The Time for Fighting or Running is Over

Maddy Harland
Monday, 20th June 2016

We face critical times – politically, economically, ecologically. Maddy Harland questions the myth of aggression and competition being the imperative of survival and suggests the time for change is critically overdue.

Last night I had a dream.

I was flying over a landscape and as I looked down I saw a lake. I could see the shoreline with beaches and inlets. There, at every place where the slope up from the water to dry land was gentle and sandy, a huge fish as long as my body was emerging.

I wanted to look more closely at these large muscular creatures. As I dived down I saw that they were attempting to use their fins to ease their bodies out of the water onto the land. This was not an easy step, rather an exploration of risk. Their scaley forms were not adapted to the land and nor their gills to the air, yet they were endeavouring to face the danger and survive a different medium. I could sense their vulnerability and fear yet the allure of the land and its new potential was more powerful. There was an imperative to take the risk.

What will it take for humans to take the next evolutionary step? It will not be the colonisation of a far planet. Our evolution is not about switching habitats or respiratory mediums, and it is more subtle than a matter of physical risk and courage. We need to change the story of Homo sapiens, the story that tells us that our whole biology is based on fight or flight, on competition and not cooperation.

Darwin has been given some bad press about the survival of the fittest and there has been a distortion of his ideas in relation to the human species. Industrialists like Andrew Carnegie have sold us an economic meme that we have to fight each other and dominate all the other species on this planet in order to survive. The opposite is true. The more we stockpile wealth, wage war (a very expensive and profitable export business for developed nations), persecute the more vulnerable (our fellow humans and other species) with our weaponry of dominance, we impoverish ourselves, our cultures and our fundamental capacity for compassion. Darwin’s book, The Descent of Man, argued that the human species had succeeded because of traits like sharing and compassion. “Those communities,” he wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

The avarice of survival’s ugly colours have been exposed in the rich of the world’s preference to populate offshore funds in tax havens rather than contribute to the building blocks of society – welfare, education, health care, preservation of natural resources and so on – leaving this responsibility to the less affluent and the poor’s meagre pockets. This is more than a sociopathic disconnection from our own shared humanity, it is also the abnegation of our deep interconnection with all species. Our political elite and their dark practices are coming to light.

There have always been people throughout history who have turned their backs on fear-driven materialism, ideologies of war and unconscionable greed. We have recognised them as prophets, avatars and great leaders. The next evolutionary step for humanity is to debunk the myth of aggression and competition being the imperative of survival. The next step is to haul our maladapted psychologies out of the muddy waters of fear and austerity and into a lighter, more expansive realm of compassion. This is a powerful response in a brutal world. It comes from a deep understanding of our shared humanity and our place in the web of all species.

I do not think permaculture is the answer to all our ills – it has its shortcomings and blind spots – but I do see it as a framework that has the potential to gather together useful techniques, technologies and ideas, and organise them coherently. For me, every article in this issue demonstrates this intelligent coherence: The education of children away from the ubiquitous ‘screen’; a positive relationship between developed world enterprise and fair trade in the Global South; the huge capacity to lock up carbon in agroecological systems (carbon farming) and thereby create a potent approach to tackling climate change; simple, clever, small solutions and technologies; food, health and unusual crops, and ‘growing’ people too. All the people in this magazine are voices of this [r]evolutionary movement and together I hear a growing song that is being sung all over the world.

Fins out of the water everyone?

PCM88.jpgMaddy Harland is the editor of Permaculture magazine. Many readers regard her quarterly editorials as the touchstone of the magazine's inspiration and vision. She has been practising permaculture since 1992 and is a writer, speaker and Visiting Knowledge Fellow at the University of Winchester.

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