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A Primitivist Primer

By John Moore

Critique by Punkerslut

From RadicalGraphics.org
Image: From "Land" Gallery from RadicalGraphics.org

Start Date: July 16, 2004
Finish Date: July 19, 2004


     In studying the field of economics, I came across a great deal of evidence that supported the theory of Communism. But, what accurately describes such a system? It is, essentially, a system that is erected by the public, for the public, using technology to aid the needs of all. Farms, factories, and mines would cease to run for profit, but to house, clothe, and feed the people. However, this system of Communism had one aspect to it that some within the revolutionary movement criticized: the idea of technology. There is no doubt that Capitalism has turned the means of production, namely capital, into an enemy of the people. Farms ran not to feed the people, but to gain profit. Factories did not operate for the people's needs, but to gain profit. Etc., etc., with other aspects of the industrial economy. One group of individuals, known as Primitivists, have argued that it was technology, not the organization of technology, that was responsible for the ills of Capitalism. It is not my intention to make a condemnation of Capitalism within this piece, nor is it my intention to support the theory of Communism. This is not a piece about the rights of the workers over the privileges of the workers. It is a simple piece that will be used to acknowledge and criticize the claims of Primitivism.

Tools And Technology

A distinction should be drawn between tools (or implements) and technology. Perlman shows that primitive peoples develop all kinds of tools and implements, but not technologies: 'The material objects, the canes and canoes, the digging sticks and walls, were things a single individual could make, or they were things, like a wall, that required the cooperation of many on a single occasion .... Most of the implements are ancient, and the [material] surpluses [these implements supposedly made possible] have been ripe since the first dawn, but they did not give rise to impersonal institutions. People, living beings, give rise to both.' Tools are creations on a localised, small-scale, the products of either individuals or small groups on specific occasions. As such, they do not give rise to systems of control and coercion.

Technology, on the other hand, is the product of large-scale interlocking systems of extraction, production, distribution and consumption, and such systems gain their own momentum and dynamic. As such, they demand structures of control and obedience on a mass scale - what Perlman calls impersonal institutions. As the Fifth Estate pointed out in 1981: 'Technology is not a simple tool which can be used in any way we like. It is a form of social organization, a set of social relations. It has its own laws. If we are to engage in its use, we must accept its authority. The enormous size, complex interconnections and stratification of tasks which make up modern technological systems make authoritarian command necessary and independent, individual decision-making impossible.'

...Anarcho-primitivists thus oppose technology or the technological system, but not the use of tools and implements in the senses indicated here.

     It is very logical that John Moore protect his ideology here as he did. If he said that all technology was bad, that every manipulation of the natural world was a form of exploitation and served only to harm mankind, then he would have been leaving himself open to some extremely serious criticism. He protects his ideology here by making a distinction between tools and technology. This is very clever. If he argued that all technology, tools and more advanced forms of tools, were somehow opposed to the interests of mankind, then he would lose a great deal of credibility. For example, things so simple as a hammer, or a knife, or clothing, or shoes, or a bowl, or utensils, are tools, some of them extremely necessary to life as it would be perceived in a Primitivist world. That is, to say, a world without technology. Furthermore, other things, even more simple, could be perceived as tools. Language can definitely be considered a tool. Though it may certainly not be a physical object but more along the lines of a "style," it is certain necessary to cooperative organization. Then there are other more simple things, such as the tactics and strategy of dealing with worldy events, whether it's farming, hunting, communicating, social interaction, among other things. The farming technique of crop rotation, for instance, is a form of technology, or "tool," whichever you want to ascribe to it. Then, on an even simpler level, your own body is a tool. Your hands are used to mold the natural world around you, your legs are used to transport the rest of your body, and your arms are used in carrying, self-defense, and throwing. Yes, it would certainly be very easy to destroy the Primitivist ideology if he argued that all these things were wrong. Moore protects himself by making a distinction. If he did not, his entire theory could be thrown out because of its poor logic -- for a Primitivist community could not live with some of the examples of tools that I gave.

     John Moore makes a distinction here between "tool" and "technology." The distinction that he makes is that, so long as an item requires collective organization to produce it, it becomes a technology. When it can be produced without the collective, then it becomes a tool. This distinction, I contend, is highly erroneous and irrelevant. What do I mean by calling it erroneous? I mean, simply, that it is made not out of actual logical consideration, but that it is founded on the imprints of prejudices and deep-rooted, unsound convictions. For example, allow me to compare the words of John Moore with an intolerant person, that I may draw a logical comparison, not a moral one. A bigot may say, "All Jews are inherently evil." I may ask, "But, what about other people?" The response is simply: "Jews are only capable of displaying acts of cruelty and greed, though such is never the case with other people." Moore says, "All technology is inherently evil." We ask, "What about tools?" The response is: "Technology always works to debilitate the cause of community and love, though such is never the case with tools." The reasoning is more pathetic than the absence of evidence. For, it must be accepted, all pejudices that seek to undermine the value of an individual, are opposed to all ideas of goodness and justice.

     Though the distinction that Moore brings up is erroneous, how is it irrelevant -- that is to say, how is his distinction logically unjust? Allow me to draw a brief example of what I mean by "a logically unjust distinction." A person may say, "Handguns are bad, because they kill people. Rifles are not bad, because they are different and cannot kill people." This distinction, of rifles and handguns being compared and then separated via distinction, is unjust. What then causes me to think that Moore's distinction is logically unjust?

     I found myself utterly perplexed by Moore's argument that technology and tools are distinctive from each other in any significant way. Or, as Moore stated, that technology gives rise to control and coercion. According to this theory, that would mean that everyone -- up until the date of about 1800 -- was not controlling or coercive, since up until that date, Moore's definition of "technology" was not in place. The "tools" used up until that date seem, quite justly, to fit the definition that Moore provides us with: "The material objects, the canes and canoes, the digging sticks and walls, were things a single individual could make, or they were things, like a wall, that required the cooperation of many on a single occasion." Does that mean, in fact, that the brutality of the Inquisition is simple propaganda used by today's anticlericalists and that it never happened? Does that mean that the anti-Semitic laws and excursions were actually a facade, and never existed? The thousands of wars that were raged across so many contintents between so many people, all disputes over wealth and land with an aftertaste of prejudice, does that mean that these wars did not exist, that they are silly pictures drawn by our historians and our countless libraries? Consider the very early physicians, that tortured and experimented on human beings. Consider the early kings and despots of primitive nations, torturing and brutalizing their own people for some self-righteous decree. Because these things occured in an era that was technology-free, does that mean that they did not happen and were actually lies?

     Of course, I imagine the Primitivists will be quite responsive to this previous paragraph. They may argue, "Primitive society has not existed for so long. Technology was in effect for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. Tools that were made may not have come from factories, but they did come from blacksmiths. Food that was grown may not have come from agribusiness, but it did come from fields that were given fertilizer and they were harvested with advanced tools that came from blacksmiths. So, let us grant Moore and the Primitivists their argument. Let's say that the era of technology began long, long before 1800 -- that is to say, before the widespread proliferation of factories and mechanized production. Now, let us briefly cover some of those events again. The Inquisition tortured and brutalized so many people in their mission of "defending Christendom." When we examine this dark chapter of the world's history, are we to say, "This could be prevented, if the plough had never been invented." When we look at the countless millions lost in such horrific wars, are we to say, "These could easily be averted, if blacksmiths never got a strong footing in society." We cannot blame the persecution of tens of millions of Jews under Nazi regime on the creation of the spinning wheel any more than we can blame the million murders by Stalin on the invention of the compass. When we look to the torturers of the brutal dictatorships and the merciless monarchies, is our first response to be, "It is so unfortunate, that these people were to proliferate the technology of clothing..."?

     Now, allow us to assume that these statements were true. That it was in fact the spinning wheel that could be pointed to when one desired to know the origin of anti-Semitism. That, without a doubt, it was the process of blacksmithing that allowed for Stalin to brainwash so many minds. Let us, for the sake of argument, grant these points to the Primitivist. Even in primitive times, the people managed to persecute each other, over opinion on religion, politics, culture, or society. Are we to say that, the society underneath the law of Hammurabi, was closer to justice and humanity than any of our present societies? This was perhaps the first organized society, and one its laws: "If any one take a male or female slave of the court, or a male or female slave of a freed man, outside the city gates, he shall be put to death." ["Law of Hammurabi," number 15.] They lacked the basic technologies that would be developed in further years. Truly, it must be admitted, that they only had tools. The spinning wheel would baffle these people and the idea of machinery was so far displaced. They were just barely grasping the concept of writing. With all this taken into consideration, we still hear of their laws: "If a man's wife, who lives in his house, wishes to leave it, plunges into debt, tries to ruin her house, neglects her husband, and is judicially convicted: if her husband offer her release, she may go on her way, and he gives her nothing as a gift of release. If her husband does not wish to release her, and if he take another wife, she shall remain as servant in her husband's house." ["Law of Hammurabi," number 141.]

     Allow me to draw one hypothetical scenario. If one of the citizens of Hammurabi were to invent technology, would we automatically be inclined to think: "This man is going down the wrong path. He does not know what he is doing with this item of 'technology.' If he proceeds down that path, all of society will be doomed." What happened in this scenario? Technology did develop. The idea of owning a person as property, slavery, growing out of primitive culture, has been eliminated. Was it because of technology? Can we honestly say, "Alas, if these factories did not operate, and if these mines did not yield ore, and if these tractors harvested no plants, then we would be immediately thrown into the clutches of human slavery and torture"? Nay, these statements would be absurd, as the technology of the day does not relate to the humanity of the people living in that era. Citizens under Hammurabi were not more humane because they had less technology. On the contrary, their law was quite brutal and thoughtless. The Nazi war machine was equipped with some of the best technology that existed. So was the American Army at that time. Even though their technology was closely paralleled, it could not accurately explain why they adhered to the ideas that they did. The Nazis were cruel and brutal, the Americans considerably more humane. Did technology play a role in developing a sense of humanity in any of these peoples? On the contrary, it seemed to play no role at all. On that ground, I fail to see how Moore makes his case, when it seems that societies, primitive and "modern," hold no moral or ethical or cultural consistency based on their technology. An Animal that was a Curse to Earth Individuals, communities and the Earth itself have been maimed to one degree or another by the power relations characteristic of civilization.

     I think that, at the least, John Moore has no idea what he is talking about. His understanding of evolutionary biology, of primitive peoples, and of different cultures is ultimately flawed, if he has any understanding whatsoever. The idea of "the power relations characteristic of civilization" being responsible for the "Earth itself" being "maimed" is, well, considerably absurd. Before I bring out any theory, or simply unfounded conjecture like the author I am critiquing, I will bring out some evidence. How did the wolly mammoth and thirty other massive species become extinct? As one scientific article states... The latest study, reported today in the journal Science, dismisses climate change and disease as likely causes of the sudden, continentwide mass extinction that occurred between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. Scientists now believe the blame rests squarely on North America's human population, which at the time numbered no more than a few hundred thousand. A second study reported in the same issue suggests that the arrival of humans in Australia appears to have triggered a similar flurry of continentwide extinctions there. [Study: Early hunters overkilled, Species driven to extinction, Mike Toner - Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff, Friday, June 8, 2001.]

     These are some very interesting facts. It was primitive mankind, essentially without any top-down authoritarian order, that was responsible for the very first "desecrations" of the planet. But, wait, that's not all... Ancient humans started destroying the abundance of the seas by slaughtering whole species of animals, changing a delicate balance that was tipped further by excesses of the modern age, a study finds. A cascade of environmental damage that changed pristine Earth was started thousands of years ago by the destruction of key species, such as sea turtles in the Caribbean, sea cows off the coast of Australia, and sea otters near Alaska, researchers said in the study appearing today in the journal Science. The effects of that damage continue to the present. "There's been a longtime belief that everything was fine until the ... Europeans showed up," said Karen Bjorndal, a zoology professor at the University of Florida. "Now we've discovered that the start of the environmental problems [in the sea] go way back before that." "The notion of the native peoples' having a benign impact on the environment in their vicinity has been challenged," said Charles Peterson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "The general feeling is that there were dramatic effects locally and not a prudent predation" by ancient humans long before the colonial and industrial eras. Based on the combined research of 19 scientists on four continents, the study shows that careless and excessive harvesting of food from the sea as early as 10,000 years ago caused changes in the ecosystems and made the environment more easily damaged by the wholesale exploitation of modern man. ["Early man blamed for sea life assault," by Associated Press, 7/27/2001.]

     The so-called "maiming of the planet," or the "rapine of nature," actually started with the existence of primitive mankind. Since there has been so much irreparable, environmental damage committed by primitive mankind, I hardly see Moore's solution as doing anything but irrevocably and eternally damning the planet to a brutal history of exploitation and destruction. Just as Moore offered no evidence that technology breeds brutality, he offered no evidence that primitive mankind would treat the environment gently. But, this should not come as any great surprise. The "safe argument" of Primitivism, of "at least we're not harming the planet," is actually untrue. One might even further the position, with considerably evidence, that it is only through technology and civilization that the destruction of the environment can be avoided. Apparently, the excesses of mankind, primitive or modern, will be harmful towards the environment. The view that primitive mankind will be much less harmful is highly questionable. If mankind is going to live in a controlled way, that we prevent harm to the environment, the most effective method is through innovation. The resurrection of a destroyed ecosystem cannot be done by a society of primitive men, whose only tools are stone-tipped spears and rocks. A steady classifaction of the organisms of the planet, to understand them, will be the most effective steps to be taken to help preserve these organisms. If we are going to live our lives, in a way that we cater to our intellectual, emotional, recreational, and essential needs, then let us devise a plan in which to do this without harming other creatures. With the aid of technology, this plan is feasible. For example, we could produce housing that does not poison the environment or danger the habitat of other animals. We could eat food that we produce ourselves, instead of crushing necessary organisms in already dying ecosystems.

     One may argue that mankind must be eliminated. A sort of radical Anarcho-Primitivist might say that, with the given evidence, we should endeavor to destory all of humanity -- as it is a plague on this planet, by destroying so many species. Primitive or modern, mankind is a menace, says this Anarcho-Primitivist. It's true, they say, that mankind has destroyed this planet, in the form of a primitive society and in the form of a modern society. The human species must be eliminated! However, there are some facts that must be taken into consideration. First, for example, is this person's complete lack of education in evolutionary biology. It is natural for organisms to push out other organisms into extinction, and it is something that has happened literally billions of times. For example, right now, Red Squirrels in Europe are being pushed into extinction by the Gray Squirrels, the later being evolved enough to compete with more efficiency. [Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squirrel.] Other organisms "potentially destroy" their environment. For example, diatoms are one-celled organisms that are made out of glass in the ocean. Since glass in to biodegradable, the glass from their bodies is building up once they die. It is natural for this to occur, as it was not something invented by Soviet scientists in the 80's to use to overthrow "the free world." As far as the extinction of other organisms, there is no doubt that this has occured billions and billions of times. To say that it hasn't, is to say that every species that has ever lived on this planet is still around. Mankind and other primates are descended from a common ancestor who is no longer in existence, whose descendents were mere apt to surviving in their enivornment. The organisms of the world today are extremely evolved, but the original forms that they descend from are no longer in existence, since they could not compete in the environment. When mankind over hunted other organisms to the point of extinction, it was just about as natural as the Gray Squirrel taking over Europe from the Red Squirrel.

     So, then, what is the logical response to all of this? Perhaps we could effectively use Dr. Strangelove's dooms-day device to make the entire surface of the planet uninhabitable. Maybe, if we try hard enough, we can entirely and fully eliminate all living organisms from the planet Earth. In such a case, there would never again be a case of an organism being pushed to the point of extinction by another organism. A person who advocates such a theory is not necessarily without understanding of evolutionary biology. On the contrary, perhaps they understand it better than any of us. What this person is without, though, is far more important than a basic understanding of evolutionary biology: they are without a humane, tolerant, and gentle ethic.


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