Transcripts to Layla AbdelRahim radio interview: Anarcho-Primitivism: Civilization, Symbolic Culture, and Rewilding
From Feminist Primitivism
Revolutionary Left Radio, Jul 24, 2017
Dr. Layla AbdelRahim is an anthropologist, author, Revolutionary, and anarcho-primitivist thinker who urges us to examine civilization, its premises, its psychology, its pathologies, and its manifestations (including capitalism). She sits down with Brett to discuss the philosophy of anarcho-primitivism and debunks myths that many leftists have about the tendency and the philosophy that goes with it. It’s not a call to dismantle everything with no concern for who it hurts; rather it offers a way *forward* by insisting on an analysis that goes deeper than capitalism, and cuts to the core of our civilization, our evolutionary history, and our psyches. This is a must-listen episode!
Topics Include: Civilization, language, anthropology, symbolic culture, the use of language, the agricultural revolution, Marxism, the concept of “rewilding”, meditation, train journeys across Russia, going into nature, and much more!!!
Host: …Layla would you like to introduce yourself and say a little bit about your background?
Layla: Alright. Usually I have difficulty introducing myself because I happen to be a human being from the species of unwise apes (laughing)… who happens to be very interested and dedicated in questions of sustainable life for all species on Earth, and in questions of self-realization of every individual, every person. And so this of course led me to my work in a variety of disciplines – anthropology, I borrow a lot from biology, economics – in order to understand what are the principles of life and how do different social, economic and cultural choices impact our community of life and communities in general.
Host: … This episode is going to be centered around the politics of anarcho-primitivism and anti-civilizational politics… So let’s start off with what is anarcho-primitivism, and how does it differ from more orthodox variance of anarchism?
Layla: Anarcho-primitivism is, I wouldn’t say it’s a framework, but a methodology and a perspective on available data on life, like what makes life possible, what makes life feasible on our planet, and where does the suffering come from. So it’s basically all aspects of forces or groups that have historically fought against oppression, against civilization, against different forms of human self-organization that imposes war, violence, dispossession. They have always been interested obviously then in questions of liberty, they would frame them differently, egalitarian or justice. And so you have a variety of movements through history that would address or focus on one of these or several aspects of oppression. Anarcho-primitivism in this sense zooms out. Most of those movements, all shades of anarchism, socialism, communism, anti-colonialism, have focused on oppression from anthropocentric lens. They have inadvertently then fallen into the very economic machine that ensures the proliferation of civilization and then its expansion. Anarcho-primitivism zooms out from this human selfishness, egotism and anthropocentricism to look at – if life existed on Earth for millions of years what were the principles, and then by virtue of such an analysis or zoom out, you lose your high ground or your position of supremacy. Because then you realize that life knew how to proliferate and how to balance itself through principles that governed equal and free anarchist access to energy, to space. The sense of time would be then intertwined with that proliferation of diversity and life. The sense of space would be intertwined with that co-existence. Then there’s no place for the human ape at the top of a pyramid, that has designated itself as having the right to consume and to hunt and to kill and to possess eventually. So then you see that place and you look at what governs those societies, and that’s mutualism. And our place falls into how we can contribute to the proliferation of diversity of life. Eventually then using this set of tools for analysis, which is observations from nature, or wilderness, observation of historical culture choices and communities, human and nonhuman, then you realize that anarchism can work only if we cede that ultimate supremacy.
Host: …One way that I conceptualize anarcho-primitivism is this distinction between more orthodox forms of leftism, they root their critique in capitalism as the basis of so many social ills that are promoted through the economic paradigm of capitalism. Anarcho-primitivists in my understanding at least, would say that capitalism itself is a manifestation of a further deeper ill, and that ill is civilization. Would you agree with that framing?
Host: How would you define civilization, and maybe you could touch on the agricultural revolution here, so when did civilization start, and what is fundamentally wrong with civilization?
Layla: … In my work civilization is the byproduct of certain cultural and socio-cultural, socio-environmental decision of certain humans to domesticate nonhumans, and then eventually it led to humans domesticating humans as well, sedentary and labor oriented, predatory social organization. So what does that mean then. It means that the material effects of civilization which manifest themselves into growth, of domesticated human and nonhuman populations for the purpose of using them as either labor, or nonhumans using them for food, and for different things. Crops, you domesticate crops, you force them to reproduce more of what you want and exterminate everything else that poses more of a threat. So you see that settlements start growing, and cities start growing, and with that came obviously diseases, hierarchy, starvation, the health of humans and nonhumans suffered, longevity then suffers, quality of life, happiness, the joy of life in its diverse and unpredictable but yet harmonious wild co-existence then cedes to this hierarchical, exploitative system of where the domesticator owns the lives, the time, the effort and the flesh of what it conceives as its rightful resources. For me, this is where I differ from other critiques in anarcho-primitivism, is that civilization is not the root of all evil. Civilization is a response to the human revolution in its anthropology, in its self-perception, social construction of itself as the supreme predator. So predation then. And then you see that language, the birth of speech, human language, and art, representational art in the caves coincides with the humans taking that step toward hunting, killing, and then vacating that previous spot in the diversity of life, what I can social contract, where the human primates were disseminators of seeds, to carnivorous killers. The first technology toward civilization can be found then in that language and in the depiction of animals that they would kill that allowed the human predator to alienate herself, himself, because gender starts from there, himself, that ‘he’ would kill and then those who give birth to the human resources settle and domesticate the plants in order to have that surplus, to feed the hunter, to sustain the hunter during that hunt. So settlement and domestication is a response to that decision.
Host: So not only is it this physical separation from the natural way human beings have lived for so long, but it’s also representative of this psychological split where the human being starts to conceive of itself almost as an abstract concept, and that psychological break from nature perpetuates this confrontational attitude toward nature this predatory attitude, where nature must be confronted, and where it can be preyed upon it should be preyed upon, and where it could be beaten into submission it should be beaten into submission. Is that a proper way of understanding what you’re saying here about that fundamental change in the human mind?
Host: From there we seen the rise of hierarchies, the rise of what eventually would turn into kings and queens and monarchies and feudalism, which then again turned into capitalism. So what role does a critique of capitalism play in the broader critique of civilization?
Layla: The different critiques in themselves are actually very useful, because you look at for example critiques of epistemic racism, critiques of slavery-based economics, slavery and race based economics, which is connected to epistemic critique of racism, feminist critiques of economic and political capitalization of social power and social wealth. You see queer theory offering serious challenges to how under this whole capitalist system gender then gets conceived, used and constructed. All of these critiques are important. The problem is that where they fail is that if you focus on only that little department without zooming out to connect them together to yet zoom out and to see how in the end without this critique of human predation you will end up reconfirming that very system that keeps evolving and finding new ways of using and abusing symbolic capital, social capital, labor resources, land extraction economies, everything until finally it will devour the globe. Now the future of life is in crisis. This is the problem with people who adhere to one school or another and then they start fighting among themselves without looking at how the hierarchy places us in a way that we shall always keep using the resources in this hierarchy, in this food chain, we will predate on those weaker than us and we will feed those who are stronger than us.
Host: …What would an anarcho-primitivist ideal society look like, Is there any going back? Is the psychological split that gave rise to civilization and thus capitalism, is there any way we could rationally or responsibly gear down, or is it just going to have to end in some sort of catastrophe because the momentum of thousands of years of civilization is so strong that there’s no way to shift gears and get out of that mentality?
Layla: That’s another myth usually attributed to anarcho-primitivists, is that You want to take us back to the cave. As much as I would have loved to live in a cave, and actually I really enjoyed the Neanderthal caves in the Crimea, I visited there in 2006. The result of civilization is this unsustainable human population growth. There’s no way you can have 7 billion and marching on people move into caves. So obviously we cannot go back to a sustainable number of humans as we were say 300,000 years ago, or even 10,000 years ago, or even beginning of the 20th century. That’s not what anarcho-primitivists are saying, you go back. You go forward with what you have. The way to go forward is not to hide your head in the sand and pretend these painful questions don’t exist because they’re uncomfortable. We have to address them. The first question is, the way it’s going on its unsustainable for first of all other species, and without other species we are doomed. In the end, the collapse is going to affect everyone, and unfortunately us in the very end, because those who are higher up the human hierarchy will find ways to extend their existence as long as possible, but it’s just impossible to survive on a planet that won’t have fresh water and oxygen. Unless they somehow figure out how to change the base of human life on this planet, which is science fiction and it just won’t happen. So where do we go from facing the facts as they are? And facing the facts that 7 billion and marching on is not sustainable. But obviously we’re not going to say… too bad, those can’t afford to survive, die off. Obviously not. So then we’re going to start rewilding our own relationships within our own hierarchy to include nonhumans in a way that will then naturally control our propensity to proliferate under domestication. The birth of human population was triggered because it was a requirement of domesticated humans and nonhumans to produce resources. For example, you compare domesticated dogs and wild wolves. How many pups the wild wolves have, and they have those pups within specific seasons. They keep their population growth at zero. And that’s why they get threatened by human expansion, because if you don’t proliferate, the more you are killed the less there will be. Most so-called predators in the wild reproduce very rarely. But the humans, when they took that decision to become predators actually switched their reproductive clock and started demanding… more and more human resources – those who would farm, those who would protect and defend, so the military, etc. Then the step to realizing how the economy of wilderness works, and rewilding our own relationships with our domesticators, and our propensity to reproduce will curb, and we’ll start ceding those deserts that were created by human civilizations by inviting more diversity of life and sharing. And by inviting that diversity of life, instead of for example, controlling all the crops, you plant apple trees and then you’re the owner, and you have the farmers or the peasants who work for you, and those who guard or sell them. Instead of using that monocultural hierarchical system of extraction, if you allow a diversity of plants in that land, if you cede that ownership of the human labor, and the crops, say apple orchards yield, you will find that there will be more life, more variety of crops, and there will be less need to have humans who will be exploited either in wars or other. So the path to the future depends on how willing we are to really live. And if we want to live then we have learn how to let life proliferate and live and enjoy in its diversity.
Host: So right here is a pivotal point in our conversation. Because I think so many leftists, so many anarchists or Marxists or what have you, have a view of anarcho-primitivism as a fundamentally regressive one that as you correctly said, they think that it means a going back to a hunter-gatherer environment, thousands and thousands of years ago. So many of the critiques of anarcho-primitivism come from this characterization of it as just tear down the hospitals, tear down the drug companies, tear down the roads and infrastructure, just destroy civilization and let’s go back to living in caves. But what you are saying is that is fundamentally false, and the truth of the situation is that there is no way to go back, all we can do is go forward. And the way to go forward is to understand this critique, internalize it, and then begin the process of what you refer to as rewilding. Is that fair, and if so can you go on to defining what rewilding means on a personal or societal level?
Layla: Yes, absolutely. That is exactly so. I guess the critique comes from a misunderstanding of anarcho-primitivists, and John Zerzan’s warning which was taken out of context. He warned, in his analysis, that civilization is unsustainable, civilization is cruel, and civilization will ultimately lead to economic, social, ecological collapse. That was taken out of context and then the reaction was, So you are waiting for collapse. And that was not what the critique entails. The critique entails, you want that collapse in order to start re-envisioning on its ashes a new future. But the analysis shows that that future cannot exist on a dead planet. So how do we take into our hands the rewilding, or making life viable. And this is where my critique of all the revolutions that took place so far in an attempt to, well first we know the French, the British revolutions, the American revolutions, the Russian, the Chinese all the wars against colonialism, revolution after revolution in Africa and Asia and Latin America, have ultimately failed precisely because the epistemic foundation of human supremacy was never addressed. And so the predatory revolution, the original revolution, that ruptured us from this community of life and diversity of life and the joy of life, was an epistemic, anthropological revolution in self-conception. In order to really succeed this time, we have to understand what is at stake in the ways in which we envisage ourselves, envisage our roles in society. For example we can start by What is society? If you consider that society is the humans with whom you have economic networks, these are very alienating, highly segregated economies and groups and networks, if you feel you can thrive in that network it’s because you have a lot to exploit below you, so how are you going to envisage yourself outside of that network? Is it a specific gender with whom you mostly interact and with whom you have the most important economic exchanges? What is the hidden economy behind that which you do not want to acknowledge you have access to? What makes that materialize? Once we start understanding the effort, the economic input and output and extraction and consumption that is behind everything that we take for granted, this is where the epistemic revolution will take place. Because you will understand how predatory it is. And you will understand how to invite a diversity of beings from other classes, human social classes, for me social classes can be organized by gender, by race, all of these epistemic classifications have a value in this economy. This is where Marxist analysis is really useful and helpful. Because you can understand how we are alienated from both what we extract and what we produce. Once we start facing that and understanding the whole economic mesh in which everything exists, and inviting others from other species, other classes, human and nonhuman. This is where the rewilding begins. What do you give back to that wild community that you allow to exist for its own purpose, to simply enjoy life, not for your pleasure, not for your profit. Then we start to rewild ourselves and we will find that actually the quality of our experience on this Earth will immediately rise. We will be less stressed, because we will be less predatory, and being less predatory we will not expect a predator to constantly loom over our shoulder because the ultimate predator is us, consuming each other.
Host: That’s really interesting, the notion of looking over your shoulder for a predator and these sort of boogie men that we construct in our minds as almost a natural outgrowth of that sort of paranoia, of being a predator. And what you’re talking about when you speak of rewilding and the epistemic revolution, I find that fascinating, and I really think that leftists of all stripes need to really be honest and listen to what you are saying Layla. Because you are taking this tendency of anarcho-primitivism and really giving it a wonderful defense. And you’re knocking down so many caricatures that are push up against it, as you mentioned earlier. But when you talk about the epistemic revolution, I’ve heard the terms civilized and wild narratives be brought up in your writing and your talking. So what is the difference between civilized and wild narratives and what role does that play in the epistemic revolution you are talking about?
Layla: That’s part of the title of my second book that came out with Routledge in 2015, Children’s Literature, Domestication & Social Foundation: Narratives of Civilization and Wilderness. That was based on my doctoral dissertation in which I looked at the ways these fundamental premises of civilization and wilderness play out in narratives that we think are fiction or science or holy texts and even revolutionary children’s books. When we do not understand what is in those principles, for example in this book I use an example of Ann of Green Gables or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which apparently to many at first sight might appear to be a feminist, or anti-proletarian, poverty-stricken revolutionary text… If we analyze the underlying premises of civilization as monocultural, hierarchical, that naturalize killing – it’s based on hunting, right? On domesticating of animals for human use, and rape. Because if you force crops to reproduce, what they would not have not chosen through their intricate and intimate community of pollinators and disseminators, then that is rape. We don’t think in those terms of crops, but this is what we do. We don’t think in those terms of the turkeys that we have modified in such horrendous ways that they can’t even reproduce themselves, we have to force inseminate them, that’s rape. If this is the principle of civilization, then there is no way that any civilized text, no matter how revolutionary it might claim to be, that will ever challenge that very economic basis. Evolutionary theory, scientific interpretation of facts will then be tainted by these norms that we take for granted because we don’t even see them. Scientists then become biased because they don’t see this as a problem, So they will end up, no matter how much they sincerely may want to topple oppressive economics, they will keep reconfirming the same structure. It’s very linear, because it always goes towards a certain goal, extractionist, that means violence, rape, racism, forced reproduction, is part of that narrative towards who will then gain access. So Charlie and the Chocolate Factory shows that one boy who wins the lottery will inherit this hierarchy. With the Oompa Loompas, those poor creatures brought in crates from obviously Africa because where else does coaco grow, and will work for you and dance, and all of you will live happily ever after in exactly the same violent structure. If language is the grammar, the technology that helps this system to self-propagate, then my question was can we, standing from the fact that we are diseased by civilization, occupied, civilized, domesticated by this predatory, almost alien within ourselves that makes us act against ourselves, is it possible. And it is possible. I found there are some texts. So in this book, I use the example of different indigenous stories, some stories from north of Russia where I was born, even in a civilized setting, Tove Jansson wrote the Moomins Trolls in Finland during World War II, she went on until the 70’s, there were nine books in the Moomins Trolls, and I found that the premises of these books are wild, just like the premises in those stories told by indigenous people in the north of Russia, and they could be indigenous, they could be ethnically Russian or different nationalities and ethnic groups in Russia as well, so it doesn’t matter. What makes them wild is that, first of all there’s no grammar to situate the human as the highest rightful predator/owner of every good outcome in an economic transaction. There is no linear movement and logic toward that human winning over other forces, animal or nonhuman. There is no grammar that expects the protagonist to beat something and then emerge victorious against something else. The Moomins Trolls is amazing because, it’s different no moral of the story experiences of little Moomin troll going through life in a diversity of life, with dangerous looming out there, because obviously there could be danger, but in the end if you know how to tune in to that harmony of diversity that your family is never static and monospeciesist or monoclassist, then everything will be fine. The most important part is that you can never take a grammatical rule, extract it in whatever happened in that story and apply it next time. It kind of follows this – If it’s chaos that’s moving through the universe, and we all are particles that dance and tune to each other, but every time it’s something new, and every time it works out because you were intelligent and wise and wild to have figured out how to move with that community.
Host: Would you say there is a role to play for people that are sympathetic to anarcho-primitivist ideas or the ideas that you are expounding today, there’s a role for artists and filmmakers and authors and novelists to take into their own hands the duty of rewilding the mind by putting into their work these wild narratives? Would you say that is one way that people who are sympathetic to these ideas can operate in the real world and start to schange the minds of other people?
Layla: Could be one way. May be the optimal thing would be for everyone, because this is what narratives of wilderness tell us is that, if there’s no moral of the story, there’s no rule for protagonists to emerge as protagonist as heroes, then everyone in whatever moment of time and space experiences some communication with others, regardless of their species or class again, regardless of language. Like you go to forest and you will experience an encounter with trees with bugs with animals, they are protagonists and you are protagonist in that moment, and this is your story and you can share it with others. But ultimately, it’s what you live and how you end up not being a voyeur or the supreme user of that space but you tune into the economy and you look into what you bring to that economy is exactly what you take, then you become a protagonist. Then art and stories start becoming relevant and wild and ever-evolving.
Host: In my personal life I find that when I’m stressed out, when I’m struggling with depression or anxiety, one of the main things I do is I go into nature. I set my life aside even if it’s just for a few hours and walk around alone in the wood. It’s almost an experiment to test these ideas, because I find that when I immerse myself in nature, when I let my thinking and my internal dialogue slow down and I feel myself as an awareness inside of the beauty and depth of nature it actually has a profoundly healing effect on my psyche and own my psychology. So do you think that by rewilding you should try to as much as possible interact with nature, embed yourself in it, and just sort of let it consume you for a while as a way of breaking down civilized narratives or however you want to frame it?
Layla: Absolutely, I love the way you phrased it, the critical word here is to embed yourself, which means that you become responsible, bound to a social contract, a pact that we have with life. If you felt that emotional healing, did you bring emotional and other healing to that community. Then it becomes much more powerful, it stops being consumers. A lot of, now, school programs realize that kids suffer from depression, I saw a few articles in the Guardian and other places, poorer kids in downtown say Los Angeles don’t have access to the ocean and so you take them on the bus to the ocean for the first time and then you feel good about yourself because you took them on that bus, they ran around and then you take them back. Or there was another project, you take them and they clean the ocean. And I was like, Excuse me, none of these are solutions for permanent healing of these kids and them being stuck in situations where it becomes only, according to your generosity that you could take a bus to take them and clean, their whole lives they will be most probably, if they are in the ghetto they will be serving you and cleaning, so there’s nothing fundamentally new to the capitalist and civilized economy that devastates human and nonhuman populations. So embedding, I like the way you put it, embedding yourself in that community is giving people access to a spot that they will rewild and open up to the growth of plant diversity, food diversity, for nonhuman and human alike. I know Deep Green Philly is involved in attempting to rewild Philadelphia in a more meaningful way. Of course there will be a lot of resistance because the minute it will start threatening the capitalization of space and gentrification and different new ways of recuperating of different spaces and human and nonhuman resources for this hierarchy, of course will have resistance. But you see these attempts throughout the world, like total liberation groups in Europe, reach out to Tunisia, to Turkey, to Georgia in order to make meaningful total liberation spaces for humans and nonhumans precisely in ways that will embed more and more people into these wild economics where you will start being accountable before yourself and before that community of diversity.
Host: Once you start feeling it, once you have those experiences in nature, there is this internal pull, you are compelled to go back because it is so intrinsically rewarding. So this notion of trying to have organizations that rewild certain areas, or create little spots for children to go to, not coerced, not in the context of cleaning up for the system, which I think are great critiques, I love that idea and I think it’s important. Specifically you talked about the use of language with relation to narratives, what is John Zerzan’s critique of language and symbolic culture specifically, because I really think that touches on what we’re discussing here in a deeper way?
Layla: John Zerzan basically observed that language and symbolic thought and symbolic representation allowed us this degree of separation from that which you are then going to use or consume. Anthropological research you can find in my Routledge book, I list a whole bunch of anthropologists, Jack Goody, Walter Ong, among others, who observed that actually literacy emerged with agricultural civilization, with hierarchy. The first texts were not poetry or even religious texts. The first texts were actually lists of who owes who. And that kind of solidified, so literacy was a further step in the developing of that technology of alienation that John Zerzan observed, before literacy that started with hunting, solidified and made permanent those relationships of debt. That you no longer are bound to the community of life, where if you take something, for example, if we are primates, on the trees, say in Central American we eat avocados, and we take and throw away the seed of the avocado, and then the avocado grows, and this is how we agree together with avocado, it gives us some flesh, and we help it spread the seed, while birds and butterflies help pollinate and cross pollinate and spread a variety of possibilities of offspring. We rupture from that, and we take a step away from this, and we suddenly change our self-conception, and we become at a certain point scavengers, and then suddenly decide we are no longer going to heed that pact, that contract, we are going to hunt, what is going to help us through generations maintain this decision, is something that then becomes like a pneumatic or genetic imperative that then solidifies in the texts and the stories, and those lists of who owes who, and it is no longer that we owe the berries or the avocados, it becomes we owe those who domesticated us in order to consume and help spread that hierarchy and desertification. So literacy also plays, scientific literature, starting with say Peter Kropotkin’s theory of evolution through mutualism, his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, where he observes that mutualistic economies in the wild are guarded by empathy. So if you feel the suffering of the other, regardless of whether that other is a human being or nonhuman being, most animals then respond, even predators respond to other species’ children’s cries. They have and they heed that pact they have with life, that they are going to consume the old, but you will have a young lioness risking her own life and starving protecting a baby deer or a baby gazelle. Symbolic thought, by representing a relationship as something not other allows us to withdraw and not to feel what we would have instinctually felt. It superimposes itself on reality, that when we are domesticated we start looking at reality through specific narratives. We don’t understand that reality is what it is. And this is what we see in a lot of the clashes. You will have very decent white supremacists (laughing)… really sincerely arguing that their vision, and maybe they sincerely believe sometimes, well when reality comes to testing, is it because you did not know that a race that has been exploited by your forefathers still suffers, would you give up some of your goods, some would and some wouldn’t, but let’s say that some of them don’t know, the narrative allows them to actually honestly not feel and not know, and be closed to that experience. If you take away that narrative, a lot of them if they felt that suffering and they realized, I can do something not to hear those screams of pain, they would do it, they would go and rewild themselves. So the narratives help keep the status quo even in cases where there would have been a sincere desire to disrupt that economy. And it solidifies that economy, and keeps transmitting. And this is where my analysis of the texts, the literature in the scientific texts, some of them claim to be revolutionary. The film Up, same thing, two poor people and civilization growing around, I discuss that in my book, they work all their lives, she’s the one who dreams to go the mountaintop in South America, finally it’s like a heroic feat, but she dies, and her husband is old and he takes off in the balloons, and you will see that the narrative sneaks into and normalizes naturalizes the fact that if the woman is dead, it’s enough to have her picture go to the top of the mountain, it’s as good as if she had made it. They actually claim it to be a feminist narrative. It’s symbolic, it’s very symbolic, just the photograph. If you look at the reality of that economic culture, what happened to her? She was consumed and she died old and frail who had forgotten and abandoned her dream. And you look at how the white man who goes to live Ellie’s dream enters the space of so called South America, and nothing exists in South America except for him and that symbolic dream. If you don’t have that text, if you go to South America and go to the forest and you see what the petroleum companies are doing, you will not want to participate in that economy.
Host: This is maybe getting a little off the rails here, but everything that you’re saying is leading my mind to this thought, because it’s something that I’ve done in my own life, and when I talk about going out in the forest this is an activity that I partake in, and that activity is meditation. When you’re talking about symbolic culture, when you’re talking about language, what we’re talking about in some respect or at least it leads back to this idea, of talking to ourselves in our heads all day. And that is a veil of thought that disconnects us from the world around us and the people around us, and in my personal experience, I have found that when I am keeping up a consistent and deep meditation practice, my empathy explodes. My care for other people, my care for the world around me, the boundaries between me and everything else start to get loose and start to dissolve. What are your thoughts on meditation and the notion of that as a tool to de-program your mind from this symbolic culture.
Layla: I totally agree with the way you interpret it. Where the danger, that’s the danger of language, is that a term like this will be taken, say a new age economy, and taken to mean that meditation is you and yourself and you are so important and love yourself, pay me money I’ll teach you how to help yourself. So it’s totally taken out of the original context where, as you point out that meditation is actually where you become one with the cosmos, when you become one with everything around you here and beyond and the stars, where you feel that depth of connection because in the end we are made of the same substance as this Earth and as the stars. So its opening up to that empathy. And it’s not closing into how good you want to feel and the world is burning. So yes, absolutely. Maybe meditation would be the best term to describe it in this sense, but it’s really going out into the forest, and experiencing it not like what you said, not with that cognitive stuck in language, obsessive compulsive, re-running this and that, but really turning off of that civilized linguistic existence to understanding what happens within you and without you on this multi-level wild intelligence that we are yet to retrieve, because we have that and we can have that if we stop being enmeshed in this domesticating linguistic existence.
Host: And I think you’re absolutely right when talk about the way meditation or the East Asian culture of Buddhism and meditation has been coopted by the capitalist corporate state and their practices. So now you’ll see these huge fortune 500 companies having meditation time with their workers where they all come and they sit in a room and they meditate and that increases productivity… There’s something much deeper there in that culture if you care to delve into it. And I would even argue that by embedding yourself in nature for extended periods of time nature itself sort of does that work, it starts to break down the conceptual apparatus because you’re so disassociated from the society if you stay in nature long enough that nature will start to ease you out of those thought patterns and embrace you in its own existence, and you have to start adapting your body and mind to the natural world around you. I just thought that was interesting, I think it does fit in to some of these things we’re talking about, at least in my experience it’s 100% conducive with these notions of symbolic culture and language and getting past that.
Layla: I had an experience like that in 2005. We went back to Russia with my husband and my child. We were in the north… in the forests in Russia, you go on the rivers canoeing and sleeping on islands and within days you use language to the minimum, you don’t scream at the kids, everyone kind of tunes into it. I left my child and her dad with the friends there, I had to go to a conference through Finland in Norway… I know Russia very well, I take the midnight train, I emerge from the forest, hop on this midnight train to St. Petersburg in order to take the train to Helsinki. And so I didn’t realize I was back in civilization in the morning, it was lucky to be the final station St. Petersburg, so I step down off the train, and that city, I did my master’s research degree on rock music there, it was like I have never seen that city before. I had no idea what to do with the ticket I had in hand, where to step, how to ask, what to ask. I’m so lost, I felt like I had no idea where I was. There’s buses? What is a bus? It was so painful to remember, Oh the bus will take me from this train station to the next, Oh I have to take a train, Oh that’s what I came on train. Everything was slow motion, it was so painful to remember the vocabulary, the technology. Finally, I got back, unfortunately (laughing).
Host: Well, we’re well over an hour, we deviated a little bit from the questions I was going to ask, but this has been a wonderful conversation. I absolutely love this. You’ve taught me a lot, and I know you taught my listeners a lot. When I advertised the fact that you were coming on to discuss anarcho-primitivism, there were so many caricatures which even I myself have fell prey to, if people saw the sort of questions and outline I made for this episode, they would immediately see my own caricatures of anarcho-primitivism, and the errors in my thinking in what I thought it was. But you have done all of us a service by defending the position and correcting so many of the errors. You’re an absolute delight to talk to, I really appreciate you coming on, it means so much to me. I’d like to have you on in the future because I find you to be totally fascinating and to be thinking in ways, there just aren’t a lot of people thinking in those ways. Before we go before we say our goodbyes.
Layla: I want to say thank you, it was really wonderful to discuss with you, and yes absolutely I’d be happy to discuss more in the future…
Links to Layla’s websites, where you can find her books and writings: