If ecology is being in a mutually beneficial relationship with the land that we live on, rather than forcing the land into subservience to us, it would mean challenging our entire notion of what society is.
What would our planet look like if industrialism were not in place? Could experiments in living be the solution to the social crises facing humans and to the ecological crises engulfing practically all life-forms? Isn’t access to land a necessary condition for any self-organized, self-directed group of people? Will anarchist rebellion naturally lead to a society of free people living in conjunction with healthy habitats? If not, what sorts of natural and human relationships might arise from, and sustain, an ecologically-informed anarchist rebellion? These were the types of questions I was considering when I began writing the articles found in this book.
Digressions make conversations interesting, the adage goes, and so it was with my investigation and research. Along the way I learned that theories are most often just opinions and ideologues are imprisoned by ideas. I learned that assertions are generally less interesting than questions explored among friends. I learned that jargon is a sign of weakness, and that a manifesto yells while a romance whispers.
I have been inspired by the specific martial skills used by countless generations of people and communities resisting conquest and how those people kept martial approaches from dominating their social fabric. The essay Of Martial Traditions grew out of this interest. We need as many skills as possible to be successful and we needn’t fear that studying martial abilities leads inevitably to leftism. Martial skills can be used by individuals or by groups, as part of a push toward the acquisition of land or to attack an institution or individual. I was originally inspired by their potential for emerging communities of resistance, but discovered that these are skills that are useful generally.
I also discovered the historical existence of a band of escaped indentured servants in 18th century Newfoundland, Canada who successfully evaded authority by living in the wilderness for nearly four decades. You can read about this in The Society of Masterless Men.
Complete transformation, of our relationships with each other and with our natural environments, is both possible and urgent. The more widespread the participation in the thrust toward transformation, the quicker and more likely it will happen. Ultimately, it means overturning and dismantling the global grid of authoritarian and capitalist institutions that dominate us. If having a reciprocal relationship with a natural environment is inherently healthy because this creates habitats, which in turn sustain their living inhabitants, then a focus on occupying a land base would seem always positive. Local or regional undertakings in acquiring these bases seem the most sensible. Actions around re-appropriating land, because they undermine the state and the market’s control over our shared environment, help destroy the global institutions which prevent us from having land in the first place.
Isn’t it likely that the planetary network of authority and economics can only be defeated through multitudes of local and regional uprisings, ruptures and occupations, coalescing in an organic way? A single, overarching, world-wide movement would require complex international organizations to coordinate and manage, and this would open up the possibility and even likelihood, for new global institutions to form and dominate our lives in different ways. At the very least, the less diverse a movement, in terms of means and participants, the less diverse will be the resulting outcome, in terms of possible social relationships, should it succeed.
If we envision global revolution as the merging of countless numbers of local ruptures and rebellions, we can help prefigure this diversity by making our practice conform to our vision. ■ The essay Land and Liberty fleshes out some possible answers and approaches to questions of habitat and resistance, of the dynamic between local and global.
I looked into one of the main solutions environmentalists have been pursuing, i.e. the creation of parks and conservation areas. One of the many things I learned from this research is that the healthiest natural environments, often called wilderness areas, were not necessarily without human occupation. I share some of this research in the article On Parks. The first parks were indigenous peoples land bases. Many conservation areas are chosen because they appear pristine and untouched, but their very health, diversity and even sometimes beauty are often the result of generations of occupation by people who tended and protected and interacted with them, and this trend continues today. Hopefully this fact will help counter some of the misanthropy prevalent in certain environmentalist circles.
A while ago, many anti-authoritarians were reading and excitedly sharing a book called Temporary Autonomous Zones by Hakim Bey. This book spoke to investigations into what kinds of activities are not only worth initiating, but, given our lives within capitalist civilization, are possible to accomplish. My piece Permanent Subsistence Zones addresses those questions with a different answer, positing permanence and subsistence as the groundwork for the possibility of lives based around freedom and pleasure. While the specific actions in that article didn’t endure, it is the type of experimenting we need to engage in as part of our attempt to create ecological relationships with the places where we live.
Ponds and Oceans, a collection of simple phrases and proverbs, offers a different way of expressing some of my ideas. They are also a nod to the game of Go, an ancient board game or mental martial art widely played in most eastern countries and which uses proverbs as a teaching tool. In that collection, I use the noun federation and the verb tofederate. I do not intend these in the leftist sense of a formal organization with members, policies, a programme, etc., that seeks to take on a political or representative role. Tofederate, in my usage, means to not be afraid of collective power or will. Dismantling the institutions that prevent us from re-appropriating our lives means exploring ways in which to band together. We do this in order to more successfully protect each other from, and to take offensive actions against, those institutions, but as well to practice mutual aid and to cooperate on a larger scale than say within a group of friends or a single occupation site.
I also include a series of phrases in that piece based around the concept of withdrawal. While I question civilization, as I understand it, generally, the civilization which dominates us today is capitalist civilization. This specific civilization relies on statist and economic institutions which in turn rely heavily on technological means to maintain and advance its control. I refer often to secession and withdrawal, but I do not encourage these activities as a form of dropping out, but as a strategy for healing, for regrouping, for training, etc. Furthermore, I recognize that to simply withdraw and try to defend a place might lead to a series of losing battles, but I don’t think that this is the obvious or predictable outcome. I see withdrawal as a form of rebellion, as a way of weakening the existing order by withholding participation in it and ultimately as a way to better prepare ourselves for attacking its institutions from a place of communal strength.
Of course, not everyone can do this. I speak from my particular geographical and cultural place. I’m not trying to advance a universally applicable approach to rebellion. Where ever one finds oneself, whether it is in a prison or a city or a religious cult or a factory or whatever, one does one’s best to fight against the immediate experience of living under the civilized order. We need to attack and not just withdraw, but we also need to withdraw and not just attack. A dynamic between the two seems most promising.
As it stands now, some prioritize attack (black bloc, demos, strikes, sabotage, etc.) then disperse and disappear, which is ineffectual, while others withdraw (form communes, co-ops, community gardens, avoid wage labor, etc.) and never attack, which is equally so.
With the wisdom of hindsight, we can see that certain permutations of human organization are inherently destructive, both to our individual existences and to the environments that sustain us. These are the urban and authoritarian arrangements. The controlled existence of mass society is simply harmful and unnecessary.
There are infinite variations on how humans can organically self-organize in much healthier ways, so there is no need for blueprints or proposals to present that might detail such anarchic arrangements. However, I do allow myself to take a brief speculative stroll into the immediate future of a city following the destruction or collapse of urban society in my opening essay, An Open Offer. This might give the impression that I am arguing for transitional time periods. But this is not the case. Clearly cityscapes can be re-naturalized to some extent, but urban living itself is antithetical to anarchic ways.
Therefore, I would argue for the abandonment of cities and against the herculean efforts which would be necessary to redesign, reform and rehabilitate them. But there might be places where rehabilitation is necessary, for many reasons, and I am using this essay to point out that in these areas a transition from city to autonomous clan or village, from atomized urban dweller to free, wild being is possible.
The means of production did not have to develop from empire and conquest, through primitive accumulation to feudalism and on through to industrialism on a long painful path to utopia, a belief touted by both the lords of capitalism and the Marxist prophets of socialism. All that blood and exploitation and sacrifice have causes located in domination, not in any inevitable or desirable direction toward the positive achievements of something called “progress.” Partly because of this, you will find within my meta-narrative a great admiration for many of the cultures of land- based peoples, which I find consistently superior to urban/civilized ones. I believe that many primitive people consciously refused to allow institutions of domination to take root in their societies. This is an important difference from others who believe that because the non-civilized never had authoritarian institutions which they destroyed and dismantled, we can’t consider them examples of authentic anarchic cultures.
Urban societies are founded on constraints, on maintaining their regimes by suppressing the individual not only through laws but through the generalized fear of ungoverned individuals. But political authority and institutional bullying are inherently weak or non-existent in small-scale cultures. Therefore, free individuals have a far greater chance of surviving and thriving outside of urban (massified) existence. Or to put it another way, within small scale sets of social relationships constraints on the individual are much more difficult to establish.
Society, in the sense of that which is hostile and oppressive to the individual, has as a precondition: urban life.
Small bands of friends or even the human relationships which exist in small villages are not societies. Of course, I am talking about voluntary associations between people on a small scale. I’m aware that authoritarian cults, for instance, exist regardless of their size. I look at de-massifying our lives as important not only as a way of healing the environment through the eradication of industrialism, but because the more massified our settlements, the more human freedom is reduced.
Individual freedom thrives within a group of other free individuals, but the larger the group, the greater the depth and width of the constraints and the more impersonal the control mechanisms. Small groups of free individuals do not seem to legitimately constitute societies. One can be embedded in a group (which in turn is embedded in a place) and not experience any inherent antagonisms with the relationships that together constitute the collective. A group of people sharing agreements and practicing subsistence together does not establish a society. It is in this sense that the ungoverned, nature-loving individual is at the heart of my conception of an ecologically minded anarchism.
A group of friends who have been exploring many of the same proposals in this collection have recently begun using the expression “insurrectionary subsistence”as a way to summarize their ideas. Keep an eye out for pamphlets, magazines and essays with this headline in it if you are interested in broadening your understanding or participating in associated activities. I have been using “organically self-organized subsistence movements”, which also grew out of our discussions and actions, as an encapsulating phrase. Both of these give an idea of the direction some of us believe rebels should be going in.
It is my hope that these articles contribute some original thought, but I would be most pleased if they helped foster a new spirit.
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