Ethics and Morals, Meditations, Uncategorized

The Honorable Harvest

This week I’ve read reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Kimmerer and its amazing. It’s one of those books I wish I read years ago; stuffed with ideas that make my world feel bigger. I want to highlight the tenets of the Honorable Harvest, as articulated by Kimmerer. It feels very relevant to me for Terranism, especially since I’ve been working on its ethical commandments.

Kimmerer articulates these tenets, but stresses they are her particular interpretation. She says they are largely unspoken and inferred throughout indigenous cultures, and that they all adhere to the spirit of this list without necessarily articulating each item. Nevertheless, her rendering of the tenets is as follows:

  1. Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.
  2. Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
  3. Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
  4. Never take the first. Never take the last.
  5. Take only what you need.
  6. Take only what is given.
  7. Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
  8. Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
  9. Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
  10. Share.
  11. Give thanks for what you have been given.
  12. Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
  13. Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

Two things stand out to me about the Honorable Harvest.

The first is the permeating principle of gratitude. This is something relevant throughout the book, but these tenets really crystallize the principle by prompting a grateful mindset. The first, second, ninth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth articulate grateful behaviour directly, while the others infer it.

The second idea that stands out to me is that each of these tenets are less interested in the thing itself, and more in the relationship of these things to the whole. Talking about “half” and “first” and “last” prompts viewing resources not as isolated objects, but as parts of the ecosystem. You must first think about the whole population of an area before you begin thinking about a concept like “half.” For example, under these precepts, it is less important whether you are felling trees, and more important whether you are taking more trees than is appropriate for the health of the area. If you are aware of the whole forest in order to know how much “less than half” is, you will also have the knowledge of how much recovery the forest needs before that “half” is restored. It’s a powerful use of language.

I’m certainly going to take inspiration from these tenets for Terranism. However, as I am a settler, I do not feel entitled to indigenous culture enough to simply copy these tenets for this project. I feel it would be an unjust level of appropriation. These are not my words to take, but I will learn from them.

Using language like “half,” feel very important to me and I will be utilizing similar tools for my revised commandments. I want to encourage thinking about the whole rather than focusing on isolated parts.

Many of these tenets are framed in the positive, which is interesting. Positive moral tenets tend to be more demanding than negative ones, since they’re open ended and usually require more energy to fulfill. However, the positivity of these tenets are structured in degrees. For example, instead of structuring tenet 8 in the negative (do not cause harm when harvesting) it states it in the positive but does not totalize it (harvest harmlessly) instead choosing a relatively positive position (harvest in a way that minimizes harm). Again, using terms like “minimal,” utilize a sense of wholeness and degrees. There’s nuance here that I feel should be welcome to Terranic commandments.

These tenets would not be enough to complete a set of Terranic commandments. The Honorable Harvest is interested in just that, harvests, and while it can be extended to interactions with others, I feel there are a few absolute prohibitions that should be pinned down for a broader set of commandments; slavery, rape, etc.

These commandments aren’t just a set of instructions, they also serve to inform outsiders what our values are, so getting these right is important. I will continue posting my journey constructing these commandments. In the meantime, read Braiding Sweetgrass. It’s wonderful.

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