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Forest Gardens: The Theoretical Landscape

It’s fair to say that most of human life is spent on a solid surface. Of all the surfaces of human life the most fruit-bearing is land. The animal kingdom has and may forever need to eat to stay alive. However, the proliferation of industrial technique has temporarily eradicated our collective landbase. For instance, the City of Ottawa is unwilling to plant fruit bearing trees due to the inevitable liability: the food is grown on poisonous land, and eating it could be harmful to the citizens.

Bill Mollison, the grandfather of Permaculture uses the word edaphic to explain social organizations in history. He said that the acidic soil of the desert in the Middle East caused their religions by creating the conditions for significantly more female births than males. Marx never went so far as to look at the chemical compositions of the soils upon which he based his historical materialism. What sorts of people happen when the land is metallic, I wonder?

After ten days here I have situated myself in the demilitarized zone between two over-simplified camps called technology and nature. Any critical reader can quickly break those down into nonsense. Since I am concerned with time, I want to make a quick division according to the speed of  their ‘landbase’. Broadly speaking the landbase is the surface upon which the forces of production are realized. Obviously post-industrial production is more complex, and can theoretically incorporate the division I am about to make, but I am making it because I can and because it makes sense for now.

The landbase of nature is Earth, especially its soil. The landbase of technology is the microchip. I say this because electricity (binary is ON and OFF) is computed (realized) in the microchip, as well as the motherboard. The division I’m making is along the lines of speed and scope. Here’s a simple way of thinking about social change in a technological society, not be confused with Ellul’s; I’m simplifying it to just include computer technology for now.

Everything happens on the microchip Code is the law of the machine Changing either changes social forms

I’m not talking about a slight change, I’m talking about a radical shift in the immanent possibilities of the social system. There’s also an immediate shift in social forms which are entangled with signifying computer code. Here’s an example: when Facebook added the option to not only ‘Like’ but to ‘Love’ and ‘Wow’ it immediately shifted the social reality AND possibilities to come. For example, within months polling groups discovered a way to poll for the French election by encoding political candidates and ‘Like’ options. Furthermore, look at a motherboard and see the city. Compare the speeds of change, of flows. Just changing the software changes the flows of electron-people, the Delete button lands on the software and flashes Armageddon (See Michael Heim, The Virtual Reality of the Tea Ceremony). Municipalities are standing still in comparison.

I’m situated in the middle making comparisons and I have yet to choose sides. When I tried to explain to my friends what a food forest was I told them ‘It’s like building a rainforest.’ I said this because I overheard the theory that the Amazon was an ‘intelligent intervention’. Based on my assessment of permaculture after reading two of their essential textbooks, this is likely the case. Today we went into town to do laundry and my friend Shane picked up walkie-talkies he had ordered from Amazon. Ellul makes the claim, as do many others that technique is ultimately in control of its development; he believed that it was autonomous. Nature is also autonomous. When comparing Amazons it is hard to say which was under development first. As far as I can tell, the two exist, and have existed, as if independent of humanity. It was in this vein that Butler criticized our technological future, calling us ‘machine-tickling aphids.’

Although initially I had hoped that permaculture, sometimes called regenerative agriculture, would provide a scientific and social response to our machinic enslavement it is only service to a different transcendental force.

There is one machine that I wonder about that has not had its full effect. I neglect the fears and forces of artificial intelligence, since they have been immanent in technique since the wheel and pulley. However, the quantum computer hovers above me in the DMZ like a mountain waiting to fall. I have a feeling that nature makes entangled connections ‘easier’, but I haven’t given it much thought lately. Assuming it does, it would be faster than techno-logic, which is interesting and counter-intuitive. Otherwise, processes here are much slower. I also have yet to determine whether signifying forces in machines are not already entangled in the same way and at the same scale, making quantum computers just a new and improved, rather than a radical shift. However the QC is a major shift in other ways…

The first step of planning any food forest is site assessment and analysis. This site is covered in a grass commonly called twitch grass. Twitch grass is rhizomatic. I’m not sure if Deleuze and Guattari mentioned that cells in the rhizome contain the means of reproducing the rhizome and that their disintegration can be poisonous to other life-forms. Twitch grass is rhizomatic, phytotoxic, and impossible to totally remove with your hands. Needless to say everyone here is familiar with the rhizome.

Surrounding the DMZ, every event is war. To many it looks peaceful, but the ontologies are geared for conquest. Twitch grass is one of the many forces of nature designed for offense. As a gardener I am sometimes tasked with annihilation. When I was first asked to eliminate tent caterpillars from the trees with a blowtorch I wondered why. ‘If we don’t kill them, they will spread and devour our leaves, like a slow fire’. When I showed a German visitor how to do this, we joked about the connotations of genocide and war. I was the executioner of animal colonies, animals whose entire life is building these colonies. In all living forms the drive to reproduction is the drive to war. Grey goo is the problem of  population and propagation. Killing them made me feel like I had broken an oath.

‘This place is all about finding a balance between order and chaos’ – Shane

I slowly realized that the structure of this organization and the superstructure of the movement are both rhizomatic. I first saw in this place an asymmetrical bet on social collapse and revolution. Some people have remarked that the world is turning here. I am tasked with running their communications: their blog and their Instagram in the spirit of Metcalfe’s Law. I am their online information warfare. In many ways, this place is trying to strike a balance between nature and technology too.

Inside this document are the theoretical lines I’m heading down. I don’t have much time for reading outside of the texts here. I have a lot of time to think while I weed/shovel/chop/cook. I’m thinking the next post will be about human-animal relations or about sounds on the farm since we’ve been into that lately.


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