Where the sane fear to tread: anarcho-primitivism

Anarcho-primitivism, according to advocate John Moore, is “a shorthand term for a radical current that critiques the totality of civilization from an anarchist perspective, and seeks to initiate a comprehensive transformation of human life.” In essence, it is a form of anarchism that is against the very foundations of civilisation itself.

It is for this reason that it is perhaps the most obscure and (to outsiders) bizarre form of anarchism that exists today. “For anarcho-primitivists,” writes Moore, “civilization is the overarching context within which the multiplicity of power relations develop,” and “it is in civilization that power relations become pervasive and entrenched in practically all aspects of human life and human relations with the biosphere.” Thus dismantling civilisation is the only way toward “the abolition of all power relations – e.g., structures of control, coercion, domination, and exploitation – and the creation of a form of community that excludes all such relations.”

John Zerzan, one of the most prominent figures in the anarcho-primitivist movement

From the perspective of the primitivists, other forms of anarchism “want to take over civilization, rework its structures to some degree, and remove its worst abuses and oppressions.” This means that “99% of life in civilization remains unchanged in their future scenarios, precisely because the aspects of civilization they question are minimal.” As such, “overall life patterns wouldn’t change too much” and “mass society would essentially continue, with most people working, living in artificial, technologised environments, and subject to forms of coercion and control.”

From this, Moore postulates that “radical ideologies on the Left seek to capture power, not abolish it” and “organizations, for anarcho-primitivists, are just rackets, gangs for putting a particular ideology in power.”

Primitivism is an extremely tiny fringe movement. Nonetheless, it offers a position which challenges the very basis of radical libertarian philosophies and cannot simply be written off as the fantasies of crackpots without valid reasoning. If we are to reject the anti-civilisation ideology as a valid strand of anarchist thought, as I would argue that we should, then we must justify this. What follows is my attempt to do precisely that.

The necessity of civilisation

The focal point of primitivism is this idea that civilisation itself is inherently hierarchical and must be abolished. But what is civilisation?

It is hard to find a concrete definition of this concept from those so adamantly opposed to it. However, it seems likely that they mean the shift from a time when humanity was part of nature to the present, when we are largely detached from it. This, they argue, is the root of mass warfare, the subjugation of women, population growth, private property, entrenched hierarchies, and the spread of disease.

As Emily Schultz and Robert Lavenda put it in The Consequences of Domestication and Sedentism;

Sedentism and domestication represent not just a technological change but also a change in worldview. Land was no longer a free good, available to anyone, with resources scattered randomly across the landscape; it was transformed into particular territories, collectively or individually owned, on which people raised crops and flocks.  Thus, sedentism and a high level of resource extraction (whether by complex foraging or farming) led to concepts of property t[h]at were rare in previous foraging societies. Graves, grave goods, permanent housing, grain-processing equipment, as well as the fields and herds, connected people to places.  The human mark on the environment was larger and more obvious following sedentization and the rise of farming; people transformed the landscape in more dramatic ways–building terraces or walls to hold back floods.

From this, we see an increase in fertility rates, a decline in diet, an increased “precariousness,” environmental degradation, and the increase of labour. In other words, the woes that define our world were created and are maintained by civilisation itself, not a particular way of organising civilisation.

Alongside this, the technology born of civilisation earns particular scorn. John Zerzan throws “liberals, Marxists, members of left parties, Noam Chomsky, the anarchist left, the syndicalists, the Wobblies” together as “all those people who think technology is fine and it just depends on how you use it and that there’s nothing wrong with development and the industrial system, it just depends who’s running it.”

In Civilisation, Primitivism, and Anarchism, Andrew Flood notes that “the primitivist critique of anarchism is based around the claim to have discovered a contradiction between liberty and mass society.” In essence, it is “impossible for any society that involves groups much larger than a village to be a free society,” which makes “the anarchist proposal of a world of ‘free federations of towns, cities and countryside’ impossible” as “such federations and population centers are obviously a form of mass society/civilisation.” However, Flood points out that “the anarchist movement has been answering this very so-called contradiction since its origins,” and cites Mikhail Bakunin’s response to such an argument being used to justify hierarchy and domination;

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.

From the broader question of “civilisation” we move to the Primitivist objection to technology. In their foreword to Flood’s essay, LibCom make the point that “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% of the UK population who need glasses or contact lenses (which rises to 97% over the age of 65) 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.

This explains why primitivism would never catch on in practice. But it also tells us why it would be very bad for it to do so. The existence envisaged by anarcho-primitivists would lead to, indeed would require, a mass die-out on behalf of most of the human race.

Ideological genocide

Jason Godesky, on the Anthropix Network, tries to refute “the single most common, and the single most powerful attack launched against primitivists by the progressivist camp;”

It is undeniably true that the world’s population cannot be sustained without modern civilization. Of course, it is abundantly clear that modern civilization is not sustainable, either. Given those two facts, then some kind of massive die-off is inevitable. It might be through genocide, but since primitvists are a fringe of a fringe (and will always be so) it’s unlikely to come from us. There are many other parties with a much greater interest in genocide for its own sake, who are far closer to power than we will ever be. Ultimately, genocide might be the kindest method, just as it is kind to deliver a coup de grace to a dying animal. The alternative is to waste away by hunger or disease. But ultimately, genocide on such a scale would be nigh impossible, and though die-off is guaranteed, it is almost as guaranteed not to come by way of genocide.

Rather, collapse is more likely to occur as it always has. The diminishing returns of complexity lead to the breakdown of civilization, until some minor turbulence that might have been easily overcome in a former time, instead ends our civilization–the way an AIDS victim dies not of AIDS, but of some minor disease a healthy person would have easily shrugged off. Perhaps Peak Oil, perhaps global warming, whatever the proximate cause, our ability to produce food will be cut off. Starvation will lead to food riots, until, in the end, the survivors will turn to cannibalism. The cities will be killing fields, but those who can look at the wilderness and call it home, those who can find their food without having someone grow it for them–those who are rewilded–will have access to vast resources that no others will even think to exploit.

This answers the suggestion that anarcho-primitivists would kill off a huge swathe of the population. But that was never “the single most common, and the single most powerful” objection to the movement. It was that, too get to it, we would need to see a mass die-out. This is what Godesky is unable to refute, and in fact admits to immediately.

Alongside this admission, we have what almost amounts to Schadenfreude. Godesky seems to take pleasure in the fact that, in his chosen vision of future apocalypse, society will eat itself and masses of people will suffer for that. The idea that “genocide might be the kindest method” to end civilisation is an obscenity, demonstrating in a throwaway comment precisely the mentality for which people criticise primitivism.

Zerzan, too, admits that the reduction of human population is a necessity. For him, a population’s growth “is no more a natural or neutral phenomenon than its technology.” However, he counters the idea of millions dying out with “the vast numbers of people who would be freed from manipulative, parasitic, destructive pursuits for those of creativity, health, and liberty.” He says that “the picture of humanity starving if a transformation were attempted may be brought into perspective by reference to a few other agricultural specifics, of a more positive nature.”

However, his approach to agriculture is confused. On the one hand, it “must be overcome, as domestication, and because it removes more organic matter from the soil than it puts back.” On the other, a specific form of it in permaculture offers “an agriculture that develops or reproduces itself and thus tends toward nature and away from domestication.” This, along with growing our own food and cultivation within cities, offers “promising interim ways to survive while moving away from civilization.” It seems, then, that the objective is not a radical overhaul of the world but a gradual, steady decline in population and civilisation.

In 1997, one of the editors of a magazine called "Green Anarchist" wrote, "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."

This is no better than a genocide perpetrated in death camps. Either way, there is a deliberate design to drastically reduce the amount of people on the planet. As Flood notes, “just about everyone when confronted with this requirement of mass death will conclude that ‘primitivism’ offers nothing to fight for.” The extreme minority who don’t, “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 the “we’re all doomed” justification for primitivism is full of holes;

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 worlds 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 civilization 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 overthrowal 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 civilization face a final crisis because of the oil running out. This is not because oil supplies are inexhaustible, indeed we may be reaching the peak of oil production today in 1994. But far from being the end of capitalism or civilization this is an opportunity for profit and restructuring. Capitalism, 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 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 mesmerized by the oil crisis so I intend to deal with this in a separate essay. 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.

Written sixteen years ago, as stated, the observations within are very acute given what has occurred since. Indeed, over the last two years alone we saw that “capitalism is quite capable of surviving very destructive crisis.” The poor suffer immensely, but this serves to shore up the profit and privilege of the ruling class at their expense.

In fact, even if some crisis did bring down civilisation, it remains likely that capitalism would still profit;

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 modernization 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 trade.(16) So was the 1943/4 famine in British ruled Bengal in which four million died(17). 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.

Thus, as we have seen for ourselves, “destruction can serve to regenerate capitalism.” This means that primitivism as a “prophet of doom” is wrong in its analysis, and utterly sadistic in its hoped-for outcome. On the other hand, if it is “not a program for a different way of running the world” but “exists as a critique of civilization and not an alternative to it,” then we can say that although “there is a value in re-examining the basic assumptions of civilization,” this is “no substitute for the anarchist struggle for liberation, which involves adapting technology to our needs rather then rejecting it.”

A revolution or a lifestyle?

The term “lifestyle anarchism” comes from Murray Bookchin’s essay Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. It was not coined as a complimentary term.

Bookchin reserves particular scorn and ridicule, amongst those he dubs as “lifestylists,” for the primitivists. “Zerzan’s simplification of the highly complex dialectic between humans and nonhuman nature reveals a mentality so reductionist and simplistic that one is obliged to stand before it in awe;”

For lifestyle anarchists, particularly of the anticivilizational and primitivistic genre, history itself becomes a degrading monolith that swallows up all distinctions, mediations, phases of development, and social specificities. Capitalism and its contradictions are reduced to epiphenomena of an all-devouring civilization and its technological ‘imperatives’ that lack nuance and differentiation. History, insofar as we conceive it as the unfolding of humanity’s rational component — its developing potentiality for freedom, self-consciousness, and cooperation — is a complex account of the cultivation of human sensibilities, institutions, intellectuality, and knowledge, or what was once called ‘the education of humanity.’ To deal with history as a steady ‘Fall’ from an animalistic ‘authenticity,’ as Zerzan, Bradford, and their compatriots do in varying degrees in a fashion very similar to that of Martin Heidegger, is to ignore the expanding ideals of freedom, individuality, and self-consciousness that have marked epochs of human development — not to speak of the widening scope of the revolutionary struggles to achieve these ends.

If the primitivists wish to dismiss all of history as a decline towards the monolithic ogre of civilisation, then that is of course up to them. What is quite clear, however, is that their movement has no merit either as an abstract critique or as a recipe for revolution. In the former sense, it lacks any significance. In the latter, it is a recipe for misery, suffering, and death.

All that remains is a hippy lifestyle, withdrawn from the evils of technology and mass society. Again, anybody who wishes to withdraw into their own neolithic commune should be free to do so. But we should not pretend that this is anything other than a withdrawal from humanity.

Anarchism is the idea of and the movement towards a society free from hierarchy and coercion. If it is to remain true to that, it cannot reject the means to fight for such a society on the grounds that organisation is a “racket.” It certainly cannot advocate an idea which would lead to a mass die-off on the part of the human race. Thus, the final reason why anarchists should reject anarcho-primitivism is quite simple. It is not anarchism.

19 Responses to “Where the sane fear to tread: anarcho-primitivism”
  1. Chris says:

    A good article. Thanks. I have often wondered about the anarchist conception of technology in a free society, however. For example, is it possible for the machinery in modern factories to be utilised in a way that doesn’t reproduce hierarchy and coercion, or does the very structure and layout of the factory and its machinery automatically produce such relations? To put it another way, are the social relations of the society that produces technology embedded within that technology? I would be interested to know your thoughts.

    • Phil Dickens says:

      I think that technology is perhaps one of the best ways to eradicate the menial and the back-breaking tasks that are used to justify hierarchy and the division of labour. It will allow people to pursue creative work over work for work’s sake. I think, as the push away from the workhouse over the past century and a half has shown, that there is no neccesary correlation between technology and hierarchy.

      • Kalevi says:

        “Once automatic control is installed one cannot refuse to accept its instructions, or insert new ones, for theoretically the machine cannot allow anyone to deviate from its own perfect standards. And this brings us at once to the most radical defect in every automated system: for its smooth operation this under-dimensioned system requires equally under-dimen­sioned men, whose values are those needed for the operation and the continued expansion for the system itself. The minds that are so conditioned are incapable of imagining any alternatives. Having opted for automation, they are committed to flouting any subjective reaction and to wiping out human autonomy – or indeed any organic process that does not accept the system’s peculiar limitations.”

        • Phil Dickens says:

          Interesting quote. Except that nobody’s advocating building Skynet or the Matrix here. We’re talking about anarchist communism which doesn’t eschew technology and neccesitate genocide, not techno-fascism.

          • Kalevi says:

            Mumford, whose words I quoted, is actually speaking of a kind of Matrix, one that already exists. Perhaps “technological grid” is a better word to describe it. It is the larger system of technology that already structures and conditions every aspect of life on this planet. The grid requires centralised government to function efficiently, or at all. This is a problem for anarchism.

            Anarcho-primitivists do not advocate genocide but simply state what should be obvious to everyone, that technological civilization will certainly lead to genocide. Even John Zerzan does not advocate an immediate overthrow of the technological system but rather its gradual destruction.

            • Phil Dickens says:

              Technology doesn’t and needn’t structure every facet of life, though. You do not need centralised government to have medicine, computers, automobiles, construction equipment, and central heating.

              How will technological civilisation lead to genocide? Militarism equipped with technology can, and has, but this doesn’t make technology in itself genocidal or anything other than a neutral tool made good or evil by the actions of whoever wields it.

              A transition to anarcho-primitivism, however gradual, requires a massive population decline – far greater than any genocide ever perpetuated. It cannot exist without force to drag us backwards.

        • peter caceci says:

          right on sounds like lewis mumfoord to me

      • NathWill says:

        The issue at stake here is, I think, that the traditional anarchist stance that you advocate is limited. While it addresses the requirement to eradicate systems of hierarchy and violence against people, it fails to see the need to cancel-out the same systems of coercion and oppression against non-humans and the rest of the Natural World. To me, the core of Anarcho-primitivism is ecocentric, informed not by the Euro-anthropocentric dogma that the World is an object separate from humanity, but by a wholly indigenous understanding of the world as a society of human and non-human personages engaged in equal and RECIPROCAL social relations.

        I agree with you that not all technology is bad in and of itself necessarily. But technologies are not created in vacuums. Every kind of technology exists as a reflection of the enculturation of its creators – their intentions, desires, world-view etc. – and the historical contingency that enabled its creation. When we make judgements about a technology, we must take into consideration not only how and why it is used, but also how and why it is created. For example, I condemn the use of nuclear bombs because of the horror and devastation they cause; but I also condemn the creation of nuclear bombs because of the will to inflict horror and devastation that they propagate and are a product of. Civilised technologies must be judged in the same way. They are destructive not only because of how they are utilised but because they arise out of a culture of destruction whereby their continued production and acceptance propagates and perpetuates that destruction.

        You say “there is no necessary correlation between technology and hierarchy”. I agree. It’s not technology per se that is the issue. Language and music and art are universal technologies used by the civilised and uncivilised alike; I have no problem with these. Do others? It’s the exclusively civilised technologies – eg production, the State, the engine, Monotheism, industrial agriculture etc. – and civilised ideas about human nature, the World and our place in it, that must be weeded out.

        • Phil Dickens says:

          But a libertarian communist society is not going to make nuclear bombs or develop energy sources which harm the planet or torture animals (there are plenty of animal liberationists who aren’t primitivists). But you’re talking about taking us back to a hunter gatherer society, which will inevitably remove modern medical science and inumerable other things which are either benign or at worst ambivalent – such as computers, central heating, Playstations, washing machines, electic wheelchairs, etc. All to take us back to a hunter gatherer society which will see most of the seven billion people on this planet eradicated and those left living in a primitive communism in conditions far more brutal and unforgiving than you’ve idealised them to be.

  2. Anarcho says:

    Good article. I’ve had a run-in with UK based primitivists a few years back in Freedom:


    This exchange was part of the reason I added a section on primitivism to An Anarchist FAQ, that and the exchange I had in Anarchy magazine…

  3. Kalevi says:

    It is interesting, though, that anarchists now have to at least acknowledge the anti-civilization current in anarchism. The question of technological mass society, its compatibility with anti-authoritarianism, has become too pressing of late to continue to be ignored. How do you, after all, manage a complex technological society, riddled with every conceivable social and environmental danger, without resorting to coercion?

    It may yet turn out that the anarchist critique of complex society is simply stating the obvious, that the very idea of managing society presupposes the existence of domination. Even the establishment’s own people, academic critics like Lewis Mumford, recognize that the technological system does not just function somewhere out there, but imposes itself on the very social fabric of life.

  4. Cecil Curry says:

    Disappointingly, this article fails to address the core tenet of the critique of industrial civilization: namely, that industrial civilization is inherently unsustainable; that unsustainable structures collapse, often catabolically; that this civilization, even were it sustainable, is not immune to collapse.

    It’s not difficult to reason to this conclusion. Therefore, let’s try.

    Population growth is a function of available energy. This is as true for reindeer (http://www.gi.alaska.edu/ScienceForum/ASF16/1672.html) and petri dish-delimited bacteria (http://www.pastpeak.com/archives/2006/10/exponential_gro.htm) as it us for us. We are not, despite our concomitant capture of exogenous energy (esp., fossil fuel), exempt from finite limits to growth. We are constrained by the ecological superstructure supporting the manufactured infrastructure of industrial civilization. We are bounded by thermodynamic laws and exigencies beyond our ken – certainly, beyond our control. Ecology is the exoskeleton of the economy. Without ecologies, there are no economies. To wit:

    * Homo sapiens enjoyed a fairly stable global population of approx. 300 million individuals from our first speciation 2.2 million years ago up to about 300 years ago.
    * Circa the mid 1700s, European Homo sapiens initiate the inevitable Industrial Revolution, unlocking hitherto unnoticed stores of hydrocarbon energy: first coal, then natural gas, then crude oil, then most recently syncrude (e.g., algal biodiesel).
    * Things went exponential.
    * Things went exponential very quickly.
    * Homo sapiens now doubles its population each half century.
    * And the rate is increasing.
    * Exponentially.

    This trend is unlikely to continue.

    Extraction of both available energy and available materials (esp., lumber, phosphorus, silver, and rare earth elements) appears to have “passed peak” sometime circa the early 2000s. Quantifying a peak for global oil production is fairly rote, due to the ubiquitous publication of production-reserves data (excluding Saudi Arabia of course):

    * Global oil production peaked on an annual basis in 2005 at 74.30 million barrels of oil per day (mbd).
    * Global oil production peaked on a monthly basis on July 11th, 2008 at 74.82 mbd.

    In either case, global oil production is past peak. Other resources are more difficult to quantify, but equally telling. Some authors suggest global coal extraction is also past peak. A few suggest global uranium extraction is, as well. Due to the hungry nature of exponential growth, we needn’t wait long for a global peak in extraction of all remaining non-renewable resources.

    But population growth is a function of available energy. So, it stands to reason that human population growth will probably backpedal into population decline at some nearby (but still future-flung) inflection point.

    But scarcity in available energy and materials is just the crux of the fulcrum. Accelerating global declines in so-called “ecosystem services” (as a consequence of anthropogenic deforestation, erosion, biodiversity loss, et al.) suggest that such a decline could be more pronounced than it otherwise need be. Humanity is not simply embattled against an absence of raw resources or the “means of production.” Humanity is in battle against destruction of the material basis for life itself.

    The destruction of climatic stability.

    The destruction of nutrient cyclicity.

    The destruction of arable land.

    The destruction of potable water.

    Only time will tell. But time, in this case, is not on our side.

    Thus the primitivist critique of industrial civilization.

    I take a rather more agnostic approach to the manner than the traditional anarcho-primitivist, however, who takes as articles of faith the immanence of the collapse of industrial civilization. I neither disbelieve nor believe the premise. Given the widespread failure of socioeconomic institution and power centers to admit the “fait accompli” necessity of economic de-growth, energetic power-down, and the relocalization of human scale, I do believe our bitterest outcome to be the most probable. Frequent visits to North America do nothing to dispel this belief.

    In closing, I should say that the claim of primitivist nihilism is just that: a claim, with as little or as much evidence as most. Primitivists are not anti-human. Primitivists are not anti-family, anti-community, or anti-society. Collectively, primitivists do not seek, aim for, or otherwise desire the blood-rimmed extermination of 6.8 billion humans.

    Given the failure of industrial civilization to develop sustainable alternatives not predicate on infinite growth schemas, however, they do expect it.

    Humbly yours,

    • Phil Dickens says:

      I’ve posted up a detailed response to this comment here.

    • JuliaM says:

      I very much agree with what you have said but I would pinpoint the start of the exponential growth at the agricultural revolution, some 10,000 years ago, rather than the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution just accelerated the trend.

  5. steve says:

    a couple of years ago i have come to similar conclusions as those of anarcho-primitivism(it’s funny how every time i think i came up with new ideas ,that later turns out has already been done),later i also realised that removing civilization is impossible(excluding by way of natural or manmade catastrophes).
    We are past the point of turning back,at least most of us are,and soon those who are not yet part of civilization will be forced to join as nature will no longer be able to sustain them
    We have evolved into this machine we call civilization not because we wanted to,not because we needed to,nor is it because of some divine will,we have entered this path simply because we could.
    Civilization isn’t all that bad though,we have yet to fully transform from hunter-gatherers to ?,we are but at the beginning of this process of transformation,but somewhere along the way we have lost some very important things,we are disconnected from nature,from other people and from ourselves.
    mass society is toxic for the human psyche,(not to mention humans in general and nature)
    something is inherently wrong with the way most people think,
    to save both humanity and the planet,something fundamental has to change in the way we live and the way we perceive reality
    time has yet to tell where civilization will bring us,i suspect either destruction or maybe,just maybe into space spreading the beauty of life across the universe and letting the voices of generations yet unborn echo in eternity

  6. Tommacg says:

    What an absurd “critique”..There are plenty of flaws in your thinking, I don’t even know where to start in picking them apart.

    From the top, I suppose:
    – You cite Bakunin, from Flood’s article for example, saying that “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.”
    Could I just suggest that this man’s history might be slightly out of date (living, as he did, in the mid-19th century). As Zerzan rightly points out, humans displayed extremely high levels of intelligence for many hundreds of thousands of years prior to civilization. Plus this “savage and brutish” state is now a completely outdated vision of pre-civilised humanity, thanks to the anthropology, most famously, of Marshall Sahlins (a University of Chicago professor, not a primitivist extremist). It makes me question your level of scholarship on these issues, and thus the legitimacy of your arguments.

    – Regarding the point that “even given the most cursory glance it is clear that abolishing technology would have devastating consequences for humankind and the planet.” This displays precisely the point that makes anarcho-primitivism so attractive to me – we lose juvenile anthropocentrism and start to look at things in a more holistic (almost Gaian) manner. First though, if we were could just descend into total conjecture for a second, it’s possible that human suffering would be minimised through transitionary modes of existence (e.g. permaculture). Your argument that primitivism is so unlikely is almost laughable in the face of an almost total inability amongst conventional anarchists to bring about their mass society utopia.
    Regarding the devastation that abolishing technology would bring for the planet, I simply don’t know what you’re referring to. It’s an incomprehensible statement. Civilization and its technology is bringing the planet to its knees – the suffering/genocide is already happening, its victims just aren’t human.

    – Jason Godesky’s statement doesn’t “answer the suggestion that anarcho-primitivists would kill off a huge swathe of the population.” He’s one person, not a representative of the philosophy, and I’ve never even read that piece before. It’s abhorrent. His statement that “ultimately, genocide might be the kindest method” isn’t shared by any primitivists I know. Sounds like something written by someone with mental health problems to be honest.

    – “This is no better than a genocide perpetrated in death camps.” That’s a really silly statement. Natural death is no better than being worked to the bone and sent to the gas chambers? You must’ve been on something when writing this…I’d suggest you get yourself to North Korea and see how you like it.

    – ” This means that primitivism as a “prophet of doom” is wrong in its analysis…their movement has no merit either as an abstract critique or as a recipe for revolution.” How is it wrong in its analysis? You’ve failed to refute a single point that anarcho-primitivists make regarding technology, agriculture, primitive cultures, domestication and mass society. You’ve simply rehashed Andrew Flood’s already discredited essay and said “Loads of people will probably die, therefore they’re wrong.” Your logic is flawed, to say the least.

    – “Again, anybody who wishes to withdraw into their own neolithic commune should be free to do so. But we should not pretend that this is anything other than a withdrawal from humanity.” A neolithic commune? Your poor knowledge of history underscores the weakness of this critique. The neolithic is precisely the point in time that anarcho-primitivists rail against, why would they return there?
    Anarcho-primitivism argues for a return to our uncivilized humanity, not a withdrawal. A humanity which is intelligent and socially complex, yet unmediated and fully integrated with the natural world.

    – “It is not anarchism.” I’d profoundly disagree with you on that, and as would many others. Of course, you’ve completely failed to engage in any serious way with any core anarcho-primitivist writings while putting together this sham of a “critique” so I won’t even begin to argue on how anarcho-primitivism might in fact be the most authentic anarchism, as it’ll be time lost on you.

    All the best.

  7. Jay says:

    “suspect either destruction or maybe,just maybe into space spreading the beauty of life across the universe and letting the voices of generations yet unborn echo in eternity”
    – What business do we have in space when we can’t figure out ourselves here on our own planet?

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  1. […] by Phil Dickens on August 30, 2010 · Leave a Comment  My article on anarcho-primitivsm, written in May, has of late sparked some quite interesting debate. In particular, a commenter […]

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