We've been working on this for over a year now, but since it started off more on the hunter-gatherer / rewilding end of the spectrum, I've been holding off tossing it into the permaculture world. After hearing about the paleoishness of Paul, Jack Spirko, and Mark Shepard, sharing it over here seemed like a good idea. I've listened to all of Paul's podcasts about his community, and almost all of the others. I also found Assaf's topic with a similar goal a good attempt at thinking through something like this.
Please look at this post as "thinking out loud" with the hope of generating helpful feedback.
*I'm using "hunter-gatherer" (or HG) to somewhat imprecisely stand in for "immediate-return" (economic term, as opposed to "delayed-return") and/or "non-sedentary" (commonly referred to less precisely as "nomadic", as opposed to sedentary) hunter-gatherers. Anthropologists often classify along these lines 1, but technically, all hunter-gatherers do not fall under the categories of immediate-return and/or non-sedentary.
*I'm using "paleo" here to loosely refer to a diet informed by paleoanthropology, evolutionary hypotheses, and "optimal foraging theory". Roughly, this implies a human diet based on eating minimally processed (basically only cutting and cooking) animals, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. It also implies a diet low in processed foods, dairy, and seeds/grains. The term is a bit of a moving target that means different things to different people; I'm just using it as a placeholder for a framework for thinking about diet, and not something officially sanctioned by any book or blogger.
*Please forgive the inevitable generalizations; nuance and variety have been heinously sacrificed for the sake of conversation, and that can be frustrating.
"I've designed for people who have gone completely self-sufficient... they're producing all their food, raised three young boys, and they called me up one day and said, "we feel a bit guilty"... we're only doing 10 hours of work a week... What they did was they set up their own designer hunter-gatherer system that was convenient to harvest... it was like a fast-food hunter-gatherer organic system." - geoff lawton
- A hunter-gatherer lifeway represents a peak in the psychological flourishing (happiness, well-being, etc.) of individuals. [3, 5]
- Hunter-gatherers represent a peak in human physical health [7, 8, 9]
-- basis for antifragility: genus Homo lived as hunter-gatherers for at least 2,000,000 years, starting in the paleolithic, and some persisting until today. [4, 6]
- Egalitarian social relationships (anarchy) represents a peak in human social interaction [4, 6]
-- basis for antifragility: genus Homo actively fostered egalitarian and anarchist social relationships for at least 2,000,000 years, starting in the paleolithic, and some persisting until today. [3, 4, 6]
- Agriculture and its unintended consequences (slavery, the state, patriarchy, hierarchy, feudalism, control culture, false theistic religions, disease, malnutrition) destroy all of the above [5, 6, 7, 8, 9]
-- a. Flourishing
-- b. Health
-- c. Social Relationships
- Agriculture is inherently destructive, as every farm--by definition--displaces a wild ecosystem.
- Permaculture can restore human flourishing, health, and social relationships by acting as a bridge over the chasm of agriculture to the restoration of land and lifeways for human and non-human animals.
Thomas Hobbes was talking out of his ass when he said non-civilized peoples lived "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" lives, yet his shoddy work serves as effective propaganda to support the status quo.
Hunter-gatherer societies tend to share the following characteristics 
1. Small, Nomadic, Ever-Changing Camps
There is frequent movement of individuals in and out while a camp remains at one site, and the camps themselves may move every few weeks. When it comes time for a camp to move, the members may either move together or they may move separately, and they may either establish a new site or they may move to a camp already established by others. There are no special criteria for acceptance in an existing camp. When members from one camp arrive at an established camp, they are allowed to share equally in the camp’s resources while they live there. In immediate-return societies, it is very easy for individuals to leave and join different camps. This so-called ﬁssion and fusion is simply a part of their life. Because the composition of camps changes so frequently, each camp is deﬁned primarily in terms of its present membership. There may be some stability in the composition of a camp (e.g., a family may move with the wife’s mother), but nothing formally holds the members together except each individual’s involvement in the current round of activity.
2. Intentional Avoidance of Formal Long-Term Binding Commitments
...the failure to respect formal, binding social contracts is evaluated negatively in most societies. In immediate-return societies, however, this is not the case. By avoiding such commitments, individuals also avoid the claims, debts, and future orientation that they ﬁnd extremely undesirable. With a binding contract, the ﬁrst party holds power over the second party until the latter delivers on his or her end of the deal. In immediate-return societies, individuals are not allowed to assert dominion over one another. So, by avoiding formal long-term, binding commitments, they reduce the possibility of social domination...
3. Relational Autonomy
...individuals develop a unique view of the relation between self and other. It is a view that differs from that in both individualist and collectivist societies. Like those in individualist societies, members of immediate-return societies put a premium on autonomy. Their autonomy, however, does not contrast the individual with the society as it does in individualist cultures. Rather, immediate-return autonomy grows out of repeated, mutually trusting social interactions. Each individual acts with the other person in mind, and can assume that the other person will do the same.
...direct person-to-person sharing is the main source of economic distribution. Although individuals are allowed to possess some personal items (e.g., clothing, tools, weapons, small quantities of food), there is great pressure for individuals to part with any objects for which they have no immediate need (e.g., large animals obtained from a hunt). This high degree of sharing, however, does not mean that individuals in immediate-return societies are inherently more compassionate than other individuals. Their sharing is a by-product of their social arrangements.
5. Highly and Intentionally Egalitarian
Because of the high degree of non-contingent sharing, differences in resources rarely occur in immediate-return societies. When differences in resources do occur (rarely), active steps are taken to eliminate them. For example, some individuals are routinely better hunters than others. This means that a large proportion of the meat in any given camp is brought in by a small proportion of the men (Lee, 1979). These successful hunters, however, are not allowed to translate their superior hunting skills into domination over others. The group accomplishes this through a variety of leveling mechanisms.
6. Reverse Dominance Hierarchy
...members of immediate-return societies tend to believe that one individual should not dominate another, attempts on the part of one individual to become dominant are perceived by the group as a common problem. This leads the group to exert pressure on the would-be dominator to bring him or her back in line.
7. Distributed Decision Making
I asked [members of a Hadza camp] about their plans, I was hardly ever given an answer that turned out to be correct. Little by little it became clear that the reason was that there was no procedure for reaching joint decisions about camp moves and statements made were no more than guesses. The Hadza are not in the habit of committing themselves to plans. Camps are very unstable units with constant movement of people in and out. Movement of a whole camp depends on a series of ad hoc individual decisions not on the decision of a leader or on consensus reached in discussion.
8. Cultural Flexibility
...there can be no single, correct version of events or values. After all, if the values of one person are considered correct, then a different set of values held by another person must be incorrect. This dichotomy implies inequality, which is actively avoided in immediate-return societies. The concrete result is that individuals in immediate-return societies have few verbalized rules of behavior, their rituals are highly variable (and may even be dispensed with altogether), and the individuals have no single, clear idea of a moral order...
9. Benign View of Nature
Individuals view the relationship between humans and nature in much the same way that they view relationships between humans. Both involve the sharing of resources and affection.
...individuals usually obtain a relatively immediate yield for their labor and use this yield with minimal delay. They know within a few hours, for example, if their hunt has been successful. If it has been, they can return to the camp to eat, and if it has not, they have time to search for an alternative food source. This relatively immediate feedback allows members of immediate-return societies to maintain an extreme focus on the present.
Our hypothesis is that intentional communities offer experiences ranging from sub-optimal to horrible due to a failure to integrate what anthropology tells us about stable and thriving human communities measured on an evolutionary time scale.
We are skeptical of attempts to map agricultural social systems (hierarchy, feudalism, etc.) to permaculture-based communities without suffering the same negative unintended consequences agriculture has proven to foment for several millenia. Most permaculturists recognize that agriculture is a failure in terms of permaculture's First Ethic. We suggest that agriculture inherently fails on the Second Ethic because of a specific set of impulses: the causal relationship between land enclosure, domestication of the plant and animal kingdoms, and an cultural veneer--however thick--of human control. We extend this to predict that combining permaculture earth principles with agricultural people principles will lead to embedded tension between the First and Second ethics of permaculture.
We are skeptical of attempts to form egalitarian intentional communities that embed agricultural systems of (1) intensive domestication of plants and animals, (2) a mindset of control (e.g., constant management after design implementation), (3) contractual and financial commitments, and (4) sedentism (e.g., homestead or fortress mentality), into their subsistence systems. We think the inaccurate conflation of "egalitarianism" with "sameness" leads to excessive development of cultural norms.
A major limitation to permaculture and intentional communities is access to land. The standard (intentional community, not permaculture so much) mindset of purchasing the largest amount of land possible, and imposing a design on it, is the least efficient use of financial resources.
While permaculture can certainly "do grain agriculture" better than agriculture, it is inherently difficult to design ourselves out of the time sinks of harvesting and processing grains. Grain tends to violate optimal foraging theory.
[Our] Positive Directives
Establish a network of at least 3 smaller properties that members can freely move between. Rather than design more inward, we hope to increase the nodes of the community and expand outward. This is an attempt to model the non-sedentary component of hunter-gatherer peoples.
Place the highest value on Zone 5, closely followed by Zone 4, and shrinking the internal cultural values placed on Zones 3, 2, 1, and 0. This is an attempt to value hunting, fishing, and foraging over the domestication of plants and animals.
Purchase land the minimum amount of land with the maximum access to wild and/or public land. This maximizes the efficiency of invested funds, and improves ability to stack the hunter-gatherer functions of the commons.
Decivilize ourselves from the technological and economic values of our culture of birth.
Devalue work. Hunter-gatherers actively limit work to the needs of the present, and actively maximize rest and play. [2, 10, 11]
Lower barriers to entry and exit from the group while raising commitment of the members. We may have stumbled on an interesting way of achieving with this (for a future post).
Obsessively limit annual plantings, with the exception of initial and opportunistic boosts to soil quality.
Mollison and Lawton (and probably others) have specifically mentioned the influence of hunter-gatherer peoples on their thinking. Since permaculture's inception, anthropology has significantly increased its knowledge of the hunter-gatherer ancestry we all share. We would like to highlight the increased compatibility of these developments with permaculture, and invite others to use this as a basis and filter for our designs and in practice of the Three Ethics.
**It's probable that nothing in this post is novel. It is likely that others have already thought of all of these things. We would love being pointed to others working on and thinking of similar things.
- "Egalitarian Societies", James Woodburn Ph.D., at LSE [PDF]
- "Immediate-Return Societies: What Can They Tell Us About the Self and Social Relationships in Our Society?", Leonard L. Martin, Ph.D., Steven Shirk, Ph.D., at UGA [PDF]
- "Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence", Peter Gray, Ph.D., at Boston College [PDF]
- "Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior", Christopher Boehm, Ph.D., at USC [Book]
- "Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization", Richard Manning [Book]
- "The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia", James C. Scott, Ph.D., at Yale [Book]
- "Dawn of Agriculture Took Toll On Health"
- "Global human mandibular variation reflects differences in agricultural and hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies"
- "Sequencing ancient calcified dental plaque shows changes in oral microbiota with dietary shifts of the Neolithic and Industrial revolutions"
- "The Abolition of Work"
- "The Original Affluent Society"
Original post: Non-Hierarchical Paleo Permaculture Hunter-Gatherer Intentional Community