Primitivism without the Anarcho- (Part II)

By John F. Jacobi. Original essay here.

Howling wolf

This is the second part of a two-part essay on the possibility of a capital-P Primitivism. Read Part I.

FC so far sees the future as one where energy problems, ecological problems, war, population problems, etc. are going to result in our global world breaking down into smaller parts (i.e., the process of anarchy). This has, in fact, been occurring for a while now, but technological innovations like the Green Revolution have done a good job prolonging the really powerful consequences by a couple of decades. However, the effects of these innovations are starting to wear off. This means that, as technologies become less effective in creating a buffer between civilized humans and ecological feedback like climate change or disease, more people will begin to experience a hard reality that will ultimately create a fertile environment for revolt.

At this point three things can happen. On the one hand, revolt can be relatively ineffective or nonexistent, giving industrial society a chance to make it through these problems. One way this might happen is a technological innovation that fixes some of our problems relating to energy and agriculture (i.e., through biotechnology), which will prolong civilization for a while longer.

Or, people will revolt, but in ways that focus on social structure rather than the industrial base of our society. Some people might want to do this (i.e., anarcho-syndicalists or communists), but some might only do it unwittingly (some kinds of anarchists) by focusing on targets that range from important structural targets (certain elements of capitalism, prisons, etc.) to non-important ideological ones (science, bigoted beliefs, etc.).

In the last scenario, people will revolt but their revolt will be focused on making sure industrial society can’t recover. This will involve a focus on industrial and infrastructural elements as well as certain elements of social structure that can affect the industrial base (like banks).

Anarchism is largely encouraging the second option. It is, after all, the invisible thread that unites much of the anti-capitalist movement. Anarchists inspire values around self-determination and non-hierarchical relations, and they do a very good job inspiring people to desire things that are incompatible with capitalism and various social arrangements. But because these desires are only incompatible with social arrangements, they are not necessarily incompatible also with infrastructural ones. Capitalism, for example, can be destroyed while industrial society remains. The communist revolutions proved this, as did the syndicalist revolution in Spain. Similarly, some values inspired by anarchism motivate people to attack ideological components of culture, which is a totally ineffective method of resistance, as these things can be recuperated very easily. Much of this is just a holdover of the “cultural revolution” thesis of the 60s.

The anarchist project sometimes overlaps with the Primitivist project, but it is not the same. Primitivists value wilderness and wildness. Now, the social relationships produced by wild conditions are completely compatible with anarchism. But if we only stick with asking for the social relationships, we lose sight of the thing we should actually be asking for: the conditions that allow them. The real strength of Primitivism is that by asking for more wilderness, a material thing, it necessarily constricts industry. In turn, it also directs energy toward some targets that anti-capitalists have (banks, some corporations, etc.), but only where these things will disrupt the functioning of the industrial base. It also adds the industrial base as a direct target.

In the coming revolution, this distinction is incredibly important. If we want industry to fall, then we want to choose actions, a word, and an ideology that directs revolt in a way that will weaken industry. If we choose anarchism, this will not necessarily occur. If we choose Primitivism, it is much more likely that it will.

Further, the word “Primitivism” inspires a value set and a mentality that is equipped to deal with a larger set of possibilities than anarchism. In the future, it is very possible that nanotechnology, nuclear technologies, and biotechnology, as well as artificial intelligence or geoengineering, have potential to prolong civilization by a long time. And if this is the case, it is certain that capitalism will no longer be the organizing force behind the economy. The infrastructural base of society will be so vastly different that something other than capitalism will have to exist. If this occurs, anarchism is simply not prepared. Cybernetic organization relies on non-hierarchical forms of organization to work. An industrial base that has a practically unlimited source of energy will also have the capacity to get rid of things like racial divisions, since their economic necessity will simply no longer be there. In other words, we may very well achieve the non-hierarchical, non-racist, non-sexist future the anarchists are asking for with technology, and never actually achieve what the Primitivists (and some anarchists) are actually asking for. Therefore, the only way anarchism will survive the 21st century as a revolutionary movement is if it radically changes its rhetoric to deal with these technologies, or if civilization does indeed begin collapsing and the age of tyrannical capitalism begins.

Primitivism, on the other hand, is equipped to deal with either of these futures. Wilderness is incompatible with technologies like bioengineering or geoengineering, and Primitivism is founded on this fundamental conflict. This gives it much stronger revolutionary potential.

All things considered, Primitivism seems to be much better off without the association with anarchism, at least for right now. Of course, we would do well to remember that this has more to do with the value set that comes with Primitivism than any intrinsic meaning associated with the word. So if there are arguments against using the particular word to indicate these values (arguments regarding clarity, for example), then these arguments should be considered in the early stages of formulating a distinct movement.

These two posts about “primitivism without the anarcho-” were created in order to discuss what this word might be, and what this movement might look like. I encourage anyone with ideas about it to post in the comments below.

My own suggestion is that we keep the name “Primitivism.” It has a general history, it doesn’t have any clunky prefixes or suffixes, and it signals linguistically a kind of unity with various tendencies that might be interested in it (anarcho-primitivists, some Luddite anarchists, deep ecologists, conservationists, etc.). But if you have a different suggestion, I look forward to the ensuing discussion.

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