Posts tagged “resilience

Monoculture taken literally

When looking at the dominant societies of this planet, a resemblance between all of them is evident to anyone who looks at them from a perspective that is not enclosed within them. The mode of operation of all these modern societies is very similar: they all show social stratification (as so eloquently analyzed by citigroup experts), hierarchy, a strong desire in growth and expansion, they embrace similar cultural values and ideals but also follow similar systems of belief in the means of achieving a better future and in the vision of what the future should be like. For this reason, most of the societies of the planet can be regarded as subcultures of one dominant culture – a culture that is based on building (large) cities, industrialization, importation/depletion/”development” of resources, large scale agriculture, exploiting/managing the environment (which is regarded as seperate from humans), perpetual growth, hierarchy and some other defining features. Local differences are mostly expressed only in ways these features are expressed – a monarchy has a king as leader and influencial noblemen as the ruling class, a dictatorship has a dictator as leader and influencial brothers in ideology as ruling class, a representative democracy connected with a capitalist economy has a more complex web of influential people, politicians and coporations as the leaders and ruling class (This is sometimes referenced by critical political thinkers as “modern plutocracy”)

In present times, the similarities between subcultures are strenghtened and this is usually seen as a good thing. Globalization, “free” trade, multinational corporations and the propagation of certain ideals are encompassing the globe. Chinese middle class people are trying to live in houses that look like they have been teleported from the USA, Japanese try to realize hollywood dream worlds and fake ideals in their lives, coffeeshop- and fast food chains are present in almost every country of the world. The subcultures bond together to truely form one dominant culture. Under the imagination of reaching equality, in fact uniformism is embraced, individualism is destroyed, cultural diversity is literally replaced by a monoculture.

In many natural systems, parts of the systems represent the system themselves. This is most evident in fractals, but can also be seen in trees (trunks, branches, leaf filaments, cell structures) and other forms in nature. Social monoculture is reflected for example in the way it produces its food (there are many more examples though) by industrial agriculture most often depending on monocrops. Such agricultural monocultures are the main source of food for the social monoculture of this planet(Only ~100 plant species provide 90% of the plant derived food supply). Crops of maize, grain, rice or soybeans are grown in areas that cover acres upon acres – all the same, all identical and in that way similar to what people in the society feel is happening to them, who feel they all should behave uniformly – get an education, get a job, make money, get rich, live long, stay safe,…

However in agriculture, it is well known that such monocrops are sensitive systems, prone to collapse and destruction, especially if compared to biodiverse ecosystems which are resistant and resilient to a variety of impacts (e.g. Biodiversity improves grassland resistance, Implications of changes in biodiversity and the sixth mass extinction. It is also well known, that such agricultural monocrop systems deplete local resources in the soil and deplete the soil itself by soil erosion. Some practices follow from that, mainly that depleted resources have to be replaced by importing them from outside areas in form of fertilizers derived from minerals in other places (phosphorous) or from energy (nitrogen). Monocultures have to be defended against collapse by runaway ill effects like “pests” by spraying them with pesticides. This practice keeps away the unwanted threats that could otherwise wipe out whole landscapes of monocrops, but it also affects the plants that are grown there, as they also take up the poisons. Monocultures have to be defended against growth of other elements that are not productive and not of the same species as the dominant and desired plants. “Weeds” are fought off with herbicides, that kill them or inhibit their growth, as if they would go unchecked, they would reclaim the monocropped territory with an ecosystem of plants that do not serve the same purpose anymore as the original plantation (human consumption). In eliminating “pests” and “weeds”, symbiotic relationships are broken, the network connecting the individuals is broken. The resulting system would be very prone to collapse but is kept alive by hazardous, poisenous and invasive means, that harm both, the “foes” (pests and weeds) and the “friends” (the monocrop plants and the ones who eat them). That harm is taken as a “neccesary evil” and accepted as the “price one has to pay” for increased productivity and efficiency.

In case it is not evident by now: These properties of agricultural monoculture reflect back into the processes of the dominant culture. Most evidently, the depletion of local resources and subsequent need and dependence on importation of mineral (metals) and energy (oil,gas) resources is a key feature of civilized countries. Furthermore, such a culture desires uniformity of the people living in them, reduces “misfits” and rising subcultures or alternative ways that deviate from this ideal by opression and propaganda (in analogy to weeds/herbicides). And finally it has to defend itself against threats that could bring the whole system collapsing down like alternative cultures, individuals that challenge the system, competing countries or inherent weaknesses in the system. The means to do this is to create instruments like eliminating native cultures, fighting wars, proclaiming partiot acts, write spying laws, provide economic bailouts, etc.
The instruments of opression and defense, represented by government agencies, regulations – and institutions like police, homeland security and military, do their job in keeping the monoculture alive, but they also harm the individuals that believe to profit from them as the citizens are loosing freedoms, individualism, basic rights and instead live in fear, perceived (and existing) opression, rigid social and economic structures and under constant threat (of loosing job, home, freedom, life). No wonder, depression rates and other civilization diseases are soaring high as the monoculture spreads and take away a big chunk of the medical advances that culture is so proud of.

In ecology, the solution is to form nature reserves and sustainable agricultural approaches. Nature reserves serve as a place of retreat for species that are eliminated from monocrops and as possible seeds for a future repopulation of “spent” arable lands. Sustainable agriculture tries to eliminate the need for artificial means to keep up monocrops by growing food within a more biodiverse system like permacultural approaches. Such systems are less prone to invasion by “pests”, have their own defense systems and can cope more easily with changes like global warming. In culture this translates into smallscale communities and preservation of cultural diversity. Just as in ecology, a higher diversity in cultural values and processes provides a more stable basis against changes that could otherwise be disruptive to a monoculture (climate change, peak oil, depletion of minerals, economic instability, industrial agriculture) if the conventional “protective systems” fail. If a pesticide stops working, whole regions of monocrops fall victim to destruction, if regulatory mechanisms of social monocultures fail, the same can be true for societies and cultures.

As society is created as a part of nature, by human animals, and thus is a natural system following the same rules of ecology, the conclusion is evident – social monoculture and uniformity has to be replaced by cultural diversity and society has to become independent of harmful control mechanisms. They have to be replaced by self regulating, smallscale mechanisms that foster connection and local stability like the interwoven root system connected by symbiotic funghi in a natural ecosystem which protects against erosion and provides mutual increase of resources.

Just as we are struck by the realization that agricultural monocultures are not sustainable and not healthy for anyone, we have to realize that social monoculture is just as harmful. Both need unsustainable means to be kept alive, both harm the ones that are claimed to profit from them, devastate those who admittedly do not profit from them and both are prone to collapse. Both look very productive at the first glance and for both one statement is always made: “we cant live without it anymore” – which is a sad excuse to resist thinking about change towards a more sane way to do things. (There are already claims that it is simply untrue for organic compared to industial agriculture)

The task is then to form reserves and to replace small areas of monoculture by diversity to provide a viable alternative and a seed for possible future reclamation of the deserts that result from monoculture – and this goes for agricultural as well as social monoculture. In time, these areas become a places of retreat for individuals resisting uniformity and possibly a place to create ways to expand these areas until the uniformity of monoculture can be replaced thoroughly.

Many people are saying that this culture is very diverse. That by assimilating all these other subcultures and mixing them, a global “salad bowl” will form, preserving the traits of these cultures. Others are afraid it will be more of a global “melting pot”, with all the traits melting together as one. From this post, you can see that I tend to the second opinion at least in the long run. However, I recognize, that diversity is not easily eliminated, individuality is expressed and new subcultures do arise. People are just made to create such groups. They will call themselves gothics, bikers, punks,… – in a way these are new subcultures, but at least for many of them, the fundamental assumptions and basic ways of living are completely identical with the dominant culture. For those who question this, I would say that they are starting to be new cultures, reserves and patches of diversity within the whole system. And just as with their equivalent in ecology, they contantly have to fend off attacks. Keep it up – diversity is the future!