Towards a Permanent Culture: Stories Speak



The term permaculture is derived from the two words, permanent and culture. The term is itself fascinating. Whilst I have previously explained the concept as a design process, there is a deeper level to it that has engaged my thinking for a while – that is the notion of a permanent culture.

My partner and I have entertained an idea about designing a project which enables community living – a tribe as it were.  This has entailed discussion about the skill sets required, the role each member would play within the community, and the nature of decision-making processes.  A spring board for our rumination was found in former utopian socialist projects, such as that proposed by Charles Fourier in the form of a ‘phalanstère’,

Charles Fourier Archives

and Robert Owen’s social experiment at New Harmony,

Robert Owen’s New Harmony

The Kibbutz movement has also been a source of interest.

Jewish Virtual Library Article

In many ways, we want to try a similar social experiment, although I do not like the negative connotations of the term (I haven’t thought of an appropriate alternative as yet).  Of the projects that have been tried, the only to have survived are Kibbutzim.  The philosopher, Martin Buber, described the movement as ‘the experiment that did not fail’.

That is not to say that the Kibbutz movement has not experienced difficulties; it has been argued that the growth of capitalism, more cultural individualism and financial difficulties were influential in seeing a decline in the number of kibbutzim and their populations.  Others, for example, J.J. Goldberg, argue that the pressures on the kibbutz movement were politically driven.

J.J. Goldberg on Kibbutz

The following statement is particularly interesting:

“The kibbutzim that maintained classic kibbutz socialism are the ones that thrived economically over the past generation. ” (J.J. Goldberg, 2010).

Why has this movement been successful, when other attempts have failed?   I’d like to posit that the answer lies in the concept of a community culture.

Let’s say that a group of like-minded individuals acquire land and begin to develop their vision.  Each are likely to have come from an atomistic society and will bring the emotional, social and cognitive programming that they have received from the family and institutions to which they have belonged.

If each of those group members were to enter a pre-existing Kibbutz, they would quickly be exposed to its cultural norms, values and expectations.  They would be given a metaphorical map to find their way round the system, know when their actions are approved of, know when they might risk social rejection and find their role within the community.

One means for cultural transmission is the stories that are passed from one community member to another.  Stories convey messages.  Gossip says something about the norms of tolerated behaviour.  Stories about crop failures say something about practices that should be avoided in the future.  Stories speak of the dangers of entering into unknown territory.

But our prospective community, whilst full of stories of life outside their vision, has no mythos in this new community they wish to establish.  Why has communal living often failed?  Perhaps there are no voices from the past to guide them?  A community has need of elders or at least storytellers.


It would seem that there are three priorities in the shaping of a permanent culture.  The first is a very personal journey, requiring a form of reprogramming, a releasing of the mind from the past influences that mould it, particularly those that lock us into unsustainable wastefulness.  The second is the creation of an understanding of the values and the ethical principles by which the community creates a framework for responsible behaviour. The community will learn, it will evolve, but for it to become a permanent culture, it needs its storyteller(s) to connect the past with the present, and ensure the preservation of its wisdom for the future.

“Myth, says says teacher and author Martin Shaw, is not just about awakening a past that is forgotten; it’s also about describing the possibilities of the present. Values – as the core of all good stories – can lay the foundations for social transformation by simultaneously undermining beliefs and retaining some continuity, so that people are not immobilised by the changes taking place around them. When stories are deeply grounded in values, they can communicate a vision and not merely a picture of the realities we face.” (Simon Hodges, 2014)

Simon Hodges on Storytelling

Note: unlike other photographs on this site, the images in this post are not my own.  The first: 

Angela Marie Henriette

and the second:

The Storyteller by Tim Ellis


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