Blockchain regen, permaculture and White Supremacism

The planetary regeneration community is coming up against some hard edges.

Recently I was tagged into a Twitter conversation as a "regen nerd". Though a label that brings with it some discomfort, it's also easy to appreciate how it could be applied to me. Certainly I'm present in communities of practise which heavily intersect with such themes.

In the same thread a bunch of accusations against Regen Ledger surfaced, reminding me of similar accusations I made against the SEEDS Network over a year ago. I suppose I've made myself known as somebody with an interest in the topic of decolonisation / uncolonising because folks in that conversation are starting to ask me for my input.

So I'm writing this here, once, because Twitter is a terrible medium for reasoned dialogue and because I actually don't owe anybody my emotional labour to help them sort their shit out.

Still, I owe that debt far more than any Black person who has been harmed by these organisations. Mostly because I, too, have been called out on White Supremacism— in my case by a fellow White collaborator.

The fact is, she was right to do so. My reaction in that instance was only marginally better than the reactions of Regen Ledger & SEEDS leadership. We were lucky to have been wise enough to instil a guiding principle of 'experimenting on ourselves first', because it meant that we only really traumatised ourselves in the process.

Let's be clear by what is meant by White Supremacy in these cases. Being accused of White Supremacy doesn't mean you're a bad person, or that people think you're going to don white robes and start burning coloured folks on a cross. It just means that you were born into a system of oppression that you are both victim to and complicit in perpetuating.

To quote a close friend of mine- "I was born into a White body, you know? Some shit is going to show up."

Westerners have this idea that we should be good people, that we should somehow innately know how to treat marginalised folks well and avoid harm. But why would we know how to treat a Black or trans person appropriately, if we've never had a real relationship with one before? Such skills need to be learned like any others. You don't get to magically have access to generative behaviours, language and information without investing time into learning about them, or without investing energy into building relationships with 'others' that allow them to lead and center their experiences.

You have to learn how to not be a White Supremacist just the same as learning anything else.

White Supremacy operates in subtle, nuanced ways. When you look into how people of colour diagnose the condition, you'll find a bunch of symptoms which don't appear to have much to do with those extreme pictures of hatred and racial oppression at all. They are things like "unclear power", "siloing", "sense of urgency" and "fear of open conflict". They're cultural preconditions which allow the status quo to flourish, and for non-White voices to be silenced in the process.

It's not something to freak out about. It's ok. It's just a reminder that you have stuff to work on.

These altercations typically unfold in predictable patterns. First the White person will express shock and sadness that the harm has occurred. Then they will assert that they are trying their best. Both of these behaviours center the voice of the oppressor (yes, in this case it's you- the White person) and move to expect consideration and sympathy from the oppressed (non-White) person. In the process, the marginalised voice is pushed back out of the limelight and White feelings become the most important matter to be addressed. The original concerns are ignored and nothing changes, because no responsibility has been taken.

Generally the next steps are for the White person to claim that the person affected is causing harm by being upset (having now been ignored, they're probably triggered and irate) and silence them in some way so that the complaint can be ignored and the appearance of harmony restored. Other well-meaning Whites will then jump in and attempt to diffuse things, which if you look a little deeper is also an attempt to silence the outrage and restore a calm normalcy to the dominant (White) culture.

The incidents I mention above played out in exactly these ways.

All you can really do in such situations is apologise. Sometimes, if it's not too far gone, you can ask how you might start making amends. There are plenty of articles on this. Try to remember that the critique is actually a gift that enables you to do better- not an attack. If you meet it from a place of trying to make the conflict stop, rather than a place of trying to understand the harm, you're fucked.

Remember— "fear of open conflict" is a big precondition for the existence of White Supremacy in organisational culture. Also remember that harmony is an entitlement of the privileged, and that sometimes conflict needs to occur in order to engender real change.

It is also completely inappropriate to then ask the person affected to step in and do some emotional labour to fix the problem. That's expecting them to work for free on bettering your organisation so that you don't have to; in which case you will be exploiting them further, you won't learn anything, and things will remain as they were. It is doubly inappropriate if this involves setting up a process in which you hold all the power, such as a group call to discuss the matter. You actually need to relinquish control and ask them how they'd like to proceed, if at all. Sometimes they might not want to, and you'll just have to accept being left with an unresolved situation which you do not understand.

It's not meant to be easy.

Being at the intersection of blockchain/DLT and permaculture means that these groups have more cultural baggage to overcome than most. There is a rising surge of Indigenous critiques speaking out against "blockchain imperialism", as well as increasing commentary lumping permaculture in with White Supremacism, conspiracy theories and anti-vaxxer movements. David Holmgren, one of permaculture's two founders, recently caused controversy by marching alongside such people in a "freedom march" in Melbourne.

It remains to be seen whether these organisations will become accountable to their ignorance and face the complexity of their positions in society. SEEDS, to my knowledge, has made no effort to address any concerns of colonisation underpinning its model. It is in my view still a platform in which contributors including people of colour are offered speculative tokens in exchange for doing administration work for the organisation's leadership; and a body of work which whitewashes the true nature of colonisation with new-age feel-good language. I would go so far as to say that the value of a SEEDS token is directly proportional to the inflated White egos of its creators. The whole model is flawed.

I am aware that there are some very well-intentioned people in SEEDS who do great anti-racist decolonial work, some of whom I consider close friends. I hope this critique will enable those people to be empowered to do more there. If you're a SEEDS contributor who feels moved to respond, then your challenge is to do so without resorting to meaningless hippie rhetoric about "creating a regenerative renaissance". Such empty words are just one of the ways in which beatnik culture bullies and silences voices of dissent with a doctrine of "nice vibes only".

As to Regen Ledger/Network, much of the abuse encountered by Black folks in their community spaces would appear to come from external accounts and a failure to adequately govern and moderate discussion in those spaces. But this doesn't indicate that external bad actors are the problem - quite the opposite. The hard truth, which is very eloquently explored in Tom Nixon's book on Peter Koenig's 'source principles', is that responsibility for everything occurring under the Regen banner ultimately falls to its founders. It is their governance failure to address, and one which exists as a result of their privilege.

They need to hire one or more non-White people who are passionate 'sources' for creating inclusive communities and pay them top dollar if they are going to rectify these problems and turn encouraging platitudes into anything real and genuine.

White folks cannot do that job. It has to come from the margins. It has to permeate the entire community in a real and embodied way.

And the organisation I founded? We folded it. It was always meant to be a temporary vessel and in my judgement our lofty aspirations failed to adequately address 'technological supremacism', since I was its main contributor, and as a technologist it is the kind of harm most likely to be invisible to me.

Maybe it will be resurrected someday if that becomes important or the brand becomes useful for another purpose, but I think it is far more likely that the frame of a consulting shop doing technical work for other organisations is inherently flawed. Instead it seems like there is much more potential for "regeneration" in folks like me being absorbed into Indigenous-lead organisations so that we are beholden to the ethics of impossibly-long-standing ancestral wisdom rather than trying to muddle through creating ethical blueprints ourselves.

Whatever happens in these organisations, the burden of proving their commitment to racial justice and real change has always rested squarely and rightly on their shoulders.