This is an article I originally wrote for Atassa: Readings in Eco-Extremism, a journal published from the East Bay. I am republishing it here because ITS, the terror group that is the main subject of the article (and the journal) is rapidly spreading — it now has cells in Mexico, Finland, Greece, Italy, and various parts of Latin America. It seemed appropriate to give more information to those interested in the origins of the group.
Many parts of this article are outdated. For example, I no longer use the stale and awkward moniker “wildist,” and I’m not trying to start any kind of revolution. Nevertheless, the article gives the best look so far at the fastest growing anti-civilization tendency today. For a more updated take, see “Preface to Repent to the Primitive” and my interview on Popular Front podcast.
Several years ago when I left high school, I became a homeless anarchist and during that time was introduced to the works of Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber.” The pointed arguments in the man’s manifesto convinced me (unsettling for me when, halfway through it, I learned of the author), and, more important, put words to many of the problems I had with the world around me. In response, I began several failed projects and then started one that stuck, The Wildernist, which I used as a means to get connected with some of Kaczynski’s associates in Spain—the editors of Último Reducto (UR), Anonimos con Cautela (AC), and Isumatag, who I will call indomitistas. Eventually I succeeded, and my conversations with the groups, especially UR, introduced me to a landscape of eco-radical ideologies hidden to the ignorant observer.
For example, around this time, I learned more about ITS. My knowledge until that point went only as far as this: they were a terrorist group in Mexico who had been inspired heavily by Ted Kaczynski, differing from him only in that they didn’t espouse revolution, and who had produced eight communiques, which I had read. Some missing pieces of the puzzle quickly revealed their origins. First, I learned that the main project of the Spaniards thus far has been translating Kaczynski’s works into languages other than English. The Portuguese version finished up just as I had started corresponding with the group, which explains why Kaczynski requested a Portuguese-English dictionary from me several months before. But the Spanish version had been finished by UR long ago—and published right around the time that ITS appeared on the scene. In the back of this edition was an essay by UR, “Izquierdismo,” which I translated for the second issue of The Wildernist.
All this indicated, just as we had all suspected, that ITS was a group of amateur criminals who found the ideas appealing, but who were responding primarily to Kaczynski’s call for revolution—and in disagreement with it. UR himself voiced these suspicions in his critique of ITS, written right around their fifth communique, and which marked a drastic change in their discourse, as one can observe by reading the sixth, seventh, and eight communiques. Later, the suspicions were confirmed when ITS published their fullest critique of the indomitistas to date, “Algunas respuestas sobre el presente y NO del futuro” (link trans. to English). They note that they were indeed influenced by UR and Kaczynski, and that they vigorously disagree with the idea of revolution, preferring instead to act now as terrorists. Only later would they explain the ideological foundations of this view, which I will explain more fully later on.
The indomitistas, especially UR, are not fans of ITS, and they do not want to be connected to them. Indeed, UR seems to view ITS as a thorn in his side, not a tolerable splinter group. Nevertheless, I noticed that the eco-extremists continued to use language and terms that the indomitistas had been using and that I had made known through my popularizing them in The Wildernist: progressivist, humanist, etc. I also became weary of UR. While brilliant, he is difficult to work with, sometimes naïve, unnecessarily incendiary… To illustrate, one might note that his critique of ITS—a terror group—began with a note on their grammatical inconsistencies. And in his critiques of my own writings, he would take great, exaggerated issue with phrases like “more or less” because of their ambiguity. It was getting to be a bit much, and I felt I could be more effective as an autonomous actor. So I broke away. The result was Hunter/Gatherer journal and a more popular growth of wildism, another unique take in the family of ideologies related to Kaczynski’s anti-industrial critique.
As the wildists grew, we changed our discourse in places that we disagreed with the indomitistas, such as the ubiquitous use of the ill-defined term, “leftism.” Instead, we used the terms “progressivism,” “opportunism,” and “humanism.” To our surprise, ITS followed suit. Other aspects of our language also appeared in ITS’ communiques, magazine, blogs, and texts. It seemed that even if there were disagreements, some eco-extremists read and were influenced by the newsletter and the wildist tendency.
In other words, although there are sharp lines delineating complicity and ideological loyalty between the groups, the content of the ideologies differ in what would appear to the outsider as cause for only minor squabbles. Indeed, should any group burst from their obscurity, they would probably be known most by their common influence and primary progenitor, Ted Kaczynski. And this is not entirely unjustified, since each of the actors are, due to inherent ideological similarities, drawn to pay attention to the others. A map of influence, then, would look very much like a tangled web, one that this essay will explore.
Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” is a U.S. terrorist known for his 17-year bombing campaign as the terror group F.C., which targeted individuals involved in technical fields like computing and genetics.
In early 1995, the New York Times received a communique from F.C. in the mail:
This is a message from F.C.…we are getting tired of making bombs. It’s no fun having to spend all your evenings and weekends preparing dangerous mixtures, filing trigger mechanisms out of scraps of metal or searching the sierras for a place isolated enough to test a bomb. So we offer a bargain.
The bargain offered by the group was simple: publish its manifesto, and it will stop sending bombs.
The manifesto, entitled Industrial Society and Its Future, was a 35,000 word polemic detailing the threats that industrial society posed to freedom and wild nature. At the crux of the document’s analysis was a concept called “the power process,” or an innate human need to engage in autonomous goal setting and achievement. Despite this psychological necessity, “in modern industrial society, only minimal effort is necessary to satisfy one’s physical needs.” As a result of the mismatch between human need and industrial conditions, modern life is rife with depression, helplessness, and despair, and although some people can offset these side-effects with “surrogate activities,” the manifesto says that these are often undignifying, menial tasks. Interestingly, these concepts have numerous parallels in contemporary psychology, the most notable similar idea being Martin Seligman’s concept of learned helplessness.
Ultimately, the manifesto extols the autonomy of individuals and small groups from the control of technology and large organizations, and it offers the hunter-gatherer way of life as a vision of what that kind of autonomy might look like. Still, the end of the manifesto only argues for the practical possibility of revolution against industry (rather than a complete return to hunter-gatherer life), and it outlines some steps to form a movement capable of carrying out that revolution.
Hoping that it would allow someone to identify the perpetrator, the FBI encouraged the New York Times and Washington Post to publish F.C.’s manifesto. The two newspapers took the advice, and the manifesto was soon published as an eight-page insert to the Washington Post, with publication costs partly funded by the Times.
The FBI was right about the manifesto: it did help someone identify the author. Shortly after the work’s publication, David Kaczynski contacted a lawyer to share his suspicion that the Unabomber was his brother, Ted. After examining the submitted evidence, the FBI raided the man’s home, finding everything they needed to put him on trial for the crimes of the Unabomber.
After a circus of a trial, Kaczynski ended up pleading guilty to the Unabomber crimes, and in turn he was given a life sentence and sent off to the Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado.
The response to the manifesto, while certainly not without a fair share of criticism, included many positive comments from well-adapted and successful members of society. One of these people, Bill Joy, was the inventor of the Java programming language and the founder of Sun Microsystems. In other words, he could easily have received a bomb from F.C. Yet in 2000 Joy wrote his now-famous essay “Why the future doesn’t need us,” in which he describes his troubled surprise when he read an incisive passage on the threat new technologies pose — only to discover that the passage was pulled from the Unabomber Manifesto. “He is clearly a Luddite,” Joy writes, “but simply saying this does not dismiss his argument; as difficult as it is for me to acknowledge, I saw some merit in [his] reasoning…”
Other reactions have been similar. Journalist and science writer Robert Wright famously stated, “There’s a little bit of the Unabomber in most of us.” And political scientist and UCLA professor James Q. Wilson, the man behind the famous “broken windows theory,” wrote in the New York Times that the manifesto was “a carefully reasoned, artfully written paper… If it is the work of a madman, then the writings of many political philosophers — Jean Jacques Rousseau, Tom Paine, Karl Marx — are scarcely more sane.”
Perhaps most striking, however, was how much the general public expressed adoration and fascination with the Unabomber. “I’ve never seen the likes of this,” said one criminologist, “Millions of people … seem to identify in some way with him.” Kaczynski was arrested and on trial during the early age of the internet, and fan websites quickly popped up all over, including the famous Usenet group, alt.fan.unabomber. Stickers appeared that said “Ted Kaczynski has a posse”; t-shirts appeared that had the famous Unabomber sketch and the word “dad” printed on it; and many organisations contributed to a nationwide Unabomber for President campaign. “Don’t blame me,” one campaign ad said, “I voted for the Unabomber.”
Even now Kaczynski has his open advocates. For example, David Skrbina, a philosophy of technology professor at the University of Michigan, corresponded with Kaczynski for years, edited a book by him, and has written several essays supporting genuine engagement with Kaczynski’s works. One of the essays is provocatively entitled “A Revolutionary for Our Times.”
So as uncomfortable as this might make some, the man’s terrorism was profoundly successful at getting his ideas in front of an enormous population. Not only was the manifesto published, in full, by the New York Times and Washington Post, it was also published in numerous smaller publications; it was placed all over the internet, including one of the first internet portals, Time Warner’s Pathfinder; it was stored in government and legal databases and archives that would ensure his ideas lived on indefinitely; and it elicited the insight and commentary of countless intellectuals and public figures, among other things. In all, the manifesto reached an astoundingly large audience, which mostly consisted of everyday Americans, and which ensured that even if no individual or group took the ideas seriously immediately after publication, it would remain stored in countless places, waiting for potential future actors to be inspired. As of yet, no one has suggested a plausible alternative that Kaczynski could have taken to publish his text with the same amount of influence, response, and immortality that he achieved through his terrorism. As Skrbina puts it, ‘In the end, we are appalled by Kaczynski — because he won.’
But Kacynski is still alive, and may win even more battles before his death. Since his arrest and imprisonment in 1995, he has cultivated an impressive network of penpals that includes professors, artists, scientists, authors, and some activists. The most interesting group in this network, however, are the indomitistas, or converts to Kaczynski’s ideology who are dedicated to doing the necessary work of revolution.
Well-numbered, the group’s primary influencers are the editors of UR and Isumatag, publications in Spain advocating Kaczynski’s anti-industrial revolution. Other public representatives of the group include Anonimos con Cautela from Mexico and some blogs run by Portuguese indomitistas.
As noted before, much of the indomitistas’ work was not particularly original. Indeed, they mostly worked on menial tasks, like translating Kaczynski’s manifesto into Spanish and Portuguese, or rehashing the specifics of Kaczynski’s ideology in their publications.
But there was one original effort they worked closely with Kaczynski on, and it was primarily lead by UR: they were engaged in an ongoing process of formalizing their ideology, with philosophical and scientific rigor, rather than with the flatter and more populist rhetoric Kaczynski himself used in his manifesto and other propaganda.
I hesitate to explain the specifics of the indomitistas’ take on their ideology, because the best word to describe the group is “picky”—in fact, not all of them even like the term “indomitista.” Attempting to outline their beliefs is an exercise in futility, because inevitably some small aspect will be wrong, misstated, or not stated just right, to which some individual, probably the editor of UR, will respond saying in an exaggerated manner that the outline was damaging to the cause.
It is best, then, for me to forego a broad overview for a concrete example that will illustrate exactly what the indomitistas were trying to do. It was, to put it simply, an exegesis of Kaczynski’s manifesto. (This is why ITS’ epithet for the indomitistas, the “apostles of Kaczynski,” has pointed accuracy.)
For example, in Industrial Society and Its Future he writes:
- By “freedom” we mean the opportunity to go through the power process, with real goals not the artificial goals of surrogate activities, and without interference, manipulation or supervision from anyone, especially from any large organization. Freedom means being in control (either as an individual or as a member of a small group) of the life-and-death issues of one’s existence: food, clothing, shelter and defense against whatever threats there may be in one’s environment. Freedom means having power; not the power to control other people but the power to control the circumstances of one’s own life. One does not have freedom if anyone else (especially a large organization) has power over one, no matter how benevolently, tolerantly and permissively that power may be exercised. It is important not to confuse freedom with mere permissiveness (see paragraph 72).
But later, when Professor Skrbina worked with him to publish a collection of his writings, he added a postscript noting that some aspects of his manifesto were outdated or somewhat wrong. He specifically mentions his definition of freedom above:
Último Reducto has recently called attention to some flaws in my work, [some] serious. …in the second and third sentences of paragraph 94 of ISAIF I wrote: [see above]. But obviously people have never had such control to more than a limited extent. They have not, for example, been able to control bad weather, which in certain circumstances can lead to starvation. So what kind and degree of control do people really need? At a minimum they need to be free of “interference, manipulation or supervision…from any large organization,” as stated in the first sentence of paragraph 94. But if the second and third sentences meant no more than that, they would be redundant.
So there is a problem here in need of a solution. I’m not going to try to solve it now, however. For the present let it suffice to say that ISAIF is by no means a final and definitive statement in the field that it covers. Maybe some day I or someone else will be able to offer a clearer and more accurate treatment of the same topics.
To resolve this problem, UR advocated dropping the term “freedom” completely and replacing it with the term “wildness.” Under his framework, there was capital-N “Nature,” all that is, the same way the physicists would use the word. Some of this Nature is dominated by humans or technics, called “artifice”; other aspects of Nature remain untrammeled by humans or technics, called “wild Nature.” UR argued that this framework was a better one to express the ideology, because “freedom” is too ambiguous: freedom from what, freedom to do what, and freedom for whom?
UR pointed out that Kaczynski already implicitly answered these questions in his manifesto.
- But an ideology, in order to gain enthusiastic support, must have a positive ideal as well as a negative one; it must be for something as well as against something. The positive ideal that we propose is Nature. That is, wild nature: Those aspects of the functioning of the Earth and its living things that are independent of human management and free of human interference and control. And with wild nature we include human nature, by which we mean those aspects of the functioning of the human individual that are not subject to regulation by organized society but are products of chance, or free will, or God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions).
- Nature makes a perfect counter-ideal to technology for several reasons. Nature (that which is outside the power of the system) is the opposite of technology (which seeks to expand indefinitely the power of the system). Most people will agree that nature is beautiful; certainly it has tremendous popular appeal. The radical environmentalists already hold an ideology that exalts nature and opposes technology. It is not necessary for the sake of nature to set up some chimerical utopia or any new kind of social order. Nature takes care of itself: It was a spontaneous creation that existed long before any human society, and for countless centuries many different kinds of human societies coexisted with nature without doing it an excessive amount of damage. Only with the Industrial Revolution did the effect of human society on nature become really devastating. To relieve the pressure on nature it is not necessary to create a special kind of social system, it is only necessary to get rid of industrial society. Granted, this will not solve all problems. Industrial society has already done tremendous damage to nature and it will take a very long time for the scars to heal. Besides, even preindustrial societies can do significant damage to nature. Nevertheless, getting rid of industrial society will accomplish a great deal. It will relieve the worst of the pressure on nature so that the scars can begin to heal. It will remove the capacity of organized society to keep increasing its control over nature (including human nature). Whatever kind of society may exist after the demise of the industrial system, it is certain that most people will live close to nature, because in the absence of advanced technology there is no other way that people can live. To feed themselves they must be peasants, or herdsmen, or fishermen, or hunters, etc. And, generally speaking, local autonomy should tend to increase, because lack of advanced technology and rapid communications will limit the capacity of governments or other large organizations to control local communities.
- It is true that primitive man is powerless against some of the things that threaten him; disease for example. …But threats to the modern individual tend to be man-made. They are not the results of chance but are imposed on him by other persons whose decisions he, as an individual, is unable to influence. Consequently he feels frustrated, humiliated and angry.
Here is becomes clearer what kind of freedom Kaczynski is talking about: the ability for nature, including man’s nature, to function with relatively little domination from other men or their technical systems. In other words, he advocates wildness.
Though this seems like a pedantic point, the distinction counts as a time when the pickiness of the indomitistas was beneficial, since there are some vital differences between “freedom” and “wildness” that ITS later touches on in their communiques. Indeed, although ITS shuns excessive theorizing, it actually does function from a fairly thorough theoretical basis that was strongly influenced by Kaczynski and the indomitistas.
For example, there is a difference between advocating freedom from an oppressive government and advocating wildness for human nature and society. In fact, if it is in man’s nature to form oppressive governments, then the two would be synonymous. Analogously, one might consider the absurdity of advocating a wolf pack’s liberation from the tyranny of the alpha wolf, because the alpha wolf structure is manifestly an expression of their natures, and to enforce something contrary to their natural tendencies would require taming or eventually domesticating them.
Both the indomitistas and the eco-extremists also advocate the distinction because of the way it distinguishes eco-radical demands from the demands of green ideologies influenced by dominant values. For example, anarcho-primitivism advocates what it calls “liberation” in the context of gender, race, class, and animal moral standing; but Kaczynski (and the indomitistas) argue that the natural, primitive human being sometimes lived in societies that treated animals cruelly, had strict gender roles, were ethnocentric, and were stratified to a degree more severe than the primitivists would be willing to admit. Of course, not all societies had all of these elements, but since some did, and in their natural condition, then a group advocating the restoration of wild human nature would not be able to espouse moralities that would require hypocritical technical coercion to enforce.
The indomitistas, point by point, combed the same intellectual razor through the entire manifesto, eventually creating a glossary of theoretical terms like “Progress,” “progressivism,” “humanism,” “leftism,” and “techno-industrial society.” They also formalized the moral foundations of Kaczynski’s critique by, intentionally or not, drawing on an age-old philosophical distinction between “natural” and “artificial” values. The specifics of the ideas are explained in UR’s untranslated dialogue, entitled Con Amigos Como Éstos, with a neo-Luddite group in Spain, and all of them strongly influenced the eco-extremists, especially in their first phase as ITS.
ITS issued its first communique in 2011, and the influence of Kaczynski and the indomitistas was immediately obvious to anyone familiar with their writings. Indeed, that the indomitistas had just finished the official Spanish translation of Industrial Society and Its Future helps explain why ITS decided that then, of all times, was the moment to act.
But ITS was never as enamored with the strict Kaczynski line as the indomitistas were. Their initial communiques even featured aspects typical of left-wing discourse, like substituting the a and o in gendered nouns for x, which the indomitistas had already unequivocally distanced themselves from. They also, wittingly or not, seemed heavily influenced by anarchist insurrectionist theory, even though they deny as much in a response to Isumatag’s critique of them.
Despite the mild syncretism, by and large the ITS of 2011-2014 only rehashed Kaczynski’s core arguments and the other, secondary clarifications the indomitistas had added since then. They spoke of the power process and “Dominadora” (a term important to UR’s early work), and they even mimicked the foonote-heavy, academic style typical of Kaczynski and his followers.
They made clear, however, that they had one major reservation with Kaczynski’s ideology: they did not believe that revolution against the techno-industrial system was possible. Their reasoning at the time was mostly practical. Techno-industrial society, they said, was like a many-headed hydra that could not be defeated in the simplistic manner that Kaczynski imagined, and he probably only still believes in revolution because he is unfamiliar with how rapidly the 21st century embraced biotechnology, computing technologies, and artificial intelligence.
The indomitistas, predictably, did not react very well to this, but at first they gave what was, for them, a surprising amount of leeway in their critiques of ITS. UR, for example, though harsh, explicitly avoided the “worn and generally sterile debate” about violence, and he seemed to want to correct misconceptions more than condemn and distance himself from the group. But ITS only became more convinced of its disbelief in revolution, dog-whistling as much in their communiques until they finally acknowledged in public that they had been responding to the indomitistas all along. This “exchange” of sorts ended bitterly. ITS began mocking the indomitistas as the “apostles of Kaczynski,” proudly declaring themselves heretics who were not so naive as to believe in revolution. UR speaks of the group now with very little concern for politeness. And in his very first letter to me, Kaczynski condemned the group and disavowed any relationship to them.
As ITS realized it wasn’t going to convince the indomitistas, they rebranded themselves Reaccion Salvaje and enlisted other eco-terror groups nearby under the same moniker. The ideological turn was stark. Although they still used Kaczynski’s general framework to critique industrial society, they now put concerted effort into distinguishing themselves from the man and, of the indomitistas, UR in particular. They stopped using terms like “the power process,” unique to the Unabomber Manifesto, and developed their own terms like “hyper-artificial.” They also abandoned the apostles’ signature writing style for more colloquial communiques and began expressing complex theoretical ideas in easy-to-understand, populist terms. For example, earlier in their history they went to great lengths to explain why they fought even though they believed it was likely, or perhaps even definite, that they would die or be imprisoned by the end of it; with their new phase, they abandoned carefully reasoned arguments (at least in their communiques) for an elegant analogy: We, they write, are like the bee who stings its enemy even when that sting means certain death. And by most measures, this was a definite advance for their cause, since most people do not have the wherewithal to comb through the morass of abstractions that was their original rhetorical style.
Most importantly, a few core aspects of their doctrine changed. For example, whereas their argument against revolution began as a mostly practical one, as they transitioned into Reaccion Salvaje, they emphasized that revolution was undesirable even if it were possible. They noted how revolutions are aberrations of modernity, only possible because of a distorted view that the mass imbues the individual with meaning. But they were not attempting to respect the masses, to progress, to revolt; they were ready to disregard the mass for the individual completely, to regress, to react. Their decision to engage in terrorism transformed from a mere expression of hopelessness at the failed prospects of revolution and into a celebration of individual resistance. Terrorism was to them now an act of rewilding their own natures.
With their now-total embrace of a terroristic strategy—which they call a “war on nerves”—ITS changed on two other core doctrines distinguishing them from the indomitistas. The first was a move away from strict philosophical materialism, which did not accept the existence of anything supernatural, to a revivalist version of animism, which in the context of the Mexican eco-extremists amounted to reclaiming ancestral religious beliefs. This change was fundamental, since originally the group mimicked UR’s talk of objective Truth and condemnation of mysticism as a psychological abnormality. They wrote in their fourth communique:
ITS’ explanations do not have anything of magic, fantasy or mysticism, because Wild Nature like Technological Dominating Civilization are two aspects with great prominence today, although they daily enclose Nature, reducing it to nothing and to uncertainty.
For ITS, Nature is not a goddess, it is not our mother, nor anything like this, Nature is what it is, it is an objective and pointed absolute; to qualify it, adore it or idealize it would be to fall into irrational sacredness, which we are completely against.
These views and their differences are elaborated slightly in an interview I conducted with an eco-extremist propagandist, published in the sixth issue of the wildist journal Hunter/Gatherer. Ultimately, because the differences in metaphysical beliefs among eco-extremists is reduced to personal choice and does not significantly affect other aspects of the ideology, the change is not worth exploring more in-depth here. For now, it is sufficient to explain the change in terms of ITS’ new rhetorical framework: in rewilding their own natures, they would do the best they could to reclaim the belief systems natural to the human psychology, and they would not apologize for it.
This idea of rewilding human nature, however, did come with one last doctrinal revision that had a profound impact on ITS’ place among eco-radical ideologies. I speak of their infamous defense of “indiscriminate attack.” In their second phase as ITS, they write:
We salute those who attack indiscriminately this compromised society, just as we rejoice in the arrows that pierce the bodies of loggers in the Amazon and surrounding places. It fills us with joy when tornadoes destroy urban areas, as well as when storms flood and endanger defenseless citizens. The same is the case when we see those who freeze to death in the cold winter, or when we see people wounded in earthquakes, for these are responses and reactions as well to the Technological System and civilization. We learn from nature and its violent reactions. Nature doesn’t stop when faced with subways, or rural or urban buildings. It doesn’t respect the common citizen or the scientific specialist. It is relentless, it destroys everything in its path without consideration for morality. With this, we are personifying in animist style Wild Nature…
In other words, ITS had transformed the Kaczynskian framework into a family of ideologies that primarily functioned to justify a relentless terroristic strategy against human civilization. They had criticized the “apostles of Kaczynski” before for placing too much emphasis on critique, not enough on action; now they had perfectly merged doctrine and praxis, producing something that the global industrial system would never be able to absorb, as it does with most mass movements.
Around this same time, I was becoming disillusioned with the indomitistas and, with a small network of a few others, made a similar ideological break with them to outline the wildist philosophy. In the course of distinguishing ourselves, the new network of wildists abandoned the vague term “leftist,” redefined terms like “humanist” and “Progress” into something more exact, and emphasized the necessity to extend the conservation imperative to human nature, among other things. To our surprise, ITS followed suit in many of the same areas. To this day we remain mostly unaware of whether we were developing along a similar line as ITS concurrently, or whether we accidentally influenced them after we caught their eye when we publicly broke from their and our ideological progenitors. Regardless, it is clear that the ideologies have a strong family resemblance to each other, and this is significant because it helps explain the logical arguments that underpin the elegant but populist rhetoric eco-extremists now use in their communiques.
For example, the concept of “indiscriminate attack” is not an arbitrary doctrine, as many radical critics of the eco-extremists have implied. In fact, there is a very clear, very justified set of logical steps from the moral premises underpinning anti-progressive eco-radicalism and the praxis of indiscriminate attack. Let me explain.
After the network of wildists, known as the Wild Will Coalition, became an independent force, we emphasized the importance of “extending the conservation imperative” to human nature. We pointed out that there was an enormous disparity between the morality of the savage and the morality of the citizen. The savage has no loyalty to a mass society or its large organizations; his loyalty is only to his circle of close friends, family members, environments, etc.—a circle we referred to as relations, and UR referred to as the untranslatable allegados. In contrast, the citizen, especially in the current humanist phase of civilization, extends moral consideration to masses upon masses of people and subordinates himself to the institutions that sustain these masses.
Usually this is framed as human beings “self-actualizing” and expressing their natures. But Wild Will used ideas from sociobiology, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, anthropology, and many other fields and figures to show how it is more accurate to view the disparity between savage and citizen as a result of the cultivation of human nature, much like the disparity between wilderness and wheat fields is due to the cultivation of the land. Thus, to rewild, we must reject humanist morality—and any civilized morality that places too high value on the mass, like state nationalism or Christianity.
Kaczynski had already touched on these points before in Industrial Society and Its Future, but where the indomitistas only put effort into extracting values and value priorities from Kaczynski’s critique, Wild Will (and apparently the eco-extremists as well) investigated the repercussions these ideas would have on action.
For example, a common argument against anti-civilization politics states that the collapse of civilization would lead to widespread death and is therefore undesirable. Of course, the argument is already made weak if the anti-civ individual accepts that total and rapid civilizational collapse is extremely unlikely, leaving only regional collapses an assured part of the future. But it is made even weaker when we realize that, absent any other moral commitments, the basic ideas that justify anti-civ politics do not require us to be all that concerned with the masses, and the same ideas explicitly reject any imposed obligation to care.
Of course, there are many caveats to this, at least according to wildists. For example, it is not that the eco-radical must not care about the well-being of others in a sentimental sense. It is perfectly normal to respond to news of a starving child far away with sadness and empathy. What is peculiarly modern, however, is the obligation to extend active moral consideration to that child—and even to put him on the level of the closest of our relations. This is a demand that goes beyond our natural ability, so educational systems socialize us, inculcating us with what David Hume called “artificial values”; large organizations like NGOs or human rights councils fill in the gaps in natural human ability to act on these values; our natures must be further modified for the efficiency of those organizations; and so on.
Wildists addressed this problem by reminding themselves that the basic values of anti-civilization politics, in vulgar terms, created in them a willingness to see civilization collapse even if that meant returning to hunter/gatherer conditions. But if this is a true willingness, then our actions cannot be tempered in any way by moralities created by the social system for its own self-preservation. Kaczynski, for example, wrote that if we prioritize individuals and small groups over large organizations, we have ample reason to reject industrial society. But in true practice, this means being willing to see those large organizations burn, even violently, for the sake of that small group. Consider the way traditional societies or traditionalist ethnic groups botch industrial operations with nepotism or suspicion of police. Anti-civilization politics is similar, but more consciously antagonistic to the industrial operations.
So if we are to take ourselves seriously as opponents of civilization, we must be willing to act according to our values regardless of the repercussions these have on the things we feel no real loyalty to, even, perhaps even especially, when sentimental loyalty has been socialized into us. This approach to praxis applies equally well to revolutionary and non-revolutionary strategies: even if the institutions we hate will always exist, we do not have to respect them. The oft-repeated slogan within wildist circles, then, is to “act according to our values, without regard for civilization.”
Wildists are in practice not quite as extreme as the eco-extremists, however, for two reasons. One is that although our values, taken seriously, permit a large degree of moral latitude, pragmatic considerations more severely limit what we can do if we aim to be successful. For example, while it may not be morally condemnable to engage in some acts of violence, often those same acts would induce a response too harsh for a budding radical group to handle. Furthermore, even though we recognize that we must take our values seriously, and we believe that most humans who are indoctrinated with humanist moralities have been propagandized to believe such things, the facts of the situation demand a certain amount of tolerance on this front. Even a person logically convinced of every idea in wildism would find that the morality of the savage is so utterly contrary to everything he has been raised to believe that he cannot live by it as uncompromisingly as is ideal. As a result, there is a debate among wildists about how much tolerance we should have for people attempting to “extend the conservation imperative.” We tend to talk about a “tactical spectrum” where the most moderate live on one side and the most uncompromising on the other, and we’ve generally agreed that our role is to link each of these elements together wherever possible. As a result, wildists tend to inhabit the middle part of the spectrum.
The eco-extremists, on the other hand, take these same ideas and apply them in a less tempered and conservative way, and this is why they have so unapologetically defended indiscriminate attack. Unlike wildists, eco-extremists are not trying to build a coalition so much as inhabit the most extreme part of the spectrum as possible. Oddly enough, this idea comes from Kaczynski. He writes the following in his recent book on strategy and tactics for an anti-industrial movement:
If the goal of revolutionaries is the complete elimination of the technological society, then they must discard the values and the morality of that society and replace them with new values and a new morality designed to serve the purposes of revolution. Trotsky put it this way:
Bolshevism created the type of the authentic revolutionist who subordinates [his ideas and his moral judgments] to historic goals irreconcilable with contemporary society … . [T]he Bolshevik party created not only a political but a moral medium of its own, independent of bourgeois social opinion and implacably opposed to it. Only this permitted the Bolsheviks to overcome the waverings in their own ranks and reveal in action that courageous determination without which the October [Revolution] would have been impossible.
Suitable recruits to the revolutionary movement will include only those who are prepared to abandon the old values and morality and adopt in their place the revolutionary values and morality. The revolutionary message needs to be addressed to and designed for, not the general public, but the small minority of people who have the potential to become committed members of the revolutionary organization.
It follows that the revolutionaries should never retreat from their extreme positions for the sake of popularity or to avoid offending the moral or other sensibilities of the general public. If the revolutionary organization were to dilute its message or prevaricate in order to avoid offending people it would discourage its own members and lose their respect, weakening their commitment to the organization; it would lose the respect of the best kind of potential recruits while attracting many who were incapable of total commitment to the organization; and it would lose the respect of the general public. A revolutionary organization should seek not to be liked, but to be respected, and it should have no aversion to being hated and feared. Mao regarded hatred of a revolutionary organization as a sign that it was effective. It is to such an organization that many people will turn in a time of crisis when they have lost all confidence in the existing social order and are desperate or angry.
In sum, the eco-extremists defend indiscriminate attack because they are willing only to ally themselves with the most uncompromising, most rebellious, most extreme elements of techno-industrial society. And this strategy works. Consider the way al-Qaeda or the Islamic State have attracted young militants, to the detriment of the thousands of other radical Islamist groups, because they have a reputation of no compromise. It is likely that as the problems of civilization become more apparent, and as regional collapses start to become more frequent due to these crises (even if only temporarily), the individuals who wish to “go savage” in these conditions will see the eco-extremists, not the wildists, not the indomitistas, and not Kaczynski, as the network to join. I guess we’ll see.
So this is the landscape of the new eco-radicalism: Kaczynski the crusader, his apostles the indomitistas, and the heretics, wildists and eco-extremists. By now it should be clear that eco-extremists did not simply pop into the world with bombs and rhetoric; to the contrary, they are only the latest manifestation of a set of anti-civilization ideas that are spreading rapidly. This new eco-radicalism is not the stale ecological politic of mainstream environmentalism, nor is it like the weak and compromising “radical” ideologies like primitivism or eco-socialism. No, this is anti-civilization politics taken seriously: a full rejection of not just the material basis of civilized society, but the moral and philosophical basis too. Of course, at the moment these new eco-radicals look like lone prophets in the wilderness, or worse, lost lepers there. But this is only because of how fundamentally contrary the new values run to the values of civility—an accomplishment, not a failure. And as climate change, antimicrobial resistance, mass surveillance, species extinctions, etc.—the problems central to the ideology—continue to dominate the politics of the twenty-first century, we can only expect the values to spread further. The only question that remains is which approach will take on. Will it be the traditional revolutionary approach of Kaczynski? The coalition-building approach of the wildists? Or will it be the savagery and terror of the eco-extremists?
As someone who keeps up with conversations about these questions within various radical ecological subcultures, I believe that the eco-extremists are being underestimated. People seem to believe that the eco-extremist strategy does not work, and, to the partial fault of the eco-extremists themselves, there is a general feeling that the ideologies claiming the name have no strong foundation. Anarchist commentators, for example, frequently liken the terror cells to angsty boys enamored with Nietzsche and lusting for blood in place of unrequited sexual lust. But I hope to have eliminated both criticisms. Clearly, the eco-extremist strategy has a logic to it, and some interesting historical precedents; and certainly the eco-extremist ideologies share a solid philosophical foundation. Whether that is all due to their own rigor and creativity or whether it is simply a residual effect of the indomitistas’ work remains to be seen. Practically, though, it does not quite matter. So long as they continue on their current path, they may well be the tendency that defines eco-radicalism in the 21st century.