Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (TFC) – Kevin Tucker is an anarcho-primitivist writer based out of rural Pennsylvania. His focus is on a critique of civilization, domestication and technology through a comprehensive understanding of how power and oppression arise within societies, how humans have become mediated from wildness, and how, through rewilding, humans can reconnect with the wild and resist the forces of civilization. He is the author of For Wildness and Anarchy (Black and Green Press, 2010), co-founder of the Black and Green Network, editor of Species Traitor Journal, and currently founding editor of Black and Green Review.
What got you started in social justice and what stimulated you to move toward green anarchism?
The First Gulf War was really where it all started. I think Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun had a pretty profound effect on me, but really it was the first instance I can remember where the reality of warfare just didn’t feel remote. Scud missiles, all the bombs, this was people dying. That put some cracks in the foundation of being sold a fabricated perspective of the world. It really took off from there.
I grew up in St Louis, in Monsanto’s back yard. In hindsight, I almost feel like that was the cloud that hovered over everything. St. Louis County served as a template for suburban sprawl, so you had all these woods just torn down without hesitation. All of that was replaced with subdivisions and hundreds of miles of strip malls. Peabody Coal has a headquarters there, the Ogoni people who survived the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and other resistors at the hands of Shell had all relocated there, the resistance to GMOs really took root there; all of these things just contributed to furthering the cracks in that underlying narrative of Civilization and Progress.
In the midsts of affluence was just emptiness and despair.
The irony of that situation is that Cahokia Mounds is just outside of St Louis city limits. The Cahokia were a part of the Mississippian-Ohio River Valley complex, a network of native civilizations that rose and collapsed prior to European contact. You cross the river, go past all the oil refineries, and there are the remains of a collapsed civilization. That whole area is flat, so when you walk on top of these mounds you can actually see the future remains of our collapsing civilization from the vantage point of the ruins of a collapsed one.
Once my eyes started opening up it all really just came flooding in.
By 1993, I was calling myself an anarchist, doing zines and deeply emerged in activism. I defaulted on anarcho-syndicalism and would, like many at that time did, just incorporate contradicting strands in; earth and animal liberation, anti-technology and anti-industrialist leanings, indigenous resistance, deep ecology and eco-feminism. Nothing about anarcho-syndicalism was going to address any or all of those issues, but it took the anti-globalization riots of 1999 to really force me to confront ideas and wants that were at complete odds with each other.
What drove me further into green anarchism was just having that initial kind of shock going back to the Gulf War. Once you begin to question authority, it should open a door, not close the book. At the heart of that process of radicalization was a question: what is power? Where does authoritarianism begin and how does it perpetuate itself? I just kept digging and the stage was really set to incorporate all of these different angles. It started with focusing on capitalism and just snowballed from there. By the time I had gotten to agriculture through eco-feminism and deep ecology, it just started to get harder to go on pretending that anarcho-syndicalism could provide solutions for the kinds of problems we clearly were enmeshed with.
The grounds were pretty ripe for having anarchists in the Pacific Northwest torching the streets and smashing windows to be followed up by John Zerzan taking center stage with his “it’s all gotta go” charisma and his work in terms of understanding the roots of civilization to back it up. On the Eve of the N30 Seattle Riots, I bought 3 of his books and read them all in one night. Here it was, the underlying basis of authority lies in domestication. And, indeed, “it’s all gotta go”.
What have you found to be the most pragmatic strategy for getting to a place where “it’s all gotta go” can become a reality?
It’s all gotta go” is our reality.
Nothing about civilization is or can be sustainable. This civilization, like all those before it, will collapse. What separates this civilization from others is that it exists on a global scale. There is no fall back option here. We don’t hit a point where we’re beyond the reality of diminishing returns and all of the sudden we have all this back up knowledge and technology to down grade to an earlier form of industrialism or anything.
The pragmatic side is understanding that reality: that we need to work with the collapse that’s already in progress. To aid and assist rather than to think we’re going to control how civilization has some mythical crash landing. Or thinking there’s going to be an anarcho-primitivist revolution where things suddenly shift seamlessly into an immediate return, nomadic hunter-gatherer reality.
I think that’s an important guide to understand what might be considered “activism” or “strategy” in terms of holding our ground and taking back more as we can. Understanding that civilization and technology are doomed to their own failure gives a certain vantage point to understanding how it is that they are able to perpetuate themselves. In our case, that’s the electrical grid and an increasingly technologized and wide spread economic reliance upon a society in fragments. So many things need to happen as planned in order to make this whole globalized system work. It’s unfortunate that it does work, but to believe that it is invulnerable or permanent is just falling for a lie.
The truth is that every civilization that collapsed didn’t collapse for one single reason, it was a culmination of causes that became insurmountable for politicians and priests to merely bandage and overcome. That’s worth keeping in mind as we’re nearing or past the global peak of cheap oil, that resource wars over water are as fatal as ones over oil, that in places like Syria we’re already seeing the first major refugee crisis to come from abrupt climate change. Everywhere you look we’re seeing collapse happen, the economy and political turmoil is just a sampling of what is to come. We become enchanted with this idea that “the collapse” will be an event. It’s not. It’s a process that’s well underway. We have no idea what the full on tipping point is going to be, but the pieces are all in place for changing weather patterns, droughts, floods, diseases, and the like to just be the final straw.
There’s some real urgency here, there’s no time to sit around and think up the perfect plan or strategy: we have to claim our turf and act on it.
It took me a long time to overcome my own revolutionary tendencies. I see Revolution as the last hold out of my inner politician and it took some time to come to terms with that. There won’t be an easy and overarching moment, answer, or sweeping change that makes it so that everything will end okay. In terms of eventuality, I say we have a lot within us to draw on and to grow from as we are innately nomadic hunter-gatherers in mind, body, and spirit, but we have a ways to go before we get back there from here. In questioning Revolution, I kept bumping up against this cycle that repeats throughout history: why do indigenous resistance movements so often end in death before encampment while revolutions end in gallows?
It’s almost shockingly simple really: you can kill for an ideology, but you will die for a known. Ideas, principles, revolutionary values; they are hollow promises of Progress, a hope that we can do a better job than the last managers and programmers at fixing the flaws in our imperfect society. In rejecting civilization, rejecting Progress is a pretty crucial step. What kept indigenous societies intact and on edge is that they lived and breathed a functioning society.
Of course, “indigenous” is a huge spectrum and that’s a broad statement, but when contrasted with Modernity, these are societies that, by and large, understood the relationship between place and society, that they understood the roles that each person needs to fulfill, that the spiritual world is as vital as the material one; these are cultures that exist within their own continuum and parceling them out is simply not an option. Their inhabitants weren’t torn apart by existential questions and they weren’t spending their entire life trying to find some semblance of meaning: these are things that were implicit. As such, they were defensible. They remain indivisible from life itself.
And so they fought. In many places, they continue that fight.
I think there’s a lot to learn from that. How that fight plays out may not always be ideal, but we need a lot of options on the table. We have seen where things don’t work (ie, politics) and draw from that, but the short version is really this: collapse is happening, we all fare better if it happens sooner than later. We need to understand that civilization is perpetuated by some vast percentage of seven billion humans waking up every day and making it work. We have agency here, we perpetuate the collapse of civilization by taking part in its endless consumption of the finite world or we can perpetuate the collapse of civilization by embracing and integrating with all that is wild within this world. By fighting alongside the wildness that has always resisted domestication we can reclaim our lives.
We can take that understanding of collapse and develop a deeper understanding about where civilization is most vulnerable and apply pressure to shrink those bottlenecks. That can look like an almost infinite number of things, but it’s most important to start somewhere and keep applying that pressure always.
How can we decolonize ourselves and start fighting against dominant culture?
I think it’s vital to recognize that we, everyone of us, is born a nomadic hunter-gatherer. I see this in my daughters constantly: we are born wild. The central myth of civilization is that domestication was a historic event rather than a constant and on-going process. We are constantly taking part in these narratives of power where our participation is taken as implicit rather than complicit.
I see decolonization as a part of the rewilding or undomestication process. It’s about staking our place in the world of wildness, it’s about finding grounding. We are wild beings that are held captive. And we carry a ton of baggage with us. All of us are damaged, we are thrown into a situation where our minds and bodies can’t process the overwhelming and exhausting input and noise of the technosphere, where we feel like we are stuck in these pointless cycles of work, spend, tweet, and repeat. We are sold a narrative as the Narrative: how we are is how we were meant to be, but things will get better.
But there are other story lines. We have millions of years of them. It’s only a tiny fraction of our human timeline that has even diverged from hunting and gathering and only a fraction of that has been exposed to industrialism. It’s my hope that one day our descendants can see it as an almost insignificant fraction, but that’s not the world we live in now.
In our world, the remaining indigenous societies are a threat for multiple reasons: the first and foremost is that many of them live in areas that were largely inaccessible before or even unappealing to the State. The constant hunger for resources and need for growth envision those landscapes that these societies know as home differently. To civilized eyes, these societies are standing in the way of giving us another fix and they are under constant attack to finalize the processes of extermination that have long taken foot.
The other reason is that any other way of life, any semblance of lives lived without misery, is a threat to The Narrative. We comply because we are taught that we have no other option, that any alternative would only be more miserable than what we’re working through right now within Modernity.
Decolonization requires that we force ourselves to reconcile the reality of our situation against the reality of the societies that have been struggling all along. Rewilding is there to guide and find place and grounding. It is vital because wildness is everywhere: this isn’t wilderness, this isn’t a retreat or location. But we need to establish our own baseline in the world, because domestication just alienates and removes us so far from everything that we, as wild beings, should know.
Without grounding, we will never be able to cross that threshold. We will never get a glimpse of life without domestication. We’ll never feel or connect to anything without mediation. We will never get to that point where we can truly resist.
Are there any historical or contemporary organizations you see as being effective in these methods?
‘Organizations’ is a tricky word. If we’re talking about formal organizations, then the options that I care for drop drastically. I have a lot of sympathy with Earth First! even though the Journal doesn’t always make it easy. I openly support Wolf Patrol and Survival International, both of which are advocacy groups that are set on staking and defending turf, but not as much about destroying civilization. They are what they are.
If you get outside the realm of organization, then things open up significantly.
Here you have all variations of indigenous resistance, you have the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, and things of that nature. I think these Native pipeline and extraction resistance stand offs are some of the most promising things to happen within my lifetime. I’m speaking in particular about the Unist’ot’en stand off and the Mi’kmaq uprising. Both of which have been really vital in just showing what “stand your ground” looks like.
The threat we’re facing right now is a world where peaked cheap energy is a daily reality. The place I’ve considered home for some time now is in the heart of the Marcellus Shale. I’ve seen what the frontier of extraction looks like. I’ve seen places that I love be destroyed by fracking. I’ve lost a family member to the toxins that they’re spewing.
There’s a psychological distance that we have within this hyper-domesticated framework. We have no community to fall back on and connect with. So when you’re seeing these communities come together and resist, it makes so much more sense why you’re not seeing that throughout the shale fields. Don’t get me wrong, there is some really impressive work being done to oppose fracking, tar sands, mountain top removal and all the pipelines, but clearly the scale is different. We still feel like we have too much to lose because we don’t have that grounding. What these communities are doing is where we all should be. That’s why that baseline is so important. That’s how rewidling gives grounds for resistance.
We desperately need to break that divide. We have to feel on that level so we can resist on that level.
All of that harks back to these wars against colonizers that exist every single place that civilization has and is expanding into. In the area I live in, that included the Pontiac Rebellion, but there are examples everywhere of resistance that was impeded by the sheer ability to replace the cannon fodder of the colonizing forces.
Apache warriors were insanely effective, there was something to the effect of 10 Apache shots fired successfully compared to one shot per soldier. The only reason that they were defeated was that the Americas could just keep throwing more and more lives on the line.
I always like to keep the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 in mind. The Pueblo Revolt was really strategic in terms of understanding that the Southwestern US was really the outpost of colonization. The lifeline of that colony was coming upriver, so the Pueblo used those cycles to plan attacks and then targeted the supply chain.
The upside to all of this is that the more technologically dependent we become, the easier it is to target that system. We’re not going to defeat civilization through field combat. It’s just never going to happen like that and fortunately that doesn’t need to happen. If the grid is disabled or collapses, then the entire facade crumbles. The might of political power shows its true face as a theater with bombs in supporting roles.
And the grid is highly susceptible to attack.
What I find really fascinating is what we’ve reported on in Black and Green Review no 1 and 2 in terms of these attacks on power substations and fiber optic cables. I think the number is something like 3-4 times per week that there is some seemingly small attack on the grid within this country and that seems to indicate that these attacks are just reactions, people are fucking furious for so many reasons and they attack. At least from what we know, there’s no organization here and, again, there might not need to be. These things are just sitting out there and the reason they aren’t attacked is because people believe that we need the grid to survive.
Turns out that we don’t, but machines definitely do.
What have you learned from indigenous struggles?
Everything. That ideologies can only get you so far. If you want to see real resistance, then you need to feel it. You need to feel the pain of the land, the pain that wildness bears. This is our community.
There’s a book that I absolutely love called In the Days of Victorio. It’s Eve Ball’s retelling of discussions with James Kaywaykla, a Warm Springs Apache who was born and raised during this time of massive uprooting and attempts to colonize. His story is really showing the insanity of the frontier, being a child raised in a time of war, but it’s not just a war memoir, the battles become background to Kaywaykla talking with intensity and passion about the Apache way of life. Even during this horrifically traumatic time, they didn’t lose this sense of community and grounding. It might have even become amplified. There’s a lot in there, but it just shows how much we’ve lost in the domestication process and how much we have to gain through undoing it.
We need that grounding, we need that reality check, and we need that sense of community. This toxic notion of Self that civilization requires and Modernity champions is just isolation. Our values are so off. We end up dying alone, drowning in junk and distraction.
Any tips on rewilding?
The biggest tip is to always remember that rewilding is a process. Domestication is a continuum, not an event. For us, that re-immersion into the wild is going to be a matter of generations. As a parent, that’s kind of refreshing because you can see that wildness in children. We have a lot to learn from them.
I certainly don’t want to pretend that I’m some kind of guru, I’m learning along the way just like anyone else. For me, it was really important to come to terms with what I call “radical humility”. Essentially being able to just get over the way that this really Rationalized worldview clouds our vision. I’m a big fan of questioning the logic of the scientific worldview, obviously we’re not going to shed ourselves of it, nor should we be wanting to throw out every single thing that we’ve gotten from science: the world, after all, is burning. There’s a lot we have to understand and act on in a global scale.
At the same time, we can really fill in those holes through direct experience and interaction. We tend to carry all these arbitrary distinctions and scientific classifications with us into the wild, all these divisions and complex studies of minutiae. There is a lot out there and plenty to learn, yet it really comes together when you remove those barriers. You kind of have to get over yourself and this really book-based sense of figuring things out. It’s harder than it seems, but there are these points of cross over that you get through just shutting up and observing the symbiosis of wild beings and that entire community where the life and connection really just becomes apparent.
When you get out of your head a bit, things become more manageable. I think many of us come into rewilding as if it was a task or series of tasks. Plenty of people have made a lot of money off of selling rewilding as a check list of skills, both in this militaristic, survivalist sense and this really watered down, apathetic feel-good sense. Enskilling is certainly an important thing, but until we come to embrace the whole of wildness and to trust in it, then it’s all just survivalism. Granted that’s how we’re raised within civilization where our only security blanket is electricity.
That’s what needs to be broken down.
So, in terms of tips, there is no replacement for dirt time. I think what sets rewilding apart from the voyeurism of day hiking and the like is it all starts in observation, but rewilding moves beyond that into integration. That’s all a process.
Community is really important to that. Getting out there with other people and sharing those experiences is a huge help. I spent years thinking I was going to memorize manuals and then just retain all of the knowledge, but that’s monumental. Taking steps is really important, but I like to give myself challenges. Foraging wild mushrooms has been a huge thing for me, it can take you out of your comfort zone, but it also changes the way that you see in the forest and engages multiple senses at once. Bird language is really a kind of quick view into what’s happening and really crucial. Tracking helps to kind of walk in another beings footprints. If you want to be humbled, go track a fox.
If you don’t make it a chore, then it’s really invigorating. It gets in your bones. It’ll change the way you view the world. It adjusts the way we take in information and you can realize quickly how overwhelming civilization really is. We deaden ourselves to the world to just get by floating through this tunnel vision.
And, for the reasons I mentioned before, it’s absolutely enraging. I see rewilding as a spiritual journey, but it’s hard to even try going through the steps of all of these processes and not end up at this same point of feeling and seeing the connectivity between all life. It’s impossible to not feel empathy with a fox while tracking them unless you’re wearing $1000 in high tech hunting gear. The more those barriers break, the more that pain creeps in. Only it was there all along, we just learn from an early age to turn that off.
I do have one big tip though, it’s easy to get used to the ease of having 4G and WiFi connected devices on us all the time and to use that for things like identification or quick resources. The convenience there is really what kills the purpose there: if we’re not really engaging, doing things like asking another person in real life or searching through field guides, then we’re not creating a deep neurological response within our brains to really let that information sink in.
I always recommend Nicholas Carr’s work on the consequences of these new technological platforms and interfaces and this instance is no different. Engaging with machines doesn’t turn into long term memories and our brains begin to offset our mental storage capacity onto Google. I can’t recommend that in general, but certainly even less so in terms of trying to identify and learn about wildness.
Do you see hacking as being an effective tactic?
I can certainly appreciate it, but I just have no real faith in machines, even in terms of using them to break machines. I’m happy to be proven wrong. I think Anonymous does some pretty awesome things and I think all the data dumps are vital information. Outside of that, if hackers can take down the grid, which is what I hear on the news, then what are they waiting for?
My own bias is that I greatly prefer not to be on machines. The amount that someone like me would have to learn to hack is astronomical. Throwing rocks is a lot easier.
What are your thoughts on Ted Kaczynski?
That’s pretty complicated really. We were writing these huge letters for years and there were points of agreement and points of disagreement. I won’t go over all of that again here, but I will say that there’s a human side of Ted that I feel for and empathize with, it’s just unfortunate that he buries that.
Ted’s context is that he left Berkeley in the 60s and went off to the woods. So he carries all this Maoist baggage with him and that’s where this staunch drive for a singular vision and attack comes from. But he goes out into the woods and gets further and further tied into it. He’s talked to me about how rabbits were almost like a guide for him. He just got rooted and felt the infringement just clamp down. And he acted upon that.
In his eyes, he needed to hold technocrats accountable for their actions. That’s been the inspiration for Ted as it has seemingly been for groups like Individualists Tending Towards the Wild (ITS), Wild Reaction, and Obsidian Point. In smaller worlds, that has worked. We’re talking effectively about terror campaigns and political assassinations. With the hyper-modern world we inhabit, there are just so many of those positions and so many people to fill them. I’m not shedding a tear for technocrats, but I think the tactic needs a massive scale to be effective. The more Google becomes the Evil forecast throughout dystopian fiction, the more people might keep getting pissed and targeting them, with or without larger standing affiliations or justifications.
Again, I’m far from a pacifist, but the upside to our circumstance is that our targets need not be human. If we’re talking about effectiveness, then the machines are the bigger problem than the operators. Flesh, sadly, is seen as more replaceable than circuitry: something we’re reminded of every time we buy something out of a Foxconn factory.
The Maoist side though is what drives the unapologetic sense of militarism: the refusal to reconcile the loss of life that comes when a bomb doesn’t hit it’s target. You get the same kind of lingo that comes from the military when, or I should say, if, they have to respond to things like how at least 90% of drone strike victims are civilians or bombing a Doctors Without Borders hospital. I just don’t have the stomach for that stuff, but I’m not a Maoist or a patriot.
There’s a whole other side of this question that leans towards the kind of garbage Kaczynski and his followers have wanted to do in terms of attacking “primitivist romanticism”. I get where he’s coming from with that: we need to keep our feet on the ground, but the purpose is political and I’m not a political person. Ted wants to keep the focus solely on technology, which, from a strategical angle, I definitely agree with. He believes there will be a revolution against the machines. There’s a whole lot wrapped up in that notion and a lot of romanticization of Revolutionary ideals.
The underscore of that argument is to say that we’re (anarcho-primitivists and green anarchists) more about propaganda than that anti-technological Revolutionary whatever it is. And that’s false positioning. I’m not sure why we’re such a target for that, but in holding this hardline stance, it’s ironic that this Maoist kind of impulse is calling us “leftists” by obscuring our drive.
Neither myself nor any other anarcho-primitivist looks to hunter-gatherers to find the perfect wild human animal. That would be romantic idealism. All of us are human. It’s that simple. I don’t need hunter-gatherers to be perfect, I don’t need them to be angels: I just see human societies that function. All humans, us included, can go overboard. But the way that immediate return hunter gatherer societies function is built around dealing with the downsides of being human: how to mitigate disagreements, how to diffuse social tension, how to keep egalitarianism up front and center.
We come from this same sense of primal anarchy, but we have also grown up within a culture where superstructures are overbearing and ever present. So even though anarchists talk about hating the police, we still have a hard time envisioning what it’s like to live without them. There’s a lot of accountability that has to come into play.
So we have a lot to learn and it’s these issues about how truly anarchistic societies have dealt with them that we have to learn from. It’s their means of dealing with being imperfect that we have to learn from. The rest is just really icing on the cake. I’m not sure what advantage we might get from feeling like we need to disregard our real anarchist (pre)-history, but I’m not buying it.
Certainly seems more relevant than talking forever about the Paris Commune or the Spanish Civil War.
Do you have any thoughts on radical feminism?
This really comes down to the garbage that Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Deep Green Resistance (DGR) have tried reviving and dumping into the “anti-civilization” milieu, right? So I’ll get right to it: gender is a culturally defined reality with a certain degree of cultural norm. Patriarchy is a historical creation which put a valuation on gender. This all comes down to domestication.
We know that indigenous societies almost universally don’t succumb to a binary understanding of gender. There’s flux there and there’s plenty of precedent within the “natural world” that a dualistic perspective of gender and sexes just isn’t cut and dry. It’s not just humans, but it’s the efficiency of production that requires some degree of standardization and hierarchies are based around that.
I just don’t understand how any “radical” vision can’t just grant that trans-persons are targets in this society because they challenge the standardized gender/sex roles within this civilization. It really blows my mind. There is no question to me that being born in a body that defies what the cultural norms for how someone feels and relates with the world happens. I don’t know what that feels like, but who the fuck has the right to cheapen that to the point of being a gimmick or far worse.
I’m no fan of the medical industry, I’ll state that, but that’s just the tip of this entire reality. We all have our baggage, so I’m not sure why someone like Derrick can poke holes in the idea that “taking shorter showers” isn’t going to change the world is suddenly giving a fuck about someone dressing and acting in relation to how they feel and are perceived. It really is that simple.
The degree to which the DGR crew has gone, supporting and taking part in groups that seek to out trans-persons is just fucking despicable. Just look at the news! Trans-people are being targeted and killed every week, most likely far more often than that. I have no idea how any of those trans-“call out” fuckers can sleep at night. I had many reasons to start going after them before all of that nonsense came out and I’m not sure why it took the anarchist world so long to figure it out, but I think it’s good that this issue really deflated their insane trajectory and “organization”.
The discussion about trans-persons always brings to mind this example that I’m fairly certain comes from PIerre Clastres, an anarchist anthropologists whose life was sadly cut short, in terms of the Guayaki in the Amazon. He talked about these instances of trans-identity and how this facet of life really was just kind of understood without question or consequence. The only thing that mattered was whether or not that individual was participating in the community, not in a breeding sense, but just overall contribution. It’s the exact same expectation applied to anyone else.
I’m not really sure of any reason why that shouldn’t be understood universally.
Do you have any recommendations for media and reading?
I could really go on about this one for ages, so I’ll try to keep it short.
In terms of media, I think it’s really important to just avoid social media. It’s beyond the low point that I think we all thought we hit with a 24-hour “news” cycle. It’s just dealing on a purely emotional level with no resolution and no permanence. We just react to everything and it involves everyone. It’s one reason that people are just boiling over the top constantly. Psychologically speaking, that shit is a fucking mess. Yet it can be almost totally avoided.
It’s complicated. 1.3 billion people on this earth log in to Facebook at least once per month. That’s massive, yet the number continues to grow. Half of the world’s adult population owns a cell phone. There is no precedent for this kind of monumental social and technological change and intrusion. That’s scary. Nothing in the lineage of humanity is as universal as the cell phone until you get back to when the world was predominantly hunting and gathering. And even then the methods and tools used were far from universal.
So that really, really needs to be taken into consideration.
I can’t miss the chance to plug Black and Green Review, a newish anarcho-primitivist journal that I’m an editor and founder of. I think the crew we have involved and the direction we’ve been heading in is really promising. The kinds of discussions that we’ve been having while working on pieces is far more intensive than any other publication I’ve ever worked on. The discussions I’ve been having with people about it are the same. We have a long way to go to get this momentum building and on fire again, but we have a lot of the right pieces falling into place.
Hopefully people reading it feel the same. Either way, the hope is that we get more involved in these non-internet based formats and discussions. That’s what’s going to push this forward, not just perpetually sharing and liking things on whatever social media outlet takes over.
In terms of reading, the people who have really shaped my perspectives and opened my eyes are John Zerzan, Fredy Perlman, Paul Shepard, and Lewis Mumford. There are certainly others, but those four really pushed things in the necessary direction for me. I read a lot of anthropology and some of it gets far more technical than others, but there’s just so much there. The work of James Woodburn, Richard Lee, Colin Turnbull, R Brian Ferguson, Douglas Fry, Pierre Clastres, and so many more has been and continues to be crucial. Nicholas Carr’s work on technology is vital for the society we live in. Paul Rezendes, Mark Elbroch, Jon Young, and Tamarack Song have some excellent books in terms of the rewilding process.
I’m working on a more complete list to include in my book-in-progress, Roots: a Field Guide to Anarcho-Primitivism.
As a parent what advice do you have on raising children?
As a parent, the most obvious thing that I come up against is the lack of community. That just makes everything so much harder. Our perceptions about how children should be treated and raised is just a distillation of the worst parts of civilization. There’s no empathy or care there, just distancing and this paternalistic sense of “breaking them in” that permeates it. You bring in the excesses of this hyper-technological Modernity and we’ve seen how far past the tipping point things get.
The expectation is that when you have kids you default on cultural norms. Not just in your own life, but in your children’s. I’m no proponent of trying to have some virtuous claim to being the perfect living example of how you should live, but if you can’t apply these critiques to raising children then we’ve all failed. This is where the practical application really does matter.
Raising kids can be both really wearing and invigorating at the same time. If you don’t get furious when you have to explain to a child why they can’t just drink from a creek, stream or lake then I’m not sure what it would take, that should hit home. It’s the hardest part of being a parent really. My daughters are wild, they want to be naked and play outside, but how do you try to explain that they have to wear clothes because there are pedophiles all around? We’re just robbing our kids of their childhood and their comfort within the world.
There’s a lot of compromise in that regard and it’s really difficult, but that’s where community helps. You need to define your lines and defend them. Breaking down those barriers and having your child present and involved is crucial. Ensuring that they get what they need instead of loading them down with vaccinations, garbage food, sugar, and letting them play with WiFi devices, things like that really do matter and have consequences.
You get humbled by them all the time too. It’s easy to forget that their vision, hearing and senses are open doors unless we close them. Seeing what my daughters spot is always impressive. One of my daughters has tried stinkbugs twice! She apparently didn’t like it either time, but she had no hang ups from trying it a second time. Spending a lot of time barefoot means that their feet haven’t conformed to this narrow shoe wearing contortion we create. I’ve always admired the dexterity of hunter-gatherer’s feet and I see it in my daughters. Stuff like that is really encouraging to me.
The hardest part is dealing with that external situation, family and people like that tend to mean well, but our default is just consumption. We immerse ourselves in consumerism, but, as a culture, we bury our kids in it. I love the Inuit quote that “gifts make slaves like whips make dogs”. Stuff is a burden, that’s one reason why we were meant to be nomadic. We should see it as an indication of how deep the pathology of domestication goes when we use stuff as a fill in for experience and expressions.
All-in-all, it’s complicated, but it’s a reminder about seeing rewilding in terms of generations and not getting wrapped up in yourself and the inflated sense of Self that Modernity touts.
Is there ever a time when you think about how big the universe is and how crazy it is that we’ve made this horrible.. Magic… From our determined imagination and you ever just want to play fallout 4 or metal gear solid and listen to some post rock, and proclaim, “we’re all gonna get burned up by the sun one day! And from the window of the universe, from which everything is small, there are thousands of livable planets, our political problems even in the macro are micro”, or go all nihilistic and or purely spiritual? How do you fend of apathy, despair, grief, etc?
I can’t say I get caught up in any of those things. We all have our release valves, that’s for sure. I’m not sure I have a solution for any of those things other than to just kind of suck it up and work through them. These days it feels like I have a lot less time, so I can’t get caught up in getting lost with that stuff. You just have to find your avenues and keep pushing.
Fortunately or not, my real grounding comes from being with my family in the forest. Civilization is fairly inescapable and the further you try to retreat, quite often the more it weighs that it’s still lingering there. And yet wild beings find a way to carry on, to struggle, to etch out their own places, to stake their turf and to hold their ground.
It would be easy to get lost in it all, to just pretend like it isn’t happening. But then again, it’s a lot more empowering to get to that point and realize that we’re not in this alone, all wild beings are fighting for their lives. They’re ready for us to wake up and fight alongside them.
What do you say to those who think that actions of an anticiv variety will, at this point, only bring about totalitarianism; That we don’t have enough numbers to mount an effective resistance and/or that if we just wait technology may save us?
I’m not really sure how bringing down civilization will bring about totalitarianism. Frankly that’s pretty illogical to me.
Here’s the thing, when we’re talking about civilization: we’re not talking about taking over the steering wheel, we’re talking about cutting the gas line. Political power functions solely because it has the electrical power to back it up. We fall in line because we believe that we have no other options in the matter. We treat money and power like they have innate value because we are taught that they do.
As soon as power stops flowing, that entire facade crumbles.
But that’s just part of the narrative. I suppose this question might also be leaning towards thinking that the collapse of civilization will bring about some kind of Mad Max dystopia. We believe that kind of thing because we believe that power is a universal, a given. The reason we have police isn’t because we can’t be trusted around each other, it’s because we believe the lie that police are there to keep us safe from each other. Never mind that civilization is doing all of the breaking here and creating the social tensions that lead to large-scale violence.
All of this harks back to Hobbes’ proclamation that humans in the “state of nature” live nasty, brutish and short lives. We know that this isn’t true. The myth is still prevalent because it is necessary, that’s part of that narrative of domestication that feeds back into our lives on a daily basis. It’s a lie.
What we see in instances of disasters or of functioning communities isn’t wanton violence, but cooperation. That is what is within us. No species would have made it as long as we have if it was as bloodthirsty as the civilized human has become. We breed the conditions under which we become insatiably violent. Warfare is an unknown amongst immediate return hunter-gatherers (nomadic hunter gatherer bands without stored food). Violence is a part of our emotions as an animal, but organized violence is not. Nomadic hunter-gatherer life is built around diffusing possible tensions before they arise.
We transpose our anxiety and tensions onto life without civilization. But think about it; we live in a society of strangers, we almost universally don’t chose our neighbors, hell most likely we don’t even talk to them or know their names. There are no strangers in the world of grounded peoples. There are millions of lines of connections. Everyone knows someone else or their relatives. So all this random violence that we see and fear, that simply doesn’t exist. You can act within a city in horrifically violent ways and there’s a good chance that you’ll never be caught or face repercussions. Or worse, you can have a badge and your violence comes with its own justifications.
When you remove power, you remove that veneer: we are forced to become responsible for our subsistence and our actions. As great of a grip that power has on our lives, that reality is a very thin line.
Will there be holdouts? Will there be crazed rednecks with generators and guns? No doubt, but I’m not sure how long that survivalist mentality can really last. And nothing is stopping extreme violence from happening in this society. Yet when we’re talking about ending civilization, we’re talking about removing the means by which all of those avenues of power arise and sustain themselves.
There’s also a flip side to this question though. This kind of question can only be asked from a position of First World privilege: we’re assuming that life is less violent now than it could be. The reality of that is that we have sadly accepted that things like school shooting and mass shootings are just an accepted part of life. We are the only nation in the world where this is happening every week and there’s seemingly a threshold of bodies before that even makes the news.
That’s not to overlook the insane reality of rape. The recorded number of women who have been physically and/or sexually assaulted in the US is one in three. We know that number is far from complete. But how do we live with that? How do we defend a system in which the nation that proclaims being the benchmark of freedom has had one third of its women assaulted? That’s vile. There’s no other way to put it.
Even putting that aside, we have to consider that this First World notion that our lives have been improved by civilization applies to a fraction of the current human population. To the indigenous nations of the world, civilization is genocide. Ecocide is genocide. This is violence. Our want for resources and rare earth minerals for a technological gadget with a built in shelf life of one year is systemic violence.
Think about a 14-year-old child in Afghanistan, a child who has only ever known war. That child has learned that if they want to go outside and play, the only time that they can do it is on a cloudy day because drone cameras can’t see and they don’t fly. Think about all the family members that this child has seen. Think about the impacts of depleted uranium in this and all other countries.
Think about the children who are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as they attempt to flee Syria: a nation torn by war that comes on the back of climate change induced droughts and longer standing water right feuds.
Think about the fact that if we don’t make drastic changes immediately in terms of emissions (think down to zero), that we could see human extinction within less than 100 years.
Think about the workers crushed in the Rana Plaza sweatshop collapse in Bangladesh. Over 1,000 people who died simply so that largely First World consumers could buy slightly cheaper clothes for the season.
This isn’t a hypothetical. We will not die without oil. We simply don’t need it, but this system does. And yet every single drop of oil, of redirected water, of dioxin, of glyphosate, of diamonds, of copper ore, every little piece of every little thing that we possess or taut as a sign of our achievements is covered in death and destruction.
If we believe for a single second that our way of life is less violent than whatever comes after the power shuts off, it’s solely because we’re privileged enough to take part in the deadliest delusion that this world has ever seen. That we’ve internalized the failings of this culture as our own failure to achieve within their dreams. That we believe that stuff has meaning.
I don’t know what will happen when the lights finally go out. I simply don’t. But we have millions of years of cooperation guiding our minds. We have thousands of years of examples of the collapse of civilizations not being the end of every inhabitant. Given the choice, we have so much more to embody than the promises of machines. I look at the world around me, I look at the news or go out in public, there’s little reason to have hope that we can turn the madness off, but we can never heal a wound that is still being inflicted.
I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it can’t be worse than this.
I don’t take claims that “technology will save us” seriously at all. Even within the timeline of civilization, technological change represents such a tiny fraction and electrified civilization is even less than that. We’re just plowing through resources and all the “great ideas” about “sustainable” energy are built upon increasingly rare minerals. Even in Ray Kurzweil’s ridiculous ideas about the coming Singularity, his much beloved predictions are slacking in terms of what machines “should” be doing by now and his only response to resource depletion is that one day we’ll build a smart enough machine that can figure the whole mess out.
And if you cross Kurzweil’s timeline with the current climate predictions? If we get that far, there likely won’t be a human left on this planet to applaud the ingenuity of the machines that his distorted dreams hope to see outlive us.
How do you counter arguments that say primitivists are ableist not thinking about the many people with disabilities that couldn’t survive without civilization?
I think this question is so loaded with the idea that somehow civilization is doing a good job handling disabilities. It isn’t. I’m not sure how requiring wheel chair access changes the fact that all of these headline filling arguments about medical coverage still hasn’t made the supposed “saving grace” that is medical technology more accessible. Or at least not without paying forever for it.
But this also shows how much we embody these virtues of civilization; we really want to believe that our lives are better. This is demonstrably untrue. The number one cause of death in this country remains heart disease, which comes down to diet, lifestyle and stress. And you can work down the list, but what you see is that we are all sick, we are all broken. Civilization fractures us in so many ways and forces us into impossible situations. And then on top of that we just continue to throw in medications, toxins, radiation, stress, work, concrete, and just all the weight that we carry around by being stuck in survival mode. We have no autonomy here. We have no involvement in our own subsistence. We are wage slaves rebranded as consumers and we identify and present ourselves based on our consumption habits.
Civilization is systematically disabling. The diseases we face are almost universally caused by domesticated, sedentary life. The major diseases that we know all come from agriculture, from living with domestic animals, and from living with our own shit. It’s overwhelming. We see this psychological break happen and we just keep looking for anyway to treat it without dealing with the underlying issue: that we are wild beings that are held captive. Every time you walk past some person walking mindlessly around slouched over and tapping away on their phone, that person is looking for that piece of themselves that they lost through domestication. We want community: this isn’t something that capitalists created, it’s an impulse redirected and commodified.
If we’re going to heal, we need to stop the wound from being inflicted. It’s that simple.
And we need to stop thinking that all of our knowledge is some monumental achievement. It took civilized minds thousands of years to understand the flow of blood, but anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas pointed out that uncontacted !Kung knew how that flow works in detail, just like they understood the relationship of the Earth to other planets and the cycles of the moon.
We’re just so stuck in this obscure reflection of ourselves as the apex of evolution that we can’t see beyond it. There are mounds of evidence of surgery and healing of bones in societies without civilization. There are mounds of evidence that all of these peoples lived without the aliments that we assume that we are stuck with or that we can’t move beyond. We assume that anyone who was crippled would be left out to die, yet there are records of all these indigenous societies where members were maimed by colonizers (the European colonizers were quite fond of removing limbs), yet they still remained active members of their communities and carried on. That’s something I’ve even seen working within Amish communities. If the community is intact, they can help to heal and to move on. That’s something that we are sorely missing. Not the medical industry and the toxin spewing, disease causing dual blow of industrialism and agriculture.
And the point needs to be made again; these arguments only work when we consider some level of distance between civilization and its consequences. We can’t continue to overlook the children born with defects caused by depleted uranium, the children born with Chernobyl heart, the children who continue to suffer the consequences of the Bhopal disaster, children born without brains outside of the Maquiladoras of Mexico, and the list goes on forever.
When is it enough? When do we stop accepting all of this? When do we stop thanking the technocrats, corporations and governments for selling us bandaids after they take limbs? When do we stop seeing ourselves as victims and start seeing ourselves as the catalysts to take our lives back, to rebuild community, and to reawaken the egalitarian world that has shaped us?
I don’t say this to cheapen what many have had to face in our day-to-day reality. Soul crushing things happen to people every single day. We trust machines not to maim us and we should be more surprised when they don’t than when they do. We are truly in an abusive relationship with civilization.
But at some point, this all comes back to that narrative, that constant retelling of the oldest lie that we’ve ever known, the lie that is going to be the cause of death for nearly all of us, the lie that I hope, against all logic and likelihood, won’t take my daughters from me: that technology and civilization have improved our lives. It hasn’t. It won’t.
And if we don’t stop it, it will take every last thing that we hold dearly from us and we will continue to thank it, until the moment when we don’t and we begin to take our lives back. That moment when we begin to stake our claim, to resist, to reconnect, to rewild, and to fight.
Any final shout outs for upcoming actions or events or any words of advice for young activists who want to help but don’t know where to start?
I’ll go backwards on this one.
I think that this world has increasingly been leaning towards thinking and acting in line with the norms of social media and that’s a very, very dangerous move. Google really pulls the reigns here and predatory platforms like Facebook follow suit. Our habits and patterns are determined and reiterated through algorithms and scripts: we search and find a reflection of the world that we want to see. That’s how you end up with a maniac like Dylan Roof. Tweets and Feeds are our daily affirmations. It all comes full circle when you’re posting to this really wide net of people that you loosely affiliate with and then the arguments just go straight to the top shelf level rage. We’re just reacting to everything. Removed from the processes of thoughtful interaction, we just share, like, and get so fucking angry all at once.
That’s not a healthy means for any kind of development, but the mind is always shifting itself. So the generations growing up with this kind of technology are really doomed, but having this critique of technology doesn’t make any of us less a victim of the world that Google maintains.
A part of that reality has been this increasing turn towards a for-or-against impulse. We rid out nuance. When I was on Facebook, it’s all you would see, everyone has to have an opinion on everything. You really don’t! Things can just go on without feeling like you need to react to it.
What ultimately results from that process is this reactionary world where everything is visceral and there is no critical acceptance and engagement. Within the anarchist world, it’s become the hip thing to try and develop this perfect theory instead of having the theory be the basis for real world action. We become fodder looking for the perfect idea to be spoon fed in whole so that our position can wash its hand clean of any impurity. What can you do with that? Sound good? Great, where does that get you?
As a whole, we really need to cut off from the social networks. I get that this isn’t easy. In fact, if I don’t post my projects on the Black and Green Press page on Facebook, for most people it’s like it never happened. I want to delete that thing so badly, but, just like everyone, I’m still trying to figure out how we get past this. All of our old means of communicating, the mailing lists, the magazines, the journals, all of that is reduced to such a tiny fraction of what it was. It’s not like that was perfect before, but we had real world traction. You could have discussions and disagreements and not lose friends and family over it.
This Interface Revolution, this swift change that put a cell phone into the hands of nearly half the world’s population, has made it so that we not only don’t communicate in depth and in person, but that we’re increasingly unable to do so. That’s a huge social change and an even bigger social issue. Even the major news outlets that remain had to start writing headlines as click bait!
Until we start removing ourselves from those cycles, I’m not sure how much anything else is really going to change. But that needs to be a starting point. We need to have discussions alongside arguments. Not just reactions. We need to engage our minds before they’re just the ooze that Google and whatever worse corporation that is coming up behind it will extract money and energy from.
So that’s my advice. Shut down your Facebook. Put down your phone. Stop thanking the machines and start seeing what is happening beyond the two or three feet in front of your face. Find that ground and engage it.
We need that first step, because there are far more radical things than that which need to happen.
Outside of that, I mentioned some other projects and campaigns which I strongly encourage following up on and supporting. I can’t miss the opportunity to plug Black and Green Review, which I’m really excited about. All the things I’ve been talking about are central for the excellent group of editors that we’ve assembled and they’ve all really stepped up in trying to move this along.