The Paradox of the Radical and the Conservative

This is a section from the section on the principle "Use Small and Slow Solutions" from David Holmgrens 'Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability'.


The Paradox of the Radical and the Conservative

As energy availability peaks, it is slowing the rate of change in many factors. The change of direction from growth to contraction, from materialistic to more spiritual values, is so fundamental that it will turn the world on its head. Our experience of this shift is likely to be one of incomprehensible and chaotic change — that is, an acceleration of what we are experiencing now! Think of being in a speedboat as it accelerates; it lifts and bounces on the waves. After a while, we get used to the speed and the exhilaration, but making a tight 180-degree turn intensifies the thrill, even if we slow down in the process of the turn.
This presents a structural paradox about the change from material growth to contraction, which is inherent in permaculture, and more broadly, in the counterculture and radical movements.
Radical and revolutionary ideas suggest the need for change from some stable norm, a break with tradition and the established ways. However, when the norm is itself one of continuous and radical change and the new idea relates to durability, permanence, persistence and sustainability, we have a contradiction in terms and ways of being. The conservative is the radical, and the radical advocates a new conservatism. This paradox underlies much of the confusion of current environmental and political debates. The term ‘conservationist’ epitomises this paradox.

Fundamentalism and Reactionary Values

As well as the radical critics of the status quo of accelerating change, there are also reactionary critics who want to return to what they see as traditional values. Within the spiritual domain, the religious fundamentalists who preach precise adherence to specific versions of the ‘word of God’ are gaining influence worldwide in response to the impacts of modernity. Although the critiques of the mainstream by the radical and the reactionary have much in common, the reactionary seeks to rebuild the past, piece by piece, while the radical aspires to utopian possibilities that must be constructed or evolved. For those in the current mainstream, the radical and reactionary critiques are indistinguishable; they are unable to imagine anything other than the present instant and a constantly reconstructed history, which gives the present its illusion of lineage and permanence.