My relationship with the school of thought that is primitivism is very split between intense affirmation and intense differentiation. And that is essentially all I wish to communicate through this piece. It is in many ways intended as a reflective effort for me and also as a point of clarification for those who might wonder what my perspective on primitivism. This is certainly not intended as a rejection, or an embrace. I will address first some common themes within primitivist thought in a broader sense, before commenting on the influence of and points of differentiation from key individuals within the topography of primitivist discourse, who have impacted upon my perspective.
(I will note here that, while I will include Quinn as a primitivist (for reasons I clarify later), I am not using primitivism here to refer to all anti-civilisation thought, so there individuals who have influenced my thought, who are critical of civilisation, that have been excluded from this piece.)
Main Themes –
Many within the world of primitivist discourse and practice will advocate traditionalism as a lifestyle that people should embrace. What I mean by traditionalism is basically seeking to adopt a life-style that is considered generally historically past – this could also be described as regressive or reactionary. This is seemingly embraced to form an alternative narrative to that of progression, which is often tied to technological-narratives.
I can appreciate much of where the desire for traditionality comes from and do see a great deal of beauty in those cultures who live now in ways that might be described as “backwards” or traditional by this culture – though I feel that to describe them as backwards is offensive and revolting. I would also be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that I have a fondness for traditional folk music, which might well, come from a similar psycho-aesthetic to the primitivist desire for tradition.
I am not a traditionalist though. To me, traditionalism, as an attempt to provide a blueprint for a lifestyle people can adopt, is a mode of lifestylism – rank with much of the narcissism of greenwashed “ethical-consumerism”. In this way, the push for tradition strikes me as an attempt to provide a choreography for individuals to conform to – a choreography that stereotypes those cultures they deem desirable-to-emulate in a thoroughly romantic way.
I also wonder why traditional living would be desirable to me, here and now today? How does embracing tradition provide a desirable way of rebelling against the Leviathan today, particularly when its violence historically saw the end of traditional practices that it sought to annihilate?
I think rewilding is perhaps the most beautiful concept and practice within primitivism, even if I have a point of differentiation from general primitivist use of this term. I love how primitivists have used this practice not just of one done in the garden, but as something that they individually do to themselves. That rewilding is taken as a personal endeavour positions the activity as one of self-becoming, self-actualising, metamorphosis, destructive-creativity where who they are dies and is reborn.
As I expressed in my book Feral Life, I do not find the practice of rewilding to be limited to just the boundaries that primitivists will often limit it to – but would not deny that they can be part of a practice. For myself, rewilding is a process of reweirding, as what is wild is weird and what is weird is wild. This opens up rewilding to including modes of weird-experience that primitivists would often deny being at all valuable for rewilders. I have been disappointed to see primitivists push the line that rewilding is an embrace of normality, out of some historical stereotypes around “primitive” people – as if normalisation and normality are desirable qualities.
Another point of differentiation, though not rejection, is with regards to anthropological-realism. For many primitivists, anthropology holds the truth. So much of their theories and practices draw from anthropology as truth.
I am somewhat influenced by anthropology in my perspective – particularly Sahlins and his work Stoneage Economics. But for me anthropology is just a means of forming stories about how one or another group of individuals are living.
In my rejection of species-being (that goes with my rejection of speciesism), I do not encounter a desire to embrace anthropological-reconstruction, in the way that many primitivists advocate. As I experience anthropological-machinery as the apparatus for life-abuse, which is mass-extinction-culture(/this culture), I would rather see and partake in the deconstruction and destruction of anthropological-Realities than the (re-)construction of alternatives.
Like most primitivists I have encountered, I find the ending of civilisation through collapse. But I differ in many ways regarding what I mean by collapse and how I see this occurring. Where I find similar ground with most primitivists after this is in finding value in healing through rewilding post-collapse.
For most primitivists I have encountered, the collapse of civilisation is something that happens through essentially political – revolutionary-political – programming, in ways that (at least somewhat) conform to the ideas of Derrick Jensen, Ted Kaczynski and John Jacobi. The narrative goes somewhat like this – in the Future, civilisation gets too big for itself and can no longer support its own weight; and at this point in history, when the material conditions are right, a revolutionary vanguard rise up the People (not as masses but as People), who engage in “decisive ecological warfare” and civilisation is brought down through the revolutionary effort; after this political programming is completed, individuals experience freedom. There will no doubt be differences to this narrative between primitivists and I have generalised here, but generally this has been the “plan” as I have seen it from primitivists – a revolutionary theory/political narrative, or roadmap.
I do not see collapse as a political narrative or revolutionary occurrence, or as something that is waiting for Humanity when the right historical-material conditions arrive from the future. Rather, I experience collapse as a here and now process that is continually happening, with civilisation continually needing to attempt to rebuild itself. This process, as I experience it, is not a revolutionary movement, but an involutionary process; not political or designed, but wild and without a blueprint or choreography to follow. I notice that, where civilisation fails to rebuild itself – abandoned/ruined cities and buildings being some of the most dramatic examples of this process– rewilding happens spontaneously and without design. I know that, during my personal experiences of civilisation collapsing, the most intense places of healing and life-affirmation have been ones where I have experienced rewilding/becoming-animal.
Undoubtedly the most famous of the primitivists, there is a lot that is valuable in Zerzan’s thought – more than I will go into now. My personal relationship with Zerzan has always involved a point of tension, regarding his disapproval of my having collaborated with LBC and Aragorn!. But I have always found John to show something of caring affirmation, behind his grumpiness.
The most valuable areas of thought I think Zerzan brings to the conversation are his criticisms of symbolic-culture (though I do have some differences to his thought – symbolic-culture and symbolic-experiences are different to me, especially in totalitarian contexts) and time (which I would say Zerzan’s key failure is his not taking this far enough, with his embrace of historicisms). These influenced my thought in both Feral Consciousness and Feral Iconoclasm.
The most significant area where I differ in perspective to Zerzan is with regards to art and aesthetic-experience. My experience of artistry is of it being a point of civilizational collapse, where the will-to-life/power, which is wild-Being, cannot be caged and actualises the destructive processes of creativity (wild-life being creation); and I often think that whenever Zerzan critiques the arts he is limiting his perception of art to that of being the viewer/spectator, and that he fails to consider the artists experience of creativity.
I approach writing about Kevin Tucker with somewhat of a feeling of amusement and quiet laughter. Tucker’s feeling about me have been made clear through his aggressive dismissal and attempts to insult via Twitter (one insult finding itself in the opening pages of my Feral Life).
I do feel that the concept of primal anarchy, which I encounter as Tucker’s creation, is very valuable – which is why much of Feral Life is focused on affirming primal anarchy. However, I do differ from Tucker in what I mean by primal anarchy, as I feel that Tucker doesn’t actually understand the concept he created. I’ll explain myself. As I encounter him, Tucker takes primal anarchy to be a lifestyle articulated through an anthropological-realist lens – that of the nomadic hunter-gatherer – and basically only this. While primal anarchy includes this for me, I do not encounter it as only this. In my usage of the term, primal anarchy is immediate-freedom, anarchy occurring as a primary-process (primal-process) and not something occurring through a secondary “higher-order” processing. The difference between these meanings is vaster than it might initially appear. Tucker’s is with regards to an anthropological-reconstruction of a lifestyle – actually a secondary form of processing. My meaning pertains to a psycho-geographic-experience – a primal form of processing. One way of further differentiating Tucker’s meanings and mine is that in Tucker’s meaning “primal anarchy” is “out-there” and some-Thing away from us. For me, primal anarchy is a here and now encounter that I experience in the present moment.
One other (similar) point of differentiation between Tucker’s thought and mine regards our differences regarding the idea and practice of nomadism. Again, Tucker seems to take nomadism as something that is essentially limited to “nomadic-hunter-gatherer” ideals that he upholds as the true anarchy-ideal. I feel disinclined to limit the idea and practice of nomadity in this way. I encounter nomadism as both geographic and psychological and just how the mind changes through the experience of moving through a space, a space changes through movements within the mind. For me, the lack of psychic-nomadism within Tucker’s thought and his apparent ideological sedentism is astounding, and while I may be able to be accused of being a bag floating in the wind, I’d rather that than being a brick, stuck in the concrete.
Perlman’s impact on me is a strange one. His more analytic pieces often do not inspire much in me, if anything, whereas I enjoy his more expressive pieces of writing immensely. Where he has impacted me most is in his work Against Leviathan, Against His-Story, not really for the ideas and narrative he expresses within the book, but for the feeling I was left with after reading it. Reading Perlman’s Against His-Story was part of my motivation for writing Feral Iconoclasm – fuel to my fire. I actually included a quote from Against His-Story in the opening pages of the book.
While Quinn did not call himself a primitivist and is not usually considered a primitivist, I am including him here. My main reason for doing this is because I encountered Quinn when exploring primitivist thought and find a great deal of similarity between Quinn’s thought and that of most primitivists. I am aware that many would disagree with me on this and am happy to accept that.
Quinn’s thought I find immensely beautiful in many places – often far more beautiful than self-described primitivists (particularly the more political individuals within primitivist discourse). The areas of Quinn’s thought I want to affirm are his observations of the environmental situation being primarily a psychological occurrence – i.e. individuals forgetting as part of “the great forgetting” – rather than just a political one, and his identifying that ecological wellbeing is an egoistic (rather than moral) pursuit, where individuals embrace what they “really want”, rather than conforming to what this culture states they “ought to” want. With this, Quinn does not limit praxis to collectivist-type political-narratives – he affirms the open potential of the individual to remember/re-member and desire. I cannot understate how intensely this resonates with my thought and how enriching I find these qualities of Quinn’s thought.
Where I most intensely differ from Quinn is in his advocacy of the-teacher, or teaching-as-practice. My initial reason for difference is first and foremost because I don’t believe this thought can be taught, but occurs first and foremost through experience. After this, I feel an immediate skepticism towards those who seek to position themselves as “teacher” – especially in the context of meditation teachers or individuals who claim to be able to instruct individuals on how-they-should-think. Finally, I feel that there are far more and frankly better ways to impart thought, ideas and so on than teaching, such as art, poetry, conversation and (maybe) writing.
The primitivist who today I wish to affirm the thought of most intensely is that of John Moore. I consider Moore to be immensely brilliant and beautiful.
The aspects of Moore’s thought that harmonise most intensely with mine are his affirmations of bewilderness (his concept that I stole in my Feral Life), ecdysis, poetry, post-structuralist thought and post-Situationist praxis. To me, Moore is delightfully refreshing and invigorating to encounter, when contrasted with a world of discourse that is disappointingly dominated by anthropology. There is also a lively playfulness to Moore, most noticeable in his Book of Levelling, which is nowhere to be seen in the lifeless serious political-analytics of primitivists like Jacobi.
The one point where I will differentiate my thought from Moore’s here is in the romantic gender-essentialism he embraces throughout his piece Lovebite. He is obviously coming from an eco-feminist perspective throughout this piece and while I appreciate where he seems to have come from, to me the propagation of reductive gender norms in this way ultimately supports patriarchal narratives – or at least, that is how I see it.
As the title states, this piece is not a complete affirmation of my relationship with primitivist thought. There are subjects, such as technology and food-consumption-narratives that I have not included here, which I perhaps could have done. Equally, there are individuals who many might consider key to primitivist thought who I have not commented on. Regarding individuals who I have not included, my choices in individuals I have included has primarily been due to which primitivists have impacted me most intensely.
Through this piece I have sought to affirm areas of primitivist thought I find value in, as well as affirming areas of difference. This is to reflect neither a rejection of primitivism or an embrace. I am not a primitivist and have never described myself as a primitivist. I am though inspired, moved and affected by primitivist thought, as well as occasionally disappointed.
I would encourage anyone who would wish for me to have written more here to read my Feral books, as these have all be influenced by primitivist thought, while being different to primitivist thought.