Street Librarian: Apocalypse Soon?

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.

Also Noteworthy
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.

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