Tools of Anarchism
Part 1: On Interpersonal Relationships (and Lived Anarchy)
A significant portion of anarchist theory deals with interpersonal relationships. What do these look like when the state falls? What does an anarchist society look like? Should there even be a society? What about community, affinity, free association?
While many anarchists put society on an imaginary pedestal, other anarchists argue that the construct of society itself stands in the way of anarchy and that it possesses an inherent authority. In their essay “Against Community Building, For Friendship,” the Indigenous anarchist ziq argues that “the ‘anarchist community’ ideal [is] inherently unattainable and isolating” and that instead, interpersonal relationships in an anarchy should be based on friendship rather than forced community.
As early as 1844, Max Stirner attacked the concept of society in his work The Ego and its Own, and as an alternative to society proposed the “union of egoists.” According to Stirner, this association is something mundane, but also an unbelievably mighty tool for the individual. The union is something that we experience and build over the course of our lives. In contrast to society, the union of egoists cannot be regarded as a static relationship between individuals, but rather as shared activities of life by self-interested individuals. These are felt, experienced, and lived in the moment.
We come together in this union for shared activity – not out of duty, morality, or other reasons, rather because we find mutual benefit in such a connection. Examples of everyday relationships based on reciprocity include, for instance, romantic relationships, playing games, sex, or robbing a bank. Such a union can also be formed by larger groups. A union can consist of thousands of people who join together into a labor union to fight for better working conditions. What counts is that all participants have the freedom to leave the union. If we no longer find it beneficial, no longer feel good about it, or wish to take on new activities, the union is ended.
In short: the association is transient, it lives in the moment. It is a tool of the individual. This stands in contrast to society. The individual is a tool of society. The claim of society over the individual is absolute and the individual cannot end this claim. While the union is a conscious act of your own power, society is imposed upon you. It is not based on reciprocity, and in it you are compelled to take up activities and relationships in which you find no satisfaction. Needs and longings are suppressed for empty ideas.
Another form of interpersonal relationship in Anarchist spaces is the “affinity group.” An affinity group is a group of comrades who understand themselves as an autonomous political force. The idea behind it is that people who already know and trust each other work together, enabling them to react quickly and flexibly to new situations. Although affinity groups are designed to be small groups, they can have a powerful impact. In contrast to top-down structures they are free enough to adapt to any situation. All members of such affinity groups can react without needing to wait for orders, all while maintaining a clear idea of the expectations and ideas of the others.
As a counterpart to the classic formal organizational forms with Programs, Declarations of Principals and Congresses there exist informal organizations in which the representatives argue that giant federations are a relic of the past, as proven by the fact that they have failed. Small, autonomous and agile groups are preferred instead. Without giving up the ever-important spreading of anarchist ideas, it is not a matter these days of collecting as many people as possible around anarchism at any price. It could be argued that no strong anarchist organization is necessary to give the signal for the revolution or the insurrection when the time is ripe. When it is no longer about how one can organize people for the struggle, the new question becomes how one can organize the struggle. Informal affinity groups, independent from each other but with a shared perspective on the struggle, are the best way to go directly on the offensive. This offers the most autonomy and the widest spectrum of possible action.
To return once more to “societal forms” in an anarchy, I think it makes sense to finally give an example of interpersonal relationships in a lived anarchy: the tribal or band model of hunter-gatherers, which was replaced some 10,000 years ago by authoritarian interpersonal relationships in the course of the spread of civilizations. In some parts of the world there still live small groups of hunter gathers who hold to their anti-authoritarian model of interpersonal relationships, such as the Hadza in Tanzania, East Africa. Many Anthropologists and Sociologists have and continue to characterize hunter-gatherers as “egalitarian cultures” or “acephalous societies,” but only a few use the word “Anarchy” – a remarkable attempt at ideological sabotage, if you ask me. (Acephalous, by the way, means “free of domination”).
Many hunter-gatherers stand (or stood) out through an exceptional degree of equality, of individual autonomy, of mutual aid, and of anti-authoritarian educational methods. They always live in small groups of 20 to 50 people, very rarely up to 100. We thus find here a similarity to today’s concept of affinity groups, which are commonly made up of 5 to 25 people. It would not be absurd to characterize a band as the first Affinity Group in the world. The small size of a band effectively hinders – along with its other characteristics – the formation of hierarchies. A comparison to Stirner’s model of the union of egoists can also be made. Sometimes different bands come (or came) together on a voluntary, mutual basis to, for instance, help with constructing temporary homes or to repel intruders. Afterwards the union was ended and the bands separated themselves.
In bands there exists an “egalitarian ethos.” If a member of a band violates this, they will be shunned by the other members. Either the shunned person changes their behavior or they leave the band and join another (free association).
One practice stands out in particular. Something which is paid far too little attention in Anarchist discourses: the anti-authoritarian methods of child rearing, which ensure that feelings of trust, egalitarian principals, and the rejection of authority are passed on to every generation.
The parenting style of hunter-gatherers would be characterized in the civilized world as “permissive.” Children could decide freely when they wanted to be fed or not, and they educated themselves through their own self-determined play and inquiry. Corporal punishments were non-existent. As described for instance by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, who studied the Ju/'hoansi in Africa’s Kalahari Desert: “Ju/wa children very rarely cried, probably because they had little to cry about. No child was ever yelled at or slapped or physically punished, and few were even scolded. Most never heard a discouraging word until they were approaching adolescence, and even then the reprimand, if it really was a reprimand, was delivered in a soft voice… We are sometimes told that children who are treated so kindly become spoiled, but this is because those who hold that opinion have no idea how successful such measures can be. Free from frustration or anxiety, sunny and cooperative, and usually without close siblings as competitors, the Ju/wa children were every parent’s dream. No culture can ever have raised better, more intelligent, more likable, more confident children.”
It is easy to understand that children who are trusted and well-treated from the start grow up to trust in others and treat them well, feeling little or no need to dominate and oppress others to fulfill their own needs. (On the theme of parenting I recommend reading the essay “Childhood & the Psychological Dimension of Revolution” by Ashanti Alston – more than once.)
Today, the Hadza are one of the last still-existing examples of lived anarchy and anti-authoritarian interpersonal relationships. And they have been doing so for at least 100,000 years. But the ever-expanding agricultural industry embodies the destruction of this last bit of anarchy.
The Hadza lived the great majority of their lives untroubled by the civilized world. As the Mesopotamian Empire experimented with agriculture (which led to desertification and flooding, which are still the consequences today), as slaves in Egypt were building the pyramids, as the roman empire rose and fell, as Europeans colonized the world, as Indigenous peoples on the American continent were slaughtered, as African people were kidnapped from their homelands to build the “New World,” the Hadza lived in complete ignorance of colonialism and agro-imperialism. Until the First World War that is, when the British colonial government tried to settle the Hadza and make them practice agriculture. If at first the Hadza profited from the new foods, they quickly saw no sense in doing heavy work in the fields when adequate food was freely available in the bush. Another reason why they left the settlements was the outbreak of infectious diseases which thrive in sedentary communities, such as measles.
Illnesses are rare among the Hadza. There exists equality between the sexes and youths can freely explore their sexuality. Women enjoy a high level of sexual autonomy, in complete contrast to the civilized world. The Hadza are also completely free from the suffocation of time. Their sense of time depends entirely on the migrating animals and the changing appearances of the flowering plants.
But in the last 100 years they have lost more than 90% of their lands due to the growth of agriculture and civilization threatening their regions. Cattle displace the usual hunting prey and eat the nuts and berries up. Due to the overgrazing of the region they have started to eat the grass roofs of Hadza homes. The trip to a water spring is today laborious because local agriculture has enormous needs, triggering a prolonged drought in East Africa and lowering the water tables. Many Hadza are forced to trade their valuable honey for less valuable cornmeal with settled communities because food procurement continues to deteriorate. Due to tourism, for which the Hadza are a popular attraction, some tribes have come into contact with alcohol for the first time. Alcoholism and its connected mortality has become a dire problem. If the Hadza are soon successfully robbed of their territory and their way of life, and in the course of this forcibly civilized, another set of living anarchistic interpersonal relationships will die. Soon there will be nothing left.
Part 2: On Decolonization (and the Technological Components of Colonialism)
The anarchist struggle is intimately tied to anti-colonial resistance. State and capitalism occupy the central terrain in both struggles. But many anarchists (as well as many anti-colonial warriors) often fail to take into account the various levels of power and oppression that are at play not just historically but at present. The technological components of colonialism usually get little attention and anarchism frequently has a notable eurocentrism.
To speak about decolonization, it must first be made clear: from what do we want to decolonize, anyway? Colonialism means that a dominant group exploits, assimilates, and forces its own values and ideals on a land and its respective population in order to annihilate the lifeways of the colonized people. Colonialism has occurred all over the world and shown itself through varied forms of oppression: land theft, enslavement, rape, the breaking of bodies through work, imprisonment and genocide, the kidnapping of children, replacement of religions and the annihilation of spiritual lifeways, the imposition of ones own values and imaginaries (for instance the gender binary and heteronormativity), or the plundering of life-giving habitats. All these things have left deep fissures within colonized peoples (physical as well as spiritual and psychological) as a system has been forced upon us which we have neither created nor shaped. These are the things we must heal ourselves from. Here decolonization comes into play.
Decolonization is about reclaiming what was taken from us and honoring what we still have. That demands conscious effort. It is valuable to seek actively what was lost and to remember what was forgotten. We still live with the trauma colonization inflicted on us, and many of us have so internalized the imposed values of colonial domination that they are sometimes more visible in our communities than in today's so-called “progressive” states. To name one example: before Colonialism there existed no clear concept of gender. Settler-sexuality enforced the concepts of the gender binary and heteronormativity in the name of Science. Values which were so strongly internalized that misogyny and queerphobia as well as patriarchal structures are widespread among colonized peoples today.
To decolonize the world, we must therefore first decolonize ourselves. We must heal from the deep wounds that colonialism left behind. That demands killing the colonizer in your own head. Decolonization is a way of life. It is a path that binds us with our past, present and future. It’s not just political but also personal and spiritual.
The Anarchist Dimension of Decolonization
Anarchism has yielded many different tendencies, but there are nevertheless three essential cornerstones of anarchistic thought: mutual aid, direct action, and free association. Mutual aid is the mutual exchange of resources and support for mutual benefit. Direct action emphasizes unmediated actions through an attack on the structures of domination, which I would personally call permanent insurrection. Free association is the means by which individuals determine how and with whom they will agitate together.
Anarchist decolonization supports anti-colonial struggles without placing its own ideals in the foreground. It means considering the wishes and needs of colonized peoples, even when these don’t correspond with one’s own wish for anarchy. Thus anarchist decolonization supports the struggle of the Zapatistas, even when they have voiced that they are not interested in anarchism (though according to their own statements there are anarchist Zapatistas among them). Other anti-colonial movements likewise do not have anarchy as the goal, but rather forms of Indigenous democracy and communalism, political systems which were widespread in the precolonial era. The anarchist anti-colonial struggle requires a respectful exchange of ideas with Indigenous movements in which distinctiveness and autonomy are respected and ones own ideas are not assigned to these movements. This is indispensable in order to hinder recolonizing tendencies in anarchist movements.
While its own ideas should not be assigned to movements, anarchist decolonization nevertheless places “anarchist values” into a focus that questions the foundations of civilization. Those marginalized and racialized are not absolutely free from the dangers of coloniality. Techno-industrial progress is the art of stealing the wishes of the conquered. Supporting the sovereignty of colonized people does not mean that you must support every person, every project, and every movement. There are many Indigenous, Black, and racialized people who have internalized the values of colonization, and you do yourself no favors when you help them come to power. Fight for liberating ideas, not for nations or bloodlines.
In an anarchist anti-colonial struggle, anarchist decolonization can show its full spirit and fight for the total liberation of humans and non-humans. In doing so anarchist decolonization draws on different anarchist tendencies. Borrowing from the insurrectionary tendency, the (neo-)colonial state is identified as an occupying power carrying on a permanent war of greater or lesser intensity to control natural resources and domesticate people. The feminist and queer tendency offers an important position from which to identify and destroy the constructs of patriarchy, the gender binary, and heteronormativity. Of particular relevance to the anti-colonial struggle is finally the green tendency, where ecological themes, land defense, and the liberation of human and animal are put into focus.
The anti-civilization tendency is the most radical among the green tendencies, recognizing the mechanisms of domination and oppression inherent to the construct of civilization that first led to colonialism. It battles the world-devouring Leviathan that exploits all human and non-human resources and seeks to redirect them into the flow of capital. The recognition and rejection of overlapping processes of domination, manifesting in different forms, offers a valuable perspective for the anti-colonial struggle to make colonialism and recolonization impossible.
Anarchist decolonization is above all fluid as well as wild and spontaneous like anarchy itself. It cannot be captured in a single concept and must always adapt to ongoing colonization.
The Technological Components of Colonialism
Many comrades cannot grasp the technological components of colonialism (or rather they ignore them deliberately), remaining perplexed at a perspective based on the urgency of utterly annihilating techno-domination and the tech industry. If you talk to them about the connection of technologies to power, they respond with the supposed neutrality of these technologies and that they can be decoupled from the very logic of power which developed and produced them.
Such a perspective ignores that the entire framework of fundamental technologies which have today entered into all fields of social life stem from military research, and that colonialism, historically and presently, has a strong technological component. It is in fact a cornerstone. The process of colonization developed over centuries, always adding new technologies as soon as they developed. These technologies are based not only on the exploitation of people in the Global South and their lands, but were and have always been unleashed against the “enemy” or tested in the colonies, until they finally make their way into the empire itself.
With the aid of the British colonies, undersea cables enabled telegraphic communication in service of the British Empire. New developments in record-keeping, archiving, and organization of information were first utilized by the US military intelligence service during the conquest of the Philippines. Governments today work together with tech-giants to enable widespread surveillance and control of their own people. This is first tested in the global south. Microsoft offers a solution for police vehicles with facial-recognition cameras that was launched in Cape Town and Durban, South Africa. The “Command-and-Control Surveillance Platform” named “Microsoft Aware” is utilized in Brazil and Singapore. Microsoft is also heavily engaged in the prison industry. They offer a variety of software solutions for the penal system, covering the whole process. In Africa they have gotten together with a firm named Netopia offering a “Prison Management Software Platform,” including “escape management” and prisoner analysis. Countries in the global south also offer an abundance of cheap laborers for technological processes and tech giants. These includes data annotators for artificial intelligence, call center workers, and content moderators for social media giants like Facebook. They clean disruptive content from social media feeds and are often left psychologically damaged.
Over centuries, imperial powers have tested technologies for the surveillance and control of their own populations on foreign populations; from Sir Francis Galtons pioneering work on fingerprinting, which occurred in India and South Africa, all the way to America’s combination of biometrics and innovations in the management of statistics and data, which constructed the first modern surveillance apparatus to pacify the Philippines. The wide collection of surveillance technologies used in the Philippines offered a testing site for a model that was finally brought back to the United States to set against the dissidents in its own country. High tech surveillance projects by Microsoft and their partners suggest that Africa will continue to be serve as a lab for carceral experiments.
The technological component of colonialism also reveals itself in the ways and means by which people in the Global South are exploited for menial and dangerous work as their lands are destroyed, just to provide supposedly necessary technology. Thus Congo supplies more than 70% of worldwide Cobalt, a vital raw material for the batteries used in cars, computers, and smartphones. As for Lithium, the biggest reserves are found in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Australia. Out of these, Australia is less attractive because the workers there earn dramatically higher wages. The actual process of mining the raw materials often has negative consequences to the health of the workers and their surroundings.
To eradicate colonialism, its causes, main actors, and processes must be clearly and plainly illustrated and linked. There must be no illusions: an anti-colonial struggle must inevitably align itself against the tech industry if decolonization is to live up to its name.
A Postcolonial future?
The shortcomings of imagining a post-colonial future are illuminated in the utterly bizarre thought experiments of so many people who call themselves Anarchists but nevertheless represent deeply colonial worldviews. The most repulsive of these concepts is “Luxury Space Communism,” whose more fitting name would be Space Colonialism.
Fantasies like these reveal an excess of naivete in liberation movements. When it is found that everything won’t just fall from the sky, the Global South will be further exploited until the resources have disappeared and the earth is burned. But that shouldn’t concern us, because afterwards we will have the materials we need to colonize space. “Radicals” will cling to exploitation and oppression when they discover that their ideal society doesn’t foresee any colonial luxury nor a system supported by exploitative labor practices. In the end, life as usual in the warmth of four homely walls is the mightiest and securest of all prisons.
Anarchists must ask themselves what they are ready to “give up” if their goal is a truly anti-colonial anarchy, free of every hierarchy, every exploitation, every oppression. If you are not ready to do without the many advantages which the Tech Industry has produced, ask yourself the question of whether anarchy is really right for you. Your beloved gaming PC with 16GB RAM and the newest NVIDIA GEFORCE is probably one such product that could no longer exist in a post-colonial future, unless through some magical means you find a path to non-exploitative manufacture and production. Until then you must either exploit other people to acquire the necessary raw materials or you will endanger your own health to get them. This is even assuming that the necessary machinery for extraction, production, and manufacture suddenly ceases to bring about the destruction of the environment and the habitats of the humans and non-humans within it.
Part 3: On Decivilizing (and a Revaluation of the World)
Since the beginnings of anarchism as a movement and philosophy, anarchists have continually widened their anti-authoritarian analysis. Anti-statism and Anti-capitalism were initially not just in focus but were the sole cornerstones of Anarchism. Frustrated by the male Anarchists whose conviction was that the liberation of women could wait until “after the Revolution,” women expanded the anarchist critique of authority to include patriarchy. Some decades later, queers widened the feminist analysis yet again.
In recent decades the anarchist analysis has expanded to include a critique of technology and civilization. After all, anarchism aims at the destruction of all authority. But anti-civilization analysis, setting a goal of decivilization, has not been well received by most anarchist circles. Instead there exists deep misunderstanding and misjudgment all the way to intentionally malicious defamation. In order to (hopefully) clear up these misunderstandings, I address the most common critiques, clarify what is meant by the term civilization (something which most also misunderstand), and illustrate why decivilization is perhaps the mightiest tool for Black and Indigenous Liberation – and for all people, all animals, and the world.
From a Free and Wild Life to Civilized Society
We are taught to believe that our modern lifestyle, characterized by competition, inequality, and oppression, is an improvement over the past. But when one considers the facts of human history, this misconception could not be more false. On the contrary, we have things to learn from our egalitarian past which reveal how we can revive the anarchy in our world.
An old African fable teaches us the following:
A group of nomads come upon a tree full of ripe fruit and hold a feast. In the morning, as they want to depart, a young man fills a pack with fruit to take with them on the journey so that they will will have more to eat. An older person in the group stops him: “We don’t have many rules, but the most important is: We thank, we enjoy, but we don’t take with.” The young man asked: “But why not?” The elder answered: “Because the world is rich and will take care of us. But when we take more than what we need, it is the beginning of the end of our carefree lives and brings the entire world to catastrophe.”
Pre-civilized lifeways in Africa had such a precise and deep understanding of the exact nature of their relationships and their impacts on individual quality of life as well as our collective fate, as did similar nomadic lifeways throughout the whole world. These groups managed to lead a peaceful, egalitarian life free from all authority and oppression, before pastoralism and settlement and finally civilization was established. For at least 500,000 years – it was probably more like two million years – our ancestors found a way to live in lasting harmony with nature. This changed with the arrival of agriculture and civilization around 10,000 years ago.
In nomadic lifeways there is no place for the accumulation of property and therefore there is also no great difference in material possessions. As a rule nomads only own what they can carry. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins coined the term “Original Affluence” to describe the lifestyle of hunter gatherers. This concept of affluence means: “having enough of everything necessary to satisfy ones needs and a lot of free time to enjoy life.” Hunter-gatherers reach affluence in the sense that they want little and don’t produce much, that is they are free of greed. Nomads live in groups in which there is as good as no material wealth, but in exchange true wealth: lots of free time to truly enjoy life. The generally high level of satisfaction, happiness, and love of art, music, dance, and social games is well documented among many original peoples like the forest peoples in Central Africa, Aboriginal Australians, and the various Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.
This original way of life, enjoyed by our ancestors throughout the great majority of humanity’s time on this earth, has survived even to this day, though it has retreated sharply and almost died out. In Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, in the Amazon regions of South America, and scattered over all of Africa there remain fully functioning nomadic micro-cultures, which are similar or completely identical to the life of “Original Affluence.” Although there are differences between these surviving groups, they have many commonalities. The best documented present hunter-gatherers are the Hadza in Tanzania, East Africa, and the Dobe Ju/'hoansi of Southern Africa who live in and around the Kalahari desert.
A short summary of the most important characteristics of hunter-gatherers:
-Work (mostly the procurement of food) requires less than half the time that civilized people spend in factories, offices, and other workplaces. The absolute majority of food is gathered, while the hunt composes only a small portion. Work and play are identical.
-Everyone has enough to eat and there is no hunger – by comparison, over 30% of the population in industrial societies go hungry.
-There is no concept of private property.
-Children are raised “permissively.” They educate themselves through their own self-determined play and exploration. Corporal punishment is non-existent.
-Outstanding health. Sickness is very rare. When one person is sick or disabled, they are lovingly cared for by the rest of the group.
-There is no hierarchy, no authority
-Everyone has the same access to resources.
-If one person shows shitty behavior, this person will be shunned until they cease their bad behavior. Otherwise this person decides for themselves to join another group, because no one lives (or survives) long on their own.
The few still-living nomadic groups were crowded out towards the least productive regions, the edge of their earlier living spaces, over the last 10,000 years in countless waves of marginalization by civilized peoples.
There is a multitude of studies on the original transition from nomadic to settled tribes. For instance, the San People in southern Africa (to which the Dobe Ju/'hoansi belong) lived peacefully and sustainably for hundreds of thousands of years before the Bantu peoples came from the north. The Bantus brought along agricultural methods and technologies, creating food surpluses and a rapid rise in population, following which massive and bloody wars between the tribes began.
There are many examples showing that inequality and the proportion of violence continued to rise after the arrival of agriculture. The isolated Enga tribe in Papua New Guinea traditionally lived on taro, yams, half-domesticated pigs, and a little wild game. But the introduction of the sweet potato, a quick and easy growing plant from South America, led to a significant rise in the food surplus. This surplus was fed to the pigs, whose population multiplied. Pigs became the means of exchange in trade. There thus arose a new political class which did no real work, instead controlling and manipulating the trade to their own advantage. In comparison to the poor farmers they became very rich. Every trace of equality disappeared from there and wars became ever bigger and more frequent.
Thus humanity traded quality for quantity and gave up freedom and autonomy for hard work and security. Life has deteriorated from many different perspectives, for instance through the reduction of our nourishment from thousands of different plants to just a few cultivated varieties, leading to the emergence of many new, modern diseases. With continuous growth and consumption have finally arisen the “Diseases of Civilization” familiar to us today: cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, broken digestive health, and much more.
Agriculture brought so many downsides to human life that the scientist Jared Diamond described it as the worst mistake in the history of humanity when he wrote: “Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions… Thus with the advent of agriculture and elite became better off, but most people became worse off. Farming could support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer quality of life… Some bands chose [agriculture]… outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter…. It's not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn't want.”
With the new lifestyle there also came a new division of labor. Farmers worked much more than before to feed everyone, while others concentrated on such things as the production of weapons and technologies. The accumulation of more property brought the rich more negotiating power and led to an exponential rise in wealth, meaning that the higher class increasingly exploited the work of the lower class for their own profit. The transition also brought with it the arrival of centralized power. Social inequality rose ever higher while societies became ever larger and more complex. Technological progress enabled an even more dramatically unequal distribution of wealth.
If the history of humanity started at midnight, then we would almost be at the end of our first day. We have lived almost the entire day as hunter-gatherers, from midnight through dawn, midday, and dusk. Finally, at 11:54 PM, we started raising crops. Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and long-lasting lifestyle in human history. By contrast, we have been fighting for some 10,000 years against the chaos that agriculture and civilization has landed us in. It is unclear if we can find a solution.
It’s high-time we protect the ancient history of anarchism from systematic extinction. It could be the key to our common future.
The Construct Called Civilization
There is a great deal of uncertainty over the word civilization (that even a little research on Wikipedia could start to clear up). People who live together in groups/communities/societies are not necessarily a civilization. People who live, for instance, as herders and not as hunter-gatherers are likewise also not necessarily a civilization. A civilization has unique characteristics.
Civilization is characterized as a complex society in which social and material living conditions are enabled through scientific and technical progress and created by politics and economy. With civilization it always ultimately always comes down to the formation of governments, states, and borders. Through the newly established hierarchy arises social classes, division of labor, and inequality. A civilization universally possesses an ideology containing a belief in progress as well as the conviction that particular groups are superior to others.
With civilization the worst evils broke out among us: empires, expansionism, colonialism, capital accumulation, police and military, prisons, the gender binary, and with it heteronormativity and patriarchy, wars for resources and land, the rise of classes, fascism, technocracy…
In short: a civilization centralizes power among a few people to expand long-term control over other people as well as nature. It is the absolute opposite of anarchy. Stop defending the civilization construct by defining it falsely. Civilization stands in the way of a good life for all. It is nothing other than the biggest prison in the world.
When we support the current liberation movements throughout the whole world, we should remind ourselves that truly egalitarian and just anti-authoritarian lifeways are not just possible but have existed far longer on the African and other continents than the young phenomenon of tyranny and oppression.
Towards a Decivilization of the World
I do not plead for us to return to the leftover remains of the forests and go back to hunting and gathering, even if so much speaks in favor. If we want to solve the many urgent problems confronting us today, we will need a revaluation of the world. Precivilized and uncivilized people deliver us valuable lessons that are not only useful but could protect us from a catastrophe where humanity could cease to exist.
To reclaim the freedom that was stolen from us, the world (or rather what is left of it) must be decivilized. We must tear to pieces what civilization has brought forth, and in the ruins of this broken old world build a new one that is once again habitable for all humans and non-humans. This envisioned future would not be “primitive” (though it can be), but it would definitely include much of what primitive people teach us. In the process of decivilization, which will necessarily last numerous generations, we must inevitably raise the question of if and what we can rescue from the wreck of civilization. And when something is rescued from this wreck, how do we prevent a new revival of tyranny? How do we maintain Anarchy?
A decivilized world is one thing above all: an unknown future without an exact timetable. It would be wild and spontaneous like anarchy itself. But if we as humanity want to survive, decivilization is the only way. One thing is certain at least: it would be a truly radical transformation. A radicalness which would deserve its name. A new beginning in which every foundational pillar of authority is torn and burned to the ground so something entirely new and liberating can be created – completely contrary to the desperate aspirations of other anarchists to reform civilization while leaving 90% of life untouched by the transformation. Wherever authority is not entirely smashed, domination and exploitation will always find a new manifestation.
Prejudices Against Anti-Civilization Thought
It seems to me sensible in closing to quickly go over the most prevalent critiques and prejudices to which anti-civilization thought is frequently exposed so as to clear out of the way any misunderstandings, misjudgments, and defamations.
“Anti-Civilization Thought is Primitivism”
No. Primal anarchists are against civilization but not all anti-civilization anarchists are primal anarchists – taken strictly they are probably a small minority. And even among primal anarchists there is no dominant consensus over what a decivilized world should look like. As Firth Estate once wrote: “The aim is to develop a synthesis of primal and contemporary anarchy, a synthesis of the ecologically-focused, non-statist, anti-authoritarian aspects of primitive lifeways with the most advanced forms of anarchist analysis of power relations. The aim is not to replicate or return to the primitive, merely to see the primitive as a source of inspiration, as exemplifying forms of anarchy.”
“To be Against Civilization is Queerphobic and Ableist”
This is a particularly “interesting” critique which above all highlights the nauseating and malicious defamations. Probably the greatest share of queer and disabled anarchists are anti-civ anarchists, while in fact “traditional” anti-authoritarian spaces have a problem with queerphobia and ableism. Thus the question arises of how exactly all of this fits? Are they really just self-hating queer and disabled people who are working for their own extinction?
Decivilization would have the consequence of gendering disappearing once again. By this it is meant that the concept of gender and with it Gender Dysphoria would cease to exist (it may look different for Body Dysmorphia). It is civilization which is queer- and transphobic because it laid out the concept of gender, and in it the gender binary upon which heteronormativity and patriarchy rest.
Regarding disability, it is held here that it is civilization that is ableist. Not only are people in civilization reduced to their bodies and transformed into goods, meaning that only able-bodied people are valued because they perform the necessary work, but civilization is also directly responsible for most disabilities. For example: victims of transportation and work accidents, Thalidomide babies, wartime invalids, disabilities caused by other illnesses, and, not to forget, the epidemic of mental illness.
The situation is no different for common illnesses: Diabetes, allergies, cancer, acne, heart disease, thyroid sickness, and so much more. Why do you think these are sometimes called “western diseases” or “Diseases of Civilization?” They are illnesses brought about through our way of life and do not occur in many primitive peoples, not just hunter-gatherers. There have been voluminous studies and research on that topic for many decades. These also show how fast primitive people can “catch” these when they come in contact with civilization. Lifeways change and people come in contact with the poisonous environment in industrial societies. The original diet is replaced with grain, dairy products, industrial byproducts, and yet more grain – the result: the previously unknown diseases of civilization break out.
Uncivilized people universally have exceptional health. Diseases are rare. What few sick and disabled people there are are lovingly cared for, not left behind. Even the Neanderthals cared for their disabled. Thus in a decivilized world diseases and disabilities would recede over the course of time. Not because these will have killed so many people but because their direct causes will be confronted.
To quote an anarchist comrade with disabilities: “When disabled and sick people concern themselves with the true causes of their suffering, the implications are inevitably anti-civilizing. Civilization is the greatest open air prison – in which the air is extremely poisoned – in the world. It mutilates us first in body and soul and finally implants the belief that only civilization can ease our pain.”
“Anti-Civ Anarchists Want to Reduce the Population”
Here we must deal with an allegation which also arises in discussions about a so-called “over-population.” One thing must be made clear from the outset: anyone who seeks active control of population numbers (“Population Control”, leaving sick people behind) is no Anarchist. It is also irrelevant whether the Earth is “overpopulated,” “underpopulated,” or “populated just right.” What counts is the here and now, how we will enable a good life for all people. Besides, decivilization would be a slow process taking place over many generations. 10,000 years of oppression will not let itself be undone tomorrow morning. Population numbers would automatically stabilize over such a process without any horrible notion of actively grabbing at control.
Feminists have moreover long argued that humans, free from the differentiated gender roles and the family structure, would not be defined by their reproductive capabilities as in a patriarchal society. This would lead to a lower population. The population would thus probably sink, in fact automatically.
“Without Civilization People Would Starve, Epidemic Diseases Would Break Out and there Would be no Medicine to Heal”
Then ask yourself why the Hadza, for example, survive until today. Hunger didn’t exist in such lifeways, but to a rather high degree in the civilized world. Naturally you can reply that eight billion people can’t be fed by hunting and gathering and you would probably be right, even if food forests appeared overnight where there were once shopping centers, commercial districts, insutrial complexes, and streets. Precisely for that reason, even I don’t advocate for a return to pure gathering and hunting. Perhaps a means of agriculture will be found that is sustainable enough to provide for all people without continuing the colossal ecocide. Monocultures are definitely out. Here also, Indigenous cultures deliver us teachable lessons.
Regarding diseases, it is once again the opposite. Civilization first made possible the serious outbreak of epidemics. We are currently treading into an Era of Pandemics. I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but I can’t imagine any scenario in a decivilized world where something like the current Corona Pandemic could kill millions of people, let alone that such a pandemic could even exist when you have destroyed its very basis for existence. The past should prove me right: epidemics first broke out regularly with the arrival of civilization. There were of course earlier infectious diseases, I certainly don’t want to lie. But never to the extent reached in the civilized world.
With that we finally arrive at the topic of healing and medicine and start off with a Fun Fact: an essential part of modern western medicine is based on the botanical knowledge of Indigenous peoples, which people appropriated in the course of colonialism and later synthesized. Indigenous cultures often utilized methods which modern science only barely understands, if at all. In fact, Indigenous groups as well as uncivilized/precivilized people have at their disposal not only a deep knowledge of nature, but also discoveries which have been lost to city-dwellers.
The majority of modern medicine doesn’t even heal but only relieves the symptoms. Take for instance medicines for the Diseases of Civilization like thyroid disease or diabetes, which as a rule must be taken for a lifetime in order to “manage” the illness. In decivilization, the cure itself stands in focus. Healing of the fissures which have grown inside the individual, between people, and between humans and nature. The fissures made by civilization, by power. Our modern medical progress is also anything but innocent – stop romanticizing it. Colonialism, imperialism, and horrific medical experiments largely on the African continent (as well as in the animal world) were always a part of this so-called progress. They remain to this day. My ancestors were tortured and killed so that today a pill can manage your illness brought about by the modern way of life.
Ask yourself: do I want to stand for the continued existence of this world, in which my children will be plagued by the same (and new) ills as me? Or do I want to take this destructive world and destroy it and renew it so that future generations can be spared from these ills? In the end, the best medicine is not fighting symptoms. In so doing, new symptoms often emerge and you end up taking Pill B against Pill A. Instead, you fight the underlying causes wherever possible. Here, at least, civilization is honest when it admits that it has created the worst illnesses and itself speaks of “Diseases of Civilization.”
We have and will all be mutilated in one way or another. Our psyche is damaged and we are destroyed physically by illness and disease. As Diseases of Civilization and other infectious diseases withdraw from life, the need for complex medicine will steadily decrease. A world which places healing at the center would energetically strive to heal ills. For the few modern medicines which could possibly be brought into a decivilized world, people will find non-civilized and anti-colonial ways to produce them. Today’s science also won’t suddenly disappear into thin air. (This also shouldn’t be taken to mean that you should suddenly throw out all your pills just because they have a colonial history behind them. We must recognize that the ills and destruction of our bodies brought on by civilization will not be undone overnight. It means to fight so that future generations will be spared these ills and destruction by tackling the root causes. Some will be corrected quicker than others – a change in lifestyle and diet, the abolition of work, letting wild the surviving specks of the Earth, all can have a quick and not insignificant impact. On the other hand, some threats will continue to harm us for a long time. The poisons which have accumulated into the soils, for instance, will remain with us for decades and centuries.)
With this piece I hope to have offered a glance at a perspective on restoring our lost anarchy, and to have shown that it is modern society which is backwards-looking, not primitive lifeways. Alongside eurocentrism, modern-centrism is revealed to be a grave problem. Our society endlessly describes the possibilities offered by modern technology and entirely ignores what it simultaneously takes from us. It is of critical importance that we examine with sober and objective eyes what we have won with the coming of civilization, but most of all what we have lost.