I'm writing these words out of doors. It's a warm spring afternoon and I sit on a log under a big old cottonwood, soft earth under my feet, in one of those urban places that pass for wild, a copse hidden to humans except for wide-ranging children and adults who know they need whatever wildness it provides.
Cardinals and chickadees sing nearby. A crow silently lands on a branch. A red squirrel scolds from on high, then comes closer and plays hide-and-seek from behind a trunk. Despite the hum of a highway nearby, I feel saner than I have all day.
'In wildness is the preservation of the world,' Thoreau foretold. A century and a half later, as humans' and other species' footing on the planet seems ever more precarious, a number of people think, write, and-more importantly-act in accord with this vision, having heeded the lessons of places such as this, a plot of land they know and love.
Derrick Jensen's new two-volume Endgame (Seven Stories Press), dedicated to Shawnee organizer/resister Tecumseh, forcefully, lovingly, despairingly, and tirelessly describes in volume one, The Problem of Civilization, how human civilization-with its global capitalism, plutocracy, and oil-based economy-is destroying planet Earth and examines in volume two, Resistance, what's to be done to take down civilization and live sustainably. Militant and provocative, Jensen looks at systems of exploitation from many angles and criticizes those who fail to act or refuse even to consider the questions 'What if those in power are murderous?' and 'What if they're not willing to listen to reason?' Jensen's assertive, aphoristic style demands reader response. ('A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper,' he writes.) Doing his best to speak for salmon and sturgeon, Jensen asks, 'What would the rivers themselves think?' He nudges readers not only to answer this and other difficult questions ('What will you do when the oil runs out?') themselves, but also to see their own complicity and act responsibly. For more information: www.sevenstories.com.
Chilean poet Jesus Sepulveda, now a teacher at the University of Oregon, addresses some of the same issues in his book The Garden of Peculiarities (Feral House, 2005), but in a way that is less comprehensive, more poetic, and-unfortunately-more laden with academicspeak. Like Jensen, Sepulveda draws from the wisdom of indigenous people 'who still have not been alienated from their own natures-by luck or resistance' and who 'still feel a strong connection with the earth and maintain a strong connection with their ancestors.' Like Jensen, he critiques economies based on competition and exploitation, and decries human efforts to control and dominate. While Jensen gives stark detail about how the state colonizes and oppresses, Sepulveda uses a wider brush. Like those who embrace the label anarcho-primitivist, he envisions and idealizes a time ahead when groups of humans (presumably small groups) 'live organically . . . and cultivate their own food toward the end of enjoying the liberating pleasure of a permanent carnival state.' For more information: www.feralhouse.com.
Green Anarchy, a Eugene, Oregon-based 'anti-civilization journal of theory and action,' has grown from a 16-page newsprint tabloid into a 76-page magazine since its Summer 2000 first issue. Reminiscent of an earlier publication, Live Wild or Die, some of it seems the verbal equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire, aimed partly at inspiring more people to sabotage pipelines, cut down light poles, liberate fur farm animals, and torch military recruiting stations. Each issue provides addresses of prisoners who have done such things. The Spring 2006 edition features brief accounts of prisoner escapes and uprisings and a dozen or so pages describing such 'ecological resistance' as spray-painting 'E.L.F' on the door of a house under construction, but also headier stuff, including excerpts from Jacques Ellul's The Technological Society (Knopf, 1964) and Stanley Diamond's In Search of the Primitive (Transaction, 1974). $18/5 issues from Box 11331, Eugene, OR 97440; www.greenanarchy.org.
Species Traitor: An Insurrectionary Anarcho Primitivist Journal takes things even closer to the edge. In its 192-page fourth issue, Sky Hiatt makes a case against literacy, saying that the written word 'corrodes time spent exploring the real world' and that raising children on books closes, not opens their minds, causing them to develop 'patterns of thought honed into chapters dominated by idea fragments.' Kevin Tucker, the journal's editor, writes about hunting and gathering societies, succeeding about half the time in making this lifestyle seem ideal, though many will find the vision hellish. While Jensen ponders whether he should destroy dams to help salmon, Species Traitor seems to take that as a given. $10/copy from Box 835, Greensburg, PA 15601; www.primalwar.org.
Before criticizing anything, one must first understand. Besides the publications just described, the Web-oddly-is a good place to find critical writings on technology. Insurgent Desire, 'the online green anarchy archive' (www.insurgentdesire.org.uk), features writings by John Zerzan, Fredy Perlman, Feral Faun, and others. The Green Anarchist Infoshop (www.greenanarchy.info) and Primitivism.com are two more sources of writings on 'ways of life running counter to the development of technology.'
The people responsible for Rewild.org ('a vision for going feral and actualizing our wildest dreams'), though keeping their site up, have decided to let it go fallow as they live the life they've been writing about.
Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections, edited by John Zerzan (Uncivilized, 1999), published in a new, enlarged edition last year by Feral House, features writings by Rousseau, Thoreau, Ivan Illich, the Unabomber, Kirkpatrick Sale, Chellis Glendinning, and others. Pulling together these extracts from longer works removes context and makes the collection read like a textbook, but it's still a fair way to learn about kindred thinkers and their ideas, from which one can go to the sources. For more information: www.feralhouse.com.
The prophetic paintings of Alexis Rockman in the January/February 2006 issue of Orion depict Mount Rushmore, the St. Louis Arch, and other human monuments ruined, overgrown with weeds, or flooded with waters inhabited by deformed frogs. Horrific or idyllic? You make the call. www.oriononline.org.
Not yet published: Uncivilized: A Journal of Feral Living, covering such topics as wildcrafting, shelter building, ecopsychology, 'anarcho-herbalism,' and urban foraging. Belying the journal's name, its creators ask for contributions to be sent 'preferably on a CD/disk or via e-mail.' Box 1485, Asheville, NC 28802; www.wildroots.org/uncivilized.htm.
Earth First! The Radical Environmental Journal covers 'forest defenders' who block logging roads and chain themselves to trees, antivivisection activists (some in prison for vandalism or freeing lab animals), and others who labor on behalf of the earth and its nonhuman life. $25/yr. (6 issues) from Box 3023, Tucson, AZ 85702; www.earthfirstjounal.org.
For more about what's new in the Utne library, check out our weekly online From the Stacks feature each Friday at www.utne.com.
Back to the Future?
While the concept of primitivism-embracing the ways of early humans as an ideal- isn't new, as Arthur O. Lovejoy and George Boas give evidence in their 1935 book Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity (Johns Hopkins), today's anarcho-primitivists have touched a nerve. The Wikipedia entry for anarcho-primitivism runs over 4,000 words and includes a section devoted to its many critics.