Permaculture has changed my views of ma’at. The more I have begun to understand how the ecological world around us operates, the more I have begun to understand how limited a lot of our discussions about ma’at and isfet are. I’ve also come to feel that if you don’t have a solid understanding of what makes the world we live in tick, a lot of the layers of meaning within Kemeticism get lost. As I looked through all of the posts in the FAQ about ma’at and isfet, I realized that so many of us are trying to encompass the ideas I’m about to put forth, but we lack a language or structure to inform our discussion, and so key parts get lost.
I would like to posit a new way for how we view ma’at and isfet. Specifically, how they interact with one another.
The concept of systems
Our world, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, is made up of systems that are nested into other systems. To create a generalized starting point for those who aren’t used to talking about systems, a system is commonly defined as “a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network” or “an organized scheme or method.” That is to say that life is made up of many pieces coming together, living and dying and bouncing off of one another in such a fashion that life ultimately can continue on, which I briefly touched on in my post about edge effect.
In many ways, this idea contradicts what many of us grew up with, because US culture likes to position itself as allowing people to be self reliant and that needing assistance from other people is a weakness, but the truth of the matter is that even here in the US, we still are reliant on other humans. It may look like we are able to live without help, but when you really think about how your food gets to the store, and then to your house (average of 1,500 miles from farmer to plate). Or how you manage to get anything you own, etc. You really begin to see that we are still a system stuck within a system, a network of cells making our body run (a system) that exists in a much-more-distant network with other humans (all those farmers and manufacturers and unpaid labor and retailers and truck drivers that make all of the “stuff” in our society move around).
Three system types
At the end of the day, we humans are ultimately healthier when we are fully connected and engaged with the systems that support us. Whether that’s nature itself, other humans that are around us, the region where we live, etc. The more I’ve learned about this topic, the more I’ve come to believe that it is necessary for our health to be connected to the systems that support us. Healthy systems are intrinsic to our well being.
In permaculture, systems are ultimately what you’re looking to create. To help determine if the system you’ve set up is healthy or not, there is a sort of classification setup that we have that helps us to figure it out. For any system in question, there are three types of categories to choose from: degenerative, generative, and regenerative.
A degenerative system is a system that is inherently unsustainable. It uses more resources than it gives, requires a lot of upkeep, and is not resilient against extremes, such as extreme weather or natural disasters. For examples of degenerative systems, all you need to do is look around where you live. Nearly every aspect of Western culture is degenerative. Our food system is degenerative. Our transportation systems are degenerative. There is very little about our culture that isn’t degenerative.
A generative system is a system that basically “breaks even.” It may require a fair amount of resources to create, but then requires little-to-no upkeep or maintenance. The most common examples that you see for generative systems are old-fashioned hand tools. Things like hammers, axes, shovels, etc. They require some amount of resource to create or procure, but a good shovel can last you decades if you take care of it.
A regenerative system is the best system to have. These are systems that regenerate their own resources and are self-sustainable once they are set up (to some extent. All systems will ultimately need some level of care to be maintained, but generally, you don’t put much into a regenerative system in comparison to what it provides the participants of said system.) The biggest caveat about regenerative systems is that only living things can qualify as a regenerative system. A forest is a regenerative system. Your body is a regenerative system. Any natural system is considered a regenerative system. Any food chain or natural habitat that hasn’t been massively disturbed should be, ideally, a regenerative system.
So what of it, right?
I believe that in order for the concepts of ma’at and isfet to really make any sense or sing, they need to be viewed from the perspective of systems, specifically because I believe ma’at is inherently meant to be regarded as a regenerative system.
Ma’at as a natural system
Ma’at, like so many of our most important concepts, is personified as a deity while also being regarded as a concept. If we believe that gods are real, living beings, then that would make each deity a regenerative system unto themself. Why? Because living things are regenerative systems when they are healthy. That, by proxy, automatically makes ma’at a regenerative system. But if that’s not enough, the other reason why I think ma’at qualifies as a regenerative system is because it is a natural system. It is a system that follows all of the rules of natural systems:
- Nothing in nature grows forever. There is a constant cycle of decay and rebirth.
- Continuation of life depends on the maintenance of global (though in our paradigm, I’d use the word “cosmic”) cycles.
- Both too many or too few members of a species can lead them to the threshold of extinction (read: moderation is required for sustainability.)
- A group’s chance of survival is largely dependent upon one or two key factors in a sea of complicated interrelations between an organism and it’s environment (this reminds me of fighting off isfet, the main factor that could destroy ma’at.)
- Our ability to change the world around us increases at a rate faster than our ability to foresee the consequences of such change (you see this in the fact that AE was hellbent on constantly bringing everything back to the First Time, when everything was at its Most Perfect, right as Creation came into being.)
- Living organisms are not only means, but ends. Living things have intrinsic worth beyond what benefits they provide to humans (I certainly hope you thought of ma’at when you read this.)
In my mind, all of these principles are present within the ancient Egyptian worldview. Almost all of our rituals deal with themes of overcoming decay and being reborn. Our rituals are meant to help maintain cosmic order, which is why they’re so vital to the continuation of ma’at. And our survival depends upon our willingness to actively fight off isfet. Because all living things have inherent worth, we have to be careful how we move into the future, and so we should always be comparing our methods to Zep Tepi, the time when we Got It Right.
As a natural system, it stands to reason that anything that goes against what allows a natural, regenerative system to regenerate would potentially be considered Bad, or in this case, isfetian in nature. Using this model, we begin to see the emergence of how we can use these tools to begin to determine what qualifies as a source of ma’at or a source of isfet, and even more importantly — how that should inform our own actions and habits in our daily lives.
In my next post, I will discuss how isfet is a degenerative system and how disorder and repetition are the harbingers of a regenerative system becoming degenerative. And in a currently-not-determined number of future posts, I’ll cover how we can use these concepts to determine whether something is building ma’at or leading towards isfet and what this implies about the current state of our community.