Why Primitivism

When I talk about primitivism people respond in lots different ways. Sometimes they laugh at me. Sometimes they look at me like I’m crazy. Sometimes they just ask me “why?” Usually though they respond by trying to defend civilization. “You don’t think civilization is great?” They say, with incredulity. “What about medicine? Everybody used to die from tooth infections! Women’s rights? Men used to just run around beating and raping women 24-7! Lower infant mortality rates? Babies were always dying! Convenience and ease? We used to have to work so hard all the time! Peace and safety? It was so violent back then! Equality? The strong were always exploiting the weak!”

It doesn’t matter that all this is nonsense. “Show me your sources!” They scream. When you tell them that there is almost one hundred years worth of anthropological research on contemporary and historical hunter-gatherer communities that proves it they back away from you slowly or change the subject. There is something very telling about the fact that the critique of civilization is one of the very few critiques that is almost universally dismissed or invalidated. Primitivism, of course, contains a critique of capitalism within it but is hardly ever entertained seriously in that discourse. Meanwhile countless books, lectures, tweets, blogs, movies, etc continue to drone on about Marx and Lenin despite the fact that clearly those critiques have failed and are no longer particularly relatable. Academia, for what its worth (which is very little), is extraordinarily welcoming of socialists and Marxists. This is also quite telling.

Capitalism is not threatened by socialism. You know how you can tell? Because people talk about it all the time. People write books about socialism. People debate publicly about socialism. Socialist candidates run for political office. Michael Moore makes Hollywood movies about socialism and millions of people go see them.

Capitalism is terrified of primitivism. You can tell because everybody from across the political spectrum is opposed to it. Primitivism is the one critique that is not allowed to sit at the table. Its fine to say “We should buy better, cleaner products!” Its not fine to say “Never buy anything! And don’t have any money!” Its fine to say “Corporations should have less influence over politics!” Its not fine to say “Corporations and governments should be abolished altogether!” As long as the critique implicitly or explicitly encourages people to continue shopping and voting (which is to say legitimizing inherently oppressive structures), it is perfectly acceptable. This is why brilliant and eloquent individuals have been arguing for more equality in society for thousands of years and yet we now have more inequality than any point in history. Because we cannot continue expecting, hoping, and praying that insane, evil systems can be made better and kinder. They can only be torn down or abandoned and left to rot and molder.

It is very difficult to convince people that they should not simply accept a lesser evil. It is also extremely unpopular. People want to believe that their ideas of reform are actually revolutionary. Even if you can get them to the point where they will admit that the greenest factory imaginable would still create pollution of some kind, they will find a way to resist you. Then people will say, “this is too extreme!” The influence of the ancient Athenians lives on. Extremity is anathema. If its not moderate we are conditioned to think there is something wrong with it. We forget that the Athenian notion of balance and the golden mean was produced by a society that enslaved almost its entire population, granted no rights of any kind to women, colonized much of the Mediterranean, and considered non-Greeks to be subhumans. Why we should be listening to anything that such people think is a mystery to me.

To those who are uncomfortable with the primitivist critique because they feel that it is too extreme, I can only say that we are facing extreme problems. We need an extreme critique for an extreme world. Trade unions, responsible governments, green industry, and less income disparity are not going to stop mass extinction, melting ice caps, soil erosion, deforestation, ocean acidification, water shortages, and expanding deserts. Frankly I’m not sure those things would even stop the epidemic levels of depression, alienation, suicide, rampage killings, war, and rape.

At this point, the problem becomes one of logistics: “how on earth can we get rid of civilization? Its so unrealistic. It’ll never happen.” Living in the United States in the 21st century it is indeed difficult to look around and not imagine that things will always be this way. There are so many tall shiny buildings. There are so many factories. There are so many long highways. There are so many cars. The landscape of civilization looks so permanent. But are the stakes so low that we can afford to be discouraged by the illusion of power? Things always appear solid and strong until they collapse.

Ultimately when I talk to my socialist friends, I ask them how they intend to seize power, privatize the banks and major industries, and abolish private property. They don’t know. They have ideas, paths they think might get them to where they want to be but to anyone else their methods may seem as hopeless as ours. If we are going to dream, for at this point in history a real socialist America can only possibly exist in dreams, why don’t we dream big. In our dream we don’t have to be weighed down by thousands of years of oppression. We don’t need to blindly accept the idea, which civilization has taught us, that human beings cannot exist without exploiting each other or the natural environment. We can really dig deep and ask the uncomfortable question that primitivism poses. Is forward the only way forward?

Primitivism is inherently anti-capitalist, anti-exploitative, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal, anti-militaristic. Primitivism stands for true sustainability, for true equality, and justice. There is no reason for others who fight the good fight to refuse to engage with primitivism.


One thought on “Why Primitivism

  1. Thanks for sharing the Tigers Leap with me. A read a few of your articles on primitivism. Very interesting. My wife has spent the last few years trying to learn/return to basic skills that have been lost to us. She started with learning how to make a fire with flint and steel and has kept on for the past few years. She’s taking an animal tracking course in Western MA at the Earth Works Program in February.

    When we’ve talked about her interest in primitivism she can’t really pinpoint her drive to one unifying issue. In part, she likes the self reliance and preparation; in part, she sees civilization is built on a house of cards that could soon tumble with energy grid terrorism or increased environmental disasters.

    But more than that she seems to have a connection to nature that I don’t always feel myself. She needs to get outside hiking or camping or living outside to renew herself. And not in a freudian or philosophical way but really to balance herself and manage stress. I think its in part from growing up in Vermont and spending almost every day wandering around the forest and just listening. I grew up an urban kid so its really been new stuff to me over the past 10 years but Im getting more and more interested in it. Anyways, thanks for sharing your writing with me. Very Cool



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