AnPrim On Fire: Human Supremacy Within Anarcho-Primitivist Narrative
From Vegan Primitivist
Within anarcho-primitivism plays an ongoing dialectic pinpointing origins of the problem of civilization. Impugning only capitalism or the industrial age is seen as much too timid. From the left, radical environmental activist leader and author Derrick Jensen notably impugns the point people exceed their capacity for self-sufficiency, the dawn of cities. In Ishmael and The Story of B novelist and civilization critic Daniel Quinn renders agriculture as human’s dichotomizing choice to be Givers or Takers. Couple cities with agriculture and you’ve hit the anprim sweet spot.
Looking farther back than agriculture as the start of humans’ split with nature slashes approval. Anarcho-primitivist author and Anarchy Radio host John Zerzan’s look back to origins of art and language has appealed to some but with less enthusiasm. In his 3/13/19 radio show Zerzan reals in others’ analysis on the catalyst of controlled fire, instead positioning civilization’s origins at the point humans domesticated animals and plants. Some say looking back only ~10 millennia paints too shallow a picture, ignores all the props setting the stage for humans igniting the world with civilization.
The debate on civilization’s origins parallels the debate on what qualifies as a technology. Values connoted by technologies are biased to support the interpreter’s view on origins. For example, those who blame agriculture see the plow as an obvious tool of civilization. Those who include controlled fire in the blame see hearths uncovered in archeologic digs as technological shifts in humans’ relationship with living communities that set the stage for domestication of plants and animals. Agriculture-blaming purists deny that using fire is technology toward civilization, perhaps to justify keeping fire in their rewilding repertoire, or perhaps in an effort to ward off criticism of hunting and cooking animals. In the premise set forth here placing civilization’s origins with the beginnings of human primate’s colonizing lifeways, inventions such as mortar and pestle are not catalysts toward civilization if they are not used as colonizing instruments, but spears are catalysts toward civilization if they are used as colonizing instruments, no matter how ‘simple’ in design. Yes other species use hunting implements, but not in a way that degrades and massacres large scale living communities in a mega-regional, or even worldwide colonizing scheme as humans have.
Even today various prehistoric fire methodologies manifest, adding insight into how civilization might have transitioned in through fire use. I’ve joined Pemón people in southeast Venezuela in slash & burn jungle ‘gardening’, turning yucca into bread to trade with nearby villages. I’ve surveyed evidence of rotational camas plot burns abandoned centuries ago on a Salish island tribes once used not to inhabit but just to grow and harvest the tasty bulbs. I’ve seen Karuk burn redwoods’ underbrush clearing space for huckleberry and oak ‘gardens’, and grazing meadows for hunting deer and elk, cultivating ‘crops and livestock’ into the forest (their words) for so long that elements that made the pre-human forest robust are replaced by and made dependent on human lit fires. And I’ve heard female native docents frustrated with male docents’ focus on telling stories of hunting and war rather than how wild edibles were foraged and fire was used to extensively clear land for planting of domesticates maize, beans, squash, and melons, the less masculine staple plant foods provided by women’s labor.
Observations such as these spark wonderings on impacts of earlier humans’ fire use on habitats, and in turn on their own culture. To what extent did controlled fire lead to agriculture? Being domestication was likely not the original purpose of many inventions like fire mastery, what were the transition periods, catalysts, and factors setting the stage for civilization to erupt? How did early human actions shape early human ethos, and vice versa? How do these moves toward civilization form an overarching theory on humans’ adaptations and evolutions from their origins into H. sapiens current domesticated form?
Comparative anthropologist and anarcho-primitivist author Layla AbdelRahim’s theory is that human primates shifted away from symbiotic habitat roles as seed spreaders into a predatory mindset, lifeway and foodway. No matter the exact nature of the cause, the problem is revealed in the shift from foraging plants to hunting animals. AbdelRahim’s conception connects with other analysis on the impact of early human ‘progresses’. Back to Zerzan’s Anarchy Radio show, the following week 3/19/19 I called in with a follow up question on his ‘domestication not controlled fire made us civilized’ statement: What set the stage for domestication? His answer: division of labor and ethos of control. Despite how long ago humans’ first sparked flame then how long it took to integrated it into routine use on a widespread basis, it is more than conceivable that fire mastery was a crucial step toward not only dividing labor but controlling, preying upon and colonizing bioregions. One could argue that other animals have domesticated other life, or have divisions of labor, or shaped entire ecosystems with control over elements like water; but no other has gained perhaps the supreme control, control over fire. Changes in ethos and world impact were certainly monumental.
In primatologist and biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham’s book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, cooking allowed for increased calories to shift from the gut to the brain for inventive thinking that gave humans a new advantage, a power over other species. Human relations not only changed with other species, but within our own. For example, men shifted their focus from foraging to hunting, providing periodic meat, while women continued foraging and gathering to cook vegetation and occasionally meat. While men went out on risky hunting quests, women were tasked to provide steady sustenance, staying closer to the hearth. Cooking was susceptible to pilfering, so a ‘primitive protection racket’ formed pairing cooking women with stronger male counterparts to control food distribution. Hence cooking instigated the cultural practice of food as property and men’s subjugation of women through pair bonding, an ownership-of-women patriarchy continuing to this day. And yes, some women have hunted; imitating and adopting the way of the oppressor happens. Generalities in cultural analysis tell a generalized story.
With men’s shift to hunting specialization resulting in not only predation upon other animals but domination of female mates, one might question if women’s later shift from gathering and cooking specialization to joining men in adopting agriculture might equalize the power imbalance. But agriculture further polarized the sex power imbalance. Researcher on gender and technology Deborah Spar is wrapping up her latest project with the book: The Virgin and the Plow: How Technology is Changing Who We Are, and How We Live and Love. She finds that agriculture settlement needed children to both work and to inherit accumulated property. For men to know who their children were, as their rightful laborers and heirs, they began controlling women’s fertility. Agriculture honed the notions of adored female virgins and monogamous wives. As humans domesticated themselves and others, this quest to establish paternity intensified a patriarchal hierarchy with men at the top, and women, children and other animals leveled beneath as property to exploit.
AbdelRahim’s anthropological predation theory parallels an anarcho-ecology colonization theory. Wild communities thrive through intricate interactions, responsive dynamics, cycles of life becoming death becoming life, and a constant striving toward diverse connectedness and homeostasis of primal freedom. Mutual aid is the way of the wild. Changes are met with attempts to re-stabilize the living system. Species slowly shift their ranges, reforming networks through co-adaptations. Defense mechanisms ward off more invasiveness than a community can withstand. Species die offs occur but are limited. This is generally how hominids lived with others from their first steps out of trees for millions of years, notably as more prey than predator. But as human primates invented a series of technologies giving them not just abilities to survive and thrive with and within wild habitat, but powers to expand, control and conquer their predators and all others, they adapted and evolved into a colonizing species, in time degrading all Earth’s bioregions.
When one Homo species honed the ability to control fire, changing their foodway and making their brain even more inventive, did this cascade into Homo colonizing the planet? Long before animals and plants were brought under H. sapiens total control, humans virtually wiped out all their predators, spread across Earth, and reformed continents of habitats. In their book Man the Hunted: Primates, Predaotrs, and Human Evolution anthropologists Robert Sussman and Donna Hart smash the man-the-hunter myth with evidence of early humans succumbing to predators such as cats, dogs, hyenas, snakes, crocodiles, and raptors. Progression from prey to colonizer of the planet implies myriads of inventions, catalysts and adaptations, some more impactful than others. For the foraging primate, fire mastery meant not only protection from predators, but turning predators into prey with fire-formed weapons, then cooking them to further feed their inventive brain. Fire’s warmth welcomed expansion into colder climates. Fire mastery may have been the most significant technology transfiguring a resourceful species from foraging prey living within habitat ranges to Earth’s most effective predatory colonizer.
Imagine the immense series of ‘advances’ with accompanying progress trapping repercussions, cycles of stories with the same motif differing only details. As various bands of Neanderthals mastered fire with flint (Andrew Sorensen, Emilie Claud, and Marie Soressi, Neanderthal fire-making technology inferred from microwear analysis, Scientific Reports, 8, article number 10065, 2018), it may never be revealed the extent fire altered their lifeway and environments. By analyzing DNA in plaque on Neanderthal teeth, paleomicrobiologists discovered a band seemingly with fire under a thousand miles from a band seemingly without fire. One from Spy cave in Belgium mostly ate meat like woolly rhinoceros and wild sheep. Others in El Sidrón cave in Spain were entirely vegan, no trace of meat, just mushrooms, pine nuts, tree bark, and moss. The Belgian Neanderthals hunted; the Spanish ones foraged. (Laura Weyrich, Sebastian Duchene, and Alan Cooper, Neanderthal behavior, diet, and disease inferred from ancient DNA in dental calculus, Nature 544, 357-361, 20 April 2017) Imagining the outcome of contact between fire and non-fire human bands serves as a lesson in how supremacy expands by applying a theory in Andrew Bard Schmookler’s The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution. Spoiler alert: Evolutionary dynamics drive power in unavoidable ways people don’t choose.
Play along: Imagine Neanderthal groups living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of life without aggressive fire use, then the entire region may live in homeostasis. But what if all but one choose mutualism within habitat, and that one uses fire for ambitious expansion and conquest? What are the possibilities for others confronted by the aggressive fire powered neighbor?
- One group is attacked, defeated and destroyed, leaving lands seized as spoils of war.
- Another is defeated, but not exterminated; rather, subjugated to serve the conquerors.
- Another flees into some less livable place, ceding former habitat to the growing power-seeking fire-controlling Neanderthals.
- Observing these events others decide to defend their autonomy. But the irony is to win, they too must become powerful. Since the aggressors honed ways to grow their power with innovations in organizing strategies using fire technology with ferocity, the defensive Neanderthals must transform into something more like their adversary.
The four possible outcomes are destruction, absorption and transformation, withdrawal, or imitation. In every possible outcome the lifeways of predation and colonization are spread. And, neither the oppressor nor the oppressed are free, but owned by the technology, the ethos. While the Neanderthal line was cut short, H. sapiens continued on with impacts well known. This parable explains for example why both civilized men and women comply with cultural norms on pair bonding and monogamy. They are fixed in perpetual compliance with cultural normatives established as far back as the geneses of agriculture and fire mastery.
Was it not humans’ shifts toward predation and colonization that changed the nature of plants and animals through preferential selection, not just in how others live in relation to the new powerful primate, but who lives and who dies? Would H. sapiens have been able to domesticate eventually the entire planet without predation, without colonization, and without the fire that sparked them?
Denial of catalysts toward agriculture such as controlled fire and hunting is denial of human supremacy through patriarchy and speciesism. This is why anprims struggle with defining human habitat ranges – they don’t want limitations experienced by wild animals as homes, they are trapped with craving a destructive sham freedom to colonize, they are accustomed to the entitlement to roam so extensively and fearlessly that they no longer sense total belonging within a bioregion’s community of life. This is why anprims laud hunting, justifying it in the wings of more recent indigenous people’s cultures and mythology of earlier humans ‘primal ventures in wild but predatory ways – they don’t want to live as foraging primates, they have been conditioned to crave the hunt of animals, unknowingly craving civilization’s catalyst. This is why anprims mock veganism, devaluing and dismissing it with invalid claims of being nothing more than leftist drivel – they don’t want to acknowledge their own innate compassion for animals suppressed by predatory indoctrination. As in the parable of the tribes’ futile ending, is it not a choice to rewild? Do attempts to rewild clash with the human as the embodiment of civilization?
Civilization is not one event in time, but a labyrinth of invasive actions that become practices and mindsets of H. sapiens’ supremacy, bewilderingly manifesting overtly in those who strive for a way pre-civ, or anti-civ, or post-civ. Painfully and tediously pulling back the veils gets one nearer to understanding humans’ wild freedom. An anti-colonizer finds the way of primal anarchy to be resisting civilization, refusing to relent, while rewilding earth toward abundant flourishing.
In today’s ruined wilds, the way of primal anarchy is de-cultivating civilization. Technologies that perpetuate civilization can be retooled to discard civilization and the ethos that led to it: predatory control and colonization. This colonizing Homo-driven sixth mass extinction event is no time to play the fabled caveman exploiting pristine remnants. The first step in rewilding is sensing Earth’s call for healing and responding to it. Sciences such as restoration ecology can be utilized until humans awaken their lifeway that innately co-tends wild co-homes. In giving back to the wild, humans return themselves to the wild, reviving the ethos of mutualism in habitat.