Notes on anarcho-primitivism

I would be lying if I said I don’t like to pick fights. But I would also be lying if I didn’t say that I think that they are no good for me most of the time. The realm of “anti-civilization” ideas is small, and those who oppose civilization totally is even smaller, those who have certain ideas about it even smaller, etc. I believe it was Henry Kissinger who said that university campus politics are so nasty because the stakes are so small. That goes the same for our milieu. I don’t even know anyone “in real life” who holds anything resembling these ideas. So picking someone off in a rhetorical strike is petty at best and foolish at worst. In a lot of ways, you are in the same boat no matter how many distinctions you make. If you’re “sane”, you would bury the hatchet and like everyone.

Of course, man does not live on sanity alone. (Here comes the big “but…”) Once you have a certain “epiphany”, you realize that you aren’t even on the same page with those who any outsider would determine you should have affinity with. I came out of anarcho-primitivism, at least in theory, though I was never comfortable with it. The anthropocentrism, the optimism, the idea that there is some primordial state that fits the human psyche like a glove… none of these aspects ever sat well with me. As a Marxist, I had always envisioned “nature” as an act of human intellect and will, or something that is acted upon by human intellect and will. That is, human life isn’t just something that is “produced” by our nature manifesting itself in a particular circumstance. It is an active pulsating thing that is the result of man testing his strength against entropy and chaos. I think it is evident that our situation is out of balance: that all human projects are ultimately unsustainable, and often how human society forms is the product of millions of disparate wills firing at once, to produce both harmony and disorder, the rising and falling away of artifice and hierarchy, a return to a base that can become unsettled in a cycle that reaches into the far recesses of the past…

For some time, I thought that this understanding was one that was in play in other schools of anti-civ thought. I was never on board the “selling” aspect of it: you’d be happier and healthier without civilization, your community would be more stable, your life will be more fulfilling, etc. For me, life has always been about struggle, it has not been about happiness but about meaning; not about freedom but about what you do with it. Perhaps I am too “pre-modern” in that sense in my thinking: egalitarianism has never been a concern, individuals remain pawns in a great cosmic play, only our part now is to tear down without hope of building again. It is to realize that man is the compendium, not the end, of the cosmos, and if he fails as the embodied steward of the physical world, the only honorable thing to do is bow out and let the world return to what it was before us. That’s not something you can sell to the idealistic youngster looking to make the world a “better place,” but it’s the only thing I’m interested in.

I have been reading the newest issue of Black and Green Review, and while I don’t want to slam it or critique it in any systematic way (mainly because who cares? and what’s the use?) it has made me realize that we (the creators of that magazine and I) are in this for entirely different reasons. One essay is a thorough description of how one author named Four-Legged Human goes about training to be a immediate returns nomadic hunter gatherer. While it is problematic in many ways, it is refreshing in its honesty. For example, it represents a turning point in anti-civ discourse insofar as he pulls a “bait and switch” stating that, while hunter-gatherers historically may have only worked a few hours a day, those who have the vocation to become hunter-gatherers now will have to work hard, and very hard, for hours and hours a day, with the prospect of failure and starvation always hovering near. There goes that selling point, I suppose. After many generations perhaps people will return to a nomadic lifestyle of general leisure. Then again, I have very little control over my own kids, I am not sure how much I can determine the mentality of progeny I will never meet.

To back up a bit, all of this is predicated on the Master Plan of Anarcho-Primitivism, which goes as follows:

Plan A. Civilization collapses all by itself (more or less).

Plan B. There is no Plan B

Which leads to hunter-gatherer nomadic paradise eventually, which won’t be easy but is something that we are inherently equipped for, so they say. Not to violate Godwin’s Law, but I think there is no better analogy here than the Stalinist Communist Party of Germany proclaiming: “After Hitler, us”. The point of Four-Legged Human’s article cited above is to make the race of “supermen” (we all have these superpowers potentially) who will win out over civilization by attrition. It’s like wu wei or something like that…

The obsession of anarcho-primitivism of the Black and Green Review school is thus to prepare people for that future. Thus, the “primitive” societies that one chooses to emulate will be from marginal environments such as the Inuits or the Selk’nam (Ona) of Tierra del Fuego. i.e. Places where most human beings wouldn’t want to inhabit in the first place. From that foco of sub-Arctic dwellers will come the new hope of mankind, and everyone else can just die off, because they’re hopeless, full stop.

(How this isn’t nihilism, that is, embracing a system where I and my peeps survive but the rest can just slowly starve to death or kill each other off in resource wars, I have no idea. I guess it’s totally kosher to commit sins of omission and just let 99.99% of humanity die but if you do anything to bring it about that would bring impurity or is a waste of time at least. I am sure humanists the world over will appreciate that distinction in misanthropy.)

What is saddest about this is how anarcho-primitivism on a narrative level essentially takes up the scientific / colonial world view of the societies it attempts to emulate: taking what they like and leaving what they don’t like, as if one could just cherry pick from ways of life where how one viewed nature and how one treated it were often intimately intertwined. Therefore, one gets to the “essence” or “substance” of what it means to be a hunter-gatherer nomad, while “irrelevant” and “false” details like cosmology, mythology, ritual, etc. are all left aside as unimportant. As if the Ona were just some people who could be wrung dry of all of the badass physical endurance and perseverance, but the great rituals of the Hain, and the deities of the hoowin, had nothing to do with any of it. You can abstract and bleed a primitive society for your own purposes and use what you want to save your own skin, whereas no right-minded hunter-gatherer probably thought of the world and what he or she did on a daily basis on those terms. (See for example the article “The Seris, the Eco-extremists, and Nahualism” in Atassa 1 for an alternative vision of how to treat these sorts of societies.)

Just as in leftism, I see anarcho-primitivism as something devised in the mind of the accountant and human resource manager but taken to the Stone Age level. For me, it seems that concerns such as “How do I survive and how can I not be coerced?” seem all-too-modern and all-too-domesticated. Sure, we all want to survive, but under what circumstances? Always on the run? Waiting for Godot in the form of catastrophe to slay all of our enemies for us? Cede the best lands and go to a place where whether we survive or not is no better than a crapshoot? At least Four-Legged Human at the end of his essay admitted into the club of Super-Elite Paleo Warriors those who wanted to go into the urban park after work to weave baskets and flint knapp: way to give your readers hope. As for me, any remaining interest in anarcho-primitivism and what they think and do increasingly diminishes by the day. This happened with Marxism for me as well, even though I have not considered myself a Marxist for years but was still remotely interested in it. With anarcho-primitivism specifically, I am getting tired of the “civilization is unhealthy and is killing us” intersperse with “re-wilding is almost impossible for most people and has the good risk of killing you”. That’s alright, they can work on their projects, and I’ll work on mine.




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