What follows is a major step toward determining a decisive plan for political action. Preliminary reading:
- The Rewilding Program: Proposal for an Anti-Industrial Strategy
- Contemporary Applications of The Organizational Weapon
- The History and Impact of Earth First!
- A Critique of the Concept of ‘the System’
The question today is no longer, Is a revolution necessary? It is no longer, Is a revolution possible? Unlike only a few years ago when I first started publicly espousing these ideas, people I speak to now need little convincing that a revolution is both necessary and, at this point in time, entirely feasible. It is tempting, then, to want to jump straight into it. Call for revolution; select a charismatic leader; storm the barricades. This would be an error. What is needed is preparation for revolution. The question today is, How do we prepare?
A handful of thinkers have already outlined the general path forward. Those who agree with these ideas must first solidify them (mostly done) and after organize themselves coherently and efficiently enough that they can respond to any crisis that arises. They must also agitate the general public with propaganda that makes the idea of revolution appear more acceptable than it would normally. All these things are in the works. A short review of the literature and events going on in a number of circles — anarchist, radical ecological, academic, anti-surveillance, etc. — leave no question that people are mobilizing against technological control. And the citizenry in nearly every major country is livid about their governments; increasingly, too, about the invasiveness of new technologies and the arrogance of the technician class.
So we have passed the first few stages of revolutionary preparation. We no longer need to emphasize propaganda and agitation; we no longer need to urge people to mobilize. Both activities should carry on, of course. But the next step is nigh, and it is a matter of, first, coherence, and second, organization.
The New Nihilism
Earlier in the history of the Wild Will Project the tendency was to cohere the ideas under the banner of radical environmentalism, primarily because the focus was on the United States. This coherence was taken to its logical conclusion with the idea of rewilding, which provides a strong basis of action for radical environmentalists.
Radical environmentalism remains the strongest relevant basis of social power in the United States, and, in fact, for most of the industrial world. But for the prospects of revolution against industrial society to be serious, the scope of the conflict must be global. And while environmentalism remains one of the most important points of tension, a global conflict must also take into account political, ethnic, religious, and cultural concerns. Recently, then, the Wild Will Project has pushed against the project of world society, which is the political dream of the technician class and the logical consequence of a global technological system. This frame provides a basis for unifying a number of disparate groups already against world society, and it would take little mental effort to demonstrate that the only way to effectively oppose it is to target the industrial infrastructure that props it up. Like a magnet to metal files, a global revolutionary movement would instill these ideas in each relevant group and in that group’s language.
The progression from radical environmentalism to anti-global politics is in line with the historical trajectory of the anarchist movement. Early in the 60s, the politics was humanist and left-wing; by the 80s it acquired strong green convictions; and by the 90s it evolved into the backbone of the anti-globalization movement, in which green ideology played a primary role. Today humanist sentiment has mostly disappeared from the green faction, and nearly every movement involved in the anti-globalization movement is converging on a nihilist impulse. They believe that no alternative to the current system can be realized until the system is destroyed. The specifics of the alternatives, then, are receding to the background, while the uniting factor is increasingly a common enemy. Today the dividing line is not right and left, it is toward globalism or toward localism, toward technology or toward nature, toward remaking man or toward conserving man.
The Role of Primitivism
Ecology would remain the backbone of the global conflict, its primary nexus. After all in each of these cases the question is one of conserving or developing nature. Globalization destroys naturally evolved cultures; technology develops wild nature; and behavioral, cognitive, and soon genetic technologies modify human nature. Besides, if technological systems are not providing for your needs, wild natural processes and labor must. It is no wonder that all the ideologies converging on a nihilist impulse — anarchism, fascism, socialism, religious fundamentalism, etc. — have developed an active green strain.
Primitivism, then, plays a special role, as does its political praxis of conservation and rewilding. Out of it come all the relevant questions: the tension between biological human nature and civilized life; the importance of nature to human development and well-being; the role of nature to cultural evolution; etc. Its anthropological view of man, too, appeals to Western industrial elites, who realize that the conflicts against world society are really about calling civilization itself into question; who realize that scientific knowledge itself is reaching that same point of nihilism. Primitivism is a true nihilism, that is, a true rejection of civilization and its basic principles: the emphasis on wild is nothing if not Dionysian; its corollary is a total rejection of contrived meaning; and its anthropological and evolutionary perspectives prevent any imposed moral program. Nietzsche writes:
All philosophers suffer from the same defect, in that they start with present-day man and think that they can arrive at their goal by analyzing him. …But everything the philosopher asserts about man is basically no more than a statement about man within a very limited time span. A lack of historical [read: anthropological] sense is the congenital defect of all philosophers. …Now, everything essential in human development occurred in primeval times, long before those four thousand years with which we are more or less familiar. Man probably hasn’t change much more in these years. …But everything has evolved; there are no eternal facts, nor are there any absolute truths. Thus historical philosophizing is necessary henceforth…
The logical political praxis of primitivism, too, appears to be the most promising proposition for global action. If ideologies are uniting in opposition to world society; if one can only seriously oppose world society by targeting technological infrastructure; if the only alternative to technological infrastructure is reliance on wild nature; then a main concern of an anti-industrial movement must be conserving and restoring nature. And, of course, the first coordinated political actions taken by primitivists established the wilderness movement. Later coordination focused on going “back to the land,” but even back-to-the-landers cannot fulfill their visions without the restoration of great tracts of nature.
Here, once again, primitivism has dual appeal to radicals and elites. Even the technician class realizes that nature conservation — much more radical than practiced so far — is necessary to fulfill their vision of world society. This, of course, is of great benefit to radicals, who can exploit this overlapping interest: in places where radical action is necessary for the kind of conservation the elites want, an opportunity arises for radicals to build their power with significantly less dangerous opposition.
Finally, primitivism provides a durable conceptual frame for political action. By pointing out that the central question is one of artificially modifying nature or letting nature run wild, it defines the bounds of a revolutionary movement’s “tactical spectrum.” Precisely because of its extreme opposition to world society, it has the psychological effect of pulling radical ideologies toward the pure rejection necessary both for effective action and for preserving nature against the utopian schemes that threaten to develop it. It has the capacity, in other words, to be a kind of conscience to conservation.
In sum, primitivism plays a special role in opposition to world society because (1) it brings educated industrial citizenry to the nihilist impulse; (2) it provides a coherent program of action, that is, conservation and rewilding; (3) it frames the conflict in a way that promises to preserve the integrity of the disparate movements united in opposition to world society.
The technician class already understands the ensuing global conflict in these terms. Oppenheimer famously said of the atomic bomb, “We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon…that has raised again the question of whether science is good for man…” He goes on to explore the implications it has for “the relations between man and the rest of the living world.” This is important, of course, because WWII was the decisive turn toward a global technological system; in it are the origins of all the most important technologies we are calling into question today. Clearly the elites recognize that their project of world society is a precarious one. The role of any revolutionary movement against industrial society must be to take this point of tension and make the dividing line clear; to provoke each side to its logical conclusion; to instigate a clash of wills.
Organization presents a special problem, because the exact character of the movement depends on how serious a role primitivists decide to play. Theoretically a movement against the global technological system could be based solely in a nihilist impulse, that is, a rejection of civilization as such. But, as I’ve written before, one does not start with nihilism, one is led to nihilism.
Environmental organizations are diverse, numerous, and already intricately involved in world politics. As such they provide the most promising avenue for political power, akin to the labor organizations of the 1900s. Primitivists, if they are to accept their role as the conscience of conservation, may very well solidify a solid political position within the conservation movement.
If they can manage this, they would simultaneously become a major center to the whole network of movements, causes, and ideologies in opposition to world society. That larger network would of course be much more diverse, spreading out in all directions, probably taking a form akin to the one taken by the anti-globalization movement. In certain regions cultural, ethnic, and religious concerns might take priority as basis for political action. This is especially true for the Muslim world. And Africa, as a site of special conservation status, special developmental status, and special demographic concerns, is also a clear exception. In any case, that network, while already partially established in the 90s, cannot be the focus until the radicals can themselves secure power in the conservation movement. Only then will they have the political means to engage in global networking.
The most promising means for primitivists to situate themselves as the conscience of conservation is to campaign for The Rewilding Program. That program, which I’ve outlined in another article, elegantly unites the whole tactical spectrum of the ecology movement, linking radicals, moderates, and even progressives and technicians together for coordinated, mutually beneficial action. Most importantly, it reorients conservation by shifting the focus away from social justice and sustainable development back toward wildlands preservation and restoration. And because the program’s proposed protections conflict directly with roads, cities, and other developments, there is more than enough potential for pushing further and harder in the future. Essentially, then, primitivists will be reiterating the strategies of early Earth First!: campaigning for a reserve system, radicalizing the environmental spectrum, and maneuvering into environmental organizations for ever-more-impactful political work.
In sum, the next step for primitivists is to (1) commit to general boundaries for their ideological positions; (2) organize a primary group through a conference, party, publication, etc.; (3) establish themselves as the conscience of the conservation movement.
The path is clear; we need only to seize the opportunities!