Reading List: Primitivist Theory

This list will be periodically updated. To receive notifications of these updates, subscribe to our monthly mailing list. For a reading list on political practice, see “Wild Reaction Reading List.” For an overview of the kinds of political practice associated with primitivism, see “The Primitivist Tradition.”

Human Nature

Human Ethology by Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt — A comprehensive overview of the biological roots of human behavior. The first chapter delves into the epistemological implications of evolutionary thought and lays the groundwork for understanding the biological concept of human nature. Other chapters cover family life, sexual practices, developmental trends, aggression, the universality of facial expressions, human symbolic life, etc. Although an academic text, it is fairly easy reading for the layman, and it is probably the best text for establishing the relationship between biology and behavior.

Sociobiology by Edward O. Wilson — Fulfills a similar role as Human Ethology by Eibl-Eibesfedlt, but spans the animal kingdom. There are a lot of mathematical models in the text, since the work was establishing a new field of biology, but they do not affect the reading experience for the layman too much.

The Adapted Mind by Jerome Barkow, John Tooby, and Leda Cosmides — Links psychology with biology. Essential for those more interested in the human side of sociobiology.

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker — A popular science book that reviews evidence for the biological basis of behavior, with several chapters on popular misconceptions about the concept of “human nature.”

Coming Home to the Pleistocene by Paul Shepard — Shepard established the field of human ecology and helped explain how a society’s mode of production shapes the human mind in ways that affect culture overall.

Culture and History

Cultural Materialism by Marvin Harris — Established a whole paradigm in anthropology for analyzing the formation and evolution of cultures. Extremely easy to read. Harris discounts the concept of innate behaviors a little too hardily (see texts on human nature above). Probably the best primer on how to think about culture in the context of ecology.

The Civilizing Process by Norbert Elias — Elias reviews the means by which the feudal populace was systematically educated with bourgeois values to serve the new state-based form of organization. Bridges the gap between materialist analysis and more psychoanalytic perspectives.

A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark — Clark argues that the institutions at the genesis of the Industrial Revolution helped breed behavior that spurred the process along. He argues explicitly from a materialist perspective, and emphasizes that the change of behavior had much to do with suppressing behaviors natural to the human hunter-gatherer mode. Most useful for its emphasis on demography, which authors like Diamond tend to under-emphasize in favor of technology and environment.

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond — Probably the best example of cultural materialism as applied to history. Diamond ties civilizational growth to technological and environmental conditions, arguing that, for instance, the availability of domestic animals helped civilization arise in the Fertile Crescent but not in Southern Africa.

Nature and Madness by Paul Shepard — Applies the ideas of human ecology to four kinds of cultures, from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution.

The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris — Compares humans in civilization to animals in a zoo: all needs are cared for, but at the cost of living in an unnatural environment.

Technological Society

The Control Revolution by James Beniger — Argues that information society was borne in part from the need to control the behavior of large populations of people.

The Managerial Revolution by James Burnham — Argues that the economic conditions of industrial society are leading to a “managerial society.” Burnham note similarities between Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and America under the New Deal, suggesting that these commonalities point to the form societies of the future will take.

The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul — Ellul argues that the industrial revolution has led to a society where technology is autonomous of any one person or group. This is subverts human freedom in favor of technical efficiency.

Technological Slavery by Ted Kaczynski — Kaczynski summarizes many critiques of technological society in layman’s terms and argues that the only way to resolve the problems is through a revolution that destroys technological infrastructure.

The Prospects of Industrial Civilization by Bertrand Russell — Russell argues that industrialism is a threat to human freedom, since it creates large populations of people who must be controlled institutionally. He predicts that the coming conflict will not be between capitalism and communism, but between industrial and traditional modes of life. Paradoxically, he proposes a world government as a solution to the problems.

Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud — Argues that the conditions of civilization require control through feelings of guilt and the repression of natural desires, with negative psychological effect.

Collapse

Collapse by Jared Diamond — Diamond analyzes historical instances of collapse and traces their causes to environmental, economic, and demographic problems. He points out that our current world order fits the diagnostic criteria for a soon-to-collapse civilization.

The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter — Tainter presents an economic model of collapse and applies it to several case studies. Argues that collapse is primarily due to “diminishing returns” on labor. Like Diamond, he points out that our current civilization resembles historical civilizations immediately prior to collapse.

Cultural and Technological Evolution

The Evolution of Technology by George Basalla — A mostly narrative, correlational review positing the idea that technology evolves similar to the way organisms do. Replete with enlightening illustrations. A good introduction to the idea.

Culture and the Evolutionary Process by Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd — Reviews the interaction of genetics, psychology, and culture. Useful for understanding the more biological side of cultural evolution.

Without Miracles: Universal Selection Theory by Gary Cziko — Applies the concept of evolution to a wide array of phenomena, including culture and technology. Probably the best overview of evolutionary thinking.

Genes, Mind, and Culture by Charles Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson — Proposes the theory of “gene-culture coevolution.” One of the first major attempts to apply sociobiology to human culture. Data-heavy, spending less time explaining the general concept of cultural evolution and more time identifying the mechanisms by which it occurs.

Morality

Recognizing the Autonomy of Nature by Thomas Heyd — A set of philosophical essays analyzing the value and meaning of “wildness” and “nature.” A good introduction to discussions in environmental ethics. Not all essays are compatible with the idea of rewilding.

The Expanding Circle by Peter Singer — Investigation into the phenomenon of moral communities expanding as civilizations develop. Like Pinker, Singer is an advocate of technological progress, and his book is a polemic for expanding the circle. Regardless, his review of the actual phenomenon is quite good, and does not shy away from the fact that the expanded moral circle does not come naturally to us. Suggests in the end that in order to expand the circle further we may need to modify our genetics.

Humans in Nature by Gregory Kaebnick — The best review of the role of nature in our morality, and the implications of our current technologies. Pays special attention to human nature and biotechnology.

5 Comments

  • Hoot says:

    Hey John, Nice reading list. Some of it is over my head, but I have read Kaczynski’s work. It is good to reflect on too. A couple of your suggestions above interest me. I am leaning towards going against the grain and looking to provide the opposite reaction to what the surveillance state is provoking, which is fear. I wonder if the time to promote our thoughts more openly,in order to counter the state with an in-your-face attitude is prudent. Knowing that censorship and propaganda are increasing rapidly. I would have attempted this on Anti-Civ.net, but the net won’t let me go there. Maybe my reading list would provide some insight too ?

    Turner Diaries by Andrew Macdonald: Not for the racist content.
    Bush Craft 101 by Dave Canterbury: If you weren’t lucky enough like Jacobi to attend primitive skills camp, this book has valuable skills to practice. Stuff to know when the time comes to go Nomad. Camp,fire,water,trapping,gear,packing lightly for travel,etc…
    Patriots by James Wesley Rawles: Fiction. Story of collapse. Provides subtle advice in prepping and survival throughout entire story.
    How to Survive TEOTWAWKI by Rawles also. Prepping advice. Common sense stuff to live by.
    The Lost Ways by Claude Davis: Be part of the Donner Party and survive.
    The Herbal Drugstore by Linda B. White: All the plants,mushrooms,etc that are medicinal. Bought mine at a yard sale for $1. It’s worth a million.
    American Frontiersman Magazine: Awesome articles on skills. Longbow,canoe,trapping,hides,hunting,cooking,etc. Fun magazine.
    Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier: In depth on all (or most) the surveillance techniques. Provides me with the idea that we might want to use the net for tactical advantage when poss. Also shows that we need to push back instead of falling victim to the fear that the surveillance state provokes

    • The Wild Will Project says:

      I am leaning towards going against the grain and looking to provide the opposite reaction to what the surveillance state is provoking, which is fear. I wonder if the time to promote our thoughts more openly,in order to counter the state with an in-your-face attitude is prudent.

      Hey Hoot, just be sure not to do it on this site, could run into some legal troubles.

  • Mystikal says:

    Quite anthropocentric. Why I cannot read much Paul Shepard. It’s all about us. Where is the wild? I tried to read several books on wolves recently. They were, from different perspectives, all about the human observers. This is not wild thinking. This is zookeeper thinking.

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