one or it will be a post-human one.

    Then I saw the news. LinkedIn, like Skype and so many other small to medium technology companies before them, are going to get swallowed by Microsoft. If there’s one platform corporation I really don’t want to be doing unpaid data entry for, it’s a company who spent years and probably millions of dollars telling lies about GNU-Linux to protect their monopoly on desktop operating systems. As Job puts it in a hugely popular fantasy book, “This far you may come and no farther’.

    So, I’m out of here. See you out there in one of the many free and open networked savannahs outside the boundaries of corporate-owned walled gardens. Enoho rā LinkedIn. Haere rā koutou katoa e hoa mā.

    Filed May 6th, 2017 under open social networks, open source

    Over the last month, I’ve been involved in an impassioned debate on the Trisquel forums about the GOLD (Gaming on Linux Distribution) proposal to create a 100% libre GNU-Linux distribution for gamers. As well as more than 15 years as a software freedom activist, I bring to the table a lifetime of experience with artistic communities, and more than 10 years as a CreativeCommons (CC) activist here in Aotearoa (NZ). The perspective I’m coming from is that although you can’t have computer games without code, games are not fundamentally a form of software but a form of multimedia artwork. They are more like films than computer programs.

    That experience has shown me that the concerns that motivate artists of various kinds to use ARR (ALL Rights Reserved) or nonfree CC licenses are different (if overlapping in places) from the set than motivate developers to keep their code proprietary. Artists are concerned about ‘moral rights’, something that has no bearing on the software copyright/ copyleft discussion. They often falsely believe that ARR copyright always protects their moral rights (it does in some jurisdictions but not others), and that free culture licenses do not (no CC license extinguishes moral rights where they exist). Artists are concerned about derivative works that undermine or disrespect their creation, as a completely separate concern from any economic aspects of derivatives.

    These and other differences mean that the strategies that do and don’t work for getting software liberated, don’t always for getting artwork liberated, and vice versa. Incremental transition strategy in software tends to get stuck at the “open core” stage, which satisfies nobody. Whether they align with “free software”, “open source”, or the middle ground “FOSS”/”FLOSS” philosophies, free code advocates don’t want to volunteer their time to hack on the core of some company’s otherwise proprietary software, so the company doesn’t get the benefits it could expect to get if it liberated its whole codebase.

    With artwork, every incremental step liberates useful rights. Moving from ARR to the most restrictive CC license liberates the right to gratis, verbatim redistribution, which is all that’s required to make P2P file-sharing legal. Going from CC-NC-ND to NC or ND, but not both, liberates the right either to remix or to resell. So on with the step from NC or ND to a free culture license (CC-BY or CC-BY-SA). With artwork, a copyright holder is more likely to tip their toes into non-ARR licensing if they don’t have to liberate all the reserved rights at once. Although some experiment with CC and return to ARR (for reasons nobody seems to have deeply investigated), usually once they’ve become more confident with understanding and using CC licenses, they tend to move to licenses that reserve fewer rights.

    This is why, returning to games, I think there is potential benefit in dealing with the free code and free culture parts of the equation separately, with the former being the highest priority. We can’t sell games with free code and nonfree art, but that’s not our motive for GOLD, so why does that matter right now? There may be a small numbers of games in the ‘free code but NC’ category now, and there may always be, but I think it functions as an important stepping stone.

    Imagine indie game makers are looking at getting their games into a libre game system set up to make it easy for supporters to buy/ donate to game makers, buy BumbleBundle style packages etc, and all they have to do to get onto the first step of that ladder is to liberate their code, regardless of the status of their artwork (minimum condition is allowing non-commercial distribution). My theory, based on my experience with how artists think and work, is that they are more likely to go for this than to go from ARR to 100% libre in one step (although I agree that would be great). Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to test this theory.

    Filed May 4th, 2017 under free culture, free software, open source

    A fully free network would itself be a commons only in a very abstract sense, in the same way that the planet is a commons. In the sense that Elinor Ostrom uses the word commons (a shared resource with a shared governance structure), a free network would actually be a federation of commons, each operating at one or more network layers. To illustrate, here are some commons (existing and potential) operating at different layers, taken from a comment I posted to the Commons Transition group on Loomio.

    device (hardware and software of the computers used to access networks)

    • free digital (or “open source”) hardware design projects (where the design patterns for computer hardware are released under a license allowing it to be freely used, modified, and redisitributed)
    • customer-owned and/or worker-owned hardware manufacture and distribution cooperatives
    • projects developing and distributing free code software that runs on end user devices (eg the projects that maintain the various software components used in GNU/Linux distributions)

    standards (defining how computers will interact productively across networks)

    connections (cables, wireless access points, and routers, allowing data to flow from computer to computer across the networks):

    • community mesh networks (P2P wireless between PCs or mobiles)
    • community access wireless networks (collectively-owned wireless tower)
    • open wireless (voluntary sharing of private wireless networks by customers with uncapped upstream internet connections)
    • customer-owned and/or worker-owned ISP cooperatives (collectively-owned cable and router infrastructure, at any scale from neighbourhood to country to world)

    hosting (servers providing access to databases over the networks):

    • projects developing and distributing free code software that runs services (whether on end user computers or dedicated server hardware)
    • P2P networks (eg BitTorrent clients, trackers, and search engines, or BitCoin and other blockchains)
    • home of office servers (consumer grade PCs running free code server packages, or combinations of them eg FreedoxBox, FreedomBone, YunoHost)
    • server colocation (or “colos”, small data centres run collectively by a group of server operators who provide and maintain their own hardware, eg RiseUp.net and MayFirst/ PeopleLink have their servers in a colo)
    • customer-owned and/or worker-owned ISP cooperatives (collectively-owned datacentres leasing the use of “bare metal” servers, virtual servers, or use of shared servers)

    My point in laying all this out is that we don’t need to start from scratch, and certainly not from the top down. Many projects are already underway, and can already be used, joined, supported, cross-promoted, and partnered with.

    Federating into more ambitious new meta-projects adds a ’social coordination’ layer to the stack. Various organisations have attempted to work at this layer, but there are no guarantees of success at this layer either. The ground behind is littered with the corpses of ambitious pioneers like the Free Network Foundation, and the various failed attempts at an open hardware organisation. But there are also many successful social layer projects, from early pioneers like the Free Sosftware Foundation/ GNU Project and Open Source Initiative, to more recent organisations like the P2P Foundation/ Commons Transition, Open Source Hardware Association, Collaborative Technology Alliance, and Tech Co-op Network (North America).

    Filed April 30th, 2017 under Uncategorized

    For a few years now, there has been a copyright statement at the top of the front page of the Disintermedia wiki. It stated that the contents of the wiki, and this blog, are under a CreativeCommons-Attribution-Share-Alike (CC-BY-SA) license, but it never said which version. The latest version of the CC license suite is 4.0, which folded the jurisdictional licenses for each country into a single set of international licenses, so I’ve added that to the copyright statement. Inspired by recent research into free code software licensing, I’ve decided to add an “or later” clause, so that content from this project can be used under future versions of the CC licenses whether or not I ever get around to making a specific statement to that effect.

    The only downside is that if changes are made to future versions of the CC-BY-SA licenses that I don’t agree with, I can’t stop people using Disintermedia content under that version. By giving the “or later” permission, I’m saying that I’m confident the stewardship of the CC license suite is in good hands, and long may it remain that way.

    Filed April 30th, 2017 under Uncategorized

    A friend recently send me a link to a Huff Post article entitled ‘How to Decolonize the Permaculture Movement‘ by Tobias Roberts, who was born in the USA, but now lives on the land in the Central American country of El Salvador, with his Salvadoran wife.

    I want to clarify that this article frustrates me immensely, not because the author is playing the wrong tune, but because he hits all the wrong notes. I agree that any movement emerging from a colonial society like Australia, and spreading to colonial societies like the USA and New Zealand, does need to periodically check itself for Eurocentric assumptions, and make a real effort to address them. Permaculture may have emerged as a radical rejection of “conventional” agriculture, and the ecocidal colonization culture it is part of, but that doesn’t automatically prevent colonialist assumptions from creeping into it over time. But Tobias doesn’t address what I consider the real priorities of decolonization, which revolve around figuring out how to support the regeneration of the indigenous cultures in the countries we live in, and assimilate ourselves into their system of ethics and principles, as discussed by Ani Mikaere (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou) in her 2014  Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture. Instead, his article sets up a series of boringly common misconceptions about what permaculture is, and uses them to support a line of strawmen

    Strawman #1: Permaculture is a network of patronising educational charities whose goal is to change the practice of small farmers in the Global South. “The solution, however, is not to criticize these farmers, but rather to humbly seek to understand their situation.”

    The main focus of permaculture education, as I understand it, is to shift the practices of folks in the Global North, so our appallingly ignorant resource use and pollution doesn’t wreck the biosphere. This benefits everyone, including indigenous communities, and the small farmers who actually feed the majority of the world’s people. It does extend to standing up to the corporate food supply chains that want to own and control every bit of land, labour, and income involved in farming, especially when they attack the traditional and novel organic practices involved in subsistence living and small farming in the Global South as “inefficient”. If this is interpreted as criticism of those who have bought into (or more usually been forced to accept) the “green revolution” snake oil sold by agents of the corporate supply chains, it’s probably because the astroturf groups who apologize for those supply chains spin it that way. I’ve seen a lot of vitriol directed at investor-driven “agribusiness” in the North, like the intensive diary farming ruining water quality in Aotearoa, but never at people on the land in the South.

    Strawman #2: “Don’t Make Permaculture Courses Your Primary Source of Income”

    I don’t think Tobias has ever run a PDC, or even run the numbers before making this criticism. Most of the money paid by students for a residential PDC goes into covering the direct costs of running them, including three healthy meals a day for each student (”beans and tortillas” are no cheaper than hummus when they’re both made on-site), and maybe subsidizing some of the outgoings of the properties that host them. Very little is left over to actually pay the teachers, who work fulltime for 21 days. Permaculturists I know make a living from a wide range of marginal income sources, including selling surplus produce, designing and consulting, running landscaping and garden maintenance services, writing books, and so on, as well as doing everything they can to reduce their cash costs by applying permaculture design to their own homes and gardens.

    Strawman #3: People using and sharing regenerative land-use techniques that may resemble or have been inspired by traditional sustainable practices is “appropriation of knowledge… the same thing that mega- pharmaceutical companies and agricultural corporations have been doing for years through the patenting of medicines and seeds that have been stolen from the shared ecological wisdom of indigenous and peasant cultures throughout the world.”

    No. It’s not, and I’m getting thoroughly sick of people lazily claiming that it is. Anthropologists like Michael F. Brown, author of the book ‘Who Owns Native Culture‘ would beg to differ.

    According to the online edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, ‘Appropriation’ (in the sense of “cultural appropriation”), means to “take exclusive possession of” or to “annex”, or to some degree, to “to take or make use of without authority or right”. People running their own experiments with techniques for growing food (or anything else), and freely sharing their results, is not taking exclusive possession, quite the opposite (especially when those results are shared under a free culture license like CreativeCommons). It’s not appropriation, it’s citizen science. As for “authority or right”, if we all have to wait for planning permission from the appropriately mandated cultural property bureaucrats before making any transition towards more regenerative practices in our own backyards, we’re really screwed.



    Strawman #4: Permaculture = food forests, but we have to “avoid the tendency to offer those systems as the “only” way to grow food in an ecological and sustainable manner”

    Permaculture is a design system by which humans can become good stewards of regenerated ecosystems. Permaculture design can be applied to any scale from a verandah to a sheep station, and to producing any kind of crop or product. Food forests are a good technique for some bioregions, like most of Aotearoa, where the land naturally wants to be rainforest and we waste a lot of energy knocking it back into unsustainable grasslands. It’s good for Zone 3 and Zone 4 areas where you want to get something started and not have to manage it too intensively. But Fukuoka’s ‘One Straw Revolution’ has been a mainstay in permie bookshelves for decades, and permaculture design is just as applicable to regenerative grain and grazing systems (for example using mixed herbal ley), as in the broadacre permaculture work of Darren Doherty.

    Strawman #5: A PDC is the only way permaculture design is taught, and is seen as the only correct way to do so, “the best way to ‘teach’ small Guatemalan farmers had nothing to do with courses, workshops, agricultural schools, or the like. Rather, they simply brought small farmers from neighboring communities together to tour the farms and lands that each one worked.”

    A lot of the people attracted to permaculture are the same people turned off by the eurocentric “Education(TM)” system, and a lot of the ‘teaching’ the movement does is through site visits and permablitzes, where people learn by observing and doing, and conversing about what they’ve seen and done, not by listening to lectures. People can read about permaculture for free on the internet, or in public libraries (or using the free internet in public libraries). If they can learn to apply permaculture design by reading books and websites and trying stuff out at home, or by going WWOOFing on permaculture properties, that’s great! Permaculture is a design system we practice and share, not a commodity we sell.

    For some people, attending a PDC gives them hands-on experience, supported by people who’ve learned from years of their own mistakes, and can therefore help their students understand their own mistakes more quickly. But the main purpose of running a PDC is to teach people how to design for their actual circumstances, as opposed to just blindly slapping together a patchwork of techniques they’ve seen elsewhere, with no idea how they’re supposed to work or fit together into a functional system. Ultimately, running PDC courses is a means to an end, which is to increase the number of people confidently applying ecological principles and regenerative techniques to the way we manage resources and provide for our needs. 

    The PDC was created at a time when access to any advanced practical knowledge in the Global North depended on access to a multi-year course in a university or polytechnic. The PDC model was designed to provide a thorough grounding in the application of permaculture ethics and principles to a wide range of practical needs, in a short amount of time, at an entry cost that remains a fraction of many tertiary courses of much lower value to the student and the biosphere. The idea that anyone who completes a PDC is qualified to teach a PDC was, and is, a radically democratizing approach to education, and has resulted in PDC courses taught in a huge variety of locally customized ways.

    I do feel obliged to admit that while I’m intimately familiar with the permaculture movement in Aotearoa, I have only a vague idea what it’s like elsewhere. Perhaps on Turtle Island (North America) there is a permaculture movement that matches Tobias’ descriptions, one that uses permaculture as a marketing pitch for expensive lifestyle commodities, as he claims in an earlier article, and one that I would be as disgusted by as he is. Perhaps, but since he never gives any specific examples of the claims he makes, I suspect he and his informants have simply mistaken greenwashing for permaculture. I suggest having a skim through Tazia Gaisford’s thesis on permaculture and anarchism as an alternative to “development” for another perspective.

    Filed April 25th, 2017 under transition initiatives
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