Withered Green Anarchism

Originally published in French in La Mauvaise Herbe vol.17 no.2

“No one cares about them anymore around here, why don’t you just let them wither away in impertinence?” asked a good friend who identifies as an anarcho-primitivist.

Anecdotal perhaps, but I couldn’t help but remember a very successful event on radical ecology which I attended not so long ago. It was a well-prepared conference, by an anarchist who knew his shit. To a crowded room of young enthusiastic radical students, during a segment devoted to anarcho-primitivism, the whole discourse on equality, direct democracy, and even the 15-hour-workweek-which-feels-like-play-anyway was conveniently served. [1] At least he didn’t start talking about telepathy or telescopic vision. I remember it made such a good impression that a coordinator from the College where the event was taking place approached the Mauvaise Herbe, who were on place distributing publications, to see if they would eventually come share their positive message with the youths. They gave her a few Mauvaise Herbe to read and I think she changed her mind.

But it's true that we don’t hear much about the Green Anarchists around here. Yet, in my conversations and in what I often hear from the “anti-civ” discourse, here as much as elsewhere, are the same reflexes I know all too well, the same references, the same premises, and the same ends. The humanistic-hedonistic discourse on primitive life has become mainstream in the milieu. In complacency, the speculations of some have become facts for others. Anarchists in general have never strayed too far from progressivism, they feel at home, at ease with it. Those who have chosen to deviate from it through their words and actions have always come up against the churches guiding the paths of “struggle”. It’s almost come to a point where one should profess their faith with each statement, each action.

For many now, in these moments of clashes, to put the rhetoric of social cohesion into question is to revel in "fascism". While the anarcho-cybercops of the insurrectionally righteous make calls for witch hunts, it is to all their Inquisition that I dedicate these provocations.

Green is the new red

"This ideological view of our past has been radically overturned in recent decades, through the work of academics like Richard Lee and Marshall Sahlins. A nearly complete reversal in anthropological orthodoxy has come about, with important implications. Now we can see that life before domestication/agriculture was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health. This was our human nature, for a couple of million years, prior to enslavement by priests, kings, and bosses." -John Zerzan, A Future Primitive

We are of an era disillusioned with the promises of progress. It did not bring the promised utopia. Progressives are no longer necessarily those who had promised us that “the machine will work for man!”, those who more than a century ago had already announced the same “leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality and health” thanks to human and technical development... they are now rather those who are worried about the crises it generated, those who follow the newswire of the unfolding apocalypse - the ecological disaster and the planetary civilization in total decadence.

But some still won’t lose hope in humanity, and the possibility that provided a new universal consciousness, it can impel a culture of resistance of nomadic hunter-gatherers who will carry all the humanism that 20th century anarchism has inherited!

And, it is in this sense that an essential work of the anarcho-primitivist canon like A Future Primitive is an exercise in seduction, with its critique of civilization and praises of primitive life geared towards pleasing those humanistic sensitivities left disappointed by the consequences of modernity.

Therefore, it draws most abundantly from the anthropological works of a certain period when attempts were made to break the myth of a brutal primitive life with bold statements on leisure and egalitarian aspects, more attractive to the modern civilized - works from anthropologists who wanted their field to fuel social debates.

In an essay dealing with the legacy of Marshall Sahlins' acclaimed work quoted by Zerzan, The Original Affluent Society, anthropologist Nurit Bird-David reminds us that “The general interest in it no doubt reflected our symbolic and ideological needs and our (Western) construction of the prehistoric past. […] Intended to provoke as well as to document, the essay soared beyond conventional scientific discourse, appealing directly to Western fantasies about work, happiness, and freedom.” [2]

For many of those who identify with anarcho-primitivism or with a certain Green Anarchism, the life of nomadic hunter-gatherers of the paleolithic represents anarchism as lived by humans for millennia. Some will even call it Primal Anarchy. In this original utopia, this anarchist Garden of Eden, they see our true "human nature". Thus, in their propaganda, to an audience inclined towards anarchism, with its progressive-humanistic values, they praise primitive life according to how anarchistic it appears.

This selective reading of anthropology has become widespread among anarcho-primitivists and has influenced many other anarchists (including stirnerians and nihilists). It reduces primitive life to generalizations about presumed essential traits - egalitarian, collectivist, anti-oppressive, hedonistic, ecological and anarchistic traits. The relevance of primitive life becomes its representation of these values.

Wild behaviors who do not fit-in are either dismissed as unimportant when they are not simply ignored, or they are treated with much suspicion, assimilated to the effects and consequences of civilization (syncretism, encroachment, misinterpretation by the civilized, etc.), while behaviors that sit well with progressive values never receive the same questioning or suspicion, let alone those values ​​themselves. The result is an interpretation of the hunter-gatherer way of life as a model of progressive society par excellence, with the immediate-return hunter-gatherer as its purest representative.

In socialist tradition, indigenous cultures have no importance other than folkloric recuperation, since they are all reduced to their proletarian aspects: socialist adventures in Latin America have left us a clear testimony of this. Where the proletarian experience lacked, it was instated with great strides of progress, in the name of humanism, finishing off already decimated indigenous cultures to integrate them into the great brotherhood of men. Is it not somewhat in this tradition that today many anarchists of various tendencies project their ideology on the ways of the ancients by presenting them as anarchistic, as practitioners or examples of anarchism? We can pick and choose what suits the current narrative and the anarchist steamroller can run over the rest. How civilized.

What we can learn from anthropology and archeology about the life of groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers over time is that it seems far from homogeneous. If we want to find progressive behaviors, like the ones I named, we will find some. If one wants to look for behaviors of a completely opposite spectrum, one will also find them: ideologues will find what they’re looking for.

But it’s precisely this variability that seems relevant to me. The wild calls into question the entire narrative on human nature, all our domestication. This includes all the more our humanist inclinations essential in impelling the necessary social progress for the continuation of development.

Humans in relationship with an infinity of factors and tangents, over thousands of years - an infinity of lived situations, and therefore, a diversity of reactions, adaptations, ways of conceiving and acting. These characteristics make it difficult to simply transpose the ways of one group to another. For a way of being to be reproducible from one group to another, it is better to replace the variables by a homogeneous and controlled environment, and this is what progress does.

If in primitive life we like to see the reflection of values which are familiar to us, such as cooperation, collectivism, equality, love of neighbor, sharing, and tolerance, values we have been taught since childhood, should we not ask ourselves where they lead us in our current situation? Context changes everything.

This idyllic representation of primitive life is especially misleading since the collapse of civilization is far from being the same as the paleolithic period. Earth is already no longer the one where nomadic hunter-gatherers flourished, and who knows in what inhuman state it could become during a collapse of civilization and thereafter.

Even with the bait of utopia, to what extent would those who want the good of humanity be able to desire and act upon the collapse of civilization, possibly precipitating this humanity towards the abyss?

“We Have Seen the World We Want to Live In, and It Is Worth Fighting For” [3]

Anarcho-primitivism is an allegiance to a specific human adaptation to life on this planet, a way of life which all known evidence shows us has endured sustainably and in intimate relationship with wild ecology for eons longer than any other. With this objective knowledge in hand, anarcho-primitivists will maintain our human agency and use it to take the types of actions we deem most effective and to simultaneously create the types of societies WE WANT to create. That is our prerogative.” -Choloa Tlacotin, A Letter to: “Halputta Hadjo”

Above all, it is the prerogative of the hypercivilized.

It is indeed the deeply civilized who, from the comfort of abstraction, can, in the blink of an eye, draw inspiration from James Woodburn's principles of egalitarian hunter-gatherers as a rule of life; then, admire the warrior peoples who waged war against the civilized in North America; and finally, to marvel at the endurance that humans have been able to develop in difficult conditions, "like the Ona [Selk'nam]" in the Firelands. [4] They are agents of progress those who believe they can isolate what suits them in the database so to construct their ideal world worth fight for. Don’t come and present this to me as undomestication or whatever other bullshit.

Man has dedicated all the power of progress to try and control his destiny, and he still hasn’t succeeded. Anarchists, being the stubborn civilized they are, believe they can control the result of their actions by the will they put into them. Yet many of them know well that things do not always go according to plan (social strikes ending in general elections, things that explode at the wrong moment, etc.). Throughout history, all those who tried to create the society they wanted have failed, but the super anarchists will surely succeed...

But after all their efforts, would it be possible for example, that a few generations later the descendants of the anarcho-primitivists - rewilded children, hunter-gatherers rooted in the harsh landscapes of the predicted downfall of civilization - also become as resolutely patriarchal as the Selk'nam, whose cosmovision established very explicitly a division of the sexes and the spiritual and social domination of women by men? [5] (but this small detail that the Green Anarchists omitted in their publication, of a people for whom they expressed admiration and whose loss they lamented, it probably would’ve gone down badly with the Anarchist Book Fair.)

In any case, those with children should know there’s no guarantee they listen to our warnings. And anyway, I have the impression that the hypothetical wild children of the future primitive probably wouldn’t give a shit about the moralizing rhetoric of an old civilized ideologue who knows fuck all about their daily lives.

Hope, it’s better than nothing?

Hope has become quite a popular concept among Green Anarchists in recent years. Zerzan has dedicated one of his last books to it, Why Hope? The Stand Against Civilization, and with his disciples and collaborators, in their Black and Green Review publication, they have devoted constant attention to oppose their hope to what they consider an endemic nihilism contaminating anarchists.

In his editorial of Black and Green Review 4, Kevin Tucker tells us with a straight face how the absence of a journal published by the Green Anarchistshas led anarchists into the cul-de-sac of nihilistic terrorism and egoist soul searching. In that trajectory, anarcho-primitivism is a lightning rod for having the audacity to stand for something: to have staked our claim on seeing a world that is worth fighting for and defending. To want to build communities of resistance, support those that are and have been resisting civilization’s advances and to refuse the domestication process as it seeks to tear us from the wildness that runs through all life.

For them, young Padawan, the despair these nihilists foment leads either to conformist navel-gazing, or to criticize or attack anyone and anything: their words and actions lead to nothing... And hope is better than nothing! …Is it not?

If it worked well for Christians, for Obama, and for the rebels in Star Wars, why not for the anarcho-primitivists of Oregon too?!

Not convinced to vote for hope? At the end of an interview with The Telegraph proudly posted on his website during the promotion of Why Hope?, Zerzan shares with us what so inspires him:

Strangely, this is a good time to be an anarcho-primitivist," says Zerzan. "We've never had more technology than now, and it's coming out faster than ever. But that's exactly why I think people will start pushing back. They are beginning to see that technology doesn't deliver on its promises. So I'm hopeful. I'm very hopeful.

To which the interviewer concedes:

I too dislike technology sometimes. Like when my internet doesn't load up quickly enough. And I'm generally convinced I'd be happier without being constantly connected, although I never seem to do much about it.” [6]

Surely, it’s because she hasn’t read the latest Black and Green Review yet.

And throughout Why Hope?, it is always that same answer: it is in the advent of a rewilding anti-civ mass movement, prepared for the imminent fall of civilization to which it will participate, that one must have hope for and invest themselves in with others.

It won’t be easy but if a growing number becomes involved in such a move the ways and means can be found. I think that a growing number may be feeling the need for such a new direction.

We will figure out our paths when our goals can be seen and discussed. As we find each other, the necessary public conversation will begin and the effort to go forward together may ensue. No guarantees, but worth the liberating journey!” -John Zerzan, Why Hope?

That’s some solid shit right there. Anyone willing to bring down the whole power grid because Zerzan has some kinda good feeling, and we'll see what happens?

But a movement carried by common sense and the hope of being the future of liberated humanity? How original! Nothing to reinvest Leviathan...

And if there was no fall of civilization? Let’s say there is never a transition to a primitive way of life, neither voluntarily nor by force of circumstances, that civilization overcomes what we believe to be insurmountable and transcends. There are firms, labs, universities and legions of ambitious nerds around the world working on exponential breakthroughs to meet the challenges of progress in the name of humanity. But yes, the triumph of progress is hypothetical, just as is a primitive future... and hope is nothing more than a question of faith.

But if we are willing to make that perceptional change, to learn to embrace the coming age of nomadism, to see beyond ourselves and to empower ourselves through taking part in something much larger and more magnificent than our own lives, then we have the world to gain from it.” -Kevin Tucker, Means and Ends, Black and Green Review 4

Is the survival of humanity or of all life on Earth what generates and motivates my desire to see civilization annihilated (even if, among hypothetical scenarios, it is possible that civilization drags the entire biosphere with it in its fall)?

Does my disgust for civilization depend on a hypothetical future?

It is the everyday life, the overwhelming and suffocating presence of a humanized world, which disgusts me and weighs on me, and I do not feel any need to justify this feeling and this instinct by catastrophist theories or higher interests. Call me a rotten nihilist!

The world does not need a new liberatory ideology as much as it needs to get rid of what makes it possible to transmit an ideology on a large scale... unless it is one which corrupts the minds of the civilized causing them to spiral down into such disruption, such antisocial disorder, such self-destructiveness, that global stability and ultimately the very functioning of society is seriously jeopardized.

Death to civilization and to all human progress!



[1] This referenced number of working hours originated from speculative studies in the early anthropological works of Richard Lee and Marshall Sahlins. Since then, the data from these studies has been contested in the field, and Richard Lee himself has long recognized some of its flaws. The current general consensus towards hunter-gatherers is an average 30 to 40 hour workweek, but there`s still much debate about what should be considered work.

See: Elizabeth Cashdan, Hunters and Gatherers: Economic Behavior in Bands;Richard Lee, The Dobe !Kung; David Kaplan, The Darker Side of the "Original Affluent Society".

[2] Nurit Bird-David, Beyond "The Original Affluent Society." Current Anthropology 33:25-47

[3] A sentence which Green Anarchist like to use in their writings. Although, while they’re fighting for their world against civilization, if someone gets hurt it wasn’t their intention, ok?

[4] Four Legged Human, The Commodification of Wildness and its Consequences, Black and Green Review 1
Four Legged Human, The Wind Roars Ferociously, Feral Foundations and the Necessity of Wild Resistance, Black and Green Review 4

Green Anarchist denounce without hesitating those who draw inspiration from non-egalitarian societies in their confrontation with civilization if they haven’t pledged allegiance to their ideology. See Choloa Tlacotin, A Letter to: “Halputta Hadjo”. But a Green Anarchist, thanks to his superior knowledge and his greater intentions, can pick and choose whatever he pleases in the anthropological database.

[5] Anne Chapman, Economic and Social Structure of the Selk’nam Society
Anne Chapman, The Moon-Woman in Selk'nam Society

[6] As technology swamps our lives, the next Unabombers are waiting for their moment, Jamie Bartlett, The Telegraph, May 13th, 2014

There are 21 Comments

Didn't know this zine was still alive.

"[...] the most one can say is that a few literate anarchists quickly processed it, either absorbing it into their position or rejecting it. This scanning-followed-by-yes-or-no operation pretty much sums up what many anarchists consider reading to be."

- Alejandro de Acosta

it's not necessarily eco-extremist. it's anti-humanism, and anti-civ, and anti-future/progress but so are a lot of post-left, nihilist and insurrectionalist anarchisms. the eco-extremists are anti-human as opposed to anti-humanism (like afro-pessimism or nihilist anarchism are ,for example).

It's not even a question of being against it, just not entertaining humanity as a value.

Are you ethically against the climate change driven by human industrialism? I am. So for me, it's a question of being against these agents, who happen in every case, to be human.

Wow! Funny I didn't make the distinction... You're not only entertaining humanity as a value, but additionally not believing in it at all. Now that's a game-changer! I think a layer of the global weltanshaaung has suddenly shifted since you posted that troll comment.

If you are going to be Frankfurtian, at least spell Weltanschauung properly, mkay!

depends who you ask: a vegan might tell you they want to end the social distinction between humans and other animals, an afro-pessimist could tell you black people aren't humans and that center humans is anti-black, an individualist can tell you that the idea of being a human is a hinderance to their potential and freedom, an anti-civ anarchist can tell you that humanity is an idea used to separate and mediate how we relate to wilderness and what's uncivilized.
so in practice could look like not eating animals or trying to relate on equal footing whether someone is human or not, doing your best to destroy what racializes people, doing what you want despite what's expected of humans, rewilding and/or trying to bring down civilization

Sometimes I wonder if JZ is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

I think many in the green-anarchist side of things downplay the humanism that went into making their ideology when looking at the likes of Perlman and Zerzan. I agree with the basic thrust of this piece. They bend on the nihilist side of things too much for me taste whereas I focus on a post-humanist egoist plurality of things. There are things within humanism that I don't hate, but humanism must be overcome and this is actualized in messy human pluralities good and bad.

Kevin and John and others are humanist world-builders, okay, so what? We knew this.

My take-away from this was that the author is asserting: a) there is no hope left for human agency to play a a role in the downfall of human agency, b) the decadence of the dominant Leviathanic culture might lead to its own self-cannibalization. But it took them all that writing to say as much.

How about this? Freedom, or death. Pretty simple. Be as optimistic as you want. Or not. But if we're fucked anyway, if we have no control or agency enough to affect anything, why not die facing our enemies? If we're headed for the abyss no matter what, why not swan dive in?

Idk... I don’t go for ‘eco-extremism’ either but I think this piece levels a serious critique at g@ humanism

It is not necessarily true that "In socialist tradition, indigenous cultures have no importance other than folkloric recuperation, since they are all reduced to their proletarian aspects"--or at least not of all socialist tradition. In the communist-anarchist tradition, see Kropotkin's Mutual Aid or his The State, or in Marxist tradition see Engels' Origins of the Family.... or Marx's notebooks on anthropology. In both cases (relying on the same anthropological data) they saw early humanity as having many virtues and positive aspects which were lost by the development of classes and states and other forms of oppression, and they predicted a higher level of society (communism) which would combine the benefits of early human society with a great technical level of prosperity and leisure (with a transformation of technology from the way capitalism has developed it). This is,, of course, their difference from the primitivists..

You can't marry modes of being born in modernity to archaic humanity. There is no complete return to the archaic obviously but a great deal of the last 10 years will have to be scrapped. You could scavenge some things certainly a create a Horizon Zero Dawn(video game) like appropriation of things into a archaic future but the being in the world of modernity including its hyper rational models will have to go. A choice must be made between the margins of abundance and autonomy.

Even a Proudhonian political economy would bring about a contraction overtime to something more like a steam punk neo-19th century.

Add new comment