The nature of community: Restorative justice and permaculture
Apr 20, 2012
Humans are inextricably connected to the earth. We inhabit, breathe, drink, and eat this strange blue globe that is our only home. The oldest religious traditions recognized this scientific claim by weaving stories, almost myths-as-memory, which describe humans as creatures crafted from the dirt: adam and adama, human and humus, culture and cultivate. Indeed, the plurality of human cultures grows from natural biodiversity. And we are social animals, dependent for better and worse on lives beyond ourselves.
Restorative justice agrees by stating that society is interconnected, which reframes crime as the cause and effect of damaged relationships and disconnection from a sense of belonging. If this is true, then the proper response to crime, to the violation of people and interpersonal relationships, is the obligation to make things as right as possible, which includes the rehabilitation of the offender.
But rehabilitation to what? If crime is personal and societal, which are interconnected, then simply rehabilitating offenders to this broken locus, especially after the alienating and shaming force of prison, can perpetuate the cycle of violence, evident in recidivism and incarceration rates. The legal system also alienates victims by emphasizing crime as an offense to the state. If restorative justice is right, then situating crime in the nexus of social relatedness demands the restoration of society itself, which should include the realization that we are also embedded in nonhuman life.
This realization is necessary for right relationships and healthy culture. And so is the need for belonging and for participation in meaningful and imaginative work. By work I do not mean any grueling task done in exchange for payment which distracts us from more productive pursuits. I mean work, at least good work, as the union of the body and mind in creative and responsible engagement with the world. I am therefore arguing for the union of unalienated work, nature, community, healing, and place. This union could inform preventative and responsive approaches of restorative justice and trauma healing.
Permaculture can help provide the radical praxis necessary to embody this union. Rooted in ecological science, systems theory, and native cultures of place, permaculture stems from three interrelated ethical maxims: “Care for the earth (husband soil, forests, and water)”; “Care for people (look after self, kin, and community)”; and “Fair share (set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus).” Furthermore, the word permaculture means permanent and sustainable agriculture and culture through reconstituted communities that imitate the structures and functions of local ecosystems that exhibit resilience, stability, and longevity.