or anarcho-primitivism, is an anarchist critique
of the origins and progress of civilization. Primitivists
argue that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural
subsistence gave rise to social stratification,
coercion, and alienation. They advocate a return
to non-"civilized" ways of life through
deindustrialisation, abolition of division of
labour or specialization, and abandonment of technology.
There are however numerous other non-anarchist
forms of primitivism, and not all primitivists
point to the same phenomenon as the source of
modern, civilized problems. Some, like Ted Kaczynski,
see only the Industrial Revolution as the problem,
others point to various developments in history
such as monotheism, writing, patriarchy, the use
of metal tools, etc.
Many traditional anarchists reject such critique of civilization while some endorse it but do not consider themselves primitivists (eg. Wolfi Landstreicher). Anarcho-primitivists are often distinguished by their focus on the praxis of achieving a feral state through "rewilding". They may also promote a return to full naturism, as in clothing optional.
Primitivists argue that prior
to the advent of agriculture humans lived in small,
nomadic bands which were socially, politically,
and economically egalitarian. Being without hierarchy,
these bands are sometimes viewed as embodying
a precursor to anarchism.
John Moore Writes That Anarcho-Primitivism Seeks
"To expose, challenge and
abolish all the multiple forms of power that structure
the individual, social relations, and interrelations
with the natural world."
Primitivists hold that as a result of agriculture,
societies became increasingly beholden to technological
processes and abstract power structures arising
from the division of labour and hierarchism. Primitivists
disagree over what degree of horticulture might
be present in an anarchist society, with some
arguing that permaculture could have a role but
others advocating a strictly hunter-gatherer subsistence.
Despite its rejection of scientism, primitivism has drawn heavily on cultural anthropology and archaeology. Within the last half-century, societies once viewed as barbaric have been largely reevaluated by academics, many of whom now hold that early humans lived in relative peace and prosperity. For instance Frank Hole, an early-agriculture specialist, and Kent Flannery, a specialist in Mesoamerican civilization, have noted that, "No group on earth has more leisure time than hunters and gatherers, who spend it primarily on games, conversation and relaxing."(Kirkpatrick Sale, "Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision")
Scholars such as Karl Polanyi and Marshall Sahlins characterized primitive societies as gift economies with "goods valued for their utility or beauty rather than cost; commodities exchanged more on the basis of need than of exchange value; distribution to the society at large without regard to labor that members have invested; labor performed without the idea of a wage in return or individual benefit, indeed largely without the notion of 'work' at all."
Primitivists view civilization
as the logic, institutions, and physical apparatus
of domestication, control and domination. They
focus primarily on the question of origins. Civilization
is seen as the underlying problem or root of oppression,
and it is believed that it needs to be dismantled
Primitivists describe the rise
of civilization as the shift over the past 10,000
years from an existence within and deeply connected
to the web of life, to one separated from and
in control of the rest of life. They argue that
prior to civilization there generally existed
ample leisure time, considerable gender autonomy
and equality, a non-destructive approach to the
natural world, the absence of organized violence,
no mediating or formal institutions, and strong
health and robusticity. Primitivists state that
civilization inaugurated warfare, the subjugation
of women, population growth, drudge work, concepts
of property, entrenched hierarchies, and virtually
every known disease. They claim that civilization
begins with and relies on an enforced renunciation
of instinctual freedom and that it is impossible
to reform away such a renunciation.
A Critique Of Symbolic Culture
Primitivists view the shift towards an almost exclusively symbolic culture as highly problematic, in the sense that it separates us from a direct interaction. Often the response to this questioning is, "So, you just want to grunt?" Which might be the desire of a few, but typically the critique is a look at the problems inherent with a form of communication and comprehension that relies primarily on symbolic thought at the expense (and even exclusion) of other sensual and unmediated means. The emphasis on the symbolic is a movement from direct experience into mediated experience in the form of language, art, number, time, etc.
Primitivists argue that symbolic culture filters our entire perception through formal and informal symbols. It's beyond just giving things names, but having an entire relationship to the world that comes through the lens of representation. It is debatable as to whether humans are "hard-wired" for symbolic thought or if it developed as a cultural change or adaptation, but, say primitivists, the symbolic mode of expression and understanding is limited and its over-dependence leads to objectification, alienation, and a tunnelvision of perception. Many primitivists promote and practice getting in touch with and rekindling dormant or underutilized methods of interaction and cognition, such as touch, smell, and telepathy, as well as experimenting with and developing unique and personal modes of comprehension and expression.
The Domestication Of Life
Domestication, according to primitivists,
is the process that civilization uses to indoctrinate
and control life according to its logic. The mechanisms
of domestication are said to include: taming,
breeding, genetically modifying, schooling, caging,
intimidating, coercing, extorting, promising,
governing, enslaving, terrorizing, murdering,
etc. The list goes on to include almost every
civilized social interaction. Primitivists say
their movement and effects are examined and felt
throughout society, enforced through various institutions,
rituals, and customs.
Domestication, according to primitivists, is the process that civilization uses to indoctrinate and control life according to its logic. The mechanisms of domestication are said to include: taming, breeding, genetically modifying, schooling, caging, intimidating, coercing, extorting, promising, governing, enslaving, terrorizing, murdering, etc. The list goes on to include almost every civilized social interaction. Primitivists say their movement and effects are examined and felt throughout society, enforced through various institutions, rituals, and customs.
Primitivists also describe it as the process by which previously nomadic human populations shift towards sedentary or settled existence through agriculture and animal husbandry. They claim that this kind of domestication demands a totalitarian relationship with both the land and the plants and animals being domesticated. They say that whereas in a state of wildness, all life shares and competes for resources, domesticaton destroys this balance. The domesticated landscape (e.g. pastoral lands/agricultural fields, and to a lesser degree - horticulture and gardening) is seen to necessitate the end of open sharing of the resources that formerly existed; where once "this was everyones's," it is now "mine." Primitivists argue that this notion of ownership laid the foundation for social hierarchy as property and power emerged.
To primitivists domestication not only changes the ecology from a free to a totalitarian order, it enslaves the species that are domesticated.
The Origins And Dynamics Of Patriarchy
Primitivists hold that toward the beginning in the shift to civilization, an early product of domestication is patriarchy: the formalization of male domination and the development of institutions which reinforce it. Primitivists say that by creating false gender distinctions and divisions between men and women, civilization, again, creates an "other" that can be objectified, controlled, dominated, utilized, and commodified. They see this as running parallel to the domestication of plants for agriculture and animals for herding, in general dynamics, and also in the specifics like the control of reproduction. Primitivists say that as in other realms of social stratification, roles are assigned to women in order to establish a very rigid and predictable order, beneficial to hierachy. They claim that woman came to be seen as property, no different than the crops in the field or the sheep in the pasture. Primitivists argue that ownership and absolute control, whether of land, plants, animals, slaves, children, or women, is part of the established dynamic of civilization.
Patriarchy, to a primitivist, demands the subjugation of the feminine and the usurpation of nature, propelling us toward total annihilation. They argue further that it defines power, control and dominion over wildness, freedom and life. They say that patriarchal conditioning dictates all of our interactions: with ourselves, our sexuality, our relationships to each other, and our relationship to nature. They claim it severely limits the spectrum of possible experience.
Division Of Labor And Specialization
Primitivists tend to see division of labor and specialization as fundamental and irreconcilable problems, decisive to social relationship within civilization. They see this disconnecting of the ability to care for ourselves and provide for our own needs as a technique of separation and disempowerment perpetuated by civilization. Specialization is seen as leading to inevitable inequaities of influence and undermining egalitarian relationships.
Rejection Of Science
Primitivists reject science as a method of understanding the world. Science is not considered neutral. It is seen as loaded with the motives and assumptions that come out of, and reinforce, civilization.
Science is understood as attempting to see the world as a collection of separate objects to be observed and understood. In order to accomplish this task the scientist must distance themselves emotionally and physically, to have a one-way channel of information moving from the observed thing to the self, which is defined as not a part of that thing.
Primitivists argue that this is a mechanistic view tantamount to being the dominant religion of our time. As science seeks to deal only with the quantitative, primitivists suggest that it does not admit values or emotions. While science claims that only things that are reproducible, predictable and the same for all observers are real and important, primitivists say that reality itself is not reproducible, predictable or the same for all observers.
Science is seen by primitivists as only partially considering reality. Observability, objectifiability, quantifiability, predictability, controllability and uniformity are said to be the methods and goals of science. This, say primitivists, leads to the world view that everything should be objectified, quantified, controlled and in uniform with everything and everyone else. Primitivists also see science as promoting the idea that anomalous experience, anomalous ideas and anomalous people should be cast off or destroyed like imperfectly shaped machine components.
The Problem Of Technology
Primitivists reject technology completely. They see it as a complex system involving division of labor, resource extraction, and exploitation for the benefit of those who implement its process. They argue that the interface with and result of technology is always an alienated, mediated, and distorted reality. Technology too, just like science, is seen as not neutral. The values and goals of those who produce and control technology are believed to always be embedded within it.
Technology is held to be distinct from simple tools in many regards. A simple tool is considered a temporary usage of an element within our immediate surroundings used for a specific task. Tools are not viewed to involved complex systems which alienate the user from the act. Primitivists claim that implicit in technology is this separation, creating an unhealthy and mediated experience which leads to various forms of authority. Domination is said to increase every time a new "time-saving" technology is created, as primitivists claim it necessitates the construction of more technology to support, fuel, maintain and repair the orginal technology. It is argued by primitivists that this leads very rapidly to the establishment of a complex technological system that seems to have an existence independent of the humans who created it. Primitivists believe that this system methodically destroys, eliminates, or subordinates the natural world, constructing a world fit only for machines.
Production And Industrialism
According to primitivists a key component of the modern techno-capitalist structure is industrialism, the mechanized system of production built on centralized power and the exploitation of people and nature. Industrialism cannot exist, they say, without genocide, ecocide, and colonialism. They further say that to maintain it, coercion, land evictions, forced labor, cultural destruction, assimilation, ecological devastation and global trade are accepted as necessary, even benign. Primitivists claim industrialism's standardization of life objectifies and commodifies it, viewing all life as a potential resource. They see their critique of industrialism as a natural extension of the anarchist critique of the state because they see industrialism as inherently authoritarian.
The primitivist argument against industrialism is such: In order to maintain an industrial society, one must set out to conquer and colonize lands in order to acquire (generally) non-renewable resources to fuel and grease the machines. This colonialism is rationalized by rascism, sexism, and cultural chauvinism. In the process of acquiring these resources, people must be forced off their land. And in order to make people work in the factories that produce the machines, they must be enslaved, made dependent, and otherwise subjected to the destructive, toxic, degrading industrial system.
Primitivists hold that Industrialism cannot exist without massive centralization and specialization. Futhermore, they hold that industrialism demands that resources be shipped from all over the globe in order to perpetuate its existence, and this globalism, they say, undermines local autonomy and self-sufficiency.
Finally primitivists contend that it is a mechanistic worldview that is behind industrialism and that this same world-view has justified slavery, exterminations and the subjugation of women.
Primitivists do not see themselves as part of the Left (see also: post-left anarchy). Rather they view the socialist and liberal orientations as bankrupt. Primitivists argue that the Left has proven itself to be a monumental failure in its objectives. The Left, according to primitivists, is a general term and can roughly describe all socialist leanings (from social democrats and liberals to Maoists and Stalinists) which wish to re-socialize "the masses" into a more "progessive" agenda, often using coercive and manipulative approaches in order to create a false "unity" or the creation of political parties. While primitivists understand that the methods or extremes in implementation may differ, the overall push is seen as the same: the institution of a collectivized and monolithic world-view based on morality.
Against Mass Society
Most anarchists and "revolutionaries" spend a significant portion of their time developing schemes and mechanisms for production, distribution, adjudication, and communication between large numbers of people; in other words, the functioning of a complex society. Primitivists do not accept the premise of global (or even regional) social, political, and economic coordination and interdependence, or the organization needed for their administration. They reject mass society for practical and philosophical reasons. First, they reject the inherent representation necessary for the functioning of situations outside the realm of direct experience (completely decentralized modes of existence). They do not wish to run society or organize a different society.
They want a completely different frame of reference. They want a world where each group is autonomous and decides on its own terms how to live, with all interactions based on affinity, free and open, and non-coercive. They want a life which they live, not one which is run.
According to primitivists mass society brutally collides not only with autonomy and the individual, but also with the earth. They see it as simply not sustainable (in terms of the resource extraction, transportation, and communication systems necessary for any global economic system) to continue on with, or to provide alternative plans for a mass society.
Liberation And Organization
Primitivists argue that organizational models only provide us with more of the same. While it is recognized by some primitivists that there might be an occasional good intention, the organizational model is seen as coming from an inherently paternalistic and distrusting mindset which they hold is contradictory to anarchy. Primitivists believe that true relationships of affinity come from a deep understanding of one another through intimate need-based relationships of day-to-day life, not relationships based on organizations, ideologies, or abstract ideas. They say that the organizational model suppresses individual needs and desires for "the good of the collective" as it attempts to standardize both resistance and vision. From parties, to platforms, to federations, primitivists argue that as the scale of projects increase, the meaning and relevance they have for one's own life decrease.
Rather than the familar organizational model primitivists advocate for the use of informal, affinity-based associations that they claim tend to minimize alienation from decisions and processes, and reduce mediation between our desires and our actions.
Revolution vs. Reform
As anarchists, primitivists are fundamentally opposed to government, and likewise, any sort of collaboration or mediation with the state (or any institution of hierarchy and control.) This position determines a certain continuity or direction of strategy, historically referred to as revolution. By revolution, primitivists mean the ongoing struggle to alter the social and political landscape in a fundamental way: for anarchists, this means its complete dismantling. The word "revolution" is seen as dependent on the position from which it is directed, as well as what would be termed "revolutionary" activity. Again, for anarchists, this is activity which is aimed at the complete dissolving of power.
Reform, on the other hand, is seen as entailing any activity or strategy aimed at adjusting, altering, or selectively maintaining elements of the current system, typically utilizing the methods or apparatus of that system. The goals and methods of revolution, it is argued, cannot be dictated by, nor performed within, the context of the system. For anarchists, revolution and reform invoke incompatible methods and aims, and despite certain approaches, do not exist on a continuum.
For primitivists, revolutionary activity questions, challenges, and works to dismantle the entire set-up or paradigm of civilization. Revolution is not seen as a far-off or distant singular event which we build towards or prepare people for, but instead, a life-way or practice of approaching situations.
Anarchists contribute to an anti-authoritarian push, which challenges all power on a fundamental level, striving for truly egalitarian relationships and promoting mutual aid communities. Primitivists, however, extend ideas of non-domination to all of life, not just human life, going beyond the traditional anarchist's analysis. From anthropologists, primitivists are informed with a look at the origins of civilization, so as to understand what they are up against and how they got here, to help inform a change in direction. Inspired by the Luddites, primitivists rekindle an anti-technological/industrial direct action orientation. Insurrectionalists infuse a perspective which waits not for the fine-tuning of critique, but identify and spontaneously attack current institutions of civilization.
Primitivists owe much to the Situationists, and their critique of the alienating commodity society. Deep ecology informs the primitivist perspective with an understanding that the well-being and flourishing of all life is linked to the awareness of the inherent worth and intrinsic value of the non-human world independent of use value. Primitivists see deep ecology's appreciation for the richness and diversity of life contribute to the realization that the present human interference with the non-human world is coercive and excessive.
Bioregionalists bring the perspective of living within one's bioregion, and being intimately connected to the land, water, climate, plants, animals, and general patterns of their bioregion. Eco-feminists have contributed to the comprehension of the roots, dynamics, manifestations, and reality of patriarchy, and its effect on the earth, women in particular, and humanity in general. Recently, the separation of humans from the earth (civilization) has probably been articulated most clearly and intensely by eco-feminists.
Primitivists have been profoundly influenced by the various indigenous cultures and earth-based peoples throughout history and those who still currently exist. While primitivists attempt to learn and incorporate sustainable techniques for survival and healthier ways of interacting with life, they see it as important not to flatten or generalize native peoples and their cultures, and to repsect and attempt to understand their diversity without co-opting cultural identities and characteristics. Primitivists also feel that it is important to understand that all humans have come from earth-based peoples forcibly removed from our connections with the earth, and therefore have a place within anti-colonial struggles.
They are also inspired by the feral, those who have escaped domestication and have re-integrated with the wild. And, of course, the wild beings which make up the Earth. It is important to remember that, while many anarcho-primitivists draw influence from similar sources, anarcho-primitivism is something very personal to each who identify or connect with these ideas and actions.
Rewilding And Reconnection
For most primitivist anarchists, rewilding and reconnecting with the earth is a life project. They state that it should not be limited to intellectual comprehension or the practice of primitive skills, but instead, that it is a deep understanding of the pervasive ways in which we are domesticated, fractured, and dislocated from our selves, each other and the world. Rewilding is understood as having a physical component which involves reclaiming skills and developing methods for a sustainable co-existance, including how to feed, shelter and heal ourselves with the plants, animals and materials occuring naturally in our bioregions. It is also said to include the dismantling of the physical manifestations, apparatus, and infrastructure of civilization.
Rewilding is described as having an emotional component, which involves healing ourselves and each other from what are perceived as the 10,000 year-old wounds, learning how to live together in non-heirarchical and non-oppressive communities, and deconstructing the domesticating mindset in our social patterns. To the primitivist "rewilding includes prioritizing direct experience and passion over mediation and alienation, re-thinking every dynamic and aspect of reality, connecting with our feral fury to defend our lives and to fight for a liberated existence, developing more trust in our intuition and being more connected to our instincts, and regaining the balance that has been virtually destroyed after thousands of years of patriarchal control and domestication. Rewilding is the process of becoming uncivilized." (from the "What Is Green Anarchy" primer)
In the United States primitivism has been notably advocated by writer John Zerzan and to a lesser extent author Derrick Jensen. The primitivist movement has connections to radical environmentalism, gaining some attention due to the ideas of Theodore Kaczynski (also dubbed, "the Unabomber") following his luddite bombing campaign. Recently primitivism has been enthusiastically explored by Green Anarchy, Species Traitor, and occasionally Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, Fifth Estate, and even CrimethInc..
During the 1990s the UK magazine Green Anarchist aligned itself with primitivism, although there are many green anarchists who are not primitivists.
Anti-civilization anarchists also organize groups in Spain, Israel, Turkey, and India.
Critics note that recent research indicates that certain hunter-gatherer societies actually had higher incidences of violence than societies with a state.. However, most of these primitive societies have some degree of contact with civilization which may make them more prone to violence. Regardless, this is an imposition of civilized moral values onto primitive cultures and often leads away from a discussion of the more pertinent points of primitivism, such as physical and mental health and then destruction of the natural environment.
Other research also indicates that primitive societies like the !Kung were not as affluent as previously thought. The !Kung instead had a life expectancy of thirty years, high infant mortality, a workweek at least equal to that of today, and periodic starvation with marked decrease in body weight. Primitivists respond that the figure of a higher number of hours of work is an extension of the original definition used for "work" (such as including household chores, which are not counted in figures of civilized workdays) and will often respond that most of the !Kung's and other primitive people's "work" consists of what most civilized people do for recreation such as hunting, fishing, gardening, sewing, weaving, etc.
Other critics believe that solving social problems, e.g. oppression, torture, war, or disease would be more difficult without books, medical instruments (a form of technology), and the social structures of civilization. Of course, the primitivist response is that it is civilization itself that causes these social problems.
Some posit that it would be implausible or even impossible for a world population of over 6 billion to dapt to social organizations limited to bands of 30-40 people. Even after a massive Nuclear holocaust it is hard for many to imagine that civilization would not quickly reorganise, though this theory tends to ignore evidence that there is not enough available resources left on the planet to fuel another Industrial Revolution were this one to collapse. This criticism against primitivism suggests that primitivism could only be attained temporarily, and under scenarios which most people would consider to be nightmarish dystopias. Primitivists counter this objection by saying that of course 6 billion people could not live in hunter and gatherer bands. They argue that the human population of the Earth will have to one day be much smaller than it is now because the current population levels and growth pattern are not sustainable.
Because some primitivists have extended their critique of symbolic culture to language itself, GeorgetownUniversity professor Mark Lance describes primitivism as "literally insane, for proper communication is necessary to create within the box a means to destroy the box." While primitivists recognise the importance of communication in order to destroy civilization, they see some forms as inherently alienating. The critique of language is often misconstrued however, as being a call for the abandonment of it, rather than an examination of how the use of language may engender domination and alienation.
Som notable critics of primitivism include Michael Albert and Brian Sheppard, and especially Murray Bookchin as seen in his polemic work "Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism" as well as the conflict between his, more traditionally socialist, "Social Ecology" and more the radical "Deep Ecology" of many primitivists.