Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pseudo Arguments against the Primitivist Agenda

Countering typical arguments against the anarcho-primitivist posture (based on those found here):

1. Anarcho-primitivists want to abolish technology.  But doing so would have dire consequences for (a) the environment in terms of nuclear waste leakage, etc., (b) individuals with medical problems requiring technological intervention, and (c) the general quality of life.

(a) The continued existence of the status quo has dire consequences for the environment.   Nuclear waste leakage is guaranteed to occur regardless.  We are screwed either way.  We can hope for some future solution to each of the individual problems industrial civilization has produced while we continue to generate additional problems, themselves requiring some future technological solution.  That’s conceptually analogous to ripping the leaky board out of the bottom of the lifeboat to use it as a paddle.  It is ridiculous to think that adding more of what caused the problem in the first place is any kind of solution.  To think that technology is going to save us from the mass destruction caused by our technological system is pure arrogance.  And worse, it’s delusional.

(b) Right now there are millions of individuals with medical problems that require technological intervention who will die because they do not have access to the technology.  And the number of people whose lives existing technology will be able to extend does not begin to offset the number of people currently dying from medical conditions caused directly or indirectly by life in industrial society.

(c) The general quality of life argument is probably the most difficult to counter.  Not because it has any merit, but because it doesn’t make any logical sense.  Two issues need to be clarified right up front.  First, what do you mean by quality of life?  And second, whose lives are we talking about?  If you are talking about quality as a matter of convenience, or how technology provides us with labor-saving devices, then the argument doesn’t hold water.  Most of our so called conveniences (e.g., automobiles) are convenient only with respect to the behavioral requirements of living in a technological society.  Rain-forest dwelling tribesmen have absolutely no use for automobiles.  And, they spend considerably less time “working” than the denizens of our technologically enlightened world.  The extremely rich among us, of course, live very well.  But for them to do so requires a society supported by literal hoards of wage slaves who live far more austere lives.   And if we use the median as our measure of average, then there is every indication that the average quality of life will continue to deteriorate as global population increases and the chasm between the very rich and the very poor continues to expand. 

2. The planet will not support 6-7+ billion people living pre-civilization lifestyles.  Thus the end of civilization will require a dramatic reduction in global population.  Primitivists are not clear on how this will come about.  Who decides who gets to stick around?

The planet would not long support 6-7 billion people living Western consumer lifestyles.  Civilization is unsustainable.  What part of the word unsustainable do you not understand?  There is a limit to what the planet can support.  We may have already surpassed global carrying capacity.  Whenever a species exceeds carrying capacity, there is an inevitable—and usually very dramatic—reduction in population.  Our increasing global population is a direct result of technological advances in food production.  Historically, for every advance in food production, there has been a subsequent proportionate increase in population.  It is our technology that has pushed us to the brink of carrying capacity and can therefore be blamed for the inevitable massive die-off that looms in our future.  The proximal cause of the die-off may be war or a global pandemic or starvation or something else or a combination of these things.  But our advanced technology is what got us to this point.

There are of course intelligent ways of reducing population to the point of sustainability—ways that do not require any existing person to die.  We could, for example, take steps to make birth control a widespread global norm, take steps to ensure women everywhere have control over their reproductive rights, etc.   Substantial negative population growth could get us within striking distance of sustainability in just a few generations.         

Who decides who gets to stick around now?  Who decides it’s OK to incinerate innocent men, women, and children in Afghanistan?  Who decides whose attempts at genocide are worthy of military intervention and whose are allowed to proceed?  Who decides which inner city infants deserve medical attention and at what level?   

3. Related to number 2:  even allowing for some massive pandemic or environmentally-generated reduction in human population, it will be the poor and powerless who die off; the rich and powerful will still be able to exploit their power and we will still have a class society.

Right.  That’s where the anarcho- part of anarcho-primitivism comes in.  That’s why it is the machine of civilization itself that needs to be the target, not just its technological accoutrements.  The powerful in society are powerful only because of their position within the hierarchical structure.  Where are the rich and powerful going to get their food when transportations systems are no longer operating?  Where are they going to get the energy to heat their mansions when power plants no longer have access to coal?  Without the artificial hierarchy imposed by civilization, the playing field becomes remarkably flat.

4. It is not civilization itself, or industrial technology that is the problem.  It is the particular way we do civilization, our political system, consumerism, or corporate capitalism that is the problem.  We can solve our problems by fixing the existing system.

This is the progressive delusion.  History provides plenty of evidence against this theory.  Every previous civilization has eventually disintegrated.  Civilization involves the unidirectional concentration of resources and the exploitation of (the vast majority of) people.  The problems are structural, systemic.  Our system isn’t broken.  It simply doesn’t work.  Actually, I should say that it works very well for an exceedingly small and powerful minority—but even then only for a finite period of time.


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