Is weaving the new scaling?

Zairah Khan
5 min readJun 28, 2021
Photocredits: Xaver Wegler

In my previous article I suggested that a more symbiotic relation between humans and nature might be possible. Here I’ll go a step further and argue the ‘symbiocene’ is already here. You just have to know where to look. In the coming weeks I will write a series to show you a society that does not depend on scale at all, which is why most fail to see it. It is altogether built on a different fabric: relations.

As a first step we must pick up a magnifying glass, much like a biologists studies an ant heap. When we zoon in we see not one but two colonies of ants. One working around the clock to build an ever bigger ever more impressive ant heap rising high above the ground, completely neglecting the risk of potential collapse. The other colony has decided to tunnel down, making slow progress but creating intricate connections and many possible escape routes. Strangely there are some ants that move between the colonies, a rare phenomenon in nature.

The holy scale

Zooming out this is essentially the difference between the two current human societies. The Anthropocene is built on scale. Scale is so inherent in it’s functioning that the questioning of scale is a non-topic even when talking about sustainability. Kate Raworth is an exception, she speaks about ‘growth agnosts’. I feel she is correct in approaching economics as a religion. A religion in which scale is the holy grail.

What is scale actually? A scalable business is a firm that enjoys an increased competitive advantage as it grows. However consider that as a business grows it’s relationship with it’s client becomes ever more distant. The fact that decreasing energy is invested in relationship enhances efficiency or output but it also has some serious downsides.

Exploitation and depletion are not side effects of scale, they are inherent.

For example a large food processing company has an ever decreasing relationship with the farmer, let alone the land and soil on which produce is grown. There is therefore no feedback loop between the depletion of the land and the profit of the company. If a farm is unable to meet deliverables it is easily replaced, which makes the farmer vulnerable. A similar distance exists between an investment banker and products. The products are mere numbers on a spreadsheet, their quality is only relevant for as far as it directly impacts profit.

Often the exploitation of workers or depletion of natural resources is considered something that can be curbed by introducing standards. But exploitation and depletion are not side effects of scale, they are inherent. Standards alone do not restore relationship. Ironically standards are actually a driver of scale as smaller companies find themselves unable to meet administrative and legal obligations, they are pushed to the fringe.

Not limits but relations

The break down of relationship wears down the fabric that binds us together and to nature. I believe this is at the root cause of destruction. We can’t fix this problem with more scale. So then what?

To put limits on economic growth is not the answer either as it represents a goal without a roadmap. Instead we need to build an overriding system that restores all the relationships that scale destroys; between workers and labour, between humans and nature, between ecosystems and food production etc. Ultimately this new system will consume the old one whole. Unless the old system destroys us first. Which is why we have no time to loose.

I imagine a system that not only builds more and diverse relationships but also intensifies them. Value is created not on the basis of disintegration but on integration. Not on competition but on collaboration. Something that very much resembles: mycelium.

Mycelium is like an invisible underground tree, and the mushrooms you see are the visible fruit. Permaculture, agroforestry and ecovillages have been critiqued for not being scalable. But I believe that these development are in the early stages of a new evolutionary direction and what we are seeing are just the mushrooms.

Recycling the old economy

Although I know many people who have left the old system to go and build the elements of a new society somewhere on the fringe I have chose to remain in the middle of it. And I found people on my path that like me are moving in between, connecting the systems, translating. I believe this function is key. Because when one side of the economy remains parasitical while the other side of the economy is trying to regenerate, at best there is a reduced negative effect.

The only answer is to integrate the old economy, or at least the parts that can be re-used, refurbished or recycled.

It reminds me of a tree that is dying. As the tree slowly decays it gives back all it’s nutrients and life force to the soil so that new life can spring. Life begins anew even on the trunk itself. Of course it is fungi doing this work.

The weavers connecting the old system and the new one operate exactly like fungi. They absorb elements, transform and put them to work in new contexts and relations. Their numbers are growing and to better understand the task at hand I have decided to talk to a number of fellow weavers to see how they strategize, live and work. I hope to discern from this further how weaving might propose a different way forward than scale.

So keep an eye out for more from me and other weavers in this space and maybe you’ll start to see it all around you. It is happening under your feet ad you are a part of it, because we are connected.

--

--

Zairah Khan

Regenerative Entrepreneur, Permaculture, BlueO2- Dreaming big from the ground upwards