Analysis and criticism of anarcho-primitivists, who are opposed to technology. Some are also opposed to mass society, civilisation and language.
The central tenet of primitivism, anarcho-primitivism and anti-civilisationism is the abolition of technology. For most people, arguing against this is completely unnecessary, since it is immediately obvious that it is a terrible idea. Even given the most cursory glance it is clear that abolishing technology would have devastating consequences for humankind and the planet.
For starters, the 50%2 of the UK population who need glasses or contact lenses (which rises to 97% over the age of 653 ) would soon be left severely impaired. Tens of millions of people dependent on drug treatments for illnesses would quickly die. Radioactive nuclear waste needs to be monitored and controlled with high-tech equipment for tens of thousands of years. Without it, even if buried deep underground, climate changes and tectonic plate movements will eventually cause it to leak out and wreak ecological devastation on the planet. This aside from the all the other obviously unattractive prospects of this idea – no more books, recorded music, medical equipment, central heating, sewage systems... - means that almost everyone would reject this idea immediately. However, within and around anarchist circles these ideas do have some support, so this article will examine them in more detail.
Over the last decade a generalised critique of civilisation has been made by a number of authors, mostly based in the USA. Some of these have chosen to identify as anarchists although the more general self-identification is primitivist. Their overall argument is that 'civilisation' (i.e. mass, technological society) itself is the problem that results in our failure to live rewarding lives. The struggle for change is thus a struggle against civilisation and for an earth where technology has been eliminated. This is an interesting argument that has some merits as an intellectual exercise. But the problem is that some of its adherents have used primitivism as a base from which to attack all other proposals for changing society. Facing this challenge anarchists need to first look to see if primitivism offers any sort of realistic alternative to the world as it is.
Our starting point is that the expression 'life is hard' can always receive the reply that 'it is better than the alternative'. This provides a good general test of all critiques of the world 'as it is', including anarchism - which is to ask if a better alternative is possible.
Even if we can't point to the 'better alternative', criticisms of the world 'as it is' can have a certain intellectual value. But after the disaster of the 20th century when so-called alternatives like Leninism created long lasting dictatorships that killed millions, the question 'is your alternative any better then what exists?' has to be put to anyone advocating change.
The primitivist critique of anarchism is based around the claim to have discovered a contradiction between liberty and mass society. In other words they see it as impossible for any society that involves groups much larger than a village to be a free society. If this was true it would make the anarchist proposal of a world of 'free federations of towns, cities and countryside' impossible. Such federations and population centres are obviously a form of mass society/civilisation.
However the anarchist movement has been answering this very so-called contradiction since its origins. Back in the 19th century liberal defenders of the state pointed to such a contradiction in order to justify the need for one set of men to rule over another. Anarchist-communist Mikhail Bakunin answered this in 1871 in his essay on 'The Paris Commune and the Idea of the State"4 .
It is said that the harmony and universal solidarity of individuals with society can never be attained in practice because their interests, being antagonistic, can never be reconciled. To this objection I reply that if these interests have never as yet come to mutual accord, it was because the State has sacrificed the interests of the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority. That is why this famous incompatibility, this conflict of personal interests with those of society, is nothing but a fraud, a political lie, born of the theological lie which invented the doctrine of original sin in order to dishonour man and destroy his self-respect.
.... We are convinced that all the wealth of man's intellectual, moral, and material development, as well as his apparent independence, is the product of his life in society. Outside society, not only would he not be a free man, he would not even become genuinely human, a being conscious of himself, the only being who thinks and speaks. Only the combination of intelligence and collective labour was able to force man out of that savage and brutish state which constituted his original nature, or rather the starting point for his further development. We are profoundly convinced that the entire life of men - their interests, tendencies, needs, illusions, even stupidities, as well as every bit of violence, injustice, and seemingly voluntary activity – merely represent the result of inevitable societal forces. People cannot reject the idea of mutual independence, nor can they deny the reciprocal influence and uniformity exhibiting the manifestations of external nature.
What level of technology?
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, on the contrary they want to go forward. With that in mind a reasonable summary of their position is that certain technologies are acceptable up to the level of small village society sustained by hunting and gathering. The problems for primitivists start with the development of agriculture and mass society.
Of course civilisation (also rarely defined by primitivists) is a rather general term, as is technology. Few of these primitivists have taken this argument to its logical conclusion. One who has is John Zerzan (pictured, right) who identifies the root of the problem in the evolution of language and abstract thought. This is a logical end point for the primitivist rejection of mass society.
For the purposes of this article I'm taking as a starting point 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. By this I do not 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 look quite like pre-agricultural society of 10,000 BC. As this is the only example we have of such a society in operation it seems reasonable to use it to evaluate the primitivist claims.
A question of numbers
Hunter-gatherers live off the food they can hunt or gather, hence the name. Animals can be hunted or trapped while fruits, nuts, greens and roots are gathered. 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 decades5 , others like the Inuit6 have had contact for long periods of time and so have adopted technologies beyond those developed locally. These later groups are very much part of the global civilisation and have contributed to the development of new technologies in this civilisation.
In marginal ecosystems hunter-gathering often represents the only feasible way of producing food. The desert is too dry for sustained agriculture and the arctic too cold. The only other possibility is pastoralism, the reliance on semi-domesticated animals as a food source. For instance in the Scandinavian arctic the Sami7 control the movement of huge reindeer herds to provide a regular food source.
Hunter gathers survive on the food they hunt and gather. This requires very low population densities as population growth is limited by the need to avoid over hunting. Too much gathering of food plants can also serve to reduce the number of plants that are available in the future. 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 agricultural techniques so that per acre we cram in lots of productive plants that put their energy into producing 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 food8 . A a square that is 70 yards wide and 70 yards long measures just over an acre.
The estimated population of human on the earth before the advent of agriculture (10,000 BC) varies with some estimates as low as 250,0009 . Other estimates for the pre-agricultural hunter gather population are more generous, in the range of 6 to 10 million10 . The earth's current population is over 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. Evidence for this can be seen in the Pleistocene overkill11 , a period from 12,000 to 10,000 BC in which 200 genera of large mammals went extinct. In the Americas in this period over 80% of the population of large mammals became extinct12 . That this was due to over hunting is one controversial hypothesis. If correct than the advent of agriculture (and civilisation) may even have been due to the absence of large game which forced hunter gathers to 'settle down' and find other ways of obtaining food.
Certainly in recorded history the same over hunting has been observed with the arrival of man on isolated Polynesian islands. Over hunting caused the extinction of the Dodo in Mauretania and the Moa in New Zealand not to mention many less famous species.
Living in the bog in winter
Another way of looking at the fact that primitivism cannot support all of the people of the planet is more anecdotal and uses Ireland [libcom - where the author lives, though figures for the UK are comparable, though even less favourable for would-be hunter-gatherers] as an example. Left to itself the Irish countryside would consist mostly 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 some. Acorns, fruit on brambles in clearings, some wild garlic, strawberries, edible fungi, wild honey, and the meat from animals like deer, squirrel, wild goat and pigeon that can be hunted. But this is much, much, much fewer calories then the same area cultivated as wheat or potatoes would yield. There is simply not enough land in Ireland to support 5 million, the current population of the island, as hunter gatherers.
Typically hunter gatherers live at a population density of 1 per 10 square km. (Irelands present population density is around 500 per 10 square km or 500 times this [libcom – for the UK this is nearly 2,500 times this, 2,460 per 10 square km]). By extending this standard calculation from elsewhere on the planet the number that could be supported in Ireland would be less then 70,000. Probably a lot less as only 20% of Ireland is arable land. Blanket bog or Burren karst provide little in the way of food useful for humans. In winter there would be very little food to be gathered (perhaps small caches of nuts hidden by squirrels and some wild honey) and that even 70,000 people living off hunting would eradicate the large mammals (deer, wild goat) very quickly. The coastal areas and larger rivers and lakes would be the main source of hunting and some gathering in the form of shellfish and edible seaweed.
But being generous and multiplying the typical hunter gatherers population density by 10, and assuming that somehow Ireland could sustain 70,000 hunter gatherers we discover we need to 'reduce' the population by some 4,930,000. Or 98.6% [libcom note – for the UK these figures are even worse – a generous maximum of 240,000 people out of 60m, thus requiring a 99.6% reduction in population]. The actual archaeological estimates for the population of Ireland before the arrival of agriculture is around 7,000 people.
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 gatherers actually give you 100 million as the maximum figure but just how much of a maximum this is becomes clear when you realise that using similar methods gives 30 billion as the maximum farming figure13 . That would be five times the world’s current population!
But let's 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 those primitivists who have dared 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."14
The earth population today is around 6,000 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 organisation, means that such orchestrated slaughter remains an impossibility as well as just plain horrendous."15
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 Thropy's 50 million has already been quoted. Another primitivist FAQ claims "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."16
The Coalition Against Civilisation write "We need to be realistic about what would happen were we to enter a post-civilised 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."17
More recently Derrick Jensen in an interview from Issue #6 of The 'A' Word Magazine18 said civilisation "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 civilisation brought down and I want it brought down now." We have seen above what the consequences of 'bringing down' civilisation are.
In short there is no shortage of primitivists who recognise 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 can therefore refuse to confront this question of die off by upping the emotional ante and by accusing those who point the need for die-off out as carrying out 'smear tactics'. It's up to him to explain either 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 requirement of mass death will conclude that 'primitivism' offers nothing to fight for. A 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 others die. But this latter group has 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 civilisation and not an alternative to it. This is fair enough and there is a value in re-examining the basic assumptions of civilisation. But in that case primitivism is no substitute for the anarchist struggle for liberation, which involves adapting technology to our needs rather then rejecting it. The problem is that primitivists like to attack the very methods of mass organisation that are necessary for overthrowing capitalism. Reasonable enough if you believe you have an alternative to anarchism 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 examining 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?
Are we all doomed?
Primitivists are not the only ones to use the rhetoric of catastrophe to panic people into accepting their political proposals. Reformists such as George Monbiot, use similar 'we are all doomed' arguments to try and stampede people into support for reformism and world government. In the last decade's acceptance that the world is somehow doomed has become part of mainstream culture, first as the Cold War and then as looming environmental disaster. George Bush and Tony Blair created a panic over “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to give cover to their invasion of Iraq. The need to examine and dismantle such panics is clear.
We're doomed! Or are
The most convincing form the 'end of civilisation' panic takes is the idea of a looming resource crisis that will make life as we know it impossible. And the best resource to focus on for those who wish to make this argument is oil. Everything we produce, including food, is dependant on massive energy inputs and 40% of the world's energy use is generated from oil.
The primitivist version of this argument goes something like this, 'everyone knows that in X number of year the oil will run out, this will mean civilisation will grind to a halt, and this will mean lots of people will die. So we might as well embrace the inevitable'. The oil running out argument is the primitivist equivalent of the orthodox Marxist 'final economic crisis that results in the overthrow of capitalism'. And, just like the orthodox Marxists, primitivists always argue this final crisis is always just around the corner.
When looked at in any detail this argument evaporates and it becomes clear that neither capitalism nor civilisation face a final crisis because of the oil running out. This is not because oil supplies are inexhaustible, indeed we may be reaching or have reached the peak of oil production today. But far from being the end of capitalism or civilisation this is an opportunity for profit and restructuring. Capital however reluctantly, is gearing up to make profits out of developing alternative energy sources on the one hand and on the other of accessing plentiful but more destructive ways to extract fossil fuel supplies. The second path of course makes global warming and other forms of pollution a lot worse but that's not likely to stop the global capitalist class.
It is not just primitivists who have become mesmerised by the oil crisis, but in summary, while oil will become more expensive over the decades the process to develop substitutes for it is already underway. Denmark for instance intends to produce 50% of its energy needs from wind farms by 2030 and Danish companies are already making vast amounts of money because they are the leading producers of wind turbines. The switch over from oil is likely to provide an opportunity to make profits for capitalism rather then representing some form of final crisis.
There may well be an energy crisis as oil starts to rise in price and alternative technologies are not yet capable of filling the 40% of energy generation filled by oil. This will cause oil and therefore energy prices to soar but this will be a crisis for the poor of the world and not for the wealthy some of whom will even profit from it. A severe energy crisis could trigger a global economic downturn but again it is the world's workers that suffer the most in such times. There is a good argument that the world's elite are already preparing for such a situation, many of the recent US wars make sense in terms of securing future oil supplies for US corporations.
Capitalism is quite capable of surviving very destructive crisis. World War II saw many of the major cities of Europe destroyed and most of the industry of central Europe flattened. (By bombers, by war, by retreating Germans and then torn up and shipped east by advancing Russians). Millions of European workers died as a result both in the war years and in the years that followed. But capitalism not only survived, it flourished as starvation allowed wages to be driven down and profits soared.
However it is worth doing a little mental exercise on this idea of the oil running out. If indeed there was no alternative what might happen? Would a primitivist utopia emerge even at the bitter price of 5,900 million people dying?
No. The primitivists seem to forget that we live in a class society. The population of the earth is divided into a few people with vast resources and power and the rest of us. It is not a case of equal access to resources, rather of quite incredible unequal access. Those who fell victim to the mass die off would not include Rubert Murdoch, Bill Gates or George Bush because these people have the money and power to monopolise remaining supplies for themselves.
Instead the first to die in huge number would be the population of the poorer mega cities on the planet. Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt have a population of around 20 million between them. Egypt is dependent both on food imports and on the very intensive agriculture of the Nile valley and the oasis. Except for the tiny wealthy elite those 20 million urban dwellers would have nowhere to go and there is no more land to be worked. Current high yields are in part dependent on high inputs of cheap energy.
The mass deaths of millions of people is not something that destroys capitalism. Indeed at periods of history it has been seen as quite natural and even desirable for the modernisation of capital. The potato famine of the 1840's that reduced the population of Ireland by 30% was seen as desirable by many advocates of free trade19 . So was the 1943/4 famine in British ruled Bengal in which four million died20 . For the capitalist class such mass deaths, particularly in colonies, afford opportunities to restructure the economy in ways that would otherwise be resisted.
The real result of an 'end of energy' crisis would see our rulers stock piling what energy sources remained and using them to power the helicopter gunships that would be used to control those of us fortunate enough to be selected to toil for them in the biofuel fields. The unlucky majority would just be kept where they are and allowed to die off. More of the 'Matrix' than utopia in other words.
The other point to be made here is that destruction can serve to regenerate capitalism. Like it or not large scale destruction allows some capitalist to make a lot of money. Think of the Iraq war. The destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure may be a disaster for the people of Iraq buts it's a profit making bonanza for Halliburton and co.21 . Not coincidentally the Iraq war is helping the USA, where the largest corporations are based, gain control of the parts of the planet where much future and current oil production takes place.
We can extend our intellectual exercise still further. Let us pretend that some anarchists are magically transported from the Earth to some Earth-like planet elsewhere. And we are dumped there without any technology at all. The few primitivists amongst us might head off to run with the deer but a fair percentage would sit down and set about trying to create an anarchist civilisation. Many of the skills we could bring might not be that useful (programming without computers is of little use) but between us we'd have a good basic knowledge of agriculture, engineering, hydraulics and physics. Next time the primitivists wandered through the area we settled they'd find a landscape of farms and dams.
We'd at least have wheeled carts and possibly draft animals if any of the large game were suitable for domestication. We'd send out parties looking for obvious sources of coal and iron and if we found these we'd mine and transport them. If not we'd be felling a lot of lumber to turn into charcoal to extract whatever iron or copper we could from what could be found. The furnace and the smelter would also be found on that landscape. We'd have some medical knowledge, most importantly an understanding of germs and medical hygiene so we'd have both basic water purification and sewage removal systems.
We'd understand the importance of knowledge so we'd have an education system for our children and at least the beginnings of a long-term store of knowledge (books). We could probably find the ingredients for gunpowder, which are quite common, which would give us the blasting technology need for large-scale mining and construction. If there was any marble nearby we could make concrete, which is a much better building material then wood or mud.
Technology did not come from the gods. It was not imposed on man by a mysterious outside force. Rather it is something we developed and continue to develop. Even if you could turn the clock back it would just start ticking again. John Zerzan seems to be the only primitivist capable of acknowledging this and he retreats to the position of seeing language and abstract thought as the problem. He is both right and ludicrous at the same time. His vision of utopia requires not only the death of the mass of the world’s population but would require the genetically engineered lobotomy of those who survive and their offspring! Not of course something he advocates but a logical end point of his argument.
Why argue against it?
So why spend so much space demolishing such a fragile ideology as primitivism. One reason is the embarrassing connection with anarchism some primitivists seek to claim. More importantly primitivism both by implication and often in its calls wants its followers to reject rationalism for mysticism and oneness with nature. They are not the first irrational ecological movement to do so, a good third of the German Nazi party came from forest-worshipping blood and soil movements that sprung up in Germany in the aftermath of World War I.
This is not an empty danger. Within primitivism a self-proclaimed irrational wing has developed that if not yet advocating "nazi-style death camps" has openly celebrated the deaths and murder of large numbers of people as a first step.
Carnage - the Oklahoma
In December 1987 the US publication Earth First wrote that "the AIDS epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome development in the inevitable reduction of human population."22 Around a decade later in Britain Steve Booth, one of the editors of a magazine called 'Green Anarchist ', wrote that
"The Oklahoma bombers had the right idea. The pity was that they did not blast any more government offices. Even so, they did all they could and now there are at least 200 government automatons that are no longer capable of oppression. The Tokyo sarin cult had the right idea. The pity was that in testing the gas a year prior to the attack, they gave themselves away. They were not secretive enough. They had the technology to produce the gas but the method of delivery was ineffective. One day the groups will be totally secretive and their methods of fumigation will be completely effective."23
This is where you end up when you celebrate spirituality over rationality. When the hope of 'running with deer' overcomes the need to deal with the problem of making a revolution on a planet of 6 billion people. The ideas above have only reactionary conclusions. Their logic is elitist and hierarchical, little more that a semi-secular version of gods chosen people laying waste to the unbelievers. It certainly has nothing in common with anarchism. We need more not less technology.
Which brings us back to the start. Civilisation comes with many, many problems but it is better than the alternative. The challenge for anarchists is in transforming civilisation to a form that is without hierarchy, or imbalances of power or wealth. This is not a new challenge, it has always been the challenge of anarchism as shown by the lengthy Bakunin quotation at the start of this essay.
To do this we need modern technology to clean our water, pump away and process our waste and inoculate or cure people of the diseases of high population density. With only 10 million people on the earth you can shit in the woods providing you keep moving on. With 6 billion those who shit in the woods are shitting in the water they and those around them will have to drink. According to the UN "each year, more than 2.2 million people die from water and sanitation related diseases, many of them children". Close to one billion urban dwellers have no access to sustainable sanitation. Data for "43 African cities .... shows that 83 percent of the population do not have toilets connected to sewers"24 .
The challenge then is not simply the construction of a civilisation that keeps everyone's standards of living at the level they are now. The challenge is raising just about everyone's standard of living but doing so in a manner that is reasonably sustainable. Only the further development of technology coupled to a revolution that eliminates inequality across the planet can deliver this.
It is unfortunate that some anarchists who live in the most developed, most wealthy and most technological nations of the world prefer to play with primitivism than getting down to thinking about how we can really change the world. The global transformation required will make all previous revolutions fade into insignificance.
The major problem is not simply that capitalism has been happy to leave a huge proportion of the world's population in poverty. The problem is also that development has been aimed at creating consumers for future products rather then providing what people need.
As long as capitalism exists it will continue to wreak environmental havoc as it chases profits. It will only effectively respond to the energy crisis once that becomes profitable and because there will be a lag of many years before oil can be replaced this might mean worsening poverty and death for many of the poorer people in the world. But we cannot fix these problems by dreaming of some lost golden age when the world's population was low enough to support hunter gathering. We can only sort it out by building the sort of mass movements that can not only overthrow capitalism but also introduce a libertarian society. And on the way we need to find ways to halt and even reverse some of the worst of the environmental threats capitalism is generating. Read more about how we can prevent environmental destruction in our Everyday Manifesto...
Primitivism is a pipe dream - it offers no way forwards in the struggle for a free society. Often its adherents end up undermining that struggle by attacking the very things, like mass organisation, that are a requirement to win it. Those primitivists who are serious about changing the world need to re-examine what they are fighting for.
1. Primitivism is such a ridiculous idea it should not even need arguing against, although unfortunately within anarchist circle it does.
2. Abolishing technology would have catastrophic consequences for the planet in terms of nuclear waste leakage, and on ill or disabled people, not to mention general quality of life.
3. Hunter-gathering could only feed an absolute maximum of 100m people, thereby necessitating a reduction of population of 5,900m people. Primitivists cannot explain how this will come about.
4. Even if there were ecological disaster or mass human die-off it would not destroy capitalism or class society, it would simply be used by capital as an opportunity to restructure, and ensure the class divide stays intact.
5. There is nothing inherently wrong with technology, it just depends on how it is applied – in a free society they can be used to increase freedom (from onerous work, or physical disability etc.).
6. To protect the planet we do not to get rid of technology, only of the wasteful and destructive system of capitalism which places profit above all else. To do that we need mass working class organisations which can protect our conditions, and our planet, and eventually run society on the basis of co-operation, not profit. Read more about protecting the environment...
- 1This foreword was written by libcom. What follows is an article by Andrew Flood which we have edited http://www.libcom.org/library/civilisation-primitivism-anarchism-andrew-flood
- 13Google cache page http://www.google.ie/search?q=cache:SC6WTwBCazUJ: (sorry but the page is not directly accessible)
- 14"Miss Ann Thropy," Earth First! Dec. 22, 1987, cited at http://www.processedworld.com/Issues/issue22/primitive_thought.htm
- 17The Practical Anarcho-Primitivist: actualizing the implications of a critique - Coalition Against Civilisation - http://www.coalitionagainstcivilisation.org/speciestraitor/pap.html
- 18Issue #6 of The 'A' Word Magazine, this interview online on infoshop: http://www.infoshop.org/inews/stories.php?story=04/02/11/5876278
- 21For a reasoned critique of collapism from a Green anarchist
perspective see http://pub47.ezboard.com/fanarchykkafrm1.showPrevMessage?topicID=372.topic
- 22Earth First!, Dec. 22, 1987, cited at http://www.processedworld.com/Issues/issue22/primitive_thought.htm
- 23Green Anarchist, number 51, page 11, a defence of these remarks was published in Number 52. The author Steve Booth was a GA editor (and the treasurer) at the time.
a review of this article by
a review of this article by Frere Dupont
Quote: At the same time, he
What a pretentious wanker.
So you got half way through
So you got half way through the first paragraph then - well done! Any more merciless critical insights?
Nope, couldn't be bother
Nope, couldn't be bother wading through the waste-deep river of shit.
That's, like, sooooo funny!
That's, like, sooooo funny!
Quote: I am not overly
so they don't have any idea what primitivist advocate but they are going to assume "libcom" is wrong anyway? that review is fucking stupid and doesn't deserve any response
I think Dupont could do it
I think Dupont could do it better.
This tendency towards diy and smallscale was always presented among proletarians, but primitivism is not equal to this tendency. It's a concrete trend in anarchist milieu that started, say, in 1999 and now has almost disappeared. It correspended rise and decline of antiglobalization movement and anti-consumerist thought. If author throw light on this development, he then could make deeper analysis of libcom's rivalry towards primitivism. Libcom is historically anti-lifestylist project, and primitivism was an easy target in war against lifestylist anarchism. And here we can find the source of prejudices towards any doubts in science, civilisation and technology, which are quickly blamed as PRIMMO BULLSHIT et al.
I hope you weren't referring to Gould. The work they are quoting from, "Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle" is really very good, and Gould definitely tries to access what he's critiquing and what he is investigating in their own terms, as well as in others`, unlike the author of that piece.
osobo wrote: And here we can
I think that's because the people who come on here to critique tech, science and civilization are primmos. I think the key word is civilization here. Quite a few posters will critique science and tech, but using a different framework. Rather than the primmos I use Marx, Jaques Ellul, Langdon Winner and Paul Virilio. Good example of a community that is inherently tech critical are the Amish; their approach to tech is not one of rejection that tech is teh ebilz, but that the way in which tech is implemented in their communities can either tear it apart or safeguard it. I am not saying that we should all start being Amish-like, but that if you want to look into an interesting take on tech, by people who actually practice what they preach, then the Amish, rather than primmos armed with broadband and a keyboard, is much more interesting.
Khawaga wrote: I think that's
"I think that's because the people who come on here to critique tech, science and civilization are primmos." This is nonsense, on the other thread about Lawrence Jarach's article me and others asked specific questions about technology and the possibility of self-organizing mass society at current technology levels, while always making clear we are not advocating primitivism, but of course got called primmos and had other strawman arguments used against us. The thread is here http://libcom.org/forums/theory/lawrence-jarachs-take-primitivism-30032011 . The arguments are still unanswered and from my experience very few anarchists have even thought about these things. Personally there is very little I disagree with in the libcom article above but it still does not answer the questions in that thread and this line of thinking in general.
And it looks very eccentric to me to look favorably at an american religious sect which from the little I have read is puritan and segregationist, for having "an interesting rejection of technology" Khawaga.
dinosavros wrote: And it
IMHO it is worth analysing interesting things purely for their own sake, without bringing guilt-by-association into the equation. When we look at useful discoveries made by capitalists, should we really reject them purely because they were made by profiteering bastards?
heck, proudhon and bakunin were very anti-semitic, but we still are happy to call ourselves anarchists
dino wrote: And it looks very
Have you bothered to look into their view on technology at all? If not, then maybe you should before you start thinking that I am looking "favourably" at a religious sect. If you bothered to read what I wrote, I said that the way in which they choose to implement (or even reject) is interesting, not their religious belief. You, of all people, who apparently is critical of tech, should find it interesting that that the Amish choose to adopt tech that only comes with their values, which are very community oriented and against individual atomism. When they do choose (or forced by e.g. state law) to adopt a given tech they figure out how it works, consider what impact the tech as it is will have on their community. If the impact is bad they will, if possible alter the tech so that it won't fuck them up. It's their approach, stupid, that is interesting, not the Amish.
And you purposefully choose the Amish for some reason. Why not single out Virilio or Ellul? They're both catholics; so wouldn't that be eccentric as well? In any case, your response, when someone suggests other takes on critiques of tech and science is to discount it? That doesn't make sense at all. Shouldn't you be interested in what their critiques are? If I could summarize some of their arguments? What texts to read etc? Instead you throw a fit because I dared to mention the Amish. FFS, that's just the typical fallacy of "guilt by association".
Look, clever, I didn't throw
Look, clever, I didn't throw a fit, I just said that I found it eccentric. I didn't mean to argue guilt-by-association or to discount them and if you want to recommend a text I promise to read it as long as it's not too long. All I know about the Amish is the article on Wikipedia that I read before posting and a film with Harrison Ford I saw ages ago. I mentioned it more to show your double standards because here you encourage taking the Amish seriously here while in the Jarach thread you act like a chorus-boy for all the primmo-strawman bashing, "you are a troll and nothing more" etc etc bla bla, not engaging with honest attempts at dialogue and reasoning and instead throwing off one liners.
And to use your own words back at you (http://libcom.org/forums/theory/lawrence-jarachs-take-primitivism-30032011?page=1#comment-422670)
but dino, they are not
but dino, they are not strawman arguments.
i''m sure every libertarian communist wants to live in harmony with the earth and phase out the destructive effects of technology upon man, but we have to recognise that technology is a mere extension of the first human tools (ie. a hammer was one of the first means of production to have been invented), and that technology has many liberating effects upon humans.
personally, as a humanist, i would prefer to see people well fed, intelligently educated, progressive reduction of work that each individual has to do, more time to pursue our passions etc. This to me is the key to creating a wholesome human society.
And don't get me wrong, i really do recognise how awfully technology is affecting us, but i would argue that is because it is controlled by capitalists.
Why only maintain current technology levels when we know that there are many new postitive developments just around the corner for humanity? Developments that will further reduce necessary work, developments that will eventually allow us to colonize other planets to make sure that the wonderful thing that is conscious life will survive if the earth is ever destroyed (i'm talking about natural occurences like asteroid crashes - just look at the ice age for an example of the effect the last crash had)
EDIT: you'll probably think i'm mad for wanting to develop space technology, but please bear in mind i think we should solve our problems on this planet first. and that includes developing Africa and solving world hunger.
IMO humanity's problems are so great we can't afford to not keep developing our technology.
dino wrote: I mentioned it
Fair enough. My posts are probably a bit meta, in that I've had plenty of discussion about primitivism both on and off these boards and I've had enough of them and their so-called "theory". In the end most primmos turn out to be misanthropes, which means that they don't really gvive a shit about working class emancipation. They see the working class as the problem, not the political subject that can negate capitalism. And the typical argument is bound up with a rather simplistic view on tech; that it is tech and "mass society" that is the problem. And tech is inherently the problem. A laughable argument. The Amish, on the other hand, are not anti-tech, but they do believe that tech comes with specific values, politics and require certain forms of social organization that will destroy the community they try to foster. So if possible they will adopt tech, but only after they are adapted so that they won't be damaging to Amish values. Now that is a sensible approach to tech and I think, with some modifications, this is how ATR we could approach self-organized tech. There is no self-organization if we have to abide to what the tech dictates (nuclear power is a case in point).
If you're interested in reading about this, I suggest the article "Amish Technology: Reinforcing Values and Building Community" by Jameson Wetmore. You can find it in the colletion Technology and Society: Building Our Sociotechnical Future. It shortish and decent. I can send you the PDF if you PM me your e-mail.
Harrison Myers wrote: but we
This is a strawman argument because I have never said anything to contradict this and neither did anyone else on the other thread that I am talking about. Did you read it?
Again this is strawman stuff at least relating to the questions raised on that thread and in some of the texts Maphisto has recomended. I don't deny that there are people who make the arguments you are referring to, but there are both primitivists and technologically-skeptical people with much more depth to their arguments than the ones you are presenting.
I agree with this approach actually.
Quote: here are both
While I've yet to read a primitivist with depth to his/her argument, I've read plenty of tech-skeptical people that have (hence my suggestions as to who to read). If you can point me to some sensible primitivists I'd be very interested to read their take.
dino you are strawmanning me
dino you are strawmanning me by claiming i am building strawman arguments.
or maybe i'm now strawmanning you by claiming you are strawmanning me by claiming i am building strawman arguments? :haddock:
Khawaga wrote: Quote: here
Thanks for mentioning some of those authors Khawaga. I am still sorely lacking in non-Primitivist critiques of technology aside from Marx and Engels. I would like to echo dinsavros too that I AM NOT a Primitivst whole sale and likely never will be. Yet my last thread was created in order to analyse the merits of Jarach's critique of common criticism's of Primitivist objections. My biggest worry is that liitle thought has been done from our camp about how the creation of specific technologies and materials may be sound idelogically but are not sound when it comes to protecting the environment. Not to mention that such a need for raw materials from elsewhere in order to sustain a level of technology could lead to renewed war if the people who live on or near those materials refuse to have them cultivated for the use of strangers (because they don't want to be disturbed or their ecosystems damaged). Of course I still believe that in a true communist society, we will work with our neighbors to recompense their loss, reduce pollution and share resources.
i actually agree with you
i actually agree with you maphisto.
btw. heres an interesting philiosophy over technology, asserted by the author of a programming language:
I think that this article
I think that this article sort of overlooks an elephant in the room called 'climate change', which, interestingly, it doesn't really mention except for the offhand conclusion that "[e]ven if there were ecological disaster or mass human die-off it would not destroy capitalism or class society, it would simply be used by capital as an opportunity to restructure, and ensure the class divide stays intact."
I'd question this conclusion. As a matter of fact, consider this recent statement from the Geological Society of London (http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/climatechange):
In the coming centuries, continued emissions of carbon from burning oil, gas and coal at close to or higher than today’s levels, and from related human activities, could increase the total to close to the amounts added during the 55 million year warming event – some 1500 to 2000 billion tonnes. Further contributions from ‘natural’ sources (wetlands, tundra, methane hydrates, etc.) may come as the Earth warms. The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5-6ºC, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of any mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more. Numerical models of the climate system support such an interpretation. In the light of the evidence presented here it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be.
You can extrapolate this conclusion from these statements of educated opinion; if we don't stop or at least drastically reduce emission, NOW, there'll be a disaster of such colossal scope that it WILL "destroy capitalism" AND "class society". And that's whether the oil runs out or not...
The problem is that it will also destroy /all other forms of social organisation/ for perhaps the next 100 000 years. Maybe even human civilisation itself.
Now I would say that, to socially aware people such as those on this board, that's a situation which ought to be taken very, very seriously indeed. Facile dismissals of primitivism aren't necessarily helpful. They may not have the right solution, but at least they can see the problem with clarity.
I myself don't advocate the 'abandonment of technology' - whatever that would mean in practice - but I think it's very clear that the current systems of technique are at least contributing to our social problems and that they can certainly be improved, in order to improve the lives of people everywhere.
It seems to me, rather, that the present system has actually engineered its own complete downfall, as encouraged by the multitude of hard-Right climate change deniers who ignore clear scientific evidence because it contradicts their own ideology. Let's not repeat their mistake. Enough damage has been done already, and it's unstoppable to a large extent.
I believe that as basic life-support systems of this planet begin to show signs of damage, people will eventually realise that it's the smash-and-grab 'free market' policies, and the politicians who either did nothing or not enough that got us into this situation. And then they will look to people like the 'anarchists' for solutions.
My current view is that the most important thing now is not to do anything to 'bring down the system', because it's on its way out and it might be sooner than anyone thinks. The most important thing now is to offer meaningful new ways forward. Let's not quarrel about the fittings of the lifeboats - as long as they work, and get us off the /Titanic/ in time...
I'd like to say more, but have no more time...hope this is of use to someone somehow...
I had no clue that Earth
I had no clue that Earth First! published that horrifying garbage about the AIDS crisis.
I'm not gonna watch the vid,
I'm not gonna watch the vid, so do tell, Soapy.
Isn't it silly to expect a
Isn't it silly to expect a certain ideology to answer the problems of something that civilization and agriculture and control and systems of control have created over thousands of years in one fell swoop?
Shouldn't it be obvious that there will have to be a gradual easing out of the psychosis and convoluted and complex problems we've created for ourselves with agriculture and technologies?
This is my first post. I just found this article and website today because I also have recently stumbled onto anarcho-primitivism or whatever you want to call it and just began to finally open my mind to anarchy as well. I wanted to find and hear critiques of primitivism because I find myself naturally drawn to it and in agreement with the general spirit of the entire ideology though I try to shy away from dogmatic thought and Isms in general and keep an open mind.
The article obsesses about hunter gatherer lifestyles not being able to sustain current global populations but ignores the more serious unsustainability of superfluous and unnecessary lifestyle and comfort technologies that people expect anymore as second nature. Monocultural agriculture in general is one of the greatest problems as it necessitates division of labour,enforces high starch diets that lead to later convoluted health problems that many of these technologies people think are necessary for but are really just in a sort of distopian symbiotic relationship. Permaculture and Food Forests and polyculture in general could be a sort of compromise between the 2 although they in and of themselves represent control as well which may be the actual base root cause of all we think is good and bad in civilization.
I think we need to consider some other factors. 1 is that population levels in areas where industrialization and technology and infrastructure are rooted generally tend to shrink without new immigrants, because of certain lifestyle changes, as is happening in Europe. So, as the rest of the world races towards so-called first world standards they too will experience a similar downward trend in reproductive rates. There is an ebb and flow of population that is much more dramatic with monocultural agriculture systems than the much more natural and subtle ones of those of hunter gatherer and perhaps some sort of hybrid hunter gatherer polyculture food forest implementation. The whole exponential population growth argument and the necessity of a machine or some sort of apocalypse to feed/kill it is just fear mongering. Civilization, the machine, and divisions of labour encourage people to have huge families just as a sort of life insurance policy when food is relatively cheap but wages are low, so to change classes people need to spread their eggs in many baskets so to speak and those eggs become nest eggs that take care of them as well as they become elderly, excuse the puns.
We can't forget desertification, something the author indirectly mentions via unsustainability of deserts for HGs, yet doesn't address the causes of it. 2 such causes are the direct byproduct of civilization via poorly implemented monocultural agriculture,where poor soil conditions and overgrazing due to the domestication(a system of control again largely absent in indigenous societies) of grazing animals Ieads to barren desert prone land.
I think future climate change may also influence society, organized or not 'civilized' or indigenous in many ways. Usually the negatives are focused on but what about the fact that an earth with higher and more even year round temperatures could be more suitable to the sorts of year round food growing environments that tropical indigenous cultures have sustained since the dawn of time. I think the hot and cold of summers/winters may influence the sort of dualism such as busybody/lazy that the dominant civilizations are rooted in and obsessed with. More constant year round climates seem to produce people/cultures with more even equilibriums. Maybe there would be more land covered in water from the melting ice but an earth that was entirely tropical and subtropical migh make up for it in food production ability.
Tribal indigenous societies avoid many of these problems since they have let go of control, they just are, which I don't want to romanticize too much but which you have to admit has given us all sorts of cancerous byproducts all associated with control-Systems of control, Dualistic Ideologies, Organized Religion, the cultivation of the ego from the idea of possessions and property 'rights', almost all personality disorders that plague life and society today,power, greed, and maybe, the pursuit of more than you need. Equlibrium is indubitably more constant and instinctual with those who live close to the earth.
I stay open minded, I am new to all this as I said. I am hoping there may be some seemingly impossible way to combine a more instinctual letting go of control and 'being' with some of the better aspects of 'civilization' through the pursuit of knowledge, like permaculture. I don't know.
You have obviously put a lot
You have obviously put a lot more thought into Anarcho-Primitivism than I have, but I have to say this; technology is great when balanced with the environment, monocropping increases output and efficiency, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would be outright inconvenient, and billions dead. That's all.
Soapy wrote: I had no clue
To be fair, that was tongue and cheek satire written by Christopher Manes under the pen name "Miss Ann Thropy" and that idiot was kicked out for those statements. Equating Earth First! with the actions of that one individual is like equating syndicalism with fascism because of George Sorel.
Earth First! definitely had its problems. Patriarchy. Borderline Nationalism with fucks like Dave Formen (who now speaks at anti-illegal immigrant rallies on occasion).
There has been a lot of good in it too, especially in recent times. I think they would have been better off disbanding and launching a new ecological action group with a anti-capitalist, anti-borders bent after they disassociated with those few shitheads that spoiled their name forever.
Please correct Date
Please correct Date attribution mistake/slur in Flood article
I think the article overall is rather weak, but never the less thought this correction was in order.
In the article Flood says:
"In December 1997 the US publication Earth First wrote that "the AIDS epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome development in the inevitable reduction of human population."(22) Around the same period in Britain Steve Booth, one of the editors of a magazine called 'Green Anarchist ',..."
Actually this was in 1987 - not 1997 - in the US Earth First! Journal (and caused a major rukus in the movement). The reference in the article actually confirms this "22: Earth First!, Dec. 22, 1987, cited at http://www.processedworld.com/Issues/issue22/primitive_thought.htm".
It's not a libcom typo as in the above quote Flood gets mixed up himself and says for the sake of his narrative that it and the horrific crap about by Steve Booth about the Tokyo Sarin attacks were "around the same period" - which they were not – Booth was writing 11 years later (in UK Green Anarchist #51, Spring 1998).
While the mistake is Floods not Libcoms I think it deserves correction as it smears the Earth First! Journal editors of the late 90s (and by implication the wider movement), who were pushing an increasingly anti-capitalist line and for good or bad were many of the same folks that organised the 1999 N30 at Seattle etc. In fact their political orientation (and that of most of US EF!ers at the time) was in reaction against much of the ideas of the 80’s Journal editors who left the movement with the bit split in part sparked by the AIDS quote.
Whatever one's thoughts on primitivism I feel the correction is worth putting in.
admin: no flaming. This is a
admin: no flaming. This is a final warning: further flaming or nonsensical off topic posts will result in a temporary ban
no.25 wrote: You have
True! Just in a small backyard plot I grew enough corn to survive on for a year, without ofcourse any excesses like TV, internet, auto, moibile phone etc, all of the things that make life adorned, but if energy is available and exploitable,,,,well, I don't understand the hesitation to use it.
Ironically it was the hunter/gatherer Pueblo Indian society which developed the modern corn/maize variety, it was convenient in a desert environment to produce a grain that could be stored for long durations and be altered by grinding into various tasty breads. One should not judge a society by its cuisine, corn takos tomato chilli chicken is a dish worthy of any anarchist.