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Against civilization.
November 29, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe


 
Love this stuff, and I'm a nanotechnologist!

Running on Emptiness by Zerzan is not only a fun* book, but

a) Has the the best title in years
b) Has the memorable quote below:

Russell Hoban's 1980 novel, Riddley Walker, provides keen insight into the logic of civilization. What some call Progress, the narrator identifies as Power:

"It come to me then I know it Power dint go away. It ben and it wer and it wud be. It wer there and drawing. Power want it you to come to it with Power. Power wantit what ever cud happen to happen. Power wantit every thing moving frontways."

* by fun, I mean soul-crushing
posted by lalochezia at 10:00 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Anarcho-primitivism ... is an ideology with a perhaps-surprising number of online essays and adherents ...

... all of which are, by definition, written and read by non-anarcho-primitivists.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:02 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


News- "Last Update--November 23, 2002"
?
posted by MtDewd at 10:04 AM on November 29, 2011


I have a difficult time being all that supportive of an ideology that doesn't see fit to take into account the existence of 7 billion actual real living human beings. "Civilization is not ideal!" is, at this point, kind of like positing that we shouldn't have bothered leaving the oceans.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:06 AM on November 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


News- "Last Update--November 23, 2002"

What do you want from a primitivist? Live video blogging?
posted by jimmythefish at 10:06 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


What does AIDS denial have to do with primitivism?
posted by cmoj at 10:08 AM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


...an ideology that doesn't see fit to take into account the existence of 7 billion actual real living human beings.

At this point, our two options are to either reduce that number slowly or reduce it quickly. I think we'd all be happier with slowly, but if we don't start soon it'll be quickly.
posted by DU at 10:16 AM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well this is random. The last dated entry on this site is from late 2002 saying they planned to restructure the site that winter. There is so little context for the essays. I can't find out any information about the authors' background/credentials -- for instance, is this article by Robin Hanson the prominent economist and blogger, or just some random person named Robin Hanson? I can't find out anything about the authors' affiliations, ideological leanings (aside from primitivism), etc. I don't even know if Robin Hanson is a man or a woman. Speaking of which, is it significant that the movement seems to be overwhelmingly male?
posted by John Cohen at 10:16 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well the AIDS denial just about kills it, don't you think?
posted by OmieWise at 10:25 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


At this point, our two options are to either reduce that number slowly or reduce it quickly. I think we'd all be happier with slowly, but if we don't start soon it'll be quickly.

Sure. But even reducing as far as several hundred million humans still means civilization; there's no remotely realistic way of returning to a "primitive" state without actively killing off most of the human beings on the planet.

(I might also note that there's this quaint idea that it's somehow possible to even be human without tool use, as though a spear, loincloth, and cooking-fire somehow don't qualify as "technology" just because they're at the bottom of the tech tree.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:26 AM on November 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


from Zerzan's The Failure of Symbolic Thought:
Verbal communication is part of the movement away from a face-to-face social reality, making feasible physical separateness. The word always stands between people who wish to connect with each other, facilitating the diminution of what need not be spoken to be said. That we have declined from a non-linguistic state begins to appear a sane point of view.
posted by finite at 10:26 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the "against mass society" link:
Civilization, not capitalism per se, was the genesis of systemic authoritarianism, compulsory servitude and social isolation. Hence, an attack upon capitalism that fails to target civilization can never abolish the institutionalized coercion that fuels society.

Okay, uh ... i see where you're going with this? but maybe you should turn around and go back.

y'see, because that's what you were... nevermind
posted by fetamelter at 10:29 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


finite: from Zerzan's The Failure of Symbolic Thought:
Verbal communication is part of the movement away from a face-to-face social reality, making feasible physical separateness. The word always stands between people who wish to connect with each other, facilitating the diminution of what need not be spoken to be said. That we have declined from a non-linguistic state begins to appear a sane point of view.


That's a lot of socially-distancing words! He should have said it with a smile.
posted by gilrain at 10:30 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Failure of HIV/AIDS to spread beyond the original risk groups, and particularly to Western heterosexuals, especially non-drug using prostitutes, signals that the HIV theory of AIDS is in need of urgent reappraisal.

what
posted by rtha at 10:31 AM on November 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


(I might also note that there's this quaint idea that it's somehow possible to even be human without tool use, as though a spear, loincloth, and cooking-fire somehow don't qualify as "technology" just because they're at the bottom of the tech tree.)

Someone needs to tell the chimpanzees that it's all downhill from stone tools and control of fire.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:32 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a difficult time being all that supportive of an ideology that doesn't see fit to take into account the existence of 7 billion actual real living human beings. "Civilization is not ideal!" is, at this point, kind of like positing that we shouldn't have bothered leaving the oceans.

I have an easy time believing that packing seven billion humans onto this planet is overstretching its resources, and that something nonideal about the way humans are organizing ourselves into civilizations created incentives for this to happen. Our civilizations are nonideal in self-destructive ways. There will not be seven billion people on earth forever, as DU said.

However, there are some pretty big advantages to living in civilization. For example, a murder the murder rate here in Canada is 400 times lower than pre-contact New Guinea Gebusi society. (1.62 per hundred thousand per year in Canada, versus 700 / 100 000 / year for the Gebusi)

The murder rate is evidence that modern civilized folk are far better at trusting each other than hunter-gatherers. Your circle of friends, family and acquaintances is at least an order of magnitude broader than theirs, and if you like you can go to the theatre or the stadium and sit unthreatened among thousands of strangers.

Also, theatres and stadiums exist. And wine. And the internet. Civilization might have been a bad deal for the Mesopotamians, but it paid off in the end.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:32 AM on November 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


from Zerzan's The Failure of Symbolic Thought:
Verbal communication is part of the movement away from a face-to-face social reality, making feasible physical separateness. The word always stands between people who wish to connect with each other, facilitating the diminution of what need not be spoken to be said. That we have declined from a non-linguistic state begins to appear a sane point of view.


So he's a Lacanian?
posted by OmieWise at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


"'Some neural changes have gone far beyond new instincts, though.’ The tree thinned out considerably – but were still thirty or forty current branches left. ‘There are species of exuberants who’ve changed aspects of language, perception, and cognition.’

Inoshiro said, ‘Like the dream apes?’

Liana nodded. ‘At one extreme. Their ancestors stripped back the language centres to the level of higher primates. They still have stronger general intelligence than any other primate, but their material culture has been reduced dramatically – and they can no longer modify themselves, even if they want to. I doubt that they even understand their own origins any more."

- Greg Egan's transhumanist novel Diaspora.
posted by edguardo at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is it that so many of these primitivists look like they'd never actually survive in primitive times?
posted by SansPoint at 10:34 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


So he's a Lacanian?

Rousseau is the originator of this particular line of thought.
posted by yoink at 10:35 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


championed by aspiring noble savages

Yeah, that's a failure to get it right there, agree or not. Anarcho-primitivism generally doesn't idealize early humanity, but claims that the precivilized violence is preferable to the internalized violence of civilized living.

I don't agree with anarcho-primitivism but it has persuasive reasons for existing.

The narrative of modernity as a series of objective improvements is pretty much a lie. It's easy to recognize this lie if you live in parts of Africa or on a rez, but this lie is also included in the histories privileged people tell to themselves. For example, the crash in average adult height and lifespan during the rise of urban Europe was pretty much only reversed in the 18-19th centuries, and ancient lifespans and heights among adults were only exceeded in the last 100-150 years. In the first Thanksgiving, indigenous Americans towered over the sickly European dwarfs they met.

And now, in our postindustrial age, we have children who will live less long and in more discomfort because of diseases created by the peculiar merging between technology and capitalism. And as this happens, defenders of the lie -- Pinker, Kurzwiel and co. -- wave their banners with special vehemence, noting a spiral of improvements that never simply trickle down, and do nothing for the African AIDS belt or reparations for colonial theft and enslavement.

So we live in a word of complex ups and downs, and most of us here on MeFi live in countries that have had their ups at other people's expenses, but the dominant narrative of history and culture will not admit the downs. It is a taboo so fundamental that it sometimes requires radical words and actions to break it as a psychological habit.

Anarcho-primitivists take modernists at their word in one way: that modernity has inevitably results, no matter the intentions of its hargingers. They simply don't believe these are a net benefit to humanity. Sure, they say dumb things -- things almost as dumb as how we'll have strong AI in 10 years (as repeated for the past 30 years), or how we live in the least violent world ever because we don't have to count cultural genocide.
posted by mobunited at 10:38 AM on November 29, 2011 [20 favorites]


There's an enormous overlap between AIDS denialism and primitivism. Most primitivists that I've heard from would argue that either AIDS doesn't exist, its caused by "technology" or that it can be cured by herbs, roots and cannibis.

There's also usually a pretty strong homophobic streak in primitivist writings.
posted by Avenger at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


These articles don't speak for anyone but the ones writing them, and there are multiple authors here.

That some of them deny that HIV causes AIDS does not mean that all of them do.

So don't miss out on all the other interestingly wacky opinions on the site because you got hung up on the first one that seemed totally batshit insane.
posted by edguardo at 10:39 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Rousseau is the originator of this particular line of thought.

I'm aware. I was joking.
posted by OmieWise at 10:41 AM on November 29, 2011


So don't miss out on all the other interestingly wacky opinions on the site because you got hung up on the first one that seemed totally batshit insane.

I didn't understand that this was a point and laugh post.
posted by OmieWise at 10:42 AM on November 29, 2011


To expand a bit on my last comment.

In a "primitive" society, I'd be dead. What good am I? I suffer from allergies to things like pollen, I'm not skilled with my hands, and my vision is beyond abysmal (one nearsighted eye, one farsighted eye, and terrible astigmatism.)

Without the basic framework afforded by civilization, I'd never have made it to adulthood. And, frankly, I doubt many of the primitivists would too.
posted by SansPoint at 10:43 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anarchy always decays into government.
posted by General Tonic at 10:44 AM on November 29, 2011 [16 favorites]


These articles don't speak for anyone but the ones writing them

Not true. Any one article speaks to the whole editorial process that allowed it to end up on the site. You can't insist that each article be considered to reflect only that one article and author. Or, you can insist on that, but that's not going to stop me from having an opinion about the site as a whole. Would you insist that someone not have a positive opinion about, say, The New Yorker or The Economist because those magazines usually have good articles? I don't think so. Any one article reflects on the overall quality of a publication, and that could be high quality or low quality.
posted by John Cohen at 10:45 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I didn't understand that this was a point and laugh post.

More of a point-and-encourage-to-read post.

That most people will wrinkle their noses or scoff seems to me inevitable, so I might as well bill it as edutainment.

But, that said, there is something very serious about these critiques of civilization, and for the most part I read them with great interest.

Or, you can insist on that, but that's not going to stop me from having an opinion about the site as a whole. Would you insist that someone not have a positive opinion about, say, The New Yorker or The Economist because those magazines usually have good articles? I don't think so.

This is a valid point. But we can still understand and appreciate differences of opinion among the writing staff of a given publication, to use your example.

The accusation that primitivism denies what almost everyone acknowledges as scientific proof is one it will have a hard time rebutting, I think.

Zerzan, somewhere, states that primitive peoples had telepathy. Damn, now I wish I could find that article. It's suddenly relevant.
posted by edguardo at 10:48 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aha!

"Referring to telepathy, Sigmund Freud wrote in his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, “One is led to a suspicion that this is the original, archaic method of communication.” Enculturated down to his toes, Freud didn’t celebrate this suspicion, and seemed to fear the life force that accompanied such non-cultural dynamics. Laurens van der Post (e.g. The Lost World of the Kalahari, 1958) related several firsthand observations of telepathic communication, over considerable distances, among the people who used to be called “Bushmen.” M. Pobers and Richard St. Barbe Baker, also writing in the 1950s, witnessed telepathy by indigenous people before they were colonized by civilization. I mention this in passing as one glimpse of the reality of the non-symbolic, a direct connection that actually existed not long ago, and that could be revived amid the ruins of representation."

- Zerzan
posted by edguardo at 10:51 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't get behind primtivism at all, but it should certainly be able to insight some valuable conversations. I don't think that technology, progress, or power are things that we can afford to take for granted, especially given recent themes in the media about the future of democracy, debt, and the environment.

Personally, I'm a Luddite and an anarchist of some color, but never a primitivist. The basic assumptions of primitivism seem relatively broken to me, and I'm not terribly fond of dichotomies between technology and nature. I do think that we need to think a lot more about individual technologies though, and who they do or do not serve.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:53 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


wow.
insight=incite
And various typos.

Dear reader, I apologize.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:54 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In a "primitive" society, I'd be dead. What good am I?"

Me too. When civilization collapses I hope I can get some kind of shamanistic job.

I'll help people fight off strange sexual beings.
posted by hot_monster at 10:55 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'll help people fight off strange sexual beings.

Eponysterical!
posted by edguardo at 10:57 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you enjoy the philosophical implications of this discusssion, why not leap right into the deep end and read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
posted by fairmettle at 10:59 AM on November 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


So how do we get from there to here. It seems like most primitivists have a hope that civilization will fall, and somehow the people opposed to computers, and internal combustion, and the wheel will be the ones to create the next generation, and that none of those trixy tool makers will survive.

If tool use is an evolutionary advantage, how do we eliminate it? Reducing the number of people in the world seems to be hoping that A) people have a mass "awakening" that a small of number of people on a website are right (this might entail a propoganda movement the like the world has never seen, as to affect those countries who actually have high birth rates), B) hoping that the world decimates itself without using any of the lovely devices that could end all life on the planet or C) despotism of a sort seldom seen. We would have to chain society in order to free it.

As most of them seem to be theory wonks, and they seem to be operating no large scale plans to convice people for voluntary population, I assume they are hoping the world manages to almost, but not quite, snuff itself out, and that the children can, amoung the wreckage, manage to sustain themselves without finding something amoung the detrius that will boostrap civilization. Color me skeptical.
posted by zabuni at 11:04 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you enjoy the philosophical implications of this discusssion, why not leap right into the deep end and read The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

What a good book. I'm not sure how a lot of Jaynes' theory has panned out in the 30 years or so since the book was published, but it is definitely something to think about.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2011


I love how these guys have a website. Then again, if they haven't updated it since 2002 maybe they saw the error of their ways and have gone back to cave painting or something.

Loonies gonna loon.

By the way, there is no such thing as a noble savage. Except for Lemmy.
posted by Decani at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In a "primitive" society, I'd be dead. What good am I?"

This too. I have friends who would already be dead in a "primitive" environment: Cancer killed them. Or they died off quickly when they became unable to walk on their own. Then there's the one whose GI tract is incompatible with a seemingly random selection of the kinds of fruits and veggies that a primitive society depends on. Or the awesome guy who's Deaf, and sure as hell would not last very long in a world with many serious predators, but does pretty well. How about the guy sitting in the next cubicle over, whose eyesight is so bad that with glasses thick as my fingers, he's still legally blind? But hey, he gets by and gets along and he's great at his job, and judging by the photos on his desk, his kids are pretty damn cute. And let's not even think about all the people who aren't crippled by childhood polio.

Anyone who wants to go primitivist is welcome to. Just don't tell me that half my friends deserve to be dead from genetically predestined disabilities or childhood diseases because you don't like typewriters.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Can anyone point out some more shall-we-say "scholarly" treatments of these issues? (Perhaps from actual anthropologists and/or sociologists, whose academic jurisdiction this would seem to fall under?) I have a deep interest in the trade-offs we have made and the prices we've paid for all this growth and development, but I've always been hesitant to dig into the more radical perspectives on it because so much of the writing on the subject seems to be tinged by a kind of zealously naive off-kilter preachiness not to mention blended with weird xenophobic conspiracy theory and vague new-age woo.

Bonus points for readability/entertainment value but I wouldn't be averse to chewing through something a little bit dry. Surely there are sober, reasonable people out there quietly toiling away in academia to churn out volumes on this subject, right? Who are they?
posted by Scientist at 11:09 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Scientist:

Wikipedia offers a good starting place for more analytical thinking on this topic.

In fiction, Kim Stanley Robinson's work has explored themes like ecological carrying capacity for years. See this BLDGBLOG interview, for example.

From the interview:
"I’m advocating a kind of alteration of our imagined relationship to the planet. I think it’d be more fun – and also more sustainable. We’re always thinking that we’re much more powerful than we are, because we’re boosted by technological powers that exert a really, really high cost on the environment – a cost that isn’t calculated and that isn’t put into the price of things. It’s exteriorized from our fake economy. And it’s very profitable for certain elements in our society for us to continue to wander around in this dream-state and be upset about everything.

The hope that, “Oh, if only civilization were to collapse, then I could be happy” – it’s ridiculous. You can simply walk out your front door and get what you want out of that particular fantasy."
posted by Wretch729 at 11:21 AM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Anarcho-primitivism generally doesn't idealize early humanity, but claims that the precivilized violence is preferable to the internalized violence of civilized living

I think there has to be some level of idealizing going on though, because it's a stretch to think of pre-civilization life as something preferable to any kind of modern life. If you look at chimpanzees as an analog to pre-civilization humans, it's clear that some of the most terrible things that can happen to people like murder, rape, and random death are not things that were caused by society. There are some unnatural aspects of living in civilization that are negative, but the natural world is a chaotic, cruel, and grim place. The formation of civilization in the first place was mainly an attempt to escape that way of life for something better. And although modern primitivists can live a relatively comfortable life divorced from the more obvious direct benefits of civilization, they are safe from many of the threats to their well-being that would otherwise exist in pre-civilized life and have many advantages that are a result of coming from a modern civilized life.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


What does AIDS denial have to do with primitivism?

I think it falls under "the case against science."

I love how these guys have a website.

Guys like these always have websites, though I do give these particular guys credit for abandoning theirs.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:27 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anarchy always decays into government.

Blanket statements are always wrong.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just don't tell me that half my friends deserve to be dead from genetically predestined disabilities or childhood diseases because you don't like typewriters.

I agree completely with your sentiment. I abhor the idea that only the strong members of communities should be suffered to live, as they are most useful. Worth as a human being is independent of health and ability.

Anyone who wants to go primitivist is welcome to.

I do not, however, believe this is true. Derrick Jensen, in particular, highlights in his work the violence waged against rural people in service of urban expansion.

Personally, I think that civilization has advanced in most parts of the world beyond the point at which any significant number of people could survive outside of it.

Resource depletion and habitat destruction seems to have made, for us, our collective decision regarding primitivism. It is no longer an option for society at large, at our current population.

There are individuals still living traditional primitive lifestyles in certain parts of the world (who have yet to be bulldozed into oblivion) and there are privileged individuals and groups in the first world who can claim some land for themselves to live on. But for most people it is not realistic, nor would a mass flight into the woods be in any way sustainable.

Even so, can we still learn from the critiques? I think so.

After reading Zerzan's compilation "Against Civilization," I feel that my opinions regarding technology and civilization became more nuanced and considered. It didn't make a primitivist out of me, but it made me a more conscientious student of the sciences, at the very least.
posted by edguardo at 11:30 AM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


BASILISC A monster who comes into existence as the result of some deviant sexual act, most commonly, sodomy.

well. that sort of puts an interesting twist on a standard D&D random encounter.

...in fact, shit, centaurs too? you could run a whole Panicky-Homophobia setting.
posted by fetamelter at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree completely with your sentiment. I abhor the idea that only the strong members of communities should be suffered to live, as they are most useful. Worth as a human being is independent of health and ability.

I wonder how much this attitude has really changed between primitive and modern societies. We value different things now, mainly intelligence and other intellectual abilities, but we still frequently look down on people who don't have what we value as less useful.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


OmieWise: "Well the AIDS denial just about kills it, don't you think?"

Well - yeah - unless it has modern lifesaving medi... I see what you did there.
posted by symbioid at 11:44 AM on November 29, 2011


We value different things now, mainly intelligence and other intellectual abilities, but we still frequently look down on people who don't have what we value as less useful.

I confess that I do sometimes have the biases of an intellectual person in an intellectual world toward people who are less intellectually capable than me and my friends. Won't deny that. But I sure as hell don't declare that they don't deserve to live. There's a massive difference between "shift in what makes someone Useful" and "actively promoting a way of life that automatically and unavoidably condemns many people to painful early death."
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:45 AM on November 29, 2011


Funny thing:

In a "primitive" society, I'd be dead. What good am I? I suffer from allergies to things like pollen,

Allergies are autoimmune diseases strong associated with too-clean modern societies. There's an excellent chance you would not in fact have this problem in a primitive group.

I'm not skilled with my hands,

That can be taught.

and my vision is beyond abysmal (one nearsighted eye, one farsighted eye, and terrible astigmatism.) Without the basic framework afforded by civilization, I'd never have made it to adulthood. And, frankly, I doubt many of the primitivists would too.

See, this is the lie, basically. We know from archaeological records and contact with non-agrarian cultures that people don't automatically die due to differences in ability or injury, and are cared for by their communities. One point primitivists make is that the entire idea of relying solely on oneself is a lie built into civilized society by alienating labour from the business of survival. Once divorced, we not only pretend that we live by our individual wits even though we don't, we project that expectation to groups that don't pretend to live this way, and expect we would be killed, because we expect the primitives to have the same illusions as ourselves. But no, you wouldn't be killed.

But there's a limit to the counterargument. One of my sons is autistic enough that he would have trouble surviving in a primitive regime without effort that would hurt the entire family. In the primitive regime, we wouldn't necessarily die, but we would be markedly less successful and our quality of life would be greatly lessened. In a civilized preindustrial culture our son would fulfil a social role build on a mix of peity and deep bigotry, and as people of our time, we might be bigoted enough to disown him. Living now, in a wealthy country, we have the best chance at happiness.

But the whole mythology of smashing babies against the stones is a civilized thing, folks.
posted by mobunited at 11:47 AM on November 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


...in fact, shit, centaurs too?

Dig it, there's human/animal transformations, also.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:48 AM on November 29, 2011


I abhor the idea that only the strong members of communities should be suffered to live, as they are most useful. Worth as a human being is independent of health and ability.

TL;DR of my last post: The Spartans and Republicans aren't precivilized groups.
posted by mobunited at 11:49 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I still have a fondness burning in the cockles of my heart for anarcho-primitivism (though I never ended up buying any Zerzan, I do have Endgame Vol 1 by Jensen, as well as plenty of back issues of Anarchy and maybe even one or two Green Anarchist zines and some Fifth Estate)...

But I kinda got outta that phase in the mid 2000s during Katrina and, I dunno. I grew up?

Isn't umm... Jason something or other? An anthropologist blogger who's also part of a primitivist network, a mefite?

Ah, The Anthropik Network?

I take primitivism about as seriously as I take capital L Libertarianism these days - only I fear Libertarianism more because it wields a lot more socio-political capital (pun intended) these days.
posted by symbioid at 11:50 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I kinda got outta that phase in the mid 2000s during Katrina and, I dunno. I grew up?

You mean during that event where nation-state civilization failed to deal with a natural disaster and its agents murdered people for satisfying survival needs outside of its codes?
posted by mobunited at 11:58 AM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Even so, can we still learn from the critiques? I think so.

I agree. I think that there are lots of good discussions to be had in thinking about how we affect technology, and vice-versa, and where those interactions bring us, as a whole.

But there was a strong sense I got from one of the articles (I can't remember which, now - one of the ones I was skimming on my phone, when the conference call I was on turned to a discussion of matters that don't concern me...oh, the irony!) that seems to make technology as this outside thing that happens to us, not a thing we deliberately create. Hand-waving that reality away (and maybe this wasn't exactly what the article was doing, but it was the impression I got) is unhelpful in the extreme.
posted by rtha at 12:00 PM on November 29, 2011


mobunited I never said I'd be killed by my fellow
Humans. I said I would not survive. Big difference. Having a society that understands optics, that allows for the mass-production of lenses and frames, that understands how the eye works, and has people trained in the diagnosis of vision problems allows me to go from being a near-blind useless lump to bring a (mostly) productive being.
posted by SansPoint at 12:10 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


technology as this outside thing that happens to us, not a thing we deliberately create.

I imagine the percentage of the population actively involved in creating technology is very small.

So I think that for most people, it is descriptively true that "technology happens to them."

I use thermal cyclers and centrifuges every week to do science!, but they're just kinda part of my life, imported in from somewhere else. I didn't make them and couldn't.

The relation of most people, even most people in the sciences, to the technology they use every day is overwhelmingly that of a "recipient", whether we like it or not.
posted by edguardo at 12:14 PM on November 29, 2011


Having a society that understands optics, that allows for the mass-production of lenses and frames, that understands how the eye works, and has people trained in the diagnosis of vision problems allows me to go from being a near-blind useless lump to bring a (mostly) productive being.

Less than 20/20 vision is obviously not a lethal drawback, or it wouldn't be a prevalent genetic trait. I'm pretty nearsighted myself. The idea that blind people would just die is a myth. They have families. The evidence paints fatal disability as something that requires a cascade of social problems to happen.

What would be more interesting is the idea of aspiring to be a "productive being." Productive for whom? Cattle are productive. The primitivist viewpoint is that people are loci of experience, and that civilization does bad things to experiences *and* the capacity to experience. Zerzan talks about a pervasive sense of hollowness and inauthenticity in our lives, and while I don't agree with him in many respects, we need to consider that the net good of civilization is a *net* good, and not without drawbacks. And I would say that the reflex to describe oneself as a commodity of a sort is part of what we pay, and it affects us deeply.
posted by mobunited at 12:29 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


mobunited how about productive for myself? Without my glasses, I can't do much of anything. I can't write, I can't read. I can't hunt, fish, gather, or much of ANYTHING.
posted by SansPoint at 12:39 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jensen's approach at this point is one which doesn't exclude violence and sabotage. His rationale seems to be one that, if the people of a particular landbase fight (perhaps even to the death) to prevent the exploitation and invasion of civilizational forces, those forces might think twice about messing with that landbase again.

One example he gave in Endgame was of activists threatening loggers with bodily harm, to cause attrition in their ranks and make it more difficult for the logging company to cut down the trees.

Jensen realizes (as Trotsky understood about communism) that global revolution is the only way, because if any viable infrastructures of civilization remain, they will regroup and begin consuming landbases and their resources by force again.

But this is exactly where the entire concept of post-civilizational neo-primitivism breaks down. Even presupposing some kind of "green apocalypse" in which civilization falls en masse and tribal foraging returns -- the first group to forget history and start farming grains will begin the whole thing all over again. It came about multiple times, not only in Mesopotamia, but in Central America and China. The tribal people of the Earth fought the encroach of civilization with everything they had (both violently and non-violently), but civilization will always conquer by sheer numbers.

Monocrop agriculture => food surplus => population boom => world domination => ???

Civilization is the Ice-Nine of the world. One molecule is all it takes.

Disclaimer: I don't think civilization is inherently doomed to collapse. There might be a gradual shift towards techno-tribalism, which combines technology with small communities. I think we're seeing the beginnings of this now with what the Internet is doing to the necessity/superfluousness of urban centers.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:41 PM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Even presupposing some kind of "green apocalypse" in which civilization falls en masse and tribal foraging returns -- the first group to forget history and start farming grains will begin the whole thing all over again. It came about multiple times, not only in Mesopotamia, but in Central America and China. The tribal people of the Earth fought the encroach of civilization with everything they had (both violently and non-violently), but civilization will always conquer by sheer numbers.

...

One answer boils down to the adage "Might makes right." Farming could support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer quality of life. (Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over on person per ten square miles, while farmers average 100 times that.) Partly, this is because a field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a forest with scattered edible plants. Partly, too, it's because nomadic hunter-gatherers have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it's old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don't have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years.

As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evils of farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter. It's not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn't want.


-Jared Diamond: The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
posted by zabuni at 1:08 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The narrative of modernity as a series of objective improvements is pretty much a lie.

I agree 100%. The problem is that the narrative of objective improvement via a "return" to a perfect state of anarcho-primitivism is also a lie.

IMHO there's little difference between this and the rhetoric of progress; both start from a handful of supposedly-universal first-principles ("precivilized violence is preferable to the internalized violence of civilized living", for example, or "people are loci of experience") rather than human well-being as self-defined by said humans, and neither can stand to admit it. Both paradigms simply assert that the "correct" way of living is human well-being, and neither are interested in opposing viewpoints (save, on preview, to label them as "drawbacks" and "part of what we pay", as if this isn't true of the alternative.)

I think this is what we need a radical movement against. Universal value is the great lie -- "progress", "anarcho-primitivism", etc are simply different iterations of it.
posted by vorfeed at 1:13 PM on November 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think this is relevant.
posted by byanyothername at 1:18 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


My feeling on primitivism is that one solid week with the kind of bed bugs, skeeters, ringworms, chiggers and other shit that modernism has eliminated as nuisances would have these people running back to suburbia.
posted by spicynuts at 1:21 PM on November 29, 2011


Yes I'm aware that bed bugs are back but not in the epic sense that were are swimming in them.
posted by spicynuts at 1:22 PM on November 29, 2011


Less than 20/20 vision is obviously not a lethal drawback, or it wouldn't be a prevalent genetic trait ... The idea that blind people would just die is a myth. They have families.

You know, this line would go over great at a GOP debate.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:45 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


My feeling on primitivism is that one solid week with the kind of bed bugs, skeeters, ringworms, chiggers and other shit that modernism has eliminated as nuisances would have these people running back to suburbia

Yeah, there are always annoying insects and diseases they bring in "the wild," but some of these species are only problematic because of civilization: clear-cutting of forest for farmland, which leads to stagnant water; animal husbandry which leads to mutation of zoonotic diseases; silos of stored grain which attract rodents and the diseases they and their parasites carry...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:45 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head. Science can't help me now.

Cripes, I /guarantee/ the none of these jokers have even one semester of anthropology under their belts. READ A BOOK, PEOPLE.

Primitive doesn't mean what you think it means.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:56 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't umm... Jason something or other? An anthropologist blogger who's also part of a primitivist network, a mefite?

i am NOT going to get into another tens of thousands word long argument with THAT guy again
posted by pyramid termite at 2:01 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree that the rhetoric of progress and the rhetoric of return are comparable in their ideological blindness. Perhaps a longer comment later...
posted by mek at 2:11 PM on November 29, 2011


Less than 20/20 vision is obviously not a lethal drawback, or it wouldn't be a prevalent genetic trait. I'm pretty nearsighted myself. The idea that blind people would just die is a myth. They have families. The evidence paints fatal disability as something that requires a cascade of social problems to happen.

Diabetes is probably a better example of relatively common and treatable trait that would most likely result in death or other serious problems in a pre-civilized culture. And anyway the idea is not that one specific trait would necessarily instantly kill you, it's that the enormous safety net that exists because of civilization protects everyone all the time in a lot of ways. For example, let's say there's an 8-year-old today that is abandoned by their parents for whatever reason, there's a very good chance that they won't die of starvation, but if a nomadic tribe family abandons their child or otherwise aren't able to take care of them, the child is doomed. Or what if your tribe happens to be led by a physically strong abusive rapist who murders people that don't do what he tells them to do, how exactly do you escape from that situation if your tribe is your only hope of survival? In general abstract terms pre-civilized life can sound fine, but in terms of terrible things that are likely to happen to a given person over the course of a lifetime, civilization at least mitigates a great deal of the worst ones.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:21 PM on November 29, 2011


How many primitivists does it take to build a gas chamber?
posted by symbioid at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


*somebody* had to godwin this puppy.
posted by symbioid at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's that the enormous safety net that exists because of civilization protects everyone all the time in a lot of ways.

Everyone? All the time?

You must not be from around here.
posted by edguardo at 2:31 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hm. I'll read some Zerzan after I finish Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order. Then I'll make them both cage fight each other.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:45 PM on November 29, 2011


I don't have a cell phone. Does that count?
posted by Fister Roboto at 3:04 PM on November 29, 2011


it's that the enormous safety net that exists because of civilization protects everyone all the time in a lot of ways.

Everyone? All the time?

You must not be from around here.


Not sure if you are joking or not, but yes I mean that civilization offers forms of protection that are intrinsic to living within that civilization. For example, I live in a place where during the winter, it's not possible to survive outside for long periods of time without some sort of shelter. The fact that other people have built many structures in the area that could be used as temporary or permanent shelter from the elements is a huge benefit that could never exist in a purely hunter-gatherer society.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:40 PM on November 29, 2011


The fact that other people have built many structures in the area that could be used as temporary or permanent shelter from the elements is a huge benefit that could never exist in a purely hunter-gatherer society.

While I don't inherently disagree with you, hunter-gatherer societies did live in the Midwest (where you live, according to your profile), and also in areas much farther north. Many Inuit people still live a fairly traditional life in the high arctic and seem to do just fine.
posted by asnider at 3:48 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Laurens van der Post (e.g. The Lost World of the Kalahari, 1958) related several firsthand observations of telepathic communication

Laurens ven der Post is a fabulist.
posted by Wolof at 3:53 PM on November 29, 2011


> Diabetes is probably a better example of relatively common and treatable trait that would most likely result in death or other serious problems in a pre-civilized culture.

Diabetes is yet another condition that can really only crop up in the excesses and poor nutrition of modernity.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:01 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Type II, maybe. But Type I is genetic.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:04 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I don't inherently disagree with you, hunter-gatherer societies did live in the Midwest (where you live, according to your profile), and also in areas much farther north. Many Inuit people still live a fairly traditional life in the high arctic and seem to do just fine.
posted by asnider at 3:48 PM on November 29 [+] [!]


I wonder if we're all using different definitions of "civilization" here. Seems like the consensus here on Metafilter that hunter-gatherer = lack of civilization, whereas if the Zerzan quote above is accurate, he would argue that not only do we need to get rid of seasonal agriculture, but that language itself is an oppressive yoke on the human race.

By his definition, then, there may be little difference between our society and the "civilization-free" Inuit.

(Personally, I think as long as one person passes down some knowledge to their child, you have Civilization, full stop. It might be hunter-gatherer Civilization, but it's still Civilization.)
posted by Avenger at 4:05 PM on November 29, 2011


Seems like the consensus here on Metafilter that hunter-gatherer = lack of civilization

"Civilization" in the formal sense that anarcho-primitivists use the term, takes its meaning from the Latin root which refers to cities.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:06 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


While I don't inherently disagree with you, hunter-gatherer societies did live in the Midwest (where you live, according to your profile), and also in areas much farther north.

I'm not saying that it was impossible for anyone to survive back then, I'm saying that anyone who lives here now benefits from the fact (among other things) civilization results in permanent structures that can protect people from the elements. A person who is lost and alone in a modern populated area is protected in ways that someone lost and alone from a pre-civilization hunter-gatherer tribe would not be.

Diabetes is yet another condition that can really only crop up in the excesses and poor nutrition of modernity.

"Modernity" is a bit of a stretch considering that diabetes is one of the oldest known diseases and was described in some of the earliest known written medical texts from thousands of years ago.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:08 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Things a person with very poor vision can do in a traditional society

Farm using primitive techniques
Cut down wood
Set traps
Gather
Cook
Learn medicinal techniques

Things they can't do

Drive
Read
Operate a modern piece of farm equipment
Do any job that requires handling money or paperwork without massive adaptations

The disadvantages don't go all one way here. The requirement that individuals navigate an ever-increasingly complex world full of people who's job it is to take as much from you as they can legally get away with is hell for a lot of people.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:08 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Diabetes is yet another condition that can really only crop up in the excesses and poor nutrition of modernity.

What? No.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:11 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Yes I was thinking of Type II diabetes. Carry on.)
posted by Space Coyote at 4:12 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait, can you first tell us how all the children with Type I diabetes are going to survive without insulin?
posted by Avenger at 4:14 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is more Type II diabetes with modernity, but the idea that there was no (or even almost no) Type II diabetes before modernity is complete nonsense. Many, many more things cause Type II diabetes than simply diet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:21 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Besides, we've been a modern (much less civilized) society for a lot longer than we've been super-diabetic. Diabetes runs in my family, and back in the 80s we used to have to explain it all the time. Diet drinks and desserts were nonexistent; to most people the sole face of the disease was that one kid in class who needed shots. Now diabetes is everywhere -- the rate of diabetes really has gone crazy out of nowhere, mainly in the space of just fifteen years. And that's not counting all the pre-diabetics, either.
posted by vorfeed at 6:17 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


fuck primitivism, de stijl for life
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:40 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that it was impossible for anyone to survive back then, I'm saying that anyone who lives here now benefits from the fact (among other things) civilization results in permanent structures that can protect people from the elements.

I think this is pretty much what primitivism challenges--the notions that civilizations (which we can probably use almost interchangeably as a word with "institutions") are permanent, and the idea that they have wide benefits that everyone within them enjoys (and no one outside of them is exploited by). I think both notions are pretty obviously wrong once you start thinking about them, and I credit working my way to that position to exposure to primitivism, but I don't think there's a very strong primitive/civilized dichotomy anymore. I think the lines we draw there are mostly imaginary, and that human life in any era is pretty messy with lots of problems to address, and it's going to take us a very long time (if it's even possible) to build our societies in thoughtful ways that actually do create long term, overall benefits for us.

Basically, I think we're stumbling our way to perfection--we're never really going to get there, and we have and will continue to make very bad mistakes, but if we can learn from them, then we can live in better ways.
posted by byanyothername at 7:13 PM on November 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Fister Roboto: "I don't have a cell phone. Does that count?"

There's.... there's two of us out here in the world??? HALLELUJAH!
posted by symbioid at 9:55 PM on November 29, 2011


mobunited, what are your sources? E.g. I'm interested to read more about Native Americans being taller than the arriving Europeans. I was interested in Pinker's depiction of the decrease of violence, but couldn't find any scholarly counterarguments.
posted by wanderingstan at 12:22 AM on November 30, 2011


I think this is pretty much what primitivism challenges--the notions that civilizations (which we can probably use almost interchangeably as a word with "institutions") are permanent, and the idea that they have wide benefits that everyone within them enjoys (and no one outside of them is exploited by)

I agree with your overall point, but I'm not making the claim that civilizations are permanent or do not involve exploitation. Many of the claims of primitivists about aspects of civilization that are unfair or harmful are valid, but what I disagree with is the logical leap to the conclusion that by not having those aspects, hunter-gatherer cultures are better to live in. To me it's a baby and bathwater situation, there are core aspects of civilization that are in fact incredibly beneficial overall to the people who live in them. It makes sense to advocate reforming a flawed system or even to argue that a flawed system is so broken that it can't be reformed, but to me it's absurd to claim that replacing it with an older and even more flawed system would somehow be better.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:33 PM on November 30, 2011


I wonder if we're all using different definitions of "civilization" here. Seems like the consensus here on Metafilter that hunter-gatherer = lack of civilization

Civilization implies cities, in the strictest use of the term. So, hunter-gathers have a society and a culture, but they do not necessarily have a civilization.
posted by asnider at 2:12 PM on November 30, 2011


It's problematic usage as the colloquial understanding of "civilization" is synonymous with technology and "progress" and agriculture in a very general sense, while many hunter-gatherer societies did practice rather advanced forms of agriculture (both "hunter" and "gatherer" being gross simplifications, as both involved careful management strategies), they were simply different to the point of being basically unrecognizable to early explorers. I'm perfectly happy with the technical definition of civilization as "a society with agrarian practices sufficiently adopted to generate storable (grain) surpluses enabling dense settlements" but in actual usage the term obscures all the other technological advancements outside of this framework which are specific to "uncivilized" societies. It also implies all hunter-gatherers were nomadic which isn't true.
posted by mek at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a difference between 'culture' and 'civilization'. Culture is
1. Communication, which need not be a verbal language. Non- humans can have that.
2.. Knowledge passed from parent to off-spring. Even non-humans
can have that.
3. Artifacts and tools. Again you
don't have to be human to have that.

Civilization is specifically cities and means of governing large numbers of people. For that you definitely have to be human.

I too would perhaps have died in a primitive setting. My first baby was in the breech position, my water had broken, so I required an emergency C-section. My second baby was born 'normally.' I was a very early VBAC. I would in primitive, or even Third World conditions have died having the first baby. That is a given. If I were
Bedu, Kalaharie, Aboriginal
Australian, a peasant in Mexico or India, or even on the wrong 'Rez
here, in the States be dead. Had I
been homeless here in the States, I would be dead.
That said, maybe our way of life does make it harder to be fully healthy. Also primitive people did not just let people die.

The archeologists have found Neandrathal skeletons of people who lived through major illness and physical trauma to be cared for by their tribes often for many years.
So the primitivists can kiss my very royal @$$!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:59 PM on November 30, 2011


I would in primitive, or even Third World conditions have died having the first baby. That is a given.

I appreciate the difficulty of breech birth but it's really not a given that you would have died, there are many many many cases of successful breech home births.
posted by mek at 3:31 AM on December 1, 2011


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