Divergent Tendencies in Anti-Civilization Thought

Revolutionary Art, it has been said, is a combat discipline against immorality and the status quo. It can change lives by pointing to justice and resisting oppression. Such art crafts new perceptions and effects new behaviors, so that the will to violate others and the world around us is understood as an unnatural cultural construct perpetrated by illegitimate domineering forces. No art is apolitical: it will either reinforce, distract from, or rupture a current paradigm.

There has been much writing on environmentalism, activism, and the failure of the movement in terms of the current response to the varied ecological crises currently visible. These days, opposition seems docile, as if any “solution” will have to come from the system itself. But this opinion reeks of entitlement, privilege, racism, and the attitude of the powerful, or at the very least, a sense of ignorant denial. When we ask ourselves, “what do we want?” if what we want so closely resembles the current state as it is with all of its niceties, then in fact our dreams are subservient, conditioned, and identified with a system that depends on social coercion and a failure of imagination. This culture is based in sadistic power, intended or otherwise, in which the framework or conditions of this death culture that takes civilization as a given perpetuates the primary influence that is quite literally sucking the world dry of its very nature.

On this subject, two books have recently come out–Derrick Jensen’s “Writings on Environmental Revolution,” and the Green Anarchy Collective’s Anthology, “Uncivilized.” Both bring together important currents in the anti-civ movement and do much to advance critical resistance theory, but there is a sense that the two offer diametrically opposed perspectives.

Much controversy has been made between the “green” anarchist or anarcho-primitivst circles and Derrick Jensen’s Deep Green Resistance movement. Kevin Tucker of Species Traitor/Black and Green Press as well as John Zerzan of Green Anarchy specifically charge DGR with being an hierarchical and authoritarian approach to resistance against civilization, criticizing, among other things, DGR’s Code of Conduct, a lack of historical understanding of revolution and what is being perceived as a cult of personality around Jensen and Keith.

This rift has caused much confusion and backlash in both camps, culminating in the many responses to Chris Hedge’s attack on black bloc tactics in Occupy–a bit confusing to say the least, considering Hedge’s comments on the back of the book, Deep Green Resistance: “[DGR] posits, I fear correctly, that resistance will have to become more militant and perhaps resort to physical acts of confrontation with the corporate leviathan.”

There is of course a difference between leadership and authority; and organization and hierarchy, and anarchism has always stressed a kind of “hyper-organization,” purely voluntary yet without the pretense that certain individuals will undoubtedly have various skill-sets to share in “teach-ins”. The problem, essentially (and what anti-DGR segments seem to stress) is that submission to a specific ideology, in which there is no room for those who do not accept certain lines of thought provided by “leadership,” is instrumental in oppression, domestication, and the general process that civilization takes. It is the question of whether “power” should be used to maintain ideological continuity through force even in the face of a repressive state.

On the flip side of the argument, anarchy in general is challenged as a method/critique for truly exemplifying a “program” that can effectively take down civilization. Whereas fractured and fragmented spontaneous rebellion is derided as juvenile and without lasting result, DGR as a structured organization that cultivates authority for strategic attacks might do better in inducing cascading system failure by a targeted, anti-civ insurrection of sorts.

Perhaps authoritarianism and anti-authoritarianism are in direct contradiction, but the target of civilization seems identical at face value. Yet the central issue remains: whether power is inherently corrupt and what it looks like when it is employed. It is a question of analysis, in which anarchists see power itself to be the driving force for coercion and exploitation, while DGRers on the other side would use power to destroy what power has created–the conundrum being whether the ends justify the means (and whether the ends can even survive the means).

This is the difference in diagnosis, between targeting the industrial effects of civilization– what is instrumental to the ecological effects of degradation on the one hand (i.e. electric grid fueling industry, violence to women, indigenous extermination)– and targeting the very core of political consciousness in which the very will to “civilize” (power, control, domestication) is identified and ultimately exorcised. Not a small difference by any means.

But back to the books.

Uncivilized: the best of Green Anarchy traces the trajectory of the magazine by offering 7 core themes of critical reflection: civilization, technology, the left, the ongoing death march, resistance, decolonization, and flights of fancy.  “In many ways, Anarchy is a poetic concept, an inflammatory energy that, once admitted into our consciousness, initiates a visionary process of creative conjuring, with effects akin to magic. Dreams share with poetry a sense of the mind, the sudden grasp–whole–of something previously perceived in fragments or not perceived at all.”  369 Uncivilized.
The Derrick Jensen Reader: writings on environmental revolution offers insights into the core theories of the author’s life’s work, spanning 14 books, 2 essays, and an interview with Lierre Keith.

“Every morning when I wak up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. Every day I tell myself I should continue to write. Yet I’m not always convinced I’m making the right decision. I’ve written books and I’ve been an activist. At the same time I know neither a lack of words nor a lack of activism kills salmon here in the Northwest. It is the presence of dams.” Excerpt from Listening to the Land, in DJ Reader.

While both identify the western, technological civilization’s drive to consume to be the critical ingredient spelling death for human and non-human life, the difference may be as simple as a a cacophony of anti-civ writers speaking from a decisive ideological foundation and one man’s evolution of thoughtful, poetic resolution to destroy any ideological underpinnings whatsoever. Or maybe its the opposite. Regardless, the health of the land-base is taken as the ultimate measure of success in both.

The road to the promised land is far from uniform and direct. Liberation means many things, to many people, and I take it as a sign of intense philosophical maturity that there can be so many avenues to burning the motherfucker down. Victories can become permanent–there may not be enough resources to rebuild the monolithic enterprise we are together fighting against. But as things become more chaotic, we can predict that people will rely on their value–what they hold true and dear. Our loyalties must move away from an ongoing death urge and towards those principles that affirm life if the daily struggle for freedom is ever to be realized. Circumstances are more relevant than abstractions, and the need for organized resistance means the recognition of a common enemy. It may be time for us all to study resistance, in all of its forms, so that we can make peace by destroying the capacity to wage war.

Further reading:

A Critique of Anarchism and its Effectiveness as a Strategy to Bring Down Oppressive Power Systems

Down Graded Resistance: A Critique of DGR

Authority and Civilization 


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