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what's wrong with primitivism?

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coyote
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Mar 29 2004 18:18
what's wrong with primitivism?

ok...here goes:

in other discussion people seemd to dismiss Primitivism outta hand without any cogent critique other referring to long since discredited rumor (die offs) or Green Anarchist magazine.

has anyone got serious reasons why we shouldn't enage with primitivist ideas?

roll eyes star green black wink

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Rob Ray
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Mar 29 2004 19:52

Oh ffs not again How bout because every time we do neither side has anything even remotely interesting or new to say?

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Mar 29 2004 20:12

What's the point debating 'isms'? Let's talk about ideas.

nastyned
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Mar 29 2004 20:51

I have heard of primitivists that would prefer mass death to mass civilisation.

The alternative way to reach a low enough population density for primitivism to work would be birth control, but the population will never be that low in my life time so why should i concern myself with it?

meanoldman
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Mar 30 2004 11:31

Because noone has ever presented me with a coherent argument as to why technology and division of labour will always leads to hierachy and alienation independent of the society they exist in.

And cause I like my computer and you can fuck off if you want to take it from me. tongue

JoeBlack
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Mar 30 2004 12:00

This is from an essay under construction

Most primitivists evade the question of what level of technology they wish to return to by hiding behind the claim that they are not arguing for a return to anything, rather they want to go forward. But a reasonable summary is that for them certain technologies and levels of civilization are acceptable up to the level of small village society sustained by hunting and gathering. The problems start with the development of agriculture and mass society.

For the purposes of this article I’m assuming that the form of future society that primitivists argue for would be broadly similar in technological terms to that which existed around 12,000 years ago on earth, at the dawn of the agricultural revolution. Which is not to claim that they want to ‘go back’, something that is in any case impossible. But rather that if you seek to go forward by getting rid of all the technology of the agricultural revolution and beyond what results will operate like pre-agricultural society!

A question of numbers

Hunter gathers exist off the food they can hunt or gather, hence the name. Before about 12,000 years ago every human on the planet lived as a hunter gather. Today only a tiny number of people do, in isolated and marginal regions of the planet including deserts, artic tundra and jungle. Some of these groups like the Acre have only had contact with the rest of the planet in recent decades( ), others like the Inuit( ) have had contact for long periods of time and so have adopted technologies beyond those developed locally. Beyond this they are part of the global civilization and so have contributed to the development of new technologies in that civilization.

In such marginal ecosystems hunter gathering often represents the only feasible way of producing food. The desert is too dry for sustained agriculture and the artic too cold. The only other possibility is pastoralism, the reliance on semi-domesticated animals as a food source. For instance in the Scandinavian artic the Sami( ) control the movement of huge reindeer herds to provide a regular food source. Of course with the development of civilization it is possible

Hunter gathers survive on the food they hunt and gather which is possible because their population densities are very low and limited by the need to avoid over hunting. This is the core problem with the primitivist idea that the whole planet could live as hunter gathers, there is not nearly enough food produced in natural ecosystems for even a fraction of the current population of the world to do so.

It should be obvious that the amount of calories available to humans as food in an acre of oak forest will be a lot lower then the amount of calories available to humans in an acre of corn. Agriculture provides far, far more useful calories per acre then hunter gathering in the same acre would. That is because we have spent 12,000 years selecting plants and improving techniques so that we can cram in lots of productive plants that put their energy into plant parts that are food for us rather then plant parts that are not food for us. Compare any cultivated grain with its wild relative and you will see an illustration of this, the cultivated form will have much bigger grains and a much larger proportion of grain to stalk and foliage. We have chosen plants that produce a high ratio of edible biomass.

In other words a pine tree may be as good or better then a lettuce at capturing the solar energy that falls on it. But with the lettuce a huge percentage of the captured energy goes into food (around 75%). With pine tree none of the energy produces food we can eat. Compare the amount of food to be found in a nearby woodland with the amount you can grow in a couple of square meters of garden cultivated in even an organic low energy fashion and you'll see why agriculture is a must have for the population of the planet. An acre of organically grown potato can yield 15,000 lbs of food( ). Average rice yields per acre in the USA last year were 6,600 lbs( ), world yields were in the region of 3,500.

The estimated population of human on the earth before the advent of agriculture (10,000 BC) varies with some estimates as low as 250,000 ( ) Other estimates for the pre-agricultural hunter gather population are more generous, in the range of 6 to 10 million.( ). The earth’s current population is nearing 6,000 million.

This 6,000 million are almost all supported by agriculture. They could not be supported by hunter gathering, indeed it is suggested that even the 10 million hunter gathers who may have existed before agriculture may have been a non sustainable number. From 12,000 to 10,000 BC the Pleistocene overkill ( ) occurred in which 200 genera of large mammals went extinct. In the Americas over 80% of the population of large mammals became extinct.( ) A controversial hypothesis is that this was due to over hunting. The advent of agriculture (and civilisation) may even have been then due to the absence of large game forcing hunter gathers to 'settle down'.

Certainly in historical times the same over hunting has been observed with the arrival of man on isolated Polynesian islands. The Dodo is the most famous of these extinctions but others including that of the Moa are down to the same cause.

Another way of looking at it is more anecdotal and uses Ireland (where the author lives) as an example. Left to itself the Irish countryside would mostly consist of mature oak forest with some hazel scrub and bogs. Go into an oak forest and see how much food you can gather - if you know your stuff there is certainly some. Acorns, fruit on brambles in clearings, some wild garlic, strawberries, edible fungi, wild honey, and the animals like deer, squirrel, and wild goat, pigeon that can be hunted. But this is much, much, much less then the same area cultivated as wheat or potatoes would yield. There is simply not enough land in Ireland to support 5 million hunter gathers, the current population of the island.

The number that could be supported would be less then 70,000, in fact a lot less as only 20% of our land is arable at present and blanket bog or Burren karst provides little in the way of food useful for humans. I suspect because of our distance from the equator and thus the large variation in seasons that the actual sustainable hunter gathers population would be much lower then 70,000. In winter there would be very, very little food to be gathered (perhaps small catches of nuts hidden by squirrels and some wild honey) and that many people living off hunting would eradicate the large mammals (deer, wild goat) very quickly. The coastal areas and larger rivers/lakes would be the main source of hunting and some gathering in the form of shellfish and edible seaweed.

The actual archeological estimates for the population of Ireland before the arrival of agriculture is around 7,000. Typically hunter gathers live at a population density of 1 per sq 10 km. (Irelands present population density is around 500 per 10 square km or 500 times this).

But being generous and assuming that somehow 70,000 hunter gathers could live in a sustainable fashion in Ireland we discover we need to 'reduce' the population by some 4,930,000. Or 98.6%.

The idea that a certain amount of land can support a certain amount of people according to how it is (or in this case is not) cultivated is referred to as its 'carrying capacity'. This can be estimated for the earth as a whole. One modern calculation for hunter gathers actually give you 100 million as the maximum figure but just how much of a maximum this is becomes clear when you realize that using similar methods gives 30 billion as the maximum farming figure.( )

But lets take this figure of 100 million as the maximum rather then the historical maximum of 10 million. This is generous estimate, well above that of many primitivists who dare to address this issue. For instance Miss Ann Thropy writing in the US Earth First! magazine estimated, “Ecotopia would be a planet with about 50 million people who are hunting and gathering for subsistence.” ( )

The earth population today is around 6000 million. A return to a 'primitive' earth therefore requires that some 5900 million people disappear. Something has to happen to 98% of the world’s population in order for the 100 million survivors to have even the slightest hope of a sustainable primitive utopia.

At this point some primitivist writers like John Moore cry foul, dismissing the suggestion “that the population levels envisaged by anarcho-primitivists would have to be achieved by mass die-offs or nazi-style death camps. These are just smear tactics. The commitment of anarcho-primitivists to the abolition of all power relations, including the State with all its administrative and military apparatus, and any kind of party or organization, means that such orchestrated slaughter remains an impossibility as well as just plain horrendous.”( )

The problem for John is that these ‘smear tactics’ are based not only on the logical requirements of a primitivist world but are also explicitly acknowledged by other primitivists. Miss Ann Thropys 50 million has already been quoted. Another primitivist FAQ says "Drastic population reductions are going to happen whether we do it voluntarily or not. It would be better, for obvious reasons to do all this gradually and voluntarily, but if we don't the human population is going to be cut anyway."( )

The Coalition Against Civilization write “We need to be realistic about what would happen were we to enter a post-civilized world. One basic write off is that a lot of people would die upon civil collapse. While being a hard thing to argue to a moralistic person, we shouldn’t pretend this wouldn’t be the case”( )

More recently Derrick Jensen in an interview from Issue #6 of The 'A' Word Magazine[ ] said civilization “needs to be actively fought against, but I don’t think that we can bring it down. What we can do is assist the natural world to bring it down…. I want civilization brought down and I want it brought down now.” We have seen above what the consequences of ‘bringing down’ civilization are.

In short there is no shortage of primitivists who recognize that the primitive world they desire would require “mass die-offs”. I’ve not come across any who advocate “nazi-style death camps” but perhaps John just threw this in to muddy the water. Primitivists like John Moore cannot therefore refuse to confront this question and instead accuse those who point it out as carrying out ‘smear tactics’. It’s up to him to either explain how 6 billion can be fed or to admit that primitivism is no more then an intellectual mind game.

My expectation is that just about everyone when confronted with this expectation of mass death will conclude that ‘primitivism’ offers nothing to fight for. A very, very few, like the survivalists confronted by the threat of nuclear war in the 1980’s might conclude that all this is inevitable and start planning how their loved ones will survive when most others die. But this later group have moved far, far beyond any understanding of anarchism as I understand it. So the ‘anarcho’ prefix such primitivists try to claim has to be rejected.

Most primitivists run away from the requirement for mass death in one of two ways. The more cuddly ones decide that primitivism is not a program for a different way of running the world. Rather it exists as a critique of civilization and not an alternative to it. This is fair enough and there is a value in re-examining the basic assumptions of civilization . But in that case primitivism is no substitute for the anarchist struggle for liberation, which involves adopting technology to our needs rather then rejecting it. The problem is that primitivists often like to attack the very methods of mass organization that are necessary for overthrowing capitalism. Fair enough if you believe you have an alternative but rather damaging if all you have is an interesting critique!

Other primitivists however take the Cassandra path, telling us they are merely prophets of an inevitable doom. They don’t desire the death of 5,900 million they just point out it cannot be prevented. This is worth examing in some detail precisely because it is so disempowering. What after all is the use of fighting for a fair society today if tomorrow or the day after 98% if us are going to die and everything we have built crumble to dust?

Kalashnikov_Blues
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Mar 30 2004 13:10

I can't believe that we're actually back on this... what? did we go into stupid arguement withdrawl?

now I'll go read the essay... I just wanted to get that off my chest first.

AlexA
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Mar 30 2004 13:10

A very thoughtful post/essay

People interested in the subject could also check out the primitivism debate in the forums archives smile

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pingtiao
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Mar 30 2004 13:33

I can't find the archives. Where are they?

Kalashnikov_Blues
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Mar 30 2004 13:43

read it, enjoyed it, thank you! smile

I can totally see the beneifts of looking and examining what the world could be. Whether it be in preperation or as you said a critque.

I just totally cannot see how, regardless of the noble and lofty ambitions of it all, it will ever come about without it being some postapocolyptic world.

AlexA
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Mar 30 2004 13:51
pingtiao wrote:
I can't find the archives. Where are they?

you nobend - they're the bottom forum on the idex. The old (mass) debate is here:

http://enrager.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=488

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pingtiao
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Mar 30 2004 13:59

that is where are wrong pissface

1/ last thing in both indices (bottom right drop-down menu and main forum index) is Upcoming events, and

2/ clicking that link above gives you "sorry, only moderators can read topics in this forum".

Which makes you the "nobend", i think you'll find.

p.s. you suck balls.

dissident
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Mar 30 2004 16:08

daydreamer is a primmie, he just hasn't got round to confessing to you yet Tommy Ascaso grin

nosos
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Mar 30 2004 16:12
dissident wrote:
daydreamer is a primmie, he just hasn't got round to confessing to you yet Tommy Ascaso grin

He is!? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww........

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Mar 30 2004 16:16
Tommy Ascaso wrote:
Why the fuck is everyone talking about primitivism all of a sudden, there are only about 5 primmies in the whole country...

Right now, because of events in the world around us, ideas of progress (tech and other) are being called into question in a major way. Not surprising that people should be discussing ideas of this kind.

AlexA
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Mar 30 2004 16:18

now everyone can view the archives.

Some ballsucker in the AF, whose name rhymes with mingtiao, fucked them up.

dissident
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Mar 30 2004 16:22
nosos wrote:
dissident wrote:
daydreamer is a primmie, he just hasn't got round to confessing to you yet Tommy Ascaso grin

He is!? Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww........

yeah he keeps agonising about how to tell you guys cos he knows you'll all slag him off grin

i keep saying to him that i don't understand how he can be a primmie when his computer games are his most important posession but hey i just don't 'get it maaaaan' wink

AlexA
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Mar 30 2004 16:22

"knobend" with a "k"?!

You posh bastard...

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JoeMaguire
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Mar 30 2004 17:26

I was reading some stuff about the unabomber and came upon this link, it has to be seen to be believed,

http://www.churchofeuthanasia.org/

coyote
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Mar 30 2004 18:19

thanks joe black,

reason i asked was that being a newcomerto those dto the forum i wasn't party to any earlier discussion (if you didn't wanna read it again nobody forced ya...)

i was a little saddned y'see by "arguments" in the Red anarchism thread that were dismissive on similar grounds to those used by most "ordinary people" to dismiss anarchism:

it's unrealistic

it's not gonna be very nice

i don't wanna give up my computor

I guess I'm a "cuddly primmie" then!!

tho' i'd never choose to label myelf a primitivist i have a horrible feeling i'd get labelled as such by some...ho hum.

more later?

tongue star green black

Mystic
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Mar 31 2004 09:57

I think it's self-evident that the global population needs to be smaller to have a sustainable existence where we're all well off. But there's no need for "death-camps" or anything like that - the birth rate falls naturally as a result of greater affluence. In a fairer (i.e. anarchist) world, where people don't have to have dozens of kids, and where people are free to express their sexuality, I suspect the population would round itself off naturally at a much lower number, that requires less exploitation of the environment. Massive populations suit rampant capitalism, because of the vast pool of cheap labour that it organises into society. I mean, it's actually quite important: if we had a revolution tomorrow, for everyone in the world to have the commodities and life of even a working class person in the West (water supply, electricity, etc.) would be very difficult to sustain.

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cantdocartwheels
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Mar 31 2004 10:58

Every policy of the bourgeoisie is about population control. Keeping it within limits, war, famine, pestilence, all engineered concously or unconsciously through the competetion of the various ruling classes.

It is the nature of capitalism and all hierarchical societies to compete for survival, whereas a non-hierarchical society would cooperate.

Primitivism falls into this standard line of malthusian bullshit. Instead of recognising how the elite exploit the rest of society, somehow primitivism blames society for breeding too much. I mean jeez wake up, even under an inneficient system like capitalism theres a food surplus.

And secondly the past was not a happy fun land full of hippies, it was muddy, brutal and you died when you were about 20 if you didn't die in birth or as a baby or of famine or all manner of fun ways to die.

In reality primmos would be a harmless loony sect, just another product of bourgeois ideology, unfortunately some of them have to go around calling themselves ANARCHO-primitivists and associatig themselves with anarchism which is what pisses me off most.

The sooner we blast the lot of them off to space to look for a primordial world or something the better.

john

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Mar 31 2004 13:56

i think you need to restore your inner harmony or something, John.

Need a hug? tongue

FWIW I agree with Mystic. People who are well off tend to have fewer kids, because few will die and they have other means of supporting themselves in old age.

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cantdocartwheels
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Mar 31 2004 20:24
Lazlo_Woodbine wrote:
i think you need to restore your inner harmony or something, John.

.

its just because i'm not hunting enough, therefore i've lost harmony with my inner animal

john

DayDreamer
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Apr 1 2004 16:29

I'm not a fucking primmy tongue Always seemed too rose tinted a view point for my liking.

<goes off to read the threads>

dissident
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Apr 2 2004 09:27
DayDreamer wrote:
I'm not a fucking primmy tongue Always seemed too rose tinted a view point for my liking.

<goes off to read the threads>

then why do you keep fucking saying to me 'erm i think i'm a primmie, oh dear' then eh???

liar.

tongue

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JoeMaguire
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Apr 2 2004 13:42
Mystic wrote:
I think it's self-evident that the global population needs to be smaller to have a sustainable existence where we're all well off. .

This isnt necessarily true. The true crux is the organisation of agriculture which currently is fixed to providing for the meat industry. Of course agriculture which doesnt obsess itself with fattening cows/pigs etc would allow for the population to increase almost tenfold without starvation/famine. The next problem would then come down to social organisation of urban areas, for example could iner cities double in size without major increase in violence/criminality etc? This is debatable

The problem is primmies have good critics but they want to move us back towards ineffiencent methods of producing....

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Rob Ray
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Apr 3 2004 23:11
Quote:
Of course agriculture which doesnt obsess itself with fattening cows/pigs etc would allow for the population to increase almost tenfold without starvation/famine

Hmm dunno bout that. A common misconception is that the land replenishes itself when crops are grown on it (as opposed to when cattle are raised). This is a fallacy. At our level of agricultural concentration, land has to be chemically replenished on average every 6 months. Current agricultural techniques rely on highly pollutant and short termist solutions to create the high yields you're talking about.

For example the use of Nitrogen by the tonne on every piece of land growing Wheat or Linseed is absolutely central to the high yields required to feed populations above a certain density. However, excessive nitrogen use leads to a runoff from fields into the sea, which has already created 'dead zones' - so classified because they are completely unable to sustain aquatic life - up the entire coastline of the western world.

These problems hold true with various compounds including phosphorus and potassium, and in the case of Oil seed rape, high yields are directly dependent on abundant 'ambient sulphur' - industrial fallout to you and me. Pesticides, though less harmful than they used to be, are also extremely detrimental to surrounding wildlife and foliage, weakening any environmental ecosystem near the farmland.

In the long run unless agricultural methods are dramatically changed (or the population drops yadda yadda) this added efficiency of certain crops will be more than offset by the destruction of our aquatic resources, which includes much of our oxygen supply.

NB// I'm not a Primmie and I would never advocate their methods, this is mainly devil's advocate stuff.

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888
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Apr 8 2004 19:09

last time I checked I found crabs, fish and seaweed just off the coast of the western world.

I reckon the earth could sustain a population of several dozen billion, using soon to appear technology, no live animal meat (tissue cultures instead if necessary) and anarchist communism. If it had to. but there's no need for such a high population... hmm actually i might have 10 kids just to annoy the primitivists...

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Rob Ray
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Apr 8 2004 19:28

Hence dead 'zones' as opposed to every single part of the coast roll eyes.

But that wasn't the point. The point was that this supposedly inexhaustable supply of floral foods comes at a huge cost and is not in fact inexhaustable at all. The mere fact that vegetable farmers are having to use so many chemicals these days just to keep the land active means that they are doing just as much damage (albeit with much more efficient output per hectare) as meat producers.

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cantdocartwheels
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Apr 10 2004 15:58

Vegetable farming is still managed by the capitalist system i checked. lol

We have the means to do away with fossil fuels, to advance new forms of farming and crop production that require minumum labour are environmentally friendly and have massive yeilds. But the State needs to maintain energy and food monopolies for certain regions for the concentration of power in the hands of the current ruling class.

This is the whole damn point of anarchism, the capitalist mode of production is innefficient and supports the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Technology isn't ''neutral'' or negative, higher levels of technology are beneficial.

john