Everything is Connected: Make it Sing

parts-and-whole-we-are-connectedI’ve used this diagram often when talking about land use. But it is so much more than that. The connections between and among things, patches, processes, dollars, functions of soil, stock, trees, wetlands, water and thought – many not quantifiable, even definable in any consistent way because they shift, and sometimes die, and sometimes create something new – like life or consciousness – out of something that wasn’t a part of any part.  It’s why I like murmurations of starlings as an allegory on life – shapes come into being … and then dissolve into nothing but air.  You cannot understand it all by reductionism.  You have to see things as both whole and parts – Arthur Koestler’s holons.

I’ve used it to try to show a land defined by Sophie Windsor Murmurationfunctions and processes contingent on time and place, changing with the breeze and the season (verbs of relationships) far more than objects (nouns of measured things).  Land isn’t a ‘unit’ of anything we can visualise as a ‘resource’ – not in any meaningful way.  That is as blunt and brutal as looking at an individual and measuring ‘it’ in terms of how much soap you can make out of the body. There is so much more, and that is where morality and wisdom lies – outside the machine.

This is my stream of consciousness in the cold where nesting birds fight against the sound of traffic and men at work with mowers.


In land, patches and functions connect and make the whole sing. If you think within a confined space – perhaps a spreadsheet with a few quantitative variables and absolutely no nuance – you can destroy the very things that make the song.  Not can.  You probably will.

Overuse fertiliser and your carbon goes, so your infiltration and water holding goes, so you are more drought prone, and downstream has more floods, and you add to the very risk of climatic drought and flood …. because everything is connected …..

….. and you overstock the capacity of the soil to cope, and damage other functions, and you lose more nutrients and soil through overland flow, and the loss of soil reduces the land sponge further, and you increase overland flow even more, so you lose more soil, and more sponge, and the positive feedbacks go into an overdrive of degradation, and the stream is polluted from the things that are good on the land and need to be replaced with more money, which makes you poorer and increases your risks …. because everything is connected …..

…. and what flows off that land doesn’t just degrade the land, and your pocket and reduce your resilience, it also pollutes the stock water which reduces their productivity and increases health costs, so you are poorer still, but we continue to think in the mechanical world of rigid certainties reducible to parts when the kicker – the keystone – the thing that makes the place sing – is not in your spreadsheet, because who puts in their spreadsheet infiltration rates and water holding capacities, and the health of the pasture diet and soil, nutrient and organic matter loss, and soil biological health, or the feeling of contentment an animal gets when it can chew cud in the shade – let alone water quality or the flood to the village downstream ….  because everything is connected, even if your spreadsheet implicitly presumes it isn’t …

… and because you have lost these things, you have to rebuild them, but all the cries are to intensify and increase ‘efficiencies’ of the scale of one thing, and trees and wetlands are “a waste of good land,” because grass is god and everything else is an ‘ineffective’ area, and so you run faster to catch up and drain the swamps and take the trees off the steeper slopes and narrow gullies to make more ‘effective’ your machine that isn’t, and so you lose more soil, and beneficial biodiversity goes, and where are the bees, and why are the stock dying and lack the gloss from browse, shelter and shade, and there are less productivity (input:output) efficiencies, and you lose more money trying to keep the land from going back to the land cover it wants to be because these areas will always be low production and higher cost in pasture but beautiful and contributing in wood or wet, but we are not taught to look for the synergies of diversity or – heaven forbid – the horrible unquantifiable things like a happy land, but you don’t see that because the technocratic advisor thinks all efficiency is about increasing the scale of one thing, reducing diversity, simplifying not adding, rather than building a biophysical systems that sings, and creates new things you never even knew about like a harvest of flowers wild and adventitious, or the call of a tui and the beat of a kereru’s wing … because everything is connected …

…and you reduce the diversity of the pasture, take out the legume and replace it with another input made from oil, which creates a dependency, and addiction, for a finite thing that increases our climatic risks even more, and degrades our happy land even more, and all the deep rooting drought-resistant ‘weeds’ that used to be the stock medicines our grandfathers took for granted are gone, replaced by the “high production” shallow rooting new swanky patented grasses (or GM) that don’t grow roots of any length making the drought worse while there’s water at depth to roots that are no longer there to find it … because everything is connected ….

…. but you don’t even think about the drought resilient capacities of land and woody plants to reduce evapotranspiration and soaking-in soils and wetlands in the swales to capture runoff and all the goodies, and clean the stream and keep it flowing because the technocrats say drought is about rainfall not land health and exposure to hot dry winds because of a lack of shelter, and we can’t do anything about the rain can we . . and the stock are less healthy, and for each new condition you don’t think of the connections of climate and water and diet and being a happy animal – you just add to the vet’s bill… and ask the advisor for a new technofix – but don’t think about the future consequences to that fix, that thought-drug of dependence, unforeseen and unwritten on the ever-so-certain prescription on the packet that came with the bill – from the technocrat who studied in a silo of maximised and measured things and a belief that a machine can heal a soul …. because everything is connected ….

…….. and your place no longer has the pheasants and the pleasant places, and the joy starts to go, and then the hope, and you produce commodities without a market position so the price keeps coming down and the kids don’t want to own the farm, and you have to have a bigger farm (factory) to survive because the only thing you know is single function production system where building scale and sameness rather than diversities and patterns is seen as the only way because that is how we are ‘educated’ – and so you get into debt to buy the neighbour’s farm, or sell to the neighbour or corporate from Auckland….. because everything is connected …

….. and you spiral down and hope for the next technofix because it’s not about the way we see, it’s about bad luck and ‘this is what we do’ because you are not taught to look at *any*thing as a broader interconnected system – you’re taught to see the farm as a mechanical world of hydroponic inputs, and it’s simply a matter of getting hold of more fertiliser and more irrigation and more GE this and patented that, and you grind the system down and lose more market position, and so the prices come down again, because no one wants to eat the food they consider unsafe and dubious, and you lose more money, and the cultivar that does so well in Templeton on their silt loams and irrigation doesn’t seem quite so well suited where cattle actually graze it rather than shears harvest it, and on this hot dry exposed place ….. because everything is connected …

.Comes the Upshot Kids in the river.jpg


… but we could look at land differently.  And a human and the employee – not a soap resource – in the same way – connected to whanau and community and place and what they eat and how they hope and dream and play, and what ideas they have that create new ideas and things emerge out of the system that sings, and we get more diversity and more connection and more opportunity and morale and enterprise in a positive, virtuous cycle …. because everything is connected ….

…. and you can look at a region in exactly the same way – that the hopes and fearlessness of people leads to greater cultural expression and enterprise, and if you don’t treat people like cogs, and a ‘town’ as a traffic grid with car parks, and a river as an irrigation ditch and a drain, but start with people and place; streets as places to sit and meet and walk and play; rivers as ours to be joyous in ……..

……. then things happen – and you can’t predict what it will be because life is not predictable any more than you can predict your own child’s future … because everything is connected, and you won’t know the connections all, ever …

…. but you do instinctively know to nurture and to build the outlook and capabilities of our children, and learnings, and an outlook of hope, and a few rough lessons, and the ethos of care toward others and protection from and censuring of the bullies who think it is all about them and their power, because you are family, and connected – and that your nurture gives the best chance of a good life for them, because you care, where the predictability of it all doesn’t matter because that is part of the joy of life …. because everything is connected …


… and so why is it we don’t treat the raising of our communities and local economies in the same way we raise a child?  Why do we think the way ahead is to see like a technocrat with a spreadsheet and a machine for a brain who would not know esprit de corps without someone giving a number to it. Why do we think it’s about attracting big outside business with our low wages and subsidies and free ‘resources’ to give away, and the right to take and pollute.  It can only be because we see like a machine and cannot hear the song; we cannot imagine there can be a song.

We cannot see that a better environment attracts and saves costs and raises our produce to where we demand a fair price, and the high value leads to long value chains and local ownership which constantly innovates and constantly differentiates, and fosters ideas and more creativity, and more ….

… because we are free to create and recreate … and everything is connected.

Chris Perley


24th September 2016

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One Response to Everything is Connected: Make it Sing

  1. cjkperley says:

    Reblogged this on Chris Perley's Blog and commented:

    If we could only see the landscapes and our cities and towns as multifunctional systems rather than machines of single function silos, we could achieve so much. Low impact design. Soft systems. Rebuild landscape function. Agroecological.

    But we were taught that the land is a factory producing units, and *single production unit* and *economy of scale* is how you think in a factory, while *synergy* and *multiple* function is how you think in a system.

    Changing that dominant mindset goes deep into policy, tertiary education, research. But that is our challenge, and yes, there is huge potential.


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