I have a difficult time wrapping my head around the “reasoning” of otherwise intelligent, educated, and thoughtful people, anarchists chief among them, who reject the primitivist agenda flat out—and usually in a patronizing and dismissive fashion as if those of us who hold anti-civilization views are infantile or delusional or both.
Some of us are, but that’s beside the point.
Hasty reactions are frequently a sign of psychological defense, and I suspect that most rejections of primitivism are based more on an emotional response than on anything resembling a well-reasoned position. And there are indeed several facets of primitivism as it relates to the need to eradicate civilization that can serve to trigger a dramatic emotional response. For one thing, it would mean an end to techno-toys and the addictive distracturbation they engender. No more HD television. No more Game Boy. No more iPhones. It would mean a dramatic change of lifestyle and a redefinition—a rediscovery—of what it means to be human. True freedom can be a terrifying thing for people who have spent their entire lives restrained in a box, where their every thought has been groomed to serve the machine.
But perhaps the most frequent and most visceral rejoinder that I have heard from anti-primitivists is that people will die. The planet cannot support anything close to the current global population in the absence of the constant interventions and machinations of the institutions of civilization. If the controls of the machine were removed abruptly, billions of people would die horrible starvation deaths in very short order. And, further, the people who would die first would be those who currently occupy the bottom of civilization’s vertical pecking order: the poor, the oppressed. Intentionally removing the controls of civilization would be akin to mass genocide (even Chomsky—of all people—has said as much).
Let’s leave aside the fact that it is precisely the interventions and machinations of civilization that led to a planet filled with highly vulnerable people in the first place. Let’s also leave aside the fact that it is not necessary to pull the plug all at once, and that we might find ways to prepare ahead of time for civilization’s imminent demise, ways that can serve to soften the landing. Instead, let’s simply ask what happens if we allow civilization to continue unabated. The number of dependent and vulnerable people will only increase with time. When civilization eventually collapses—decline and collapse is the nature of all civilization and will occur regardless what we do—it will very likely be tens of billions of people who will die horrible starvation deaths. People are going to die. Primitivists don’t want lots of people to die—especially primitivists who also call themselves humanists don’t want lots of people to die!
And of course, it’s not just people who are doomed to suffer for the sins of civilization. The entire biosphere has already paid a price beyond all reckoning.
Those who reject primitivism are holding out for a good solution. They want to both eat and have their cake, or at least save a couple choice slices. But there is no good solution to the crisis of civilization. There are only better and worse courses of action. And the absolute worst course is to do nothing, to allow the continuation of the status quo. Any action that is not directed toward dismantling and eventually eliminating civilization is in the wrong direction. A return to the primitive is not a good solution. It is quite possibly a horrible solution. But it is the only solution.