Notes on extinction

Extinction is the grammar of techno-industrial civilization. It is how it got to be what it is, and extinction is what sustains it. It is as if it creates life in order to merely destroy it. This goes for agribusiness fields to aborted fetuses to entire peoples who have been wiped out in the name of “progress”. If the passive nihilist can hurl the accusation of nature being indifferent to the creatures that it brings forth, what is even more certain is that European Christian civilization (in particular) has taken this premise to heart and run with it at an accelerated and exaggerated pace. That which takes nature millions of years to create, formulate, and grow, civilization can get rid of in an afternoon. Our entire way of life is powered by the corpses of animals dead millions of years before the first shadow of a human ancestor graced the face of the earth. 

In eco-extremism, the necessity / appropriateness / symmetry of human extinction is the basis of indiscriminate attack. It is arguable if eco-extremist attack is ever “indiscriminate” in a total sense. For to be truly indiscriminate, one perhaps would need to not even get out of bed and fire a projectile out one’s window into an adjacent street. All such attacks that are not of this exact nature require planning, reflection, preparation, etc. Now, where one objects that eco-extremist attack is indiscriminate is in the choice of victim. For often it may result that whoever happens to be nearby or in the “line of fire” will be the one who is hurt, when this was not intentional. Again, we are still not free of the ethical quagmire even if we have determined who is guilty or innocent. Indeed, blanket condemnations of people and even their property are almost as old as civilization itself. Let us go to our trusty Bible. In the well-known telling of the fall of Jericho, it is written:

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.  They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

This is not a unique event in Scripture: God’s Chosen People laid cities to waste as a matter of course, and were even punished by God for being merciful to the cattle.

Of course, people will not be particularly swayed bringing up ancient history, so we will get to the point. The question of civilization isn’t a question of morality but of numbers. It is not a philosophical problem but rather a mathematical and physical problem. If you can swarm your enemy with numbers, eventually they must succumb. Many wars have been wars of attrition where the tactically superior side was defeated by wave after wave of the enemy being hurled at it. This happened in the U.S. Civil War, the U.S. Indian Wars, the Vietnamese War of National Liberation, etc. etc. Often it is not a question of being able to win, but in being able to take loss after loss after loss until the enemy can fight no longer. Innocence or guilt in this paradigm is irrelevant: the very presence of bodies (man, woman, child, or even beast of burden) is enough of an incursion to warrant their destruction without scruples.

That’s fine for the unenlightened times of the past, but the present has learned its humanist lesson, right? Well, not exactly. Without even having to resort to Stalin or Mao and the millions who had to die in the antiseptically coined process of “primitive capital accumulation,” scratch even the most anti-authoritarian leftist, and find someone who thinks it is alright if, for example, an insurgent group blows up an ice cream parlor full of children in the name of “national liberation” as long as the colonialist did it first:

So in the end, it doesn’t matter if a few million die, or children get blown up, or if a few nuns get raped by revolutionaries. A just cause covers a multitude of sins… except for the victims of the just cause. The thing about dealing with human lives is that it’s not a numbers game, at least for the hyper-civilized. While many might wave off with a hand the atrocities of the past, no one is volunteering for the atrocities of the future, precisely those atrocities that will be needed for a better tomorrow. Everyone wants to be king, no one wants to be the peasant who pays taxes to support the king in his lavish lifestyle. Everyone wants to play, but no one wants to put skin in the game.

Nor should they want to, for the game is rigged. That doesn’t stop the dreamers, the revolutionaries, the traditionalists, etc. from “volunteering” future generations and peoples they don’t know in the arduous task of forging a better tomorrow in which they come out more or less unscathed. Visions of a brighter future are nice as long as you can rely on other people’s efforts to carry out your vision for you. Of course, to expect people to do so is foolish, but that doesn’t stop the revolutionary dreamer.

To jump from these observations to the conclusion that “therefore all humans must go extinct” may be rightly pointed out as a reductio ad absurdum. Just because no one is at fault doesn’t mean everyone is at fault, or that fault even exists. Therefore, no punitive measures or even punitive language are warranted. Perhaps this has a point, but let us put it another way: the human ideal (form) can never have the appropriate physical host (matter) to realize itself. The form is always a ghost, hovering over the seething mass of human raw material. Mankind can never be animated by an ideal, it can never be joined to an organic ethical plan that can inform its collective actions toward a better future. In other words, mankind as a whole is a collective zombie, something that stumbles along with the semblance of life but in reality is constantly on the verge of flying apart due to the lack of any defined collective intelligence or will. We may speak of global-wide collective action, but mostly its empty rhetoric. The problem is godlike in scale but the means to address it are all-too-human.

So regardless of what one might think of its parts, the human as a universal category is a flimsy and fleeting phenomenon. But again, let us return to the point above: the real problem with humans is not that they are not smart enough, but rather that there are too many of them linked in a haphazard manner by global communications and transport. The problem is not one CEO or a thousand politicians or a million cops. The problem is seven billion people with dreams and aspirations and high hopes for their children… that can only come at the expense of other beings on the planet. The problem is the ethos of humanity for the sake of humanity, humanity as an enclosed system, humanity as the categorical imperative. Seven billion anarcho-primitivist species traitors would be inferior to a humanity comprised only of ten Monsanto executives. Your feelings, opinions, beliefs, and actions don’t count. Ultimately, what counts is your very animal existence, because it is parasitic and unjustifiable. Unless your particular existence can convince seven billion people to commit collective suicide, leaving perhaps only a handful of homo sapiens to live on the Earth as one animal among others, you are no different from anyone else.

Of course, you can say that this only applies to hyper-civilized European (post-)Christian civilization, but are we really so sure? Aside from the endless debates as to whether man killed off the megafauna in the Americas and Australia, we know for a fact that man killed off the moa, a large flightless bird native to New Zealand that went extinct within 150 years of humans settling those islands (well before the Europeans arrived). The problem with things that happen is that they always had the potential of happening, ceteris paribus. Even if some (most?) humans never drove a species to extinction, they have done so, and always have the potential to do so. That’s not a statement of guilt but a statement of fact. Just as saying that a dog is capable of mauling a child isn’t a moral judgment on the dog: it’s a statement of the reality of the situation.

Perhaps the real ethical problem behind indiscriminate attack isn’t one of assigning guilt, but of discerning if innocence even exists in this context. Seven billion people don’t live their lives being innocent or guilty of anything. Their default mode is “minding their own business”. They’re fodder, they know not what they do. At that level, their lives are mostly devoid of discernible ethical content. And even in situations where people “care”, they often rob Peter to pay Paul: they live part of their life unethically to sustain an ethical veneer elsewhere in their lives. The bottom line is: if you don’t want that forest cut, or that ocean floor drilled, or that river polluted, you don’t have to look far to see who is at fault. You are, your friends are, those you love are. Or do you and they eat only air and live in thatched huts made from the branches of native trees? Or do you treat yourself with local plants when you are sick, or check your email using only a wooden bow drill? If (by your actions, not your words) you don’t care about Wild Nature, why should it care about you? Why should anyone?

Human life is not and can never be heroic, ethical, noble, or anything else it aims to be. You can expect little from it, and it is not eternal. Those who continue to defend humanism only wish to circle the wagons and defend Human Power as its own end by any means necessary, but they are defending the material means by which that species supremacy is upheld. The eco-extremist has come to the conclusion that the only way to attack Human Supremacy is to attack humans in any capacity in which they are capable. They do this not out of some inverted sense of morality, but out of the realization that morality is impossible, or rather, it cannot do what it says it does: sift the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, and the innocent from the guilty. Their attack is a refusal of the premise that the human ideal can govern life on a universal ethical level. It is a launching out into the Inhuman in the Name of the Unknowable, with little expectation in terms of human achievement.

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