I’ve been struggling somewhat to come up with a reflection concerning the Eighteenth ITS Communique considering that I think that it is important and worthy of comment. There are some things that I am not sure about in this text, and some things that I think are articulated in a fascinating manner. For example, this is the first eco-extremist text that is expressly extinctionist at least in terms of the human species in its present state in 2016. I don’t think that this has ever been indicated in such stark terms before: at most some eco-extremist texts have spoken of indiscriminate attack as if the lives of the hyper-civilized didn’t matter. Here the difference is that the texts states that the hyper-civilized should go extinct, full stop.
I have observed in the past that most civilized cultures have an apocalyptic viewpoint (“apocalypse” being from the Greek for “revelation”). Civilization has always had a death wish. Leaders of some of the most powerful nations on Earth today profess religions that believe that the world will end in a rain of fire, and that this is a good thing. Others are guided by ideologies that claim that the physical world is merely an illusion. The strange thing then is not that eco-extremism has a pessimist view of humanity; it is more that those who call eco-extremism out on this fact don’t realize that this is nothing exceptional in the context of civilization as it has developed over thousands of years. Indeed, the more pressing question comparatively speaking is why left progressivism would see humanity as anything other than a finite endeavor: a project with an expiration date.
Malcolm Margolin’s The Ohlone Way: Indian life in the San Francisco-Monterey Bay Area is one of the most influential books that I have read in the past few years. I grew up in this area of the world, so its description of the land before the arrival of the Europeans hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember this region as an interchange between agricultural and urban land, with scenic wild mountainous terrain in between. Before the Europeans, the land was wet and full of game, the home of animals such as the river otter and the grizzly bear that are not seen there anymore. One interesting passage in the book indicates that the “Ohlone” (a linguistic grouping of tribes in this region that is arguably arbitrary) had a sense of the finite nature of human existence taken as a whole. As Margolin writes:
But deep down [the Ohlone] knew that their world was doomed, destined for complete destruction. In the beginning, at Sacred Time, power was pure and awesome. But since then it was forever slipping away, diminishing in quality, quantity, and intensity. The people of today were less powerful than their grandparents before them. A deep-rooted pessimism and fatalism ran through their view of the world. Things were getting worse with each generation. And some time in the future this magnificent world, like the worlds before it, would be sapped of power. The people would eventually stop doing their dances and ceremonies, and the Ohlone world – their beautiful, living world – would collapse in upon itself and dissolve into chaos. Then perhaps the spirits would rise up again, mysteriously reborn from a flood – spirits like Eagle, Coyote, and Hummingbird – to create once more a fresh, clear, awesomely powerful world, a world perhaps populated by a new race of people, but a world that would most assuredly be without Ohlones.
I am willing to concede that some of Margolin’s ideas here may be an after-the-fact prophecy of a conquered people. But there is an interesting existential basis for the indigenous people of the central coast of California to have believed this. For one thing, relatively speaking, there weren’t that many of them. These indigenous people lived in a land full of animals, and man wasn’t even the most dangerous animal in California before the arrival of the Europeans. There was a good chance of adults being mauled by grizzly bears or stalked by mountain lions, just as there is always a good chance of dying in a car accident in modernity. Margolin writes:
But [the Ohlone] intimate knowledge of animals did not lead to conquest, nor did their familiarity breed contempt. The Ohlones lived in a world where people were few and animals were many, where the bow and arrow were the height of technology, where a deer who was not approached in the proper manner could easily escape and a bear might conceivably attack – indeed, they lived in a world where the animal kingdom had not yet fallen under the domain of the human race and where (how difficult it is for us to fully grasp the implications of this!) people did not yet see themselves as the undisputed lords of all creation. The Ohlones, like hunting people everywhere, worshiped animal spirits as gods, imitated animal motions in their dances, sought animal powers in their dreams, and even saw themselves as belonging to clans with animals as their ancestors. The powerful, graceful animal life of the Bay Area not only filled their world, but filled their minds as well.
The hyper-civilized will of course interject, “Water under the bridge!” here, but it really isn’t. My own gut sense is that humanity’s hatred for itself is bred out of too much familiarity. The indigenous peoples of central California (and elsewhere) could look at a landscape, at grasslands, mountains, rivers, etc. and see an abundance of life, a panoply of living things. Modern man makes it so that when he looks about, he sees only himself. Some may say this is a good thing, but mostly he is disgusted with it. He either shuns humanity through sun glasses, earphones, Smartphone screens, etc. or he consumes humanity as commodity, self-selected, created to sell according to physical attractiveness, perceived intelligence, common interest, etc. There are even entire schools of thought that think that there is nothing outside the human, outside of the ego, and outside of one’s thoughts about the world. And people feel themselves particularly clever and erudite when thinking such absurdities, though they bleed and decay just like everything else…
My own investigations into the arrival of European civilization in parts of what is now “the Americas” are concluding that the ultimate tool of conquest wasn’t technology or even disease (taken in itself). It was a number’s game: there were just more white men, especially in what is now the United States. Indigenous warriors were often braver, better fighters, and with home field advantage, but the waves of conquerors and immigrants just kept coming and swarmed the land, transforming it, killing the animals, and stripping it of its former characteristics in many places. It’s not that indigenous people necessarily had a more “holistic” perspective of the land, or they were more “virtuous,” there just weren’t that many of them. The quantitative difference made for qualitative differences in perspective. In places that were teeming and vibrant and thick with life, it is difficult to conceive of human superiority as a plausible concept. It takes the destruction of the land, of the wildlife, polluting the rivers and poisoning the air, to come to the place where one looks around and sees only Man. And by then he ends up hating himself, having to stare at himself, and having the perceived absolute power to kill himself off along with the rest of the planet.
The indigenous peoples of California did of course die off, their world was silenced along with so many others.What replaced them are the now world-famous Silicon Valley along with what has been deemed to be the “Salad Bowl of the United States,” producing much of the lettuce and other produce consumed on U.S. tables.
The progressivist does not want to admit it, but the trade off between Man and Nature at this point is an “either / or”, not a “both / and” proposition. You can either have humans, the vast majority of whom depend on or support civilization and all that it represents, or you can have things like clean water and fresh air that make human life worth living. You can’t have both, not at this stage of the game. That is why I weep not for the hyper-civilized, I don’t complain of the indiscriminate acts against them, and I keep writing about these acts. Once you become an enemy of civilization, whether you are really an enemy of humanity itself depends on how honestly you draw out your premises.
As I stated at the beginning of this reflection, most civilized people admit this deep down. They believe Jesus or Allah or Yahweh will come and destroy the world by fire and establish an Eternal City that can neither crumble nor decay. It is those less honest atheists and leftists who mistake humanity for being a transparent and permanent project. The former believe that one must follow morality so that this Eternal City can come about, the latter believe that one must follow morality to keep Humanity-as-is afloat in its mission to become an eternal institution. The former is based on a lie, but it is very realistic in terms of the means to attain their desired outcome. The latter is without question wholly deluded.
The lack of concern for the hyper-civilized, for the domesticated who barely love themselves, is a foundation of eco-extremist thought, and it is an aspect of that thought that I wholly defend.
I can’t stop quoting Robinson Jeffers poems in full, but this is the most appropriate text on which to end this reflection. It describes a scene from the land of the Esselen, just south of “Ohlone” territory:
Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men’s palms, no
No other picture. There’s no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: ‘Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws.
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and
And be supplanted; for you also are human.’