Thursday, February 03, 2005

Some Thoughts on Edge

For those not familiar with permaculture, edge is the boundary between two elements. Examples of edge include the boundary between land and sky, water and sky, or water and land.

Edge is where all the action takes place. Fish congregate around structures in a lake and not at some neutral middle point in a lake (if they do, it is always around a temperature boundary). Deciduous trees generally lose their leaves from the outside edges first where the wind gets at them and knocks them loose. The nutrients from your food are absorbed into your body via the stomach wall and intestinal walls – ie. an edge. Gas exchange in hemoglobin occurs via the cell wall.

However, the importance of edge is not limited to the biological world. If one looks, the same patterns are found in the social world, for better or for worse. Health insurance did not arrive in Germany in1883 via a sudden kind-hearted decision of policy-makers. It came from a movement that started as a fringe and came to define the course of that nation’s history. Similarly, when universal suffrage was guaranteed in the United States in 1965 (ie. guaranteeing voting rights for Black voters), it again was not the result of the kind acts of powerful elites. It was the result of a “fringe” that spread its ideas; and those ideas came to define the society as a whole. (The same can also be said of regressive elements in society – eg. fascism.)

With this in mind, the permaculture “fringe” can understand its role in its attempt to change the structure of our societies. This “fringe” has reached its its tipping point in Australia and is now mainstream. In the world of international development aid, permaculture (or permaculture systems operating under a different name) are now recognised as the only design systems that can yield a truly sustainable result, and, as such, are right on a tipping point in that sphere.


Scott A. Meister said...

Interesting that you mentioned the word "Tipping Point" in relation to edge...or "fringe." Most people would not make the connection. In reading Malcolm Gladwells book, I keep wondering what it's going to take to make positive, socially responsible messages sticky enough to "TIP." How are we going to make things like sustainable living, Permaculture, activism, civic duty, tolerance and compassion the norm. Who will be the "Connectors," or "Mavens," the "Salesmen?" There really needs to be some serious thought put into this...and Permaculture is a good start...but we have to fight against a PR industry who already understands these things and are fighting to take the world in a totally opposite direction. They have already researched and found their connectors, they have their "Market Mavens" Their charismatic salesmen...they have harnessed the media to manufacture the Power of Context. Are we all doomed? Or can we find a few Paul Reveres to spread the practice of responsible world citizenry?

Unknown said...


Although I am sure that we will be mulling this over tomorrow with the aid of beer, I’ll mention a few things now.

Firstly, I think you are right regarding the promotion of permaculture or any other progressive movement. Too often, PR is seen as something inherently evil, in the same way that primitivists see all technology - at least technology beyond but not including James Watt’s steam engine (I wonder how they feel about Heron’s steam engine?) – as evil at the core. Crafting a message is not evil. Lying is, withholding information is; but presenting an attractive case is not.

Secondly, and on a similar note, I think that permaculture ideas are not enough. There needs to be practical, visible examples that people can see and recognise as being a more sensible approach to human existence. I had thought that I had written on the idea of cohousing already, but I see that that is something I need to talk about. I would like to see, and plan on participating in, the creation of more broad scale approach to cohousing throughout the “developed” world.

Gothamimage said...

Small groups of determined men have always been able to move things, if they are focused- also, never underestimate charisma as a force. If Joe Kennedy did not assure that his son had a good dentist and a pleasant demeanor- we might not have landed a man on the moon in 1969.

Revere was an example.

Unknown said...

Sounds like you have read Malcolm Gladwell's book, too. :-)

On that not, permaculture has already hit the tipping point in Australia, and it happened within the last year from what I've been told.

Gothamimage said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Post remover :^D

Anonymous said...

"we have to fight against a PR industry who already understands these things and are fighting to take the world in a totally opposite direction."
Scott, I'm a corporate PR person and I think I know what you are trying to say, but it needs to be refined a bit (as a PR person, that's what I do).

The PR profession is a lot like the the legal profession. We are professional advocates who are paid to help organizations present the most persuasive argument they can.

Instead of "fighting against a PR industry", perhaps your organizations or associations would get more traction if you did what the corporations realized they needed to do a long time ago -- hire your own PR professionals and learn from them instead of demonizing them.

That's one advantage corporations have over "green" movements: corporations lack the intellectual vanity that prevents them from enlisting professionals to help where it's needed. Most large corporations have departments or roles that are entirely devoted to presenting the work prepared by the others.

Time and time again, I cringe (professionally) when I see amateur-hour presentation mistakes made by the most zealous green advocates, who lack the strategic foresight to understand how their efforts to support their cause will be counterproductive in the long run.

Unknown said...

A good point. There is justifiably a lot of anger when one becomes educated about the destruction going on out there. However, effective communication does not include screaming at people, literally or figuratively.