The permaculture chapter: principle 8 – integrate rather than segregate

See HERE for the provisional contents page of the study,

which gives you a proper chronology of sections.

Note: the content below is all in first draft format. It will change considerably during the time it takes for the study to be completed (especially by way of more academic support, generally). I post now ‘for interest’s sake’.

  1. Integrate rather than segregate

At this stage of the chapter, various practices have already been described, practices that simply but proactively integrate aspects of daily life into the home and/or community – growing food, catching and storing water, planting plants and trees that provide food and fuels for various uses, using the sun’s energy to heat water and to cook food (when conditions allow) – all of which the researcher practises and has commented on already in this chapter. The crucial importance of this process of integrating such ‘logistic’ elements of living into immediate ‘living areas’ is commented on by Mollison (1988: 6-7):

One certain result of using our skills to integrate food supply and settlement, to catch water from our roof areas, and to place nearby a zone of fuel forest which receives wastes and supplies energy, will be to free most of the area of the globe for the rehabilitation of natural systems. These need never be looked upon on as ‘of use to people’, except in the very broad sense of global health.

This consequence of integration, namely the rehabilitation of natural systems, is of critical importance considering the ecological issues explored in Chapter 1. Of course, the direct causes of ecological problems were identified in Chapter 2, and it is safe to say that the industries causing the problems are ones that generally are segregated from the areas wherein the vast majority of people actually live and work, i.e. cities – agriculture is a case in point, because it occurs on massive tracts of land usually very far away from cities. By integrating agriculture into settlements, as pointed out by Mollison, land that is currently used for Promethean agriculture can be rehabilitated, solving various issues explored in Chapter 1, issues such as deforestation, loss of topsoil, loss of biodiversity, etc.

Integration in permaculture is intimately bound with cooperation: for example, an integrated system is one where rainwater is caught and stored, used to water plants and trees that provide food and fuels, and heated with the sun’s energy to provide warm water for washing purposes… and then the grey water gets returned into the system rather than directed into a sewer system that literally segregates grey water – again, the researcher has implemented these systems in his own life. In this example, by being integrated, the listed phenomena can be said to exist in a cooperative state. Cooperation features heavily in permaculture: Mollison (1988: 2) explicitly states early on in the Designer’s Manual that life “is cooperative rather than competitive, and life forms of very different qualities may interact beneficially with one another and with their physical environment. Even ‘the bacteria… live by collaboration, accommodation, exchange, and barter’”. This means that the permaculturalist can experiment with the integration of various non-living system components, as already illustrated, or with different living system components, for example with ‘companion planting’, which has been commented on already in this chapter. But cooperation – as an extension of integration – is not only a systems-design approach in in permaculture, but is also elevated to a position of central importance, as can be seen in the following from Mollison:

Although initially we can see how helping our family and friends assists us in our own survival, we may evolve the mature ethic that sees all humankind as family, and all life as allied associations. Thus, we expand people care to species care, for all life has common origins. All are ‘our family’. (1988: 3)


Cooperation, not competition, is the very basis of existing life systems and of future survival. (1988: 3)

These sentiments from Mollison are surely ones that epitomize the Orphic attitude. Community in this sense is not something that only occurs when people help each other, but when they help create conditions that are conducive to the flourishing of all life. The Orphic attitude is again evident in the following comments, where Mollison’s opposition to the Promethean attitude is brought to the forefront:

The wage-slave, peasant, landlord, and industrialist alike are deprived of the leisure and the life spirit that is possible in a cooperative society which applies its knowledge. Both warders and prisoners are equally captive in the society in which we live. (1988: 1)


A basic question that can be asked in two ways is: ‘What can I get from this land, or person?’ or ‘What does this person, or land, have to give if I cooperate with them?’ Of these two approaches, the former leads to war and waste, the latter to peace and plenty. (1988: 3)

Permaculture therefore is partly a philosophy and practice of integration and cooperation, a shift in focus from the competition and segregation characteristic of ACID to how “parts interact, how they work together with each other, how dissonance or harmony in life systems or society is achieved.” (Mollison 1988: 1-2). In permaculture design, “we see time, space, and functions all used in a complex and non-competitive way, and glimpse something of the potential for designers to enrich human societies providing that no individual or group claims a right to sole use at all times for an area” (Mollison 1988: 26). The importance of this proviso cannot be overstated – Promethean ‘man’ has for centuries claimed the right to ‘sole use at all times’ for various areas, and the ecological crisis is partly the result.

The Permaculture Association[1] begins its commentary on the principle of ‘integrate rather than segregate’ by pointing out that one

of the most important insights from ecology is that the relationships between things are as important as the things themselves. A healthy vibrant ecosystem is a mass of connections and relationships. That’s what we are trying to create with a permaculture system.

The Association provides some very useful ‘integrated design approaches’ to take into account that ensure for a resilient system. First, each “important function is supported by many elements” – an example of an important function is food, so it is beneficial to have many elements of the system producing food rather than just one aspect of the system producing food. An example here would be to have food being produced by numerous crops (plants and trees, even edible weeds) that are harvested at different times and that are not all susceptible to the same disease, as well as having chickens for eggs and meat. Second, each “element provides many functions’; an example is the chicken, which is one element of a homestead but it serves several functions such as providing eggs, meat, feathers, and manure, and more chickens by way of reproducing themselves; chickens can also be guided through the home garden to peck away any pests. Third and finally, “[r]elative location”, which is very similar to ‘zoning’ as described in the previous subsection, an example being the positioning herbs right next to the kitchen due to the high frequency of herb use for meals.

Integration and cooperation (versus segregation and competition) arose as themes in Chapter 5 where the focus was on various Orphic ideas. Specific ‘older cultures’ were “most often cooperators, not dominators” and that “the anthropological record shows that not one culture believed itself to be separate from and superior to nature”; they saw that it “is our destiny to cooperate with the rest of creation” (Hartmann 1998: 154). In the discussion of Hawken’s Blessed Unrest a strong sense of integration and cooperation between diverse members of the ‘unnamed movement’ was noticeable due to their common motivation to respond to the injustices that accompany dominant Promethean activities; indeed, Hawken goes so far as to liken the ‘unnamed movement’ to a planetary immune system (something that is by definition integrated and cooperative) that has arisen in response to specific problematic human actions, practices, industries, etc. Eisenstein (.pdf pg. 132) was encountered stating that part of his vision for a ‘sacred economy’ involves “decentralized, self-organizing, emergent, peer-to-peer, ecologically integrated expressions of political will” (emphasis added). Finally, it was seen that Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance, if taken seriously, could encourage one towards the realisation that people are an integrated part of their species, and that the actions of one member of the species has implications for the species as a whole; of course, according to the integrated and cooperative Orphic views, one species cannot exist in isolation from all the other species on the planet, and Sheldrake’s theory can again be used to encourage the shift in thinking away from scientific reductionism.

[1] accessed 23 February 2016

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