In the liminal period between dropping out of college and pursuing my uncivilization project, I wrote Repent to the Primitive and learned an important thing about my writing process: I need to go batshit insane. During the weeks that I wrote that book, I lived a sort of bohemian monkish existence, barely sleeping or showering, taking loads of LSD, smoking a bunch of cigarettes, and only eating when I really had to. The words poured out in a sort of ecstasy, and while the lack of rewriting and revising affected the quality of the end-product, I’m pretty damn happy with it.
Now I am about to begin a project similar to the uncivilization one (although this one doesn’t involve dropping out of society), and to spark it off I’m going to do another bohemian monkish existence thing so I can puke out the first draft of The Idols of Civilization. But for that I need some financial assistance. Don’t worry, this time I’m not taking loads of LSD; this time I’m gonna try wine.
To persuade you to donate, I’ve provided some information about the book below: (1) a provisional table of contents; and (2) a provisional introduction. Everything is in rough form right now, and will be for quite a while until all the research is finished, but you will get the gist of the ideas.
Table of Contents (Provisional)
- Preface – brief summary of main argument, context of Repent, my story, purpose of this book to provide whitepaper for the thought behind a 21st century anti-industrial politic — but, importantly, does not cover every subject, can’t be a textbook, only a deep outline of how the pieces connect together.
- There are corresponding internal (psychological) and external (material) effects of the development of civilization. Looked at this way, we may be able to diagnose our civilization psychologically, and thereby explain why collapse, which seems now to be a material necessity, is also a cultural and individual necessity
- [Acknowledgement of potential critiques, and responses ?]
- Preliminaries – [In this book I argue from the basic assumptions of the Western Mind — materialism, division of knowledge into fields like psychology and anthropology, scientific reasoning, etc. — but it is important to emphasize that I strongly believe that other systems of thinking can explain and have explained these concepts with different language and mythologies, and often these frameworks access something I can’t. Still, I use the basic assumptions I do partially because they are becoming the assumptions of our global culture and because they are the ones with which I am most acquainted. This part of the book explains how I extract my assumptions and framework from the “Lo!” the ultimately inarticulable core of my thought, which starts becoming articulable with the oneness of “nature/will”]
- Nature / Will
- Wildness and Domestication – mild revision of nature/artifice distinction
- Parable of the Magician – I am assuming civilization is a natural phenomenon in the sense that other evolutionary developments are natural; but that doesn’t mean civilization always exists, no more than species exists, or stays the same, any more than species stay the same… etc.
- The environmental effects of progress and development have been well-established. <here: some ideas from “A Promised Future” in Repent>
- With these effects there have been corresponding psychological impacts. These are not just accidental; many are absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the societies we have created. Civilizing Process – biological basis of human behavior and thought, neoteny, civility and development, manipulation through metaphor, biology of altruism, shepherds and herds
- [Technological civilization: humanism, progressivism, world society ?]
- The Wild Will
- It is well-established that the means of fighting the environmental damage of civilization is to increase the wildness qualities of the land: bigger, more connected. Overview of rewilding idea. We might call this the land becoming possessed by the wild.
- Human being possessed by the wild will is a process of ascending to the top of all Jungian archetypal pyramids, psychological repair, psychoanalytic framework generally
- tikkun olam aspect
- “Free spirit” aspect
- Character Magic – anarchic psychotherapy
- Conclusion: Coming Home
Note: I hope to eventually reshape this into more popular prose, but I’m still just outlining the ideas, so I’m sure you understand.
We typically understand the history of civilization as a series of events in our outer-world, like the transformation of wild forests into tillable fields. The various critics of civilization, then, tend to focus on the politics of the outer-world, such as the conservation of wildlands. But while the outer-world is an essential aspect of civilized development, it is not the complete picture. Agricultural practices have not just torn up wildlands, polluted the environment, and transformed the economy; they and other technological innovations have had corresponding effects on the human mind, and, as a result, on human culture.
Since Marx theories of culture tend to explain the organization and mythology of a society by referencing only its material basis: its geographical context, it technological powers, its means of acquiring and producing food. Because these are so basic factors to a culture’s survival, the theories suggest that they will always be the primary shaper of a society’s organization and mythologies.
But imagine a farmer who has a wild forest next to his pasture. If he has a capable body, he could certainly choose to hunt and gather. The material circumstances permit a wide range of possibilities. But almost always the real counterparts of our hypothetical farmer feel trapped: to them, the pasture is all there is, the only possibility.
Marxism and cultural materialism are therefore insufficient for explaining why cultures take the form they do, because they ignore the biopsychological side of behavior. The farmer could hunt and gather, but for whatever combination of reasons he is fixated on the farming way of life. The artificial environment has shaped him through a cultural evolutionary process, encouraging unhealthy psychological patterns that keep him locked into the social system. This, of course, is not because the social system has acquired a conspiratorial intention of control. The world just works that way: evolutionarily.
Place a forest organism in a marsh and the organism and marsh will begin to shape each other. In the original Darwinian framework, the marsh works exclusively on the organism, selecting traits that make it adapted to the new environment. In reality, the organism’s interaction with the environment itself imposes evolutionary pressures — like the way deer overpopulate in the absence of large predators. Either way, the point stands that the form the world takes is through an interactive process, each component pushing and pulling at the other, shaping the other more successfully if it holds a more powerful position. It tends to be true that the environment holds more power than the organism on the whole. I do not think it unreasonable to propose, like the Marxists and cultural materialists, that always the environment is a primary determinant of the biology, psychology, and behavior of the organism.
If this is true, then we can see clearly how our artificial environments trap us. Take a human — an organism adapted to hunting and gathering — and place him in an artificially constructed farming environment. This new environment demands certain behaviors from the human, instills in him certain patterns of life and psychological tendencies. Ortega y Gasset writes:
The hunter does not look tranquilly in one determined direction, sure beforehand that the game will pass in front of him. The hunter knows that he does not know what is going to happen… thus he needs to prepare an attention with does not consist in riveting itself on the presumed but consists precisely in not presuming anything and in avoiding inattentiveness. It is a ‘universal’ attention, which does not inscribe itself on any point and tries to be on all points.
But what would farming do to a man’s attention? How would his myths change with the shift from a forest developing outside his control, to a pasture that dies and is reborn according to his labor?
Consider, for example, the process of acquiring food under hunting/gathering conditions and under farming conditions. The hunter/gatherer engages every aspect of his mind and body; the farmer plows, and thereby denies aspects of his bodily health by necessity. This in turn creates a psychology that reinforces his degradation. After several years of plowing the hunter-turned-farmer is not at full capacity, and, already fixated on farming life, he now feels ever more dependent. How could he become a hunter with the body of a farmer? he thinks, and loses the will to make himself. He becomes infected with a learned helplessness.
What has happened? The farmer, an organism as natural as the organisms he breeds, has himself been cultivated by his agricultural way of life. He has undergone a civilizing process.
We might say that man possesses a will with a drive to flourish. He cannot choose his will, neither is the will a totally blank slate on which nature and man inscribe desires. Rather, the primitive will is like a landscape, and like a landscape the highs and lows of the terrain limit how, exactly, it can be modified. One can run a train through the mountain, and this comes with the benefit of more efficient travel; but it also destroys aspects of the mountain’s ecology and degrades its beauty. In every similar situation, the task of man is to assess the trade-offs. Few if any cases are totally good or totally bad. The question is whether they are good enough.
Life in civilization demands from man more than his primitive will can give, so he has had to become civilized, tamed — though not quite domesticated. Nomadic hunter/gatherers have successfully entered civilization, but entry is a process of education and cultivation; the beliefs and behaviors of modern humans are not the product of the womb.
Sophisticated progressivists recognize that the development of civilization has been jagged: civilizations collapse, regression occurs, stagnation halts development. Still, the civilizing project has more or less continued, and in the process material conditions select for the most efficient methods of moral or behavioral cultivation. As these methods arise, the need for large-scale social transformations dissipates, and what was once a great cultural project is achieved through childhood education. Man before the Middle Ages lacked even the most basic of manners; man after could only conceive of the unmannered as savage.
But the civilizing process does not work perfectly. On the one hand, it has not reached everyone at the same level of efficiency. On the other, some possess particularly indomitable wills, resistant to methods that work well enough to sustain cultural mores, not well enough to fashion the specific individual in the required way. “There are some who can live without wild things,” Aldo Leopold writes, “and there are some who cannot.” The indomitable ones are those who cannot.
They are repeatedly present throughout history. We can see the Wild Will in native resistance to colonization; in the Maroons, slaves who escaped captivity to live in the jungles and the forests; the Sentinelese, who respond violently to any civilized excursion into their land. We can also see it in profoundly civilized peoples. In 1753, in the midst of a “going native” phenomenon among American colonists, Benjamin Franklin noted that white captives freed from Native hands did not wish to stay long:
Tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English…in short time they become disgusted with our manner of life…and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods.
It goes on. John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Hanshan, Geronimo, Ishi, William Kidd — again and again the Wild Will possesses individuals and places them in direct conflict with the surrounding civilized world. Something here is ineradicable, and even those who do not agree must contend with it.
The civilizing process was at first to be a mere result of circumstance, such as the conditions of farming life, and force, such as the conquests of early agricultural peoples to expand their lands. In the contemporary world, however, the civilizing process is the result of multiple, interlocking systems of control, with taxing results.
The problem reveals itself through a simple thought experiment: what aspect of your daily routine doesn’t make somebody money? Very little, probably. And in trade there is an incentive to colonize every aspect of the consumer’s life that will turn a greater profit or increase efficiency. Google wants your attention; the university, your time; work, your labor. More, the story of technoindustrial development since WWII demonstrates a process of constant expansion, constant and total colonization at an awe-inducing speed. Previously private domains, like social relationships, are now directed by technicians at social media companies and the incantations of their behavioral sciences. The individual, as a result, is left in an anxious state, pulled in many directions and sucked of independence and creativity, or dazed and confused into a stupor until the end of his day, when he finds himself drained of any energy to exert for his own will.
Being pulled at all sides by obligations and rules and psychological manipulation has a negative impact. The need for autonomy from these is so crucial that even relieving individuals of a few of the burdens has a positive effect on their wellbeing. For example, when patients are carefully attended to, health declines; but when the patients have the ability to control even small aspects of their life, the effect reverses. Prisons that allow prisoners to reposition furniture and TVs see fewer revolts and health problems. And individuals in homeless shelters that allow their residents to choose their food and bed are more likely to find an apartment or get a job.
Often the systems of control are nearly invisible, built into the fabric of daily life. Population management techniques, for example, are an essential part of civilization, both for mass events and heavily populated areas. Universities around the 1960s often designed confusing floorplans for new buildings to prevent vandalism among protesters. Metal studs on short cement walls prevent skateboarding. City planners sometimes specify that benches be divided by armrests so people cannot lay on them, or that bench seats tilt forward slightly to encourage people not to stay long. Municipal governments have figured out that only a few design elements, like large windows on buildings near sidewalks, low landscaping, and gapped fences, will deter crime by creating the illusion of surveillance.
In a similar vein, advertising employs behavioral psychology to determine which jingles will stay in consumers’ heads the longest or which brand images will translate to the most buys. This kind of manipulation is also used in physical spaces. For example, in well-designed stores, tiles will get smaller where there are products the store especially wants to sell, because it creates the illusion that the shopping buggy is going faster and causes customers to slow down.
Or, consider this insight on gas pump design by Lisa Margonelli:
Nobody gets up in the morning and thinks, “Wow! I’m going to go buy some three-carbon-to-12-carbon molecules to put in my tank and drive happily to work.” No, they think, “Ugh. I have to go buy gas. I’m so angry about it. The oil companies are ripping me off. They set the prices, and I don’t even know. I am helpless over this.” And this is what happens to us at the gas pump — and actually, gas pumps are specifically designed to diffuse that anger. You might notice that many gas pumps . . . are designed to look like ATMs. I’ve talked to engineers. That’s specifically to diffuse our anger, because supposedly we feel good about ATMs.
Elsewhere she explains that profits did go up after the redesign.
The varied nature and sources of these systems of control may give the impression that combating them is hopeless. But there seems to be a principal, though not singular, psychological mechanism that gives them force: the extension of man’s childhood phase into adulthood.
Unlike most other animals, who are completely or almost completely developed organisms at birth, humans are born with a striking amount of development remaining. The child, then, may seem to be leaving the womb, but in reality is only entering a larger, fiercer womb. The advantages for human problem solving and ingenuity are well-known. For example, children’s brains tend to have a more pliable quality, useful for learning about and adapting to the world around them. If human brains were fully developed at birth, it is unlikely that we would have as profound cultural powers as we do.
But the undeveloped status of the child mind also means that a proper environment during childhood development, especially in its earlier stages, is as important as a proper environment in the womb. For example, across cultures the instinctive behavior of the mother is to hold the child after birth; children who do not experience this have a greater risk of psychological problems. In other words, to separate the child from the mother immediately after birth is akin to a mother drinking during pregnancy, in the sense that it will have profound impacts on the development of the child. Yet in modern societies, separation after birth is common practice. Indeed, the whole of modern society seems unsuited to proper human development.
Paul Shepard, drawing from ideas in neotony, argued that civilization can exist because it can prolong the childhood stage of human development, allowing humans to be herded like cattle without being domesticated like cattle. Because children are prone to “magical thinking” that was once satisfied by glistening tree-leafs or intricate spider webs, civilizations can create highly artificial environments in which they replace these natural items with spectacles, logos, and stories that shape humans as needed for economic purposes. More, the fragmented, uncertain nature of modern society causes profound stress on the child mind, and when the child responds to this stress with unhealthy coping mechanisms, he may find his older self in psychological limbo, in possession of a number of unresolved fixations, neuroses, and traumas. But, Shepard says, despite these being detrimental to the individual, they all too often serve the needs of society as a whole, so become naturalized, part of our vision of normal human behavior. As a result, our cultures, too, acquire immature qualities, and our cultural myths reflect the psychological problems their mode of life requires.
Jon Savage makes a similar argument, pointing out that around the turn of the century an entirely new phase of human development was created: the teenager. He argues that this teenage phase was well-suited to capitalist and totalitarian purposes. In the former case, teenagers provided a malleable and exploitable market of consumers. In the latter case, they provided fodder for ideological wars — which is why we had the Hitler Youth or the Communist Youth Leagues. Again, it seems that civilization’s domination of human lives is enabled by extending their childhood psychology.
Although adolescence, as a biological stage, has of course always been a part of human development, the social role of teenager has not. In traditional communities, children come of age around 12-14 years old with a rite of initiation, which functions as a sort of second birth for the undeveloped brain’s second womb. But initiation does not often happen properly in modern societies, partially because the structure of society is so ill-suited for it, and partially because a proper initiation involves imposed hardships that modern social standards would not allow.
Birth is traumatic and violent. For his life up to that point, the child is in a safe, warm, dark womb and then all of a sudden — light, wind, coldness, noise. But it is a necessary process of coming into the world. Primitive coming-of-age rituals are similarly violent, often abusive by modern standards. They lash at the kid again and again and put him through enormous hardships to conquer. The length of the ritual may be conceptualized as a quest or a journey, and because of the difficulty of the situation it takes on mythological tones. The violence of second birth has similar effects as torture, which makes subjects more religious and magically-minded, dissolves their sense of identity, and cracks open the mythological core of human thinking. The difference with coming-of-age rituals is that after this abuse, the subject has an opportunity to put himself back together. On the other side, he is a man.
In the contemporary West, psychoanalysis comes closest to reinterpreting the process of initiation for the modern world. It is quite possible that by utilizing the insights of psychoanalysis, individuals can be made less susceptible to the taxing effects of modern society, especially its propaganda, first by preserving the individual’s internal wilderness, and second by restoring to his consciousness those instincts culture has forced into unconciousness. In this way the individual will be brought to full maturity, no longer a civilized creature — possessed, one might say, by the Wild Will.
But do not forget where we began: the inner and outer worlds are linked! All around us our environments tempt us to ease into weakness, requiring constant vigilance and will to maintain strength. We no longer live in the Stone Age primitive’s world of wilderness, an environment that fostered strength and instilled in the individual a sense of at-homeness, with the world and with himself. We live now in a machine environment, and it is rapidly fine-tuning its instruments of temptation and accumulating power at too fast a rate for the human will to keep up. If we are to remain strong creatures, if we are to avoid easing into the destructive pillow of industrial life, we must smash the technological basis of society now, decisively, without any compunction whatsoever. Perhaps this will be the needed brutality for a cultural initiation, a cultural coming-of-age. And just as we must preserve and restore the wild elements of our minds, so too must we preserve the wildlands we have remaining and restore to wilderness the thousands of acres of settled land. We must become possessed by the Wild Will ourselves, and perform a sort of character magic on those around us, undoing what the Christian priests have done, becoming reverse exorcists. And insodoing we will create a people who have the vigilance, the fortitude, the will to give the land back to the wild, necessary to fully rewild our natures, to create temples where we will become totally enraptured by that eternal Wild Will.