Greening of Anarchy by sleeve
Greening of anarchy
For me, at least, the notion of “green anarchism” mostly raises questions. It seems that the term, like that of “primitivism, is too easily used to describe any number of mindsets .Ever after 20 years of reading political theory, Anarchy Magazine, the 5th Estate, and other such subcultural anarchoephemera, I couldn’t tell you what green anarchism (hereafter CA, not to be confused with the magazine) is about beyond the most watered-down generalities - i.e. anarchist theory and practice with an environmental or biocentrist element.
Most folks were probably introduced to the term through the Brit mag Green Anarchist. I believe that the problematic elements within this (and, by extension, the nihilistic aspects of primitivism) have been most cohesively addressed in the issue of Fifth Estate that examined the Green Anarchist/Neoist conflict. However, as it bears some relation to questions that have come up consistently in the EF! movement, I will attempt to summarize some of the issues.
First and foremost is the issue of extremism and/or nihilism. As Antipathy magazine said, “I think that destroying every manifestation of this society and returning to pre-agrarian models of life is perhaps the best ideology running for those concerned with the preservation of the Earth and universal equality of all beings.” As an ideology, this concept appeals to many among us. What it means in practice is something else entirely. As the band Kingdom Scum once noted, “If you have any ideals beyond apathy or callousness then you are inevitably a hypocrite.” This is what results in real-life situations like anarchists living in govemment-subsisized housing, Ruckus taking money from Ted Turner, or activists living off of their partners’ or parents’ income. It’s not always the best idea to put all of one’s ideals into practice all the time, unless you enjoy being another victim of the police state. Personally, I think anybody doing anything at all against the system should be cut some slack.
Anarchist extremism, whether defined as primitivism or GA, seems to always take the form of nihilism. Everything must be destroyed ASAP, nothing else matters. Signs of destruction are to be applauded uncritically. Further down this slippery path, this leads to some pretty lame-ass conclusions. I can think of three right off the bat: Green Anarchist reporting on the Tokyo nerve gas deaths and other murders as a positive thing, early EF! ideology that Central America wasn’t our problem because it “wasn’t in our bioregion” (late 80’s EF! version), and anarchists advocating petty. vandalism against local businesses as some kind of authentic revolutionary resistance to the totality (reminds me of the pop-culture academics trying to tell me Madonna is really subversive).
In many ways, this problem ties in with the “Misanthropy” blank wall in the Earth First! Journal of a few issues back. My problem isn’t so much with nihilist acts themselves - I think people going bonkers like caged rats and offing a bunch of folks is an instinctive reaction to reduce population - it’s with the problems inherent in sitting on your butt and talking about how cool it is. As soon as you don’t give a shit about anything, you can overlook anything. Real, everyday issues like racism, sexism, the fucker who’s gonna cut down that last old growth plot near your town, and that upcoming city council vote suddenly become less important than “destroying the whole system”. This usually seems to mean talking and writing about what other people should do while paying lip service the real shit. A lot of times people destroy their own systems with alcohol or heroin, fucking up whole communities, magazines, or movements in the process. Many folks rooting for total collapse also seem to shy away from addressing what happens to the less privileged in times of social breakdown - like rape, racial lynching, slavery, mass death due to lack of sanitary water, and other nasty things. If this really doesn’t matter, I want them to admit it. On an amoral level, this could be the best bet for the planet, as mentioned above. But it could just make things more fucked up if not enough people die off.
So that’s one part of this mess. Another perhaps even less appealing part is the extropian and/or “post-scarcity” anarchist position. This can be summarized as “science will save us and make everything OK”. As much as I would like to believe this, the odds of history seem to be pretty stacked against it. I totally don’t buy Bookchin’s “machines and automation will create leisure time and post-scarcity anarchism” argument. However, it remains possible that sufficiently advanced and decentralized technology could seriously upset today’s power balance, heavily weighted towards corporations and nation-states, in favor of individual power. At this point things would get really weird and a lot of questions would come up. What if everybody has nanotechnology and gene-splicing kits in their basements? Does the concept of green anarchism absolutely preclude powerful, sustainable technology? Will this power translate into freedom for us, animals, and the earth? Will it be worth it? I hope we won’t have to see these questions answered. Bruce Sterling’s excellent sci-fi novels and stories do a good job of presenting believably fucked-up futures where, in his words, “science is an infinite powder keg.” Of course, we could just introduce some evil gene-spliced virus and destroy all the DNA on earth.
In defiance of the current anarchist trend of black-and-white divisiveness and side-taking, I believe there is a’ “third way” - although it is not necessarily better or less problematic. In the words of current political prisoner Free:
“No longer can we separate ourselves from wild nature. Pretending that, technology will keep us safe and intact. We must accept and embrace the fact that we too are ~ part of the natural life cycle, not above it, not on top of it. We must scrutinize the effect that we are having. It is time for us to once again learn to live in harmony with the Earth and the other inhabitants of it. I am not suggesting that we go back to a completely primitive lifestyle, for we have forgotten far too many survival instincts for that. But, a reprieve of advanced oppressive technology (by oppressive, I mean life-controlling). We must learn to live sustainably or become completely artificial. We have the means to change, the question is, do we have the desire?”
What this says to me points in the same direction as permaculture, composting toilets made of reused material that provide heat for stoves, treesits made out of reused inner tubes, and other such low-tech scavengertype innovations. This is my green anarchy, the world of low-impact humans living off the ruins of the old order while integrating themselves back into the wild, at least as much as we can for now. I believe that, without mass dieoffs or drastic weird-science revolutions, such options will be forced on us due to environmental degradation and resource depletion. Always the optimist, even in the midst of my bleak cynicism, I remain confident that, as long as our species is around, green anarchy can play a role in any of the multitude of possibilities that lie ahead in this 21st century.