An open letter to Greg Cassel, members of the Collaborative Technology Alliance and neighbouring communities.
When I first met Toad Dell- a brilliant non-binary communitarian activist and permaculture practitioner who co-founded PermaQueer Australia and now serves on the board of Permaculture Australia, they had just participated in a Social Permaculture education course. In response to my request for review and reflection upon the material, their response was a single word: 'static'. The descriptor caught me by surprise. Static? What does that even mean?
Let me preface this piece by saying how profoundly grateful I am for that single word, and how much faith I have in our futures that it came so readily to Toad.
I did eventually understand what they'd meant by it. The 'frog in boiling water' that was my life at the time of our meeting was already uncomfortably aware, even if it didn't have the words to fully rationalise it yet. But I am older. Slower. Dumber. Less of my life is a practise of truly embodied expression and acceptance; because those privileges of understanding and social awareness are pretty recent (if continually challenged) advents in the history of the West when you think about it. So I needed to hurt more for the unlearning to sink in.
I am quite certain now that basically all of the epistemological, philosophical, ideological, ethical, moral and spiritual structures of Permaculture and of Social Permaculture - Permaculture's too-late attempt at fixing "people care" - are just static models which unconsciously encode self-righteousness and defensiveness in their attempts at objective logics and realities.
The knowledge-keeper is implicitly seen as 'wise' and 'benevolent' and can even trend some way towards 'omniscient' as the complexity and buy-in of their static worldview grows.
Moreover, these models fail because they are based on metaphors that bridge to the static scientific models of Permaculture, Western rationalism and reductionism writ large; and they erase Indigenous knowledge, epistemologies, cultural differences and place-based knowledge which are sadly and ironically essential to any of Permaculture and Regen's loftier goals actually succeeding in the world.
So contextualised, these worldviews are attempts at 'objective' logics and Kant-ian utilitarianist realities that can be applied as quote unquote "best practices that can do you in any situation" (exact wording from a problematic practitioner I refer to as 'the Permaculture fascist').
And they oppress the shit out of everyone they govern.
Is any of this resonating yet?
If not, we need to talk about Greg Cassel.
This morning I was made aware that Greg had resigned from Neighbourhoods - a project and organisation which I helped to form - on the grounds that I was distressing him by not responding to his messages and requests for dispute resolution.
His primary concern in the matter was stated as worry that BIPOC community members would discover my tweets about him and distrust the organisation for having warring team members. I certainly haven't seen anybody else in Neighbourhoods worrying about it, including me. So of course my judgement is that this is only thinly-veiled concern for his own reputation. Besides, BIPOC folks should be distrustful of Neighbourhoods as with any tech organisation. We've a strong foundation of diverse core stakeholders but by no means are we perfect or beyond causing harm.
The friend responsible for bringing him into the organisation apologised to me and said that she had told him that his discomfort, outrage and feelings of persecution in having "lost faith in Neighbourhoods management" because they would not enforce a mediation process were making his downfall a self-fulfilling prophecy. I told her that she was not responsible for his White male fragility, and I think that interaction was settling for us both.
I have moved on so far from Greg & my Twitter altercation last year that I've actually been tagging him in messages in the Neighbourhoods Discord server lately, and good-naturedly including him in conversation. Siddharth and I did once talk about my discomfort with his presence as a community manager with administrative rights and full view of all my perceptually-'private' conversations, but I let that go long ago. Sid and I figured the two of us may need to interact more at some future date due to our shared roles in the project (Greg as a community manager & writer; me as a 'technical consultant' because a free-electron is the safest place for me to be in any organisational spaces which have investors to answer to). And we figured that, if deemed necessary, that would be the time at which Neighbourhoods would need to step in and offer some mediated process towards resolution.
But we never got that far.
To Greg — and I know you'll be reading at some point — I have had way way bigger, more significant and more important things to worry about in a multitude of dimensions in my life these last few weeks than your discomfort and sense of innocence. Life and death things. Life plan things. Mental health things. Collapse and rebuilding.
I have not had emotional capacity or interest in engaging with you. Because even seeing that little red
1 overlaid on your face staring out at me from the Discord side-panel is enough to put a bolt of adrenaline through my body. That you make zero space for my own timeline of anger, destabilisation, sadness, regret, reflection and reintegration and do not even consider that I may be suffering as a result of your bullshit just as you are from mine, is the problem. That you feel so entitled to reach out to me and center your emotional needs, and that you retreat and lash out when I do not immediately drop what I'm doing and make space for your discomfort in my life (and to my distress), is entirely the problem.
These actions show that you are totally ignorant of concepts such as 'trauma informed' and their deeper meaning. Your behaviour is unsafe for others and completely self-centered.
Please understand, you and all the other Regen bros and people with privilege in all contexts everywhere (me too). Your comfort is the problem. Your feelings are not important. I don't relish the thought of talking to you about your male fragility nor about the toxicity you still need to understand and compost within yourself. I haven't relished writing this piece and publishing it; it's just something that I felt like I needed to move my body through in order to release the tension and distress.
Catharsis. I write this to heal from your actions. I'm not sorry.
Because I know you'll be out there stomping your feet and shaking your fists about this and the stories I've heard of your behaviour on your exit from Neighbourhoods were frankly quite shocking and appalling to me. I have not "refused your requests for dispute resolution". I have ignored your one direct message, as if the intensity of your reaction could in any way be less justifiable than it being a result of me not responding to literally a single communication attempt on a single communication vector.
I didn't respond because I did not have the emotional space or capacity to engage with what was probabilistically in my assessment of your past behaviour some self-involved request for me to hold space for your feelings and absolve you of your own guilt about your ignorant racist and sexist actions. I haven't even read it yet. I probably will before I hit 'publish' on this; but I want my first response to be an authentic off-the-cuff reflection rather than defensiveness or attack.
To return to Toad and the 'static' worldviews of the Western world.
About a week prior to these events I took the time to read Greg's short paper on "Inclusive Governance" which he recently posted in the Collaborative Technology Alliance group on Hylo. It was introduced with characteristic self-importance: "I think this might be the most important thing I've written". I suppose we were supposed to respond with similar enthusiasm.
I thought about critiquing it at the time, but as with replying to his Discord message it was not of high importance or significance to me compared to the other work I do (inter-)personally, professionally and spiritually.
I also just didn't think it was worth "bringing the bad vibes" as the Sparkleponies who are intrinsic to perpetuating the dysfunction of beatnik comforts into Web3, ReFi and DWeb would say. (An aside really which begs further unpacking but while I'm here I may as well spread that meme and air an archetype for labelling this toxicity. 'Diagnosing Sparkleponies' coming soon.)
The Sparklepoines, the Beatniks, the Hippies- they are the crux of our problem in these spaces because their "nice vibes only" suppresses discomfort and distress. They silence conflict, assert male friendship bonds as silently governing forces and entrench the status quo of the Patriarchy. They are the crux of the problem because they've thrown their full selves into naive utopian ideals, found hills to die on in Permaculture and Regen and Soil Remediation and Reforestation and the feel-good vibes of Fantastic Fungi. Noble pursuits that get them laid. Noble pursuits that allow them to continue burying their Coloniser perceived entitlements and compensatory desires in whitewashed neo-spirituality and self-righteousness.
I'm not saying Greg is a 'sleazy shaman' by any means, just to be clear, but this digression has a point.
These entitlements - innocence, virtue, stability, leadership and so on - people like Greg and myself then bring back down upon us in the form of ontologies - "systems of meaning". More static worldviews.
But these worldviews are more static than any before them. Worldviews reified into language. Language imbued with cultural assumptions and norms and differing methodologies for analysing and solving or addressing or mitigating design constraints. Language encoded in computer systems. Hidden language. Incomprehensible geek language. Language encoded in blockchains. The language of a new ruling class. Language still arranged in monolithic mental structures and Kant's utilitarian 'one size fits most' oppressive assumptions.
So much this! #ontologists and #ethicists are often especially toxic. To be both at once is double trouble. (Defensively) tell me again how your static system of meaning and foregone ideas about good and evil can translate onto every community you encounter #SystemsChange https://t.co/vmvhzn2gFg
— pospi (@pospigos) October 5, 2022
(Philosophical aside: seriously, why do we care about Kant? Dude never left his own parochial little village his entire life. Zero perspective. No duh we get oppressive bullshit if this is our blueprint. More Deleuze in these spaces, please.)
A worrying number of people in ReFi and surrounding spheres of influence seem to believe that 'harmony' is a measure of a smoothly and inclusively functioning community. Many in the alt-economy space are even trying to quantify it and create dashboards driven by it. But what they fail to realise is that harmony is an entitlement of privilege. Those with marginalised identities never really feel a day of true harmony in all of their lives. If you're on the fringes of an oppressive system, then the imposition of 'harmony' is actually just the same imposition as 'compliance'.
Be good, shut up, don't rock the boat. There is a name for this. It's called "respectability politics" and it's incredibly damaging to anybody who does not fit into the dominant culture.
So don't choose harmony. In this context harmony is just another word for oppression by the majority.
Blockchain and ReFi will destroy cultural diversity worldwide if we allow them to. Are we "opening the doors for climate leaders to access the much-needed climate financing" or are we "bringing developing world resources into the calculus of computational capitalism"? Are we just turning First Nations and non-Western cultural practises into more Capitalism?
Or are all these so-called revolutions actually just one and the same project of Colonialism?
Don't worry, I kept a copy of 'Inclusive Governance' so even in the event that Greg deletes it I will respond and critique parts of it as some kind of aggregated collection of static and problematic worldviews in Sparklepony Settler bullshit epistemologies; but rest assured my timeline on that is way down near the bottom of the schedule.
Again- I have more important shit to do than hold space for White male comforts.
Greg, I imagine this may be devastating to read and I am sorry for the harm I've caused you in the past; but… we don't need more White men with saviour complexes like Bill Mollison and David Holmgren (who is particularly problematic). I have no desire to further traumatize you more than I already have. And I am very aware that my reaction to your Twitter DMs and public posts mid last year was triggered by the emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual abuse that I have suffered at the hands of world-renowned Permaculture educators and ethicists. It was just your entitlement to my emotional labour and self-importance in demanding my respect that triggered the reaction- small enough crimes. But endemic in the circles in which you operate and triggering for me.
Still, that does not make it okay to call you a "White Supremacist idiot" in a public space and I am genuinely regretful about that act. But I feel no regret or remorse about it on a personal level in our relationship. From my perspective, you kinda needed to hear it. The debt I owe is to all non-White bodies, for derailing conversations about racially motivated violence with my own narcissism and sensitivities. In this sense, we are really not so different.
I realise that the state you are in now and your retreat into victimhood and narcissism is in some significant part the product of that altercation. I have had somebody attempt to incite a race war against me on Twitter too. It's a tough one and anybody with positive intentions deserves some fucking compassion if they're going through it. But the integrity of your 'positive intentions' directly correlates to your willingness to accept fault, be accountable and do better.
I am here to tell you that you can make peace with all of this, but no peace will come for you unless you are willing to introspect and reflect on your behaviour and your entitlement to take up my space and that of others; and deny them their own timelines of rage, despair, trauma, disconnect, healing, and integration.
A succinct rational takeaway which I learned from our earlier altercation is that if you inhabit this world in a White-passing body; your embodied experience makes you incapable of assessing whether racism has occurred.
And so, similarly- if your embodied experience makes you incapable of judging whether a Black woman has experienced racism or not; so also does my embodied experience make me incapable of judging whether somebody is a White Supremacist or not. Fascism I may be able to discern, to the degree that nonbinary trans-ness allows within dimensions of gender, but I will and can never be any competent judge of White Supremacy or of where racist harm has occurred.
I think that's significant to say in this piece because when I spoke of it to an Aboriginal friend, she kind of looked surprised and said, "ah, that's Whitefulla business, never considered that".
My plea to those inhabiting 'regenerative' spaces is that if you find White folks playing with inflammatory terms you call them out on it, and do it harshly. I hope this piece can be helpful along with others as a place to point them at. I'm not sorry for mixing discussion of the systemic with the interpersonal, either. Real conversations on these topics demand the gritty and messy reality of the full human experience.
So Greg, I'm sorry that it's come to this but you did this to yourself. Really. You did. And as the Australian idiom goes (and what you should probably well know about me by reputation)— I ain't here to fuck spiders, mate.
Chill the fuck out. Jesus Christ you cis het White guys are all so fucking fragile and indignant. Grow some fucking balls and dare to look at yourself in the mirror. Dance around the house and shake your fists and scream into the sky or a pillow as circumstance allows. Punch some walls and break a knuckle. Smoke some weed. Do whatever you need to do to relax and recover from this (and I don't mean to condescend to you, I'm just listing some of what I might do in such a situation).
Please don't descend into some incel spiral of outrage and othering. The master within you is bigger and better than that and the commoning movement does not need more Michel Bawens moments.
(Apologies to Michel, whom I do still consider a friend although I'm sure we may have some struggles if I were to meet him today as a trans person.)
I am unsurprised but saddened that you are so bad at accountability. It's not your fault. It's the fault of your cultural baggage, your inheritance, the dysfunction of your ancestors and ideological influences. Alan Savory's unaccountability and especially Bill Mollison & David Holmgren's unaccountability but Ernst Gotsch and all the modern White male assholes appropriating Indigenous wisdom for their own egos and saviour complexes and sense of innocence and personal gain too.
Toad and I differ on our conclusions in this. When I discussed this article with them prior to publishing, they pointed out that the White Colonial tools of siloing, reductionism and homogenisation are precisely the lenses I am applying to Permaculture in this examination of it. They reminded me that there are factions, that Permaculture is messy, that there are "particularly elevated people and schools of thought that are absolutely static" but that "there are also spaces that move against it". The movement is a living, complex system. There are plenty of Indigenous and queer folks and other vulnerable communities within Permaculture who are actually innovating and pushing the edges forward.
But they have not been abused, gaslit, scapegoated and demonised by the Permaculture movement's leaders in the way that I have.
So I say: burn it all down. Trying to fix Permaculture is lipstick on a pig. Whether you take the portmanteau to mean "permanent agriculture" or "permanent culture", the poison is in the 'permanent'. That staticness is built in. Do better.
A conversation I once had with Max Lindegger bears airing:
[me]\: I've started some conversations in other networks I'm a part of, but I am quite curious to ask you as someone with a presence in the movement since the very early days whether there are any formal accountability systems for permaculture at large. My research so far leads me to conclude that the answer is "not really".
[Max]\: !!!Not only "not really" but "Not at all" - Bill had little time for anything smelling of "authority". He was famous for making his own rules.
[me]\: Tough analysis. Would you be comfortable being quoted on it?
[Max]\: !!No problem - he was seen as a bit of a larrikin and being against authority was seen as a plus in the early days of Permaculture.
Not sure what the status is these days.
The status is that accountability is fundamental, and that the White 'alternative movement' entirely omits it for its own self-interested reasons.
I want to be super, super, crystal fucking clear to anybody reading this: I don't want to talk about Greg Cassel with you any further. I don't want mediation. I don't want reconnection. I don't want to fix our relationship with you. Anybody I want to talk with about Greg has already been called in to support me. I don't feel at all as though I'm holding on to feelings of wrongdoing or need for amends in this situation. If Greg needs to make amends, well I'm open to that someday but the boundary is that he needs to compost his narcissism and entitlement before engaging with me in any capacity.
My body is completely relaxed about these events other than needing to grind this note out and plant it in the irrevocably and harshly accountable space of a permanently etched ledger of our peers. I will keep Greg's future self accountable to his past and present dysfunction with whatever force is necessary, and I would perform the same act of love for anybody including my own goddamn mother. It's a hard lesson (and I am aware of that firsthand) but it can be one of life's most transformative experiences if you allow it to be. You choose your own experience, Greg. I am unattached to your choices in these matters.
I am not interested in controversy or gossip about these events. My intention in writing here is to clear the issue so that we can all move on and start discussing the real systemic issues and cultural patterns that undercut such specific interpersonal behaviours. My request to those reading is not to reduce the conversation to an argument between two White folks.
If you want to talk about these issues, then I implore you to remain in integrity and lead with a discussion of structural racism, conservative heteronormative values, systemic violence, the appropriation of Indigenous knowledge and the complete and total absence of accountability in Permaculture, 'Regen' and 'ReFi' spheres of influence.
Greg and my conflict is not the issue here.
It is by my assessment actually a fourth order conflict first sparked by Regen Foundation's appallingly inappropriate and toxic treatment of non-White participants who challenge its static dominant culture.
I will say it 'in Australian', because I am one and I'm leaning into it: enough fucking talking about White cunts and their reputational capital and their sensitivities and these charades of bravado and immature identity politics. Take the spotlight off us assholes and put the spotlight back on racism in ReFi where it fucking belongs.
Pluto retrograde, huh?
Take a breath.
Drink a coffee, or two, or three... walk around, go outside. Answer the phone now and then. Play with your bones. You get the idea. Generally speaking, stay alive.
Ah, ah, ah, ahhhh
stayin' alive, stayin' alive
ah, ah, ahhhh
(With apologies- that reference was for a friend ;P)
It's been a big day for me and now it has for you too, so I'll end this piece with a 'random invitation'. Like many of the concepts and memetic weaponry I've dropped into this post, it's spellcasting worth doing in this moment.
If you're gonna do something, do it right.
I don't know how it found its way to me and it has origins unknown (perhaps to inoculate its original author against narcissism) but it probably came to me through my friends in one of the interlinked "Uncolonising Support Groups" us White and White-passing folks are forming. In any case, the language of Decolonial Futures is evident in its composition.
I hope that it haunts you the reader as much as it has me.
random invitation to decenter and disarm
random invitation to declutter your existence
random invitation to shed your arrogance and poop your vanity
random invitation to see yourself as cute and pathetic
random invitation to center the land and enable it to dream through you
random invitation to develop stamina to deal with “shit”
random invitation to trust what is guiding the process without shedding responsibility
random invitation to face complicity in harm with integrity and without defensiveness
random invitation to embrace the whole of humanity (the good, the bad, the ugly and the broken) within yourself