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The One-Straw Revolution

Started by droqen, May 19, 2022, 07:30:34 AM

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Regarding the New York Review of Books' English translation of
Masanobu Fukuoka's The One-Straw Revolution

~ linked from The Art of War


Quote from: Wendell Berry (preface, xii)Mr. Fukuoka started as a laboratory scientist [and eventually moved his work from the laboratory to the farm:] "[..] I decided to give my thoughts a form, to put them into practice [..] To spend my life farming . . . this was the course upon which I settled." And he says: "Instead of offering a hundred explanations, would not practicing this philosophy be the best way?"

Masanobu Fukuoka went on to found a farm based on his theories (?) and seemingly went on to live the rest of his life following them, living on a mountain with students who would come, act as labour, and go again. He trained in the science of farms, then went to go operate a single one in a way which was, and still is, not popular, but which he believed to be best.

QuoteThis translation has been a communal effort by the student workers on the mountain.


Now actually reading the book, I see the preface has made an attempt to recontextualize parts of the translation, in a way that seems odd to me. This section is prefaced by a philosophy that "everything is meaningless and of no value." Nihilism. In that light, this quote takes on a very different character:

Quote from: p13Instead of offering a hundred explanations, would not practicing this philosophy by the best way?

The general philosophy (above) came first, and was followed by the farming practice.

Quote from: p13My method of "do-nothing" farming began with this thought.


Quote from: p15
Toward a Do-Nothing Farming

The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask "How about trying this?" or "How about trying that?" bringing in a variety of techniques on upon the other.


My way was the opposite[..] making the work easier instead of harder. "How about not doing this? How about not doing that?"

I love this. I could stop reading now because this is everything I need to know: that this was his approach and that this approach, along with enough care, turned out a result good enough that he wrote a book about it.


Quote from: p18Human beings with their tampering do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired, and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them. What the corrective actions appear to be successful, they come to view these measures as splendid accomplishments. People do this over and over again. It is as if a fool were to stomp on and break the tiles of his roof. Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution.

Ergonomic chairs, anyone?


Quote from: p21if people merely become caught up in reacting, moving to the left or to the right, depending on conditions, the result is only more activity. The non-moving point of origin [Dare I say, The Timeless Way of?] [..] is passed over, unnoticed. I believe that even "returning-to-nature" and anti-pollution activities, no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to the overdevelopment of the present age.


Quote from: p26An object seen in isolation from the whole is not the real thing.

Specialists in various fields gather together and observe a stalk of rice. The insect disease specialist sees only insect damage, the specialist in plant nutrition considers only the plant's vigor.

Quote from: p28[..] Seeing this [amazing natural drama], you understand that poets and artists will also have to join in[..] No one knows where [this phenomenon comes from], how they survive the winter, or where they go when they disappear.

And so the use of chemicals is not a problem for [scientists] alone. Philosophers, men of religion, artists and poets must also help to decide whether it is permissible to use chemicals in farming, and what the results of using even organic fertilizers might be.

Quote from: p29Anyone who will come and see these fields and accept their testimony, will feel deep misgivings over the question of whether or not humans know nature, and of whether or not nature can be known within the confines of human understanding.

The irony is that science has served only to show how small human knowledge is.

I'm not sure that's ironic at all and I don't necessarily share the viewpoint of Masanobu Fukuoka that science excludes this kind of understanding (is it not the point of science, to first acknowledge this fact? one cannot explore the truth without knowing that there is an immense, even infinite, amount to find), but I have also not participated in a great deal of science, and I have often found myself drawn away from the types of rabbithole-detailed study which seems to flourish there. But reading all this put me in a great perspective to receive the start of the next act, which begins as follows:

Quote from: p33Make your way carefully through these fields. Dragonflies and moths fly up in a flurry. Honeybees buzz from blossom to blossom. Part the leaves and you will see insects, spiders, frogs, lizards and many other small animals bustling about  in the cool shade. Moles and earthworms burrow beneath the surface.

Reading this introductory description made me want, deeply, to make a game which evokes it, which allows you to experience this, but not in literal terms... But if not, then how?

I've arrived here before at this thought: I want to make and play games which are like nature, which provokes doubt that a thing -- this thing? something? anything? -- "can be known with in the confines of human understanding." It's not necessary to solve the resolution problem. That is, I don't think it's necessary for a videogame to simulate something incomprehensibly deep and complex, as tempting as it is to try.

Haiku games are a direction to go, evoking haiku, which are often minimal evocations of nature, which in their way are minimal evocations of infinity.

I don't think it's necessary to be minimal, but the idea of minimalism provides shelter from, and a counterpoint to, the allure of the maximal simulation dream. A game may truly make the effort to allow you to experience at home on your computer the dragonflies, moths, spiders, moles, and earthworms. But, I think that mistakes the feeling of infinity for the counterfeiting of it.

How can games evoke the infinitely beautiful incomprehensibility of nature?


pingback: Natural Platformers; or, simple art is sufficient

A little more on the topic, from page 104, the last paragraph in the chapter 'What is Human Food?':

QuoteIf we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature's productive power, but by the extravagance of human desire.

This quote reminded me of the tech arms race that exists in games -- and of the feeling that one must maximize one's own innovation, prowess, and productive power. It is a helpful reminder that it's not necessary to obsess over these things.

At the end of the day, I'm not sure what, if anything, I can do about the extravagance of human desire. But it's definitely not crucial for me to spend all of my time catering to it. Simpler desires are out there, and I can cultivate them within myself as well as within my circles.

i want shorter games with worse graphics made by people who are paid more to work less and i'm not kidding.


Quote from: p154-155Unable to know the whole of nature, people can do no better than to construct an incomplete model of it and then delude themselves into thinking that they have created something natural. [...] There is no other way than through the destruction of the ego [...] words [...] could never match the wisdom of remaining silent.

Look at me, 50 pages later! Lately I've been encountering this feeling a lot, that "destruction of ego" and of, as it is put in the translation, an abandonment of "discriminating" knowledge is necessary in order to really get anything done at all. And yet here I am trying to put my thoughts to words, self-aware that the very thoughts I wish to put to words revolve around how the very act is futile. Words cannot convey thoughts; thoughts and words merely inspire one another. Back and forth.

Quote from: p. xxix (Notes on the Translation)It is a common teaching device among Oriental philosophers to use paradox, illogic, and apparent contradiction to help break habitual patterns of thought. Such passages are not to be taken either literally or figuratively, but rather as exercises to open the consciousness to perception beyond the reach of the intellect.


QuoteThe world used to be simple*. You merely noticed in passing that you got wet by brushing against the drops of dew while meandering through the meadow. But from the time people undertook to explain this one drop of dew scientifically, they trapped themselves in the endless hell of the intellect.

* In general I hate appeals to the past as a pure place untouched by overthinking.

That aside, I love this paragraph (as well as the couple which precede it). Some of the phrases in here are evocative and I'd like to remember this idea through their lens: "the endless hell of the intellect", as opposed to the entirely unspecified non-hell of merely noticing in passing that you got wet by brushing against the dewdrops.


At times, this book has a broad philosophical push against looking at things in extreme scientific detail, which I can't really get behind. Explaining a drop of dew scientifically has benefits! But, but, the end of this chapter has a quote that provides what I think is an appropriate lens.

Quote from: p168I have demonstrated in my fields that natural farming produces harvests comparable to those of modern scientific agriculture. If the results of a non-active agriculture are comparable to those of science, at a fraction of the investment in labor and resources, then where is the benefit of scientific technology?

In context of my understanding of the general tenor of the book, the way this paragraph ends in "then where is the benefit of scientific technology?" suggests that we might extrapolate Masanobu Fukuoka's conclusions to all of science. As I've said, I don't think I'm about that... scientific exploration and understanding is, can be, fascinating and joyful. (I ought to talk to some actual scientists, though.)

But if the results of a non-active solution are comparable to those of the cutting-edge solution at a fraction of the investment in labour, resources, and effort, then the solution should not yet be applied. I haven't seen the numbers, myself, but I have been experiencing something similar at messhof. I had assumed that the design was underworked, not elaborate enough, and it was only upon asking "How about not doing this?" that I really gave myself the space to arrive at an achievable solution.

Parkinson's law is the adage, "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."

It is a human flaw.


Quote from: p170[..] people would look into a starry night sky and feel awe at the vastness of the universe. Now questions of time and space are left entirely to the consideration of scientists.


Quote from: p171You might be wondering why I have this habit of picking on the scientists all the time. It's because the role of the scientist in society is analogous to the role of discrimination in your own minds.


I've finished the book. Thank you for the recommendation, Zeigfreid :)


Quote from: p21I believe that even "returning-to-nature" and anti-pollution activities, no matter how commendable, are not moving toward a genuine solution if they are carried out solely in reaction to the overdevelopment of the present age.

One last quote. See The Timeless Way of Building's idea that there is... one timeless way, or my idea that there exists truth that is worth approaching. Without believing that there is a genuine and singular truth we can approach (even if we never arrive at it), all progress is doomed to run round and round in circles forever.

Quote from: p21[..] if people merely become caught up in reacting, moving to the left or to the right, depending on conditions, the result is only more activity. The non-moving point of origin, which lies outside the realm of relativity, is passed over, unnoticed.


Nature does not change, although the way of viewing nature invariably changes from age to age. No matter the age, natural farming exists forever as the wellspring of agriculture.

The truth does not change, although the way of viewing the truth invariably changes from age to age.

The timeless way does not change, although the way of viewing the timeless way invariably changes from age to age.