One-Straw Revolution

 

This book is Zen and the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance-esque, in that the first half is about this Japanese guy’s life work and discipline of running a self-sustaining farm, and the second graduates into his life philosophies (as farming has taught him) at length.

Of course, I haven’t ever read ZatAoMM, so I could be off on the comparison.

Fukuoka’s got a pretty small farm (by modern industrial farming standards), an acre for grains and veggies, and 5 or so acres for a mandarin orange orchard. People come to live on his farm to be disciples of his way of life, the farm sustains about 15 people at a time. It’s mostly self sufficient apart from a few purchased goods: soy sauce and vegetable oil, things which would be impracticle to self-produce, and I’m sure some amount of salt/spices/tools, etc are also purchased. They sell a mandarin oranges for profit.

Fukuoka was a research scientist in microbiology and agriculture before falling ill, and while in the hospital realizing that western agriculture was bullshit and that he was going to go do it differently.

He calls his practice do-nothing farming, his mentality is that letting the natural systems do their work means that the farmer can do less. He doesn’t use pesticide to kill insects eating the plants, which allows other insects higher up the food chain to stop the ones eating the plants, and other animals to eat those in turn. Avoiding pesticides allows the whole food chain to reach a happy fixed point, a dynamic equilibrium. Pesticides also have side effects of burning nutrients out of the soil over time. So letting nature run its course means that the farmer doesn’t have to spend the time applying pesticides, and the soil is allowed to grow strong as well. Win-win.

The numerical yield from his farm is the same or higher than that of comparable farms using much more labor-intensive processes.

His grain planting practice was particularly interesting, rice in the warm season and rye/barley in the cool. He doesn’t do any of the complex flooding and transplanting process usually associated with rice farming, instead scattering (he calls it ‘broadcasting’, which I quite like) rice seed in spring among the previous season’s rye and barley, harvesting the rye/barley and letting the rice grow, scattering rye seed, harvesting the rice and letting the rye/barley grow, and so on. All the while he also scatters clover seed, which forms a nice low base layer to help the soil retain moisture and help keep the seeds from being eaten by birds.

Fukuoka’s life philosophies are largely that humans have created a whole bunch of extra work for themselves (see pesticide example), which then begets more work to sustain the side effects, etc.

He says we’ve lost touch with what tastes good, with our natural ability to determine what foods are healthy and what foods our body needs at a given time. He says that really, food straight from the gardens simply prepared is truly delicious, but we’ve convinced ourselves that we need more complex preparations for food to be worthwhile.

I found the book in a list of permaculture/no-till farming authors, this certainly fits the bill. Last week I broadcasted some spinach seed in my vegetable patch in the backyard, as the most accessible version of an experiment of his technique. So we’ll see if the birds eat it or what.

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Man’s Search For Meaning

Following my 2/3rds completion of The Gulag Archipelago, I selected to read this popular and highly acclaimed book by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

The first half is a tale of Frankl’s experience in the Nazi prison camps (including and mostly centering around his time at Auschwitz). He uses this basis of experience to justify and give depth to his understanding of human psychology: people in the camps were able to find meaning when they had nothing else. This meaning allowed them to live, he even states that meaning is a primary motivator in human Being, not a secondary effect of more ‘primal’ survival needs.

He shares, in the camps cigarettes were used as a commodity; they were hard to come by–sometimes as a reward for labor from the guards–, highly valued, not smoked, and traded for a bowl of soup and so on. When you saw a man smoking his cigarettes, you could be sure he was going to die soon: the man had given up his will to live, falling towards seeking immediate pleasure and comfort, and once lost the will was impossible to recover.

Frankl repeatedly references Nietzsche’s: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

The second half of the book provides an overview of Frankl’s Logotherapy, a now-field of psychiatry focusing on a person’s ability to generate meaning for themself. Frankl explores the paradox of happiness and success. If one is explicitly seeking happiness (or success), the goal becomes harder to access. He says: Success cannot be pursued, it must ensue.

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.

Liberty devolves into boredom and chaos without the twin pillar of Responsibility. Frankl even mentions off hand that there could be a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast to complement the Statue of Liberty on the east. The lack of understanding of responsibility is a major factor in our society’s current crisis of western existentialism.

Heuristic: He urges the reader to live through each situation as if we are going through it for the second time. Imagine that the first time, you chose the absolute worst possible course of action, and then act with this knowledge in mind.

So live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!

Foucault’s Pendulum, an excerpt

(by Umberto Eco)

“This is Diotallevi,” Belbo said, introducing us.

“Oh, you’re here to look at that Templar thing. Poor man. Listen, Jacopo, I thought of a good one: Urban Planning for Gypsies.”

“Great,” Belbo said admiringly. “I have one, too: Aztec Equitation.”

“Excellent. But would that go with Potio-section or the Adyn-ata?”

“We’ll have to see,” Belbo said. He rummaged in his drawer and took out some sheets of paper. “Potio-section…” He looked at me, saw my bewilderment. “Potio-section, as everybody knows, of course, is the art of slicing soup. No, no,” he said to Diotallevi. “It’s not a department, it’s a subject, like Mechanical Avunculogratulation or Pylocatabasis. They all fall under the heading of Tetrapyloctomy.”

“What’s tetra…?” I asked.

“The art of splitting a hair four ways. This is the department of useless techniques. Mechanical Avunculogratulation, for example, is how to build machines for greeting uncles. We’re not sure, though, if Pylocatabasis belongs, since it’s the art of being saved by a hair. Somehow that doesn’t seem completely useless.”

“All right, gentlemen,” I said, “I give up. What are you two talking about?”

“Well, Diotallevi and I are planning a reform in higher education. A School of Comparative Irrelevance, where useless or impossible courses are given. The school’s aim is to turn out scholars capable of endlessly increasing the number of unnecessary subjects.

“And how many departments are there?”

“Four so far, but that may be enough for the whole syllabus. The Tetrapyloctomy department has a preparatory function; its purpose is to inculcate a sense of irrelevance. Another important department is Adynata, or Impossibilia. Like Urban Planning for Gypsies. The essence of the discipline is the comprehension of the underlying reasons for a thing’s absurdity. We have courses in Morse syntax, the history of antarctic agriculture, the history of Easter Island painting, contemporary Sumerian literature, Montessori grading, Assyrio-Babylonian philately, the technology of the wheel in pre-Columbian empires, and the phonetics of the silent film.”

“How about crowd psychology in the Sahara?”

“Wonderful,” Belbo said.

Diotallevi nodded. “You should join us. The kid’s got talent, eh, Jacopo?”

“Yes, I saw that right away. Last night he constructed some moronic arguments with great skill. But let’s continue. What did we put in the Oxymoronics department? I can’t find my notes.”

Diotallevi took a slip of paper from his pocket and regarded me with friendly condescension. “In Oxymoronics, as the name implies, what matters is selfcontradiction. That’s why I think it’s the place for Urban Planning for Gypsies.”

“No,” Belbo said. “Only if it were Nomadic Urban Planning. The Adynata concern empirical impossibilities; Oxymoronics deal with contradictions in terms.”

“Maybe. But what courses did we put under Oxymoronics? Oh, yes, here we are: Tradition in Revolution, Democratic Oligarchy, Parmenidean Dynamics, Heraclitean Statics, Spartan Sybaritics, Tautological Dialectics, Boolean Eristic.”

I couldn’t resist throwing in “How about a Grammar of Solecisms?”

“Excellent!” they both said, making a note.

“One problem,” I said.

“What?”

“If the public gets wind of this, people will show up with manuscripts.”


This passage stuck with me for both its fantastic vocabulary and its critique of the absurdity of higher education (especially the more ‘niche’ sub-subjects). 

Decided to repost it for posterity, with links out to many of the words new to me.

Full text here, this book was an incredible read and I highly recommend it to anyone.