I'm a writer from New Jersey, now living in Chicago. Journalist/production manager for a news site, aspiring to become an author of fantasy novels. In the meantime, I'm blogging.

I like nature, black metal, the occult, cats, and good wine.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Environment & primitivism: Backward to the future?

At this point, I’ve done several blog posts, articles, and YouTube videos about the natural world and our relationship (or lack thereof) with it. All of this would seem to indicate that I advocate nature’s utter triumph over mankind, no matter what that entails. The truth of the matter is, I take a much more pragmatic view of things than you would initially assume. I certainly don’t support things like eco-crime or even non-extreme (but still marginalized) positions like veganism. So just where do I stand on the spectrum of human development vs. the dominion of wildlife and nature? What about, say, a philosophy like anarcho-primitivism, which encourages the purposeful regression of civilization to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, as well as de-industrialization and abolition of technologies? That’s what I’d like to talk about here.

Before I go in-depth, let me define my current feelings about humanity/nature in simple terms, without getting too professorial. I don’t like that we tear down forests for the benefit of corporations, for the purposes of building man-made architecture, or for implementing infrastructure like more roads and highways. I don’t like that we have such high concentrations of the world’s population in sprawling urban centers, and I don’t like that, in this economic recession, we seem to be focusing only on bringing jobs back to cities, not to mention our refusal to tackle the rampant drug problems that have cropped up in suburbia and rural towns in the wake of mass unemployment. I don’t like that people have lost their closeness with, their knowledge of, and their love for, animals and the forests of the world, nor do I like the fact that technology and social media serves as a mass distraction for people who might otherwise cherish what the Earth has given us. And, just speaking from my own experience, I don’t like the condescending, xenophobic attitudes that people in cities have toward those who lead rural lifestyles (i.e. the whole concept of “hicks” and “rednecks”). At the same time, I don’t believe we can ever return humanity as a whole to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Why can’t anarcho-primitivism work?

Now, on to anarcho-primitivism. First, I’m against that precise term, because I’m not a big fan of linking anarchism to primitivism. There, after all, lies an inherent contradiction. The human race is by its very nature hierarchal, even when industrial civilization is removed and replaced by communal living or a hunter-gatherer lifestyle; unless one intends to live an entirely solitary life (very possible, but an exception to the rule), he or she will inevitably have a place within a hierarchy, and one of the pretensions of anarchism is that hierarchy is something based on social conditioning, and which can and should be opposed. Not true.

Personally, even without the “anarcho-,” I don’t subscribe to primitivism or anti-civilizationism - at least not to the letter, ideologically speaking. I’m not a big fan of labels, even if they represent ideologies, and I have very little patience these days for anything that ends in “-ism.” But aside from that perhaps more superficial reason, I have a more valid defense for my opposition to primitivism, and that is, again, that it is simply not possible to de-civilize on a global scale.
Why is primitivism unachievable worldwide? Because the logistic, infrastructural, and socioeconomic conditions that would need to exist, ironically enough, in order for civilization to end, are frankly illogical. Assuming that large enough enclaves of bucolic folks ever tried to implement primitivism as it is currently defined, those in urban centers - who would still make up the majority of the world’s population - would suffer, and their problems would become the problems of those who tried to separate themselves en masse from civility and industry in the first place. Cities do not exist in a vacuum.

What EXACTLY is primitivism, though?

The justification of primitivism really stems from the standpoint that prior to modern agriculture, humans lived in a way that did not damage the Earth, and which was socially, politically, and economically egalitarian (a romanticized and therefore slightly incorrect view, but I’ll elaborate more on that later). Primitivism is thus opposed to social and power structures that subvert, circumvent, threaten, or outright abolish the individual’s or society’s connection(s) with the natural world. To that end, the supposedly logical steps to returning to a pre-civilized, pre-industrialized state include dismantling modern technologies, ending power structures that arose from division of labor and hierarchy, and transitioning from expansive metropolitan habitation back to a rural setting.

Here's the thing. Primitivism as a movement is inherently contradictory, because a movement is based on collective action while primitivism advocates absolute individuality and autonomy (hence the opposition to hierarchy). But any mobilization of a social force in which the whole is seen as being greater than the sum of its parts...defeats the ultimate purpose of primitivism. And as I said a few paragraphs ago, there’s also a lot of romanticization of pre-industrial life. For example, the myth of primitive affluence (the idea that people performed less labor, had fewer illnesses or diseases, had gender equality, and lived in harmony with animals and with one another - all things that are by and large untrue).

I do, however, like the idea of primitivism - here’s why

A few weeks back, I made a post on my Facebook, where I basically said the following: “Those who criticize idealism as being irreconcilable with pragmatism are missing the point. Ideals are not things to be achieved, but rather, things to strive for. Through struggle comes progress, and progress is, itself, pragmatic.”

To me, primitivism is an ideal, and we had damn well better start striving! While again, I don’t seriously consider ever adopting the end goal of primitivism, I believe that some - much, even - of what the philosophy advocates to be quite correct. But here’s where I diverge from its tenets: I think that we cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater. In my view, we need to drastically curb urban development, replace fossil fuels with renewable energy, and do some serious soul-searching when it comes to technology and social media, especially juxtaposing its ‘progress’ with the greater need for education and intellectualism. But we cannot just pack up centuries’ worth of social evolution and ship it off somewhere, even if it has caused - and is causing - terrible problems in the world.

Basically, we need to begin doing everything with an eye for how it’s going to affect nature. Nature should always come first. We need to house all of the homeless we already have, especially when we have abandoned houses and buildings throughout the country and crippled ghost cities like Detroit, instead of buying up and subsequently decimating natural land for real estate development. We need to stop with the architectural posturing - America’s infantile need to keep building massive skyscrapers that loom like poisonous monoliths over the Earth - and look at some more natural and modest ideas, such as green architecture. We need to build less roads and stop empowering the auto industry - whether it’s built on slave labor in China (which of course is wrong) or homegrown high-paying jobs, the effect of the industry still leaves an unjustifiable carbon footprint on the planet, to say nothing of how the roads and highways tarnish land that could otherwise be returned to the forest, or, if we must build something, could be fitted with railroad tracks for clean-energy high-speed trains like Maglev, which cause significantly less disturbance to the surrounding environment. And on and on and on, but you get the idea. There needs to be a halfway approach. But the priority - and this is a big distinction here - the priority should be the preservation of nature, above all.

And the halfway approach must happen soon

But don’t take it from me. According to a paper written by environmental journalist Richard Heinberg, “There is a widespread sentiment that civilization has gone too far in its domination of nature, and that in order to survive, or, at least, to live with satisfaction, we must regain some of the spontaneity and naturalness of our early ancestors.” Unfortunately, “civilized people are accustomed to an anthropocentric view of the world. Our interest in the environment is [currently] utilitarian: it is of value because it is of use to human beings - [even] if only as a place for camping and recreation.

“Primitive peoples, by contrast, tended to see nature as intrinsically meaningful. In many cultures, prohibitions surrounded the overhunting of animals or the felling of trees. The aboriginal people of Australia believed that their primary purpose in the cosmic scheme of things was to take care of the land, which meant performing ceremonies for the periodic renewal of plant and animal species, and of the landscape itself. We are accustomed to thinking of the history of Western civilization as an inevitable evolutionary progression. But this implies that all the world’s people who didn’t spontaneously develop civilizations of their own were less highly evolved than ourselves, or simply “backward.” Not all anthropologists who have spent time with such people think this way. Indeed, according to the cultural materialist school of thought, social change in the direction of technological innovation is fueled not so much by some evolutionary urge as by crises brought on by overpopulation and resource exhaustion.”

This is to say that yes, we should begin to encourage a position of actual respect toward the environment and the great forests, rather than a feeling of dependency or obligatory acknowledgement. It needs to become a part of our lives again, and that can’t happen if we continue to only develop the big cities, and aggressively “encourage” large portions of the world’s population to migrate to those cities (whether that “encouragement” is economic, social, or cultural).

An anarcho-primitivist blog added, “Today, the entire social structure is hopeless, rotten, [and] serving nobody’s interests except a handful of super powerful rich corporations that own most of this technosphere. Degeneration of humans renders them as parasites who then go in search of hosts, and begin to develop techniques of exploitation. Here, mechanization or technologization is the methodology of this exploitation.” That blog post went on to offer a great example of how the need for a ‘progressive civilization’ is draining the planet like never before. It referenced a National Geographic video called The Human Footprint, a quote from which reads: “A disposable diaper takes 8 fl. oz. of crude oil to make the outside cover. It sits at least 500 years in a landfill,” - yes, that’s how long it takes the material to completely degrade - “far longer than the child will live. It requires felling four mature trees to create the absorbent pads for one child’s supply of diapers.”

Yes, forward, not backward - but carefully so

So you can see why I passionately agree with much of what primitivism has to say, I just temper it with some healthy realism. And it sucks, because it truly is impossible to stop ravaging the planet altogether; it really can’t be avoided, at least in the foreseeable future. But if we can scale back the destruction to a level where we can let the Earth begin to heal itself, then that’s at least a start.

It's a complicated situation. We destroy, then try and rectify things with more ‘development’ and technology, and as a result, we destroy things to a greater extent. It certainly seems as though everything we’re doing as an ‘advanced society’ is wrong.

Tiny flying robots are being built to pollinate crops in order to fill the void left by the declining bee population.

The antibiotics we create are actually poisoning and killing fish in the oceans, to say nothing of the fact that hardier, more aggressive strains of bacteria are evolving to fight these antibiotics, which will in turn result in more sickness and disease, followed by even more, stronger antibiotics pushed by the big pharmaceutical companies, and ‘round and ‘round the vicious cycle goes.

With the triple threat of deforestation, animal overpopulation, and unusually powerful and widespread wildfires, the woods that once were precious to so many are now dying. And by the way, animal population explosions are mostly our fault too; we hunted down and virtually obliterated the wolf population that once thrived in North America; as a result, deer overpopulation is a major problem, with the animals actually destroying native plants because they eat so much. Meanwhile, instead of encouraging larger-scale hunting efforts (because “oh no, don’t shoot Bambi, you crazy redneck!”), we consume the garbage produced by the factory-farming meat industry.

And finally, climate change.

Need I say more?

So my view of things is, we do need to primitivize in some areas, and continue developing some industry - albeit of a greener variety - in others. However, it is not really a question of moving back or ahead, but rather, in a circle. Because life is a circle. What we put out into the world ultimately comes back around. Will we spew the collective exhaust of over one billion cars into the sky and dump oil into the oceans? Or will we strengthen the once-mighty forests and once more allow them to provide for us? This need not be a black-and-white issue. It is, in truth, a green issue, and we can return to the old ways of the Earth without calling for such outrageous things as the utter collapse of civilization. There’s more than one way to skin a cat (yes, I admit it, that’s a horrible proverb to include in a blog post like this).

Let’s not give in to extremes, but rather, strive for ideals like primitivism - without fully embracing the end game of such a philosophy. There was a quote said by a character tonight on The Walking Dead that kind of exemplifies what I’m trying to say here: “Embrace the contradiction.” Sometimes you need a big, romanticized idea to dream about, in order to adjust your life and your worldview accordingly, and implement the most pragmatic approach to achieving something that perhaps comes close to the ideal, without, again, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t.

Thanks for reading.

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