Seeking the Proper Threshold

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by Karina Lutz

Today, our cooperative homestead installed composting toilets, replacing both of the flush toilets in the house. It is such a relief to no longer have to poop into clean water! I’m feeling as relieved as I did the day I befriended the red wiggler worms in my worm bin—the day I felt happy in my body that my table scraps fed my worms that fed my garden that nourished me. That moment, I felt the loop close, the circle touch itself. A subtle and unconscious anxiety about wasting food every time I scraped food into the compost bin—poof!—evaporated that moment. The compost toilets feel like another way to reconnect a primal loop, to come back to life, to know and live our deep interconnection in Earth.

So out with the toilet plunger! To go forth in the Great Turning, we choose what is the grain, the sustenance of life, and what of our culture is chaff, which ought to be left behind, or put into guardianship. The act of choosing appropriate technology is a process we could call the Great Threshing.

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Yurt – Photographer unknown

Think of the technologies that have survived the collapses of civilizations and genocide, such as the tipi or the yurt. How exquisite, simple, portable, circular are those original not-too-big homes. (If you’ve never slept in a circle, you may not know how much it reveals about how we live now, how our little boxes stuff our energy and consciousness in corners, where it stagnates and haunts.) Yes, thank you Lakota, for keeping the tipi alive! Think of the elegance of the canoe, the utility of the snowshoe, the consciousness-shifting power of the sweat lodge. So glad these technologies survive, nay persist and thrive! So much more was lost—the buffalo herds, hundreds of languages replete with the wisdom of egalitarian tribal living, the herbal lore, the library of Alexandria, everything of Atlantis, who knows what else.

As we engage the Great Threshing, we let much pass through the doorway while retaining the seeds that will regenerate our world. On the literal level, even Monsanto and Bill Gates, with their investment in the giant seed bank in Svalbard, Norway, understand the importance of the genetic diversity of seeds. On the small, local, resilient scale, a great reskilling of seed saving is in process worldwide. It is part of the local food movement’s reclamation of heritage breeds, heirloom crops, and locally adapted native food plants and their genetic resilience. That’s the way it goes, in the Great Turning!

But back to the metaphor: in this great trash picking through our throw-away culture, what part of the culture do we not want to throw away? What do we reject as unhealthy, unsustainable, having no place in the robust ecological health we are turning towards?

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Canoe – Photographer unknown

Some of the answers are simple: permaculture food forests and polycultures are designed to support and integrate and enhance ecosystems. Low-impact distributed renewable energy is a no-brainer. Closing resource loops. Energy efficiency.

In fact, as profligate with energy as the industrial growth economy has been in the run-up to peak oil, it has also driven some mind-boggling efficiency gains. That is because while the industrial growth economy must grow at exponentially increasing speeds, it does so by three methods:

  • extracting as much from labor as it can get away with,
  • extracting as many resources from earth it can grab, and
  • increasing systemic and technical efficiency by applying ingenious engineering or design.

Whoa! that last one might actually be worth harvesting! In fact, mechanical efficiency has been increasing since the industrial revolution. Even human services are harnessing systems thinking to increase efficiency and serve more with less. If we imagine a post-Great Turning world with the amount of free time as hunter gatherers have, or had before being displaced from their land bases, here’s where we  get it.

Some may remember this promise from President Kennedy: the great increases in worker productivity of the 20th century would buy us all more free time. That promise was reneged on, according to Conrad in Workers of the World Relax! in the US, and not so much in Europe, where consumption increased less dramatically and work hours decreased. But in the US, the Jevons Paradox ruled—the resources freed up by efficiency were sucked up by other types of consumption as our world-infamous hyperconsumptive lifestyle escalated, prodded by the Mad Men’s brilliance, who were and are payrolled by the—you guessed it—industrial growth economy.

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Threshing – Photographer unknown

Surely our culture’s fetish of innovation is one of the diseases that has brought us to this brink. However, such creativity trained in service of the Great Threshing and Great Turning may be sweet medicine. Add to that a recovery of the incredible creativity that has been sucked out of our artists so they could make a living advertising, and the paradigm shift could spread like the hottest new product. And if we select only those efficiencies and inventions that serve life, we might have a chance.

If we abandon the growth economy now, at or near peak everything, and begin as graceful an exit as possible, we can take the incredible efficiencies developed in the industrial age—the productivity, the engineering knowledge, the ability to squeeze more out of less—and use them to design and redesign ways of living without injuring each other and the planet.

As we select the artifacts and processes born of the industrial growth economy we’d like to see continued into a life-sustaining society, we do it accepting that it won’t look anything like the one we live in now. Taking on this task, it might be smart to guess what are we turning toward. We’ll have to ask ourselves and each other, over and over again, like the Occupiers in city after city did as they reeducated themselves and integrated new protestors daily. We have only begun to imagine what justice would look like, what sustainability might be.

That imagining, that collective imagination of what life will look like after the Great Turning is essential, if not determinant or prophetic. It informs how we thresh out which gifts of human history we should harvest at this moment of peak everything.

Going forth, I hope to ask more deeply as we build out our permaculture homestead: What is the threshold, the sieve, the criteria for choosing and protecting what to save? How do we discern which of the old systems are life-sustaining, will support the Great Turning? I hope to continue this nourishing questioning, and answering, testing, and questioning again, with all of you, my beloved Work That Reconnects Network!

karinaKarina Lutz is a writer, editor, college and yoga teacher. A lifelong activist, she helped secure passage of sustainable energy legislation, thwart a proposed megaport, and restore wetlands in her home watershed of Narragansett Bay, RI. Her poems have been published by Tulane Review, Blueline, Written River, The Wayfarer, Poecology, Buddhist Poetry Review, The Transnational, Twisted Vine, and PDXX Collective. She has performed her epic peace poem, “Encircling Earth”, at dozens of venues in New England. With her partner, Jim Tull, she facilitates Work That Reconnects and other workshops. They are currently launching an intentional eco-community, Listening Tree Cooperative: www.listeningtree.coop.

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