An Anti-Civ Critique of “Post-Civ”
This is a segment of a longer work ("The Rotting Carcass Behind The Green-Scare: How Anti-Civ Anarchy Became the Most Controversial Position) which can be read in its entirety here: https://raddle.me/wiki/green_scare
While much of the fallacious green-scare red anarchists have been stirring up since the 1990s can be traced with a straight line directly to Kaczynski, ITS and DGR, there’s also a green anarchist tendency that seems to only exist because of that same green-scare: post-civ anarchy. This tendency, while being anarchist and anti-civ, still manages to feed the big lie that other forms of green anarchy are deviant and bigoted ideas that we need to loudly castigate and distance ourselves from at every opportunity. It repeats that tiresome myth that primitivism is a political program to remake society in the image of indigenous gatherer-hunters and subsistence farmers, the same way communism is a program to remake society in the image of the collectively-owned factory worker.
These are the points Margaret Killjoy makes in setting post-civ apart from anarcho-primitivism. Let’s go through them one by one and I’ll demonstrate how they’re little more than strawmen, and show that post-civ is really no different than anarcho-primitivism in substance or practice, and the attempt to distance green anarchy from its roots necessitates buying into the smears disseminated by transhumanists, Marxists and others who fetishize the idea of liberation through the progression of industrial civilization.
We’re Not Primitivists. It is neither possible, nor desirable, to return to a pre-civilized state of being. Most of the groundwork of anti-civilization thought — important work, mind you — has been laid down by primitivists. Primitivists believe, by and large, that humanity would be better served by returning to a pre-civilized way of life. This is not a view that we share.
Anprims don’t actually believe it’s possible or desirable to "return to a pre-civilized state of being’" so from the get-go Killjoy is building a coercive strawman.
The definitive explainer for anarcho-primitivism and green anarchy in general still remains "A Primitivist Primer" by the late John Moore (who was my creative writing professor when I was an international student in England in the early 00s, coincidentally). Everyone who wants to understand the anti-civ philosophy should read this text, because it will quickly dispel the myths being put out into the world by fearful reds.
From A Primitivist Primer:
The fact is that anarcho-primitivism is not a power-seeking ideology. It doesn’t seek to capture the State, take over factories, win converts, create political organizations, or order people about. Instead, it wants people to become free individuals living in free communities which are interdependent with one another and with the biosphere they inhabit. It wants, then, a total transformation, a transformation of identity, ways of life, ways of being, and ways of communicating. This means that the tried and tested means of power-seeking ideologies just aren’t relevant to the anarcho-primitivist project, which seeks to abolish all forms of power. So new forms of action and being, forms appropriate to and commensurate with the anarcho-primitivist project, need to be developed. This is an ongoing process and so there’s no easy answer to the question: What is to be done? At present, many agree that communities of resistance are an important element in the anarcho-primitivist project. The word ‘community’ is bandied about these days in all kinds of absurd ways (e.g., the business community), precisely because most genuine communities have been destroyed by Capital and the State. Some think that if traditional communities, frequently sources of resistance to power, have been destroyed, then the creation of communities of resistance — communities formed by individuals with resistance as their common focus — are a way to recreate bases for action. An old anarchist idea is that the new world must be created within the shell of the old. This means that when civilization collapses — through its own volition, through our efforts, or a combination of the two — there will be an alternative waiting to take its place. This is really necessary as, in the absence of positive alternatives, the social disruption caused by collapse could easily create the psychological insecurity and social vacuum in which fascism and other totalitarian dictatorships could flourish. For the present writer, this means that anarcho-primitivists need to develop communities of resistance — microcosms (as much as they can be) of the future to come — both in cities and outside. These need to act as bases for action (particularly direct action), but also as sites for the creation of new ways of thinking, behaving, communicating, being, and so on, as well as new sets of ethics — in short, a whole new liberatory culture. They need to become places where people can discover their true desires and pleasures, and through the good old anarchist idea of the exemplary deed, show others by example that alternative ways of life are possible. However, there are many other possibilities that need exploring. The kind of world envisaged by anarcho-primitivism is one unprecedented in human experience in terms of the degree and types of freedom anticipated … so there can’t be any limits on the forms of resistance and insurgency that might develop. The kind of vast transformations envisaged will need all kinds of innovative thought and activity.
So, primitivism is not an attempt to turn back the clock to the stone age as Killjoy asserts, it’s rather taking action to set up alternate, sustainable and thriving ways of life for the purposes of prefiguration. It’s looking forward to create forms of resistance, setting up living refuges parallel to industrial society to house free people, and putting together the infrastructure anarchists need to thrive within the shell of a rapidly collapsing civilization. The anti-civ philosophy is a guide we can use to prepare ourselves for the deluge of natural disasters, pandemics, famines and droughts this rapidly-dying civilization will continue to rain down on us and give us the fortitude to help each other not only survive these catastrophes, but prosper in the ruins of the old world as it decays all around us.
Rather than being an action to return society to the past, it’s a concerted effort to look to the future and create sobering, but necessary mechanisms to cope with the continuing decay of civilization. Civilization will continue to collapse due to its universally unsustainable, destructive, non-regenerative properties. It’s not helpful to ignore or deny this simple reality just because it threatens the reductive idea leftists have of technological progress and democracy being the solution to everything.
Killjoy then claims:
Primitivists reject technology. We just reject the inappropriate use of technology. Now, to be fair, that’s almost all of the uses of technology we see in the civilized world. But our issue with most primitivist theory is one of babies and bathwater. Sure, most technologies are being put to rather evil uses — whether warfare or simple ecocide — but that doesn’t make technology ("The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes.") inherently evil. It just means that we need to completely re-imagine how we interact with machines, with tools, even with science. We need to determine whether something is useful and sustainable, rather than judging things purely on their economic or military value.
This point is the most obtuse of all because it completely misunderstands the anprim definition of technology.
From A Primitivist Primer again, which I’ll again stress everyone should read in its entirety:
John Zerzan defines technology as ‘the ensemble of division of labor/ production/ industrialism and its impact on us and on nature. Technology is the sum of mediations between us and the natural world and the sum of those separations mediating us from each other. It is all the drudgery and toxicity required to produce and reproduce the stage of hyper-alienation we languish in. It is the texture and the form of domination at any given stage of hierarchy and domination.’ Opposition to technology thus plays an important role in anarcho-primitivist practice. However, Fredy Perlman says that ‘technology is nothing but the Leviathan’s armory,’ its ‘claws and fangs.’ Anarcho-primitivists are thus opposed to technology, but there is some debate over how central technology is to domination in civilization. A distinction should be drawn between tools (or implements) and technology. Perlman shows that primitive peoples develop all kinds of tools and implements, but not technologies: ‘The material objects, the canes and canoes, the digging sticks and walls, were things a single individual could make, or they were things, like a wall, that required the cooperation of many on a single occasion …. Most of the implements are ancient, and the [material] surpluses [these implements supposedly made possible] have been ripe since the first dawn, but they did not give rise to impersonal institutions. People, living beings, give rise to both.’ Tools are creations on a localised, small-scale, the products of either individuals or small groups on specific occasions. As such, they do not give rise to systems of control and coercion. Technology, on the other hand, is the product of large-scale interlocking systems of extraction, production, distribution and consumption, and such systems gain their own momentum and dynamic. As such, they demand structures of control and obedience on a mass scale — what Perlman calls impersonal institutions.
As you can see, anprims have no qualms with what Killjoy would call "useful and sustainable", i.e. items that don’t require "large-scale interlocking systems of extraction, production, distribution and consumption". Killjoy even admits to rejecting "almost all of the uses of technology we see in the civilized world", so what post-civs propose is really exactly the same as what anprims propose… Tools that can be produced locally, without hierarchy/control/coercion/obedience and without the centralized extractive, imperialist, resource-pillaging supply chains required to run industrial society. This is not defined as technology by anprims. Locally produced, sustainable tools that improve our lives without destroying our ecosystems are fully embraced by anarcho-primitivist philosophers, just as they are by Killjoy’s post-civ manifesto.
Primitivists reject agriculture. We simply reject monoculture, which is abhorrent and centralizing, destroys regional autonomy, forces globalization on the world, and leads to horrific practices like slash-and-burn farming. We also reject other stupid ideas of how to feed humanity, like setting 6 billion people loose in the woods to hunt and gather. By and large, post-civ folks embrace permaculture: agricultural systems designed from the outset to be sustainable in whatever given area they are developed.
Again, they’re strawmanning anprim philosophy by claiming anprims want to force 6 billion people to be hunter gatherers. Anprims are not trying to enforce an inflexible, collectivist, authoritarian social program on anyone, let alone the entire planet. Anprims are simply engaged in an expansive criticism of industrial society, while exploring all the possible alternatives to it and experimenting with those alternatives in their own lives. These alternatives being discussed almost always include producing food in some manner due to the simple reality that there’s very little wilderness left in the world to forage from. All the anti-civs I know grow the majority of their food and supplement their diets with some foraged food – which isn’t abundant enough to live on exclusively due to the march of climate change, the rise in wildfires, and agricultural-industrial land clearing.
Anprims especially talk very favorably of the long history of indigenous peoples deliberately attending rainforests to encourage the proliferation of useful and nourishing plants, which is an example of horticulture that isn’t extractive, non-renewable, destructive. Anprims fully embrace the re-establishment of Earth’s food forests, which will require a concerted human effort to replant and cultivate.
This is how Zerzan describes agriculture:
1. agriculture is the will to power over nature, the materialization of alienated humanity’s desire to subdue and control the natural world; 2) agriculture inevitably destroys the balance of nature, leaving biological degradation and ecological ruin in its wake; 3) agriculture is "the beginning of work and production," generating an increasingly standardized, confined and repressive culture; and 4) agriculture leads inevitably to the rise of civilization.
What’s being described here is precisely what Killjoy calls ‘monoculture’. Killjoy then borrows a non-anarchist phrase (permaculture), without defining it, but permaculture and food forests are incredibly similar concepts.
Permaculture is an approach to land management and settlement design that adopts arrangements observed in flourishing natural ecosystems. It includes a set of design principles derived using whole-systems thinking. It applies these principles in fields such as regenerative agriculture, town planning, rewilding, and community resilience.
A food forest (or forest garden) is a garden that mimics the structures of a natural forest, with multiple layers of plants stacked vertically to increase overall production.
As you can see, food forests and permaculture are closely related concepts with the only real difference being that permaculture is a copyrighted brand used to generate profit by a handful of affluent white settlers who write guides, teach courses and sell "permaculture certificates" to the public while also fully embodying white male "guru culture".
Food forests, for all intents and purposes are simply the free and open source version of the proprietary, for-profit, needlessly-complicated permaculture program, without the misogynistic, capitalistic personality cult permaculture is bogged down with.
Killjoy goes on:
Primitivists have done a good job of exploring the problems of civilization, and for this we commend them. But, on the whole, their critique is un-nuanced.
Strong words, considering anarcho-primitivists have written troves and troves of theory that deconstructs every form of authority that arises from the industrial world, while post-civ is nothing more than 2 short blog posts filled with strawman attacks seemingly informed by silly "return to monke" memes made by leftists on Reddit and Twitter.
Leftists flood anarchist spaces with these anti-"primmie" memes to further their green-scare program, which allows them to continue pushing their 19th century workerist prescriptions to the catastrophic 21st century problems (successive civilizational collapse) that those prescriptions have helped lead us to.
What’s more, the societal structure they envision, tribalism, can be socially conservative: what many tribes lacked in codified law they made up for with rigid "customs," and one generation is born into the near-exact way of life as their predecessors.
Again, anarcho-primitivism’s willingness to explore and analyze various indigenous tribes and bands both living and dead, and engage with these cultures to outline how they differ from the industrial model and how they avoided destroying their natural environment is not the same as an intention to enforce an ideological program on people. It’s not a world-building exercise, it’s not a government, it’s not a set of customs or an attempt to impose a tribal system on the world. There’s nothing wrong with learning from indigenous cultures and adapting their methods in your own life – especially the anarchistic ones.
She also falls into the trap of talking about indigenous peoples in the past tense, as if these lifeways are extinct – when indigenous cultures continue to thrive all over the world. A white settler presenting diverse indigenous peoples as "conservative" in order to dismiss and sneer at them is concerning, but it’s especially frustrating to see an anarchist mar indigenous peoples for being born into the same way of life enjoyed by their predecessors.
Is Killjoy under the impression life in whatever dreary USA suburb she inhabits is unique from her parents dreary suburban existence? If life under the crumbling industrial order has so much potential for freedom compared to a life in the wilds, why is she post-civ? Why not embrace civilization and all the freedoms, experiences and opportunities for growth it supposedly offers?
We cannot, en masse, return to a pre-civilized way of life. And honestly, most of us don’t want to. We refuse a blanket rejection of everything that civilization has brought us. We need to look forward, not backwards.
Killjoy is embracing anarcho-primitivism as it’s described by all the notable anprims of the 20th century and the anti-civs of today, while rejecting an imaginary perversion of anarcho-primitivism built by leftist internet trolls. She wraps up with this line:
We are not primitivists.
That’s fine and dandy, I’m also a green anarchist that doesn’t identify as a primitivist, but Killjoy really hasn’t explained how post-civ differs in any substantial way from anarcho-primitivism. The only possible divergences from primitivism I can identify in their post-civ explainer are:
1. They propose proprietary ‘permaculture’ courses created by white settlers in Australia instead of the indigenous food forests permaculture was inspired by, and –
2. They say they’re open to theoretical sustainable, non-extractive, non-polluting "technologies" that are really no different than the locally-produced, life-improving tools anprims readily embrace in theory and in practice.
Killjoy is simply using different language than primitivists to obfuscate the reality that post-civs are as critical of destructive technologies which rely on global supply chains as any garden-variety primitivist is. None of the points Killjoy makes to set post-civ apart from primitivism stand up to any kind of scrutiny.
The attempt to rebrand anti-civ to post-civ so it can escape its completely unearned reputation has only helped feed the big lie that anti-civ anarchy is an omnicidal, ableist, transphobic, fascist death-cult that needs to be struggled against and no-platformed by an endless stream of performative anti-fascist Twitter activists. It only serves to fuel the left’s green-scare.