Revisiting Revolution

Summary—Wildists, like their ideological forebears, have generally supported the notion of “revolution” as a response to their grievances. However, one series of groups referred to as “eco-extremists,” who came from the same ideological forebears as wildists, have challenged the “revolutionary approach” to rewilding. This article explains the revolutionary approach and why the eco-extremists are right.

1      THE OLD VIEW

The values of wildist eco-radicals and eco-extremists have been sufficiently elaborated, but part of my intention in starting this journal was to explore and outline a modus operandi based on these values. Thus far I (and those I work with) have stuck to a rough notion of “revolution” or, rather, anti-industrial reaction. The reasoning was as follows:

Since we desire the world to collapse into a less managed, or wilder, place, our concern is how to achieve a state of affairs where the industrial mode of production is made increasingly less efficient, or even, in some regions, a state where it is disrupted beyond repair. But of course, industrial life is much too convenient. People are unlikely, then, to revolt against it.

However, historically there have been revolutionary time periods where this kind of thing becomes possible—eras where people in a specific locale lose many of their normal inhibitions and act outside the bounds of conventional morality. During this period, people are much more likely to act against their immediate material interests, leaving an opening for small and organized minorities to take advantage of the mass moment and instigate action against whatever structure they deem illegitimate. The French Revolution was one such time period. And the Bolshevik party of the Russian Revolution, which methodically exploited many aspects inherent in mass society, demonstrated how a minority might use such a moment.

Of course, part of the wildist analysis is an understanding that society (and its technics) develop autonomously of any individual or group of individuals; that is, cultures evolve (see “Technical Autonomy”). This means, among other things, that revolutionaries cannot plan their revolution. The French Revolution, for instance, was a result of unpredictable forces like famine and industrialization; and the Russian Revolution came at a moment of intense Russian poverty and world war. This “pulling humans along” aspect of overall cultural development is also why revolutionaries succeeded in destroying their target society but failed miserably at instituting their rational utopian schemes. Again, cultures evolve; they are not planned. The only reason the radicals of the time could take advantage of the instability was because beforehand they organized and insulated themselves, creating a willing minority uncommitted to the dominant structure it sought to overthrow. Because of this, wildists and their ideological influences (e.g., Kaczynski and the indomitistas) advocated the creation of such a minority, which would prepare for increasingly radical action during times of instability. This minority would have no hopes of instituting rational schemes, but would be fully dedicated to relentlessly attacking industrial society.

We eco-radicals believed this to be the only way to bring about maximum damage to the global industrial system. It wasn’t that revolution was a perfect solution. There could be none of those anyway. But other proposals were either entirely unrealistic or did not go far enough, and reform is impossible as a placating force given the demands of our values. There was even a chance that the reaction would be global in scope, meaning not that all of industry would come collapsing down, but that the revolutionary efforts would be occurring in many places simultaneously, with perhaps a few regions where it was most successful. This is a possibility nowadays because industrial infrastructure unites the world, allowing messages to spread much faster than before. That was, after all, the reason the values of the French Revolution spread so quickly and thoroughly; and it is why the Jihadists can be seen attacking everywhere now.

Furthermore, in regions where there has been state or industrial collapse, often caused by revolutions, we can observe notable gains for wild nature. Take, for instance, Syria, Libya, many parts of Afghanistan, and even places south of the US, like Mexico and Brazil. Where there is a high degree of instability for modern society (industry, democracy, humanist institutions, etc.), the societies are less surveilled, non-human nature is less developed in a material sense, infrastructure begins to fall apart… Indeed, carbon emissions in the Middle East are rapidly decreasing because of the revolutionary activity going on there, as is to be expected, since emissions since the Industrial Revolution have only ever decreased globally in times of decline or collapse (e.g., The Great Depression, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 2008 Recession, etc.).

However, this reasoning is faulty. It is not that reaction itself is something undesirable or even impossible. Clearly it is possible. For instance, the Jihadists, no matter how abhorrent, are sufficiently organized and widespread that if some uncontrollable external factor, like a natural disaster, severely damaged industrial societies, they could take advantage of the moment and wreak a lot of havoc. Rather, it is wrong to base one’s eco-defense on that possibility, it is wrong to imagine reaction as an “end-all” to the problems of Progress, and it is wrong to legitimize radical rewilding on the revolutionary period. Our values offer a different message than that.

One group with similar ideological influences as the wildists, the so-called eco-extremists, have attempted to articulate this argument in their communiques and writings. At first, their arguments seemed juvenile, impatient, immediatist. However, over time their analysis became more pointed and, as far as I am concerned, they have succeeded at convincing me that the place of revolution in wildist discourse should be rethought. After much discussion on this issue, my position (and the position of most people I work with) has changed.

2      THE NEW VIEW

For one thing, we consider rewilding and eco-defense as good in themselves. There needs to be no future event to legitimize them. It is in the present that wild nature is being dominated and destroyed, and it is in the present that we will defend and restore it. Radical action may need special justification, but this is easily explained, and not by recourse to the messiah of revolution: if the threat itself is radical, why can’t defense be radical in turn? As I pointed out in “The Foundations of Wildist Ethics,” it is reasonable to say that as wildness becomes less of a defining quality of our world, it becomes more valuable, and more radical defense justifiable. “No recourse but the present,” one wildist said; and he’s right.

Furthermore, revolution is no messiah. Since no human or group of humans can instigate it—only take advantage of the moment—it is always unclear how it will end. Again, we can observe this in regions where revolution or collapse is occurring. Some of them have been quite detrimental to wild nature, or at least not ideal, and the situation is such that a similar course of events will be common in future situations. Revolution may occur and work will still need to be done. A single event, then, is not the focus. Indeed, it may be tangential.

Consider, for instance, other means by which collapse has occurred. Some have happened with no human input at all, wild nature Herself hitting so hard that none was needed; in other cases the only human input has been that of resistance to collapse, yet, weak as we are as a directing force for society, it has occurred anyway. In some places revolution has only led to more Progress, or totalitarian regimes that, while less efficient than democracies, are still misaligned with our values. In short, revolution is not the end. One might even argue that it is often only a beginning.

This reaches into an aspect of wildist analysis that I have already noted seems contradictory to the previous proposal of revolution: our fatalism. We believe that humans are as subject to the doings and goings of wild nature as any other animal; and like any other animal, we are pulled along by it, not a driving force of it, no matter how deceptive our perceptions might be. This is even illustrated by modern scientific materialism and its determinism (whether literal or, depending on one’s interpretation of quantum phenomena, practical). I wrote briefly about this in “The Question of Revolution,” pointing out that collapse is not something wildists think they can cause. Instead, if it is to happen, it will happen regardless. Collapse, then, is more a prediction, and talk of agency or free will is merely a “useful fiction” for human minds that do not and cannot ever know enough to be sure of their fates. This, the argument from philosophical naturalism, is indeed my own belief; the eco-extremists more often than not simply speak of fatalism, without reference to deeper philosophical foundations. In the same way, many hunter/gatherers adopted a sort of fatalistic outlook on life, forced as they were to acknowledge their smallness in the face of mountains and seas and the unpolluted night sky.

What, then, of the possibility that collapse may never occur? Here is where the eco-extremists have succeeded in convincing me. They say, “It matters little.” They are correct, as I noted myself in the same section of “The Question of Revolution.” Regardless of the possibility of revolution, I stand by my values and will act according to them. These institutions, this society, the industrial infrastructure on which it is built—all of it may be with us forever, but it doesn’t mean I have to respect it. Nor do I believe I even can. I am stuck, fated, perhaps: I can do nothing but disdain the control of my life and the wild world I love.

Once again, the eco-extremists have argued this for longer than I. While wildists have always argued that values come from individual will—their nihilism in respect to objective values also stemming from the aforementioned philosophical naturalism—the eco-extremists were the ones who stood firmly on their feet and acted as individuals, not only dismissing revolution as a legitimizing force, but also mass movements. It may help for others to stand with me, but I need them little to live with integrity, and I depend on them not at all to do this.

Finally, given the unplanned character of mass cultural events, it is risky to argue for the messiah of revolution. Take my essay, “The Question of Revolution,” in which I discussed the morality pertaining to it more than I discussed strategy and instigation. How, I asked, is the death caused by revolution compatible with wildist values? What of the dangers of nuclear collapse? Human folly? In answering these questions, I usually explained that they were irrelevant, given that humans do not cause revolutions. No revolutionary movement, no matter how strong, is going to have a button to push to bring about industrial collapse. Thus, they would not be responsible for everything that occurs (under any normal notion of “responsibility”). Instead, humans being creatures with limited knowledge and influence, any revolutionary instability will be aided only by individuals acting according to the way they see fit in the moment, these individuals responsible for the consequences of those specific actions, but unable to predict the overall path of their society. Nevertheless, I often faltered in my analysis by attempting a “big picture” view of the situation, for instance, by arguing that the death caused by a revolutionary situation may not even approach the desolation caused by climate change, species extinctions (which are up to over 1,000 times the natural extinction rate!), and other problems cited by eco-radicals.

And even then, I nearly contradicted myself by pointing out limitations in human moral reasoning, probably biologically-based. For example, I mentioned the findings of Paul Slovic, a social psychologist who noted that humans often undergo a process of “psychic numbing” to suffering as the number of suffering humans get larger. In one experiment, he had volunteers donate money to a cause that fed children in Africa, telling them that a specific child was in need; but as the numbers increased, or if the child’s suffering was put in the context of a larger tragedy, the donations would rapidly decrease. This occurred even after just one other child was mentioned. It was with these kinds of limitations in mind that I toyed with the idea of a reasoned morality in “Foundations,” arguing that in such an unnatural situation as we are, we would need to use much more of our rational brain than our intuitive one. But it is not even clear that this is possible, making such an experiment highly dangerous. Furthermore, any kind of reasoning would rely on data attainable only through modern or hyper-modern scientific and industrial infrastructure—something obviously incompatible with our regressive values.

Instead, the eco-extremists—correctly—argued that we ought to disregard any “big picture” reasoning and act in the present according to our values. If a radical attacks industrial infrastructure, he does it because he believes the action to be warranted then and there; if he kills a technician, he lives with the responsibility; if he takes advantage of a demonstration to add notoriety to eco-radical values, he justifies it with his own wild will.

3      CAVEATS AND CLARIFICATIONS

Of course, none of this means disposing of an anti-industrial reaction as a possibility, especially in small regions, like equatorial nations to be affected by climate change. Instead, it means that if it occurs, it will merely be a significant event in the course of our lives—or not. The eco-extremists mostly seem to agree on this point. MictlanTepetli, the propagandist I spoke with, said, “Of course, if the opportunity presents itself and we find a sector of the city destroyed by civil war or similar catastrophe, we would be committed to rewilding that place, that goes without saying.” This is, across the board, the position of the people I work with. It makes no sense to stand idly by. But some eco-extremist communiques say that revolution is absolutely impossible, and they are sure of it. This I cannot say is true factually; we simply cannot know, and that is the most anyone can say about it. It is enough to say that it matters little whether revolution will occur. As one eco-extremist text put it:

Yes, eco-extremists are pessimists and sadly we have concluded that the destruction of civilization is impossible. The only one capable of inflicting serious harm on civilization, or better to destroy it, is Wild Nature herself. So then, what is to be done? Twiddle your thumbs and wait? Watch civilization spread far and wide destroying all Wild places, without doing anything? NEVER!

Of course, as I’ve written before, the eco-extremists more than anyone would be able to take advantage of instability, revolutionary or not. Consider the Bolsheviks. Lenin kept the party highly insulated from the rest of the society they were seeking to destroy, resisting dominant propaganda and exacerbating this disloyalty with conspiratorial work. He also instigated several consistent projects, like an “all-Russia newspaper,” which taught the revolutionaries how to coordinate just as they learned how to exploit tension by actually doing so when trade unions revolted or went on strike. Not by waiting did they succeed, only by doing. The Jihadists function in a similar way. Of course, much of this is irrelevant to eco-radical philosophy and values, particularly the mass nature of Leninist strategy, but the point stands: one learns by acting now, nothing less. And again, this is true not only in a revolutionary situation. Natural disasters, uncontacted tribes fighting in a savage manner against the civilized, and many other aspects of nature fighting back are a part of the eco-radical fight. As the eco-extremists put it:

Eco-extremism is the armed resistance of Amazon tribes in their war against the logging, oil, and mining industries; it is the arrows of isolated tribesman fired at helicopters in Africa; it is the continuation of pagan belief which resists total Christianization; it is the resistance of the individual against domestication manifested in criminal activities; it is the tornado, the earthquake, the fierceness of the last coyotes, the hostility of elephants, the bee who stings and lets loose her stinger before dying. Eco-extremism is the violent defense of the same Wild Nature: her reaction, her answer, her power.

4      BIBLIOGRAPHY

Caradonna, J., Borowy, I., Green, T., Victor, P., Cohen, M., Gow, A., . . . Vergragt, P. (2015). A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique. Resilience.org.

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Jacobi, J. (2016). The foundations of wildist ethics. Hunter/Gatherer, 1(1).

Jacobi, J. (2016). The question of revolution. Hunter/Gatherer, 1(3).

Kaczynski, T. J. (2010). Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore John Kaczynski, a.k.a “The Unabomber”. (D. Skrbina, Ed.) Feral House.

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Peters, G., Marland, G., Quere, C., Boden, T., Canadell, J., & Raupach, M. (2012). Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Nature Climate Change, 2, 2-4.

Sageman, M. (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Slovic, P. (2007). “If I look at the mass I will never act”: Psychic numbing and genocide. Judgment and Decision Making, 2(2), 79-95.

Último Reducto. (2009). Con Amigos Como Éstos…: Último Reducto vs. Los Amigos de Ludd.

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