Take the only tree that’s left,
Stuff it up the hole in your culture.
Retreat to the desert, and fight.
—D. H. Lawrence
THE HANDLE, which varies in length according to the height of its user, and in some cases is made by that user to his or her specifications, is like most of the other parts of the tool in that it has a name and thus a character of its own. I call it the snath, as do most of us in the UK, though variations include the snathe, the snaithe, the snead, and the sned. Onto the snath are attached two hand grips, adjusted for the height of the user. On the bottom of the snath is a small hole, a rubberized protector, and a metal D-ring with two hex sockets. Into this little assemblage slides the tang of the blade.
This thin crescent of steel is the fulcrum of the whole tool. From the genus blade fans out a number of ever-evolving species, each seeking out and colonizing new niches. My collection includes a number of grass blades of varying styles—a Luxor, a Profisense, an Austrian, and a new, elegant Concari Felice blade that I’ve not even tried yet—whose lengths vary between sixty and eighty-five centimeters. I also have a couple of ditch blades (which, despite the name, are not used for mowing ditches in particular, but are all-purpose cutting tools that can manage anything from fine grass to tousled brambles) and a bush blade, which is as thick as a billhook and can take down small trees. These are the big mammals you can see and hear. Beneath and around them scuttle any number of harder-to-spot competitors for the summer grass, all finding their place in the ecosystem of the tool.
None of them, of course, is any use at all unless it is kept sharp, really sharp: sharp enough that if you were to lightly run your finger along the edge, you would lose blood. You need to take a couple of stones out into the field with you and use them regularly—every five minutes or so—to keep the edge honed. And you need to know how to use your peening anvil, and when. Peen is a word of Scandinavian origin, originally meaning “to beat iron thin with a hammer,” which is still its meaning, though the iron has now been replaced by steel. When the edge of your blade thickens with overuse and oversharpening, you need to draw the edge out by peening it—cold-forging the blade with hammer and small anvil. It’s a tricky job. I’ve been doing it for years, but I’ve still not mastered it. Probably you never master it, just as you never really master anything. That lack of mastery, and the promise of one day reaching it, is part of the complex beauty of the tool.
Etymology can be interesting. Scythe, originally rendered sithe, is an Old English word, indicating that the tool has been in use in these islands for at least a thousand years. But archaeology pushes that date much further out; Roman scythes have been found with blades nearly two meters long. Basic, curved cutting tools for use on grass date back at least ten thousand years, to the dawn of agriculture and thus to the dawn of civilizations. Like the tool, the word, too, has older origins. The Proto-Indo-European root of scythe is the word sek, meaning to cut, or to divide. Sek is also the root word of sickle, saw, schism, sex, and science.
I’VE RECENTLY BEEN reading the collected writings of Theodore Kaczynski. I’m worried that it may change my life. Some books do that, from time to time, and this is beginning to shape up as one of them.
It’s not that Kaczynski, who is a fierce, uncompromising critic of the techno-industrial system, is saying anything I haven’t heard before. I’ve heard it all before, many times. By his own admission, his arguments are not new. But the clarity with which he makes them, and his refusal to obfuscate, are refreshing. I seem to be at a point in my life where I am open to hearing this again. I don’t know quite why.
Here are the four premises with which he begins the book:
1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.
2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.
3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defense against revolution.
4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society.
Kaczynski’s prose is sparse, and his arguments logical and unsentimental, as you might expect from a former mathematics professor with a degree from Harvard. I have a tendency toward sentimentality around these issues, so I appreciate his discipline. I’m about a third of the way through the book at the moment, and the way that the four arguments are being filled out is worryingly convincing. Maybe it’s what scientists call “confirmation bias,” but I’m finding it hard to muster good counterarguments to any of them, even the last. I say “worryingly” because I do not want to end up agreeing with Kaczynski. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, if I do end up agreeing with him—and with other such critics I have been exploring recently, such as Jacques Ellul and D. H. Lawrence and C. S. Lewis and Ivan Illich—I am going to have to change my life in quite profound ways. Not just in the ways I’ve already changed it (getting rid of my telly, not owning a credit card, avoiding smartphones and e-readers and sat-navs, growing at least some of my own food, learning practical skills, fleeing the city, etc.), but properly, deeply. I am still embedded, at least partly because I can’t work out where to jump, or what to land on, or whether you can ever get away by jumping, or simply because I’m frightened to close my eyes and walk over the edge.
I’m writing this on a laptop computer, by the way. It has a broadband connection and all sorts of fancy capabilities I have never tried or wanted to use. I mainly use it for typing. You might think this makes me a hypocrite, and you might be right, but there is a more interesting observation you could make. This, says Kaczynski, is where we all find ourselves, until and unless we choose to break out. In his own case, he explains, he had to go through a personal psychological collapse as a young man before he could escape what he saw as his chains. He explained this in a letter in 2003:
I knew what I wanted: To go and live in some wild place. But I didn’t know how to do so. . . . I did not know even one person who would have understood why I wanted to do such a thing. So, deep in my heart, I felt convinced that I would never be able to escape from civilization. Because I found modern life absolutely unacceptable, I grew increasingly hopeless until, at the age of 24, I arrived at a kind of crisis: I felt so miserable that I didn’t care whether I lived or died. But when I reached that point a sudden change took place: I realized that if I didn’t care whether I lived or died, then I didn’t need to fear the consequences of anything I might do. Therefore I could do anything I wanted. I was free!
At the beginning of the 1970s, Kaczynski moved to a small cabin in the woods of Montana where he worked to live a self-sufficient life, without electricity, hunting and fishing and growing his own food. He lived that way for twenty-five years, trying, initially at least, to escape from civilization. But it didn’t take him long to learn that such an escape, if it were ever possible, is not possible now. More cabins were built in his woods, roads were enlarged, loggers buzzed through his forests. More planes passed overhead every year. One day, in August 1983, Kaczynski set out hiking toward his favorite wild place:
The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the Tertiary age. It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. . . . That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it. . . . You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge.
I can identify with pretty much every word of this, including, sometimes, the last one. This is the other reason that I do not want to end up being convinced by Kaczynski’s position. Ted Kaczynski was known to the FBI as the Unabomber during the seventeen years in which he sent parcel bombs from his shack to those he deemed responsible for the promotion of the technological society he despises. In those two decades he killed three people and injured twenty-four others. His targets lost eyes and fingers and sometimes their lives. He nearly brought down an airplane. Unlike many other critics of the technosphere, who are busy churning out books and doing the lecture circuit and updating their anarcho-primitivist websites, Kaczynski wasn’t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.
BACK TO THE SCYTHE. It’s an ancient piece of technology; tried and tested, improved and honed, literally and metaphorically, over centuries. It’s what the green thinkers of the 1970s used to call an “appropriate technology”—a phrase that I would love to see resurrected—and what the unjustly neglected philosopher Ivan Illich called a “tool for conviviality.” Illich’s critique of technology, like Kaczynski’s, was really a critique of power. Advanced technologies, he explained, created dependency; they took tools and processes out of the hands of individuals and put them into the metaphorical hands of organizations. The result was often “modernized poverty,” in which human individuals became the equivalent of parts in a machine rather than the owners and users of a tool. In exchange for flashing lights and throbbing engines, they lost the things that should be most valuable to a human individual: Autonomy. Freedom. Control.
Illich’s critique did not, of course, just apply to technology. It applied more widely to social and economic life. A few years back I wrote a book called Real England, which was also about conviviality, as it turned out. In particular, it was about how human-scale, vernacular ways of life in my home country were disappearing, victims of the march of the machine. Small shops were crushed by supermarkets, family farms pushed out of business by the global agricultural market, ancient orchards rooted up for housing developments, pubs shut down by developers and state interference. What the book turned out to be about, again, was autonomy and control: about the need for people to be in control of their tools and places rather than to remain cogs in the machine.
Critics of that book called it nostalgic and conservative, as they do with all books like it. They confused a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined “golden age.” It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a “crank” by saying, “A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions.”
Still, if I’m honest, I’ll have to concede that the critics may have been onto something in one sense. If you want human-scale living, you doubtless do need to look backward. If there was an age of human autonomy, it seems to me that it probably is behind us. It is certainly not ahead of us, or not for a very long time; not unless we change course, which we show no sign of wanting to do.
Schumacher’s riposte reminds us that Ivan Illich was far from being the only thinker to advance a critique of the dehumanizing impacts of megatechnologies on both the human soul and the human body. E. F. Schumacher, Leopold Kohr, Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Kirkpatrick Sale, Jerry Mander, Edward Goldsmith—there’s a long roll call of names, thinkers and doers all, promoters of appropriate energy and convivial tools, interrogators of the paradigm. For a while, in the ’60s and ’70s, they were riding high. Then they were buried, by Thatcher and Reagan, by three decades of cheap oil and shopping. Lauded as visionaries at first, at least by some, they became mocked as throwbacks by those who remembered them. Kaczynski’s pipe bombs, plugged with whittled wood, wired up to batteries and hidden inside books, were a futile attempt to spark a revolution from the ashes of their thinking. He will spend the rest of his life in Colorado’s Florence Federal Administrative Maximum Penitentiary as a result—surely one of the least human-scale and convivial places on earth.
But things change. Today, as three decades of cheap fuel, free money, and economic enclosure come to a shuddering, collapsing halt, suddenly it’s Thatcher and Reagan and the shrieking, depleting faithful in the Friedmanite think tanks who are starting to look like the throwbacks. Another orthodoxy is in its death throes. What happens next is what interests me, and worries me too.
EVERY SUMMER I run scything courses in the north of England and in Scotland. I teach the skills I’ve picked up using this tool over the past five or six years to people who have never used one before. It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I do, in the all-around sense, apart from being a father to my children (and scything is easier than fathering). Writing is fulfilling too, intellectually and sometimes emotionally, but physically it is draining and boring: hours in front of computers or scribbling notes in books, or reading and thinking or attempting to think.
Mowing with a scythe shuts down the jabbering brain for a little while, or at least the rational part of it, leaving only the primitive part, the intuitive reptile consciousness, working fully. Using a scythe properly is a meditation: your body in tune with the tool, your tool in tune with the land. You concentrate without thinking, you follow the lay of the ground with the face of your blade, you are aware of the keenness of its edge, you can hear the birds, see things moving through the grass ahead of you. Everything is connected to everything else, and if it isn’t, it doesn’t work. Your blade tip jams into the ground, you blunt the edge on a molehill you didn’t notice, you pull a muscle in your back, you slice your finger as you’re honing. Focus—relaxed focus—is the key to mowing well. Tolstoy, who obviously wrote from experience, explained it in Anna Karenina:
The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe, but the scythe itself his whole body, so conscious and full of life; and as if by magic, regularly and definitely without a thought being given to it, the work accomplished itself of its own accord. These were blessed moments.
People come to my courses for all kinds of reasons, but most want to learn to use the tool for a practical purpose. Sometimes they are managing wildlife reserves or golf courses. Some of them want to control sedge grass or nettles or brambles in their fields or gardens, or destroy couch grass on their allotments. Some of them want to trim lawns or verges. This year I’m also doing some courses for people with mental health problems, using tools to help them root themselves in practical, calming work.
Still, the reaction of most people when I tell them I’m a scythe teacher is the same: incredulity or amusement, or polite interest, usually overlaid onto a sense that this is something quaint and rather silly that doesn’t have much place in the modern world. After all, we have weed whackers and lawnmowers now, and they are noisier than scythes and have buttons and use electricity or petrol and therefore they must perform better, right?
Now, I would say this of course, but no, it is not right. Certainly if you have a five-acre meadow and you want to cut the grass for hay or silage, you are going to get it done a lot quicker (though not necessarily more efficiently) with a tractor and cutter bar than you would with a scythe team, which is the way it was done before the 1950s. Down at the human scale, though, the scythe still reigns supreme.
A growing number of people I teach, for example, are looking for an alternative to a brushcutter. A brushcutter is essentially a mechanical scythe. It is a great heavy piece of machinery that needs to be operated with both hands and requires its user to dress up like Darth Vader in order to swing it through the grass. It roars like a motorbike, belches out fumes, and requires a regular diet of fossil fuels. It hacks through the grass instead of slicing it cleanly like a scythe blade. It is more cumbersome, more dangerous, no faster, and far less pleasant to use than the tool it replaced. And yet you see it used everywhere: on motorway verges, in parks, even, for heaven’s sake, in nature reserves. It’s a horrible, clumsy, ugly, noisy, inefficient thing. So why do people use it, and why do they still laugh at the scythe?
To ask that question in those terms is to misunderstand what is going on. Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.
THE HOMELY, pipe-smoking, cob-and-straw visions of Illich and Schumacher take us back to what we would like to think was a kinder time: a time when no one was mailing out bombs in pursuit of a gentler world. This was the birth of what would become known as the “green” movement. I sometimes like to say that the movement was born in the same year I was—1972, the year in which the fabled Limits to Growth report was commissioned by the Club of Rome—and this is near enough to the truth to be a jumping-off point for a narrative.
If the green movement was born in the early 1970s, then the 1980s, when there were whales to be saved and rainforests to be campaigned for, were its adolescence. Its coming-of-age party was in 1992, in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. The 1992 Earth Summit was a jamboree of promises and commitments: to tackle climate change, to protect forests, to protect biodiversity, and to promote something called “sustainable development,” a new concept that would become, over the next two decades, the most fashionable in global politics and business. The future looked bright for the greens back then. It often does when you’re twenty.
Two decades on, things look rather different. In 2012, the bureaucrats, the activists, and the ministers gathered again in Rio for a stock-taking exercise called Rio+20. It was accompanied by the usual shrill demands for optimism and hope, but there was no disguising the hollowness of the exercise. Every environmental problem identified at the original Earth Summit has gotten worse in the intervening twenty years, often very much worse, and there is no sign of this changing.
The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing. There is no likelihood of the world going their way. In most green circles now, sooner or later, the conversation comes round to the same question: what the hell do we do next?
There are plenty of people who think they know the answer to that question. One of them is Peter Kareiva, who would like to think that he and his kind represent the future of environmentalism, and who may turn out to be right. Kareiva is chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, which is among the world’s largest environmental organizations. He is a scientist, a revisionist, and one among a growing number of former greens who might best be called “neo-environmentalists.”
The resemblance between this coalescing group and the Friedmanite “neoliberals” of the early 1970s is intriguing. Like the neoliberals, the neo-environmentalists are attempting to break through the lines of an old orthodoxy that is visibly exhausted and confused. Like the neoliberals, they are mostly American and mostly male, and they emphasize scientific measurement and economic analysis over other ways of seeing and measuring. Like the neoliberals, they cluster around a few key think tanks: then, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Cato Institute, and the Adam Smith Institute; now, the Breakthrough Institute, the Long Now Foundation, and the Copenhagen Consensus. Like the neoliberals, they are beginning to grow in numbers at a time of global collapse and uncertainty. And like the neoliberals, they think they have radical solutions.
Kareiva’s ideas are a good place to start in understanding the neo-environmentalists. He is an outspoken former conservationist who now believes that most of what the greens think they know is wrong. Nature, he says, is more resilient than fragile; science proves it. “Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment,” he says, “and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Wilderness does not exist; all of it has been influenced by humans at some time. Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?” Somehow, you know what the answer is going to be before he gives it to you.
If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politican might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.
Beyond the field of conservation, the neo-environmentalists are distinguished by their attitude toward new technologies, which they almost uniformly see as positive. Civilization, nature, and people can only be “saved” by enthusiastically embracing biotechnology, synthetic biology, nuclear power, geoengineering, and anything else with the prefix “new” that annoys Greenpeace. The traditional green focus on “limits” is dismissed as naïve. We are now, in Brand’s words, “as gods,” and we have to step up and accept our responsibility to manage the planet rationally through the use of new technology guided by enlightened science.
Neo-environmentalists also tend to exhibit an excitable enthusiasm for markets. They like to put a price on things like trees, lakes, mist, crocodiles, rainforests, and watersheds, all of which can deliver “ecosystem services,” which can be bought and sold, measured and totted up. Tied in with this is an almost religious attitude toward the scientific method. Everything that matters can be measured by science and priced by markets, and any claims without numbers attached can be easily dismissed. This is presented as “pragmatism” but is actually something rather different: an attempt to exclude from the green debate any interventions based on morality, emotion, intuition, spiritual connection, or simple human feeling.
Some of this might be shocking to some old-guard greens—which is the point—but it is hardly a new message. In fact, it is a very old one; it is simply a variant on the old Wellsian techno-optimism that has been promising us cornucopia for over a century. It’s an old-fashioned Big Science, Big Tech, and Big Money narrative filtered through the lens of the internet and garlanded with holier-than-thou talk about saving the poor and feeding the world.
But though they burn with the shouty fervor of the born-again, the neo-environmentalists are not exactly wrong. In fact, they are at least half right. They are right to say that the human-scale, convivial approaches of those 1970s thinkers are never going to work if the world continues to formulate itself according to the demands of late capitalist industrialism. They are right to say that a world of 9 billion people all seeking the status of middle-class consumers cannot be sustained by vernacular approaches. They are right to say that the human impact on the planet is enormous and irreversible. They are right to say that traditional conservation efforts sometimes idealized a preindustrial nature. They are right to say that the campaigns of green NGOs often exaggerate and dissemble. And they are right to say that the greens have hit a wall, and that continuing to ram their heads against it is not going to knock it down.
What’s interesting, though, is what they go on to build on this foundation. The first sign that this is not, as declared, a simple “ecopragmatism” but something rather different comes when you read paragraphs like this:
For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.
This is the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s book Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, though it could just as easily be from anywhere else in the neo-environmentalist canon. But who are the “many people” who have “unquestioningly accepted” this line? I’ve met a lot of conservationists and environmentalists in my time, and I don’t think I’ve ever met one who believed there was any such thing as “pristine, pre-human” nature. What they did believe was that there were still large-scale, functioning ecosystems that were worth getting out of bed to protect from destruction.
To understand why, consider the case of the Amazon. What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.
This is what intelligent green thinking has always called for: human and nonhuman nature working in some degree of harmony, in a modern world of compromise and change in which some principles, nevertheless, are worth cleaving to. “Nature” is a resource for people, and always has been; we all have to eat, make shelter, hunt, live from its bounty like any other creature. But that doesn’t preclude us understanding that it has a practical, cultural, emotional, and even spiritual value beyond that too, which is equally necessary for our well-being.
The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:
Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.
There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should. Science says so! A full circle has been drawn, the greens have been buried by their own children, and under the soil with them has gone their naïve, romantic, and antiscientific belief that nonhuman life has any value beyond what we very modern humans can make use of.
“Wilderness can be saved permanently,” claims Ted Kaczynski, “only by eliminating the technoindustrial system.” I am beginning to think that the neo-environmentalists may leave a deliciously ironic legacy: proving the Unabomber right.
IN HIS BOOK A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright coins the term “progress trap.” A progress trap, says Wright, is a short-term social or technological improvement that turns out in the longer term to be a backward step. By the time this is realized—if it ever is—it is too late to change course.
The earliest example he gives is the improvement in hunting techniques in the Upper Paleolithic era, around fifteen thousand years ago. Wright tracks the disappearance of wildlife on a vast scale whenever prehistoric humans arrived on a new continent. As Wright explains: “Some of their slaughter sites were almost industrial in size: 1,000 mammoths at one; more than 100,000 horses at another.” But there was a catch:
The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game. Most of the great human migrations across the world at this time must have been driven by want, as we bankrupted the land with our moveable feasts.
This is the progress trap. Each improvement in our knowledge or in our technology will create new problems, which require new improvements. Each of these improvements tends to make society bigger, more complex, less human-scale, more destructive of nonhuman life, and more likely to collapse under its own weight.
Spencer Wells takes up the story in his book Pandora’s Seed, a revisionist history of the development of agriculture. The story we were all taught at school—or I was, anyway—is that humans “developed” or “invented” agriculture, because they were clever enough to see that it would form the basis of a better way of living than hunting and gathering. This is the same attitude that makes us assume that a brushcutter is a better way of mowing grass than a scythe, and it seems to be equally erroneous. As Wells demonstrates, analysis of the skeletal remains of people living before and after the transition to agriculture during the Paleolithic demonstrate something remarkable: an all-around collapse in quality of life when farming was adopted.
Hunter-gatherers living during the Paleolithic period, between 30,000 and 9,000 BCE, were on average taller—and thus, by implication, healthier—than any people since, including people living in late twentieth-century America. Their median life span was higher than at any period for the next six thousand years, and their health, as estimated by measuring the pelvic inlet depth of their skeletons, appears to have been better, again, than at any period since—including the present day. This collapse in individual well-being was likely due to the fact that settled agricultural life is physically harder and more disease-ridden than the life of a shifting hunter-gatherer community.
So much for progress. But why in this case, Wells asks, would any community move from hunting and gathering to agriculture? The answer seems to be: not because they wanted to, but because they had to. They had spelled the end of their hunting and gathering lifestyle by getting too good at it. They had killed off most of their prey and expanded their numbers beyond the point at which they could all survive. They had fallen into a progress trap.
We have been falling into them ever since. Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.
It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around. GM crops are an attempt to solve the problems caused by the last progress trap; they are also the next one. I would be willing to bet a lot of money that in forty years’ time, the successors of the neo-environmentalists will be making precisely the same arguments about the necessity of adopting the next wave of technologies needed to dig us out of the trap that GM crops have dropped us neatly into. Perhaps it will be vat-grown meat, or synthetic wheat, or some nano-bio-gubbins as yet unthought of. Either way, it will be vital for growth and progress, and a moral necessity. As Kurt Vonnegut would have said: “so it goes.”
“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress. It is far too late to think about dismantling this machine in a rational manner—and in any case who wants to? We can’t deny that it brings benefits to us, even as it chokes us and our world by degrees. Those benefits are what keep us largely quiet and uncomplaining as the machine rolls on, in the words of the poet R. S. Thomas, “over the creeds and masterpieces”:
The machine appeared
In the distance, singing to itself
Of money. Its song was the web
They were caught in, men and women
Together. The villages were as flies
To be sucked empty.
A tear. Enough, enough,
He commanded, but the machine
Looked at him and went on singing.
OVER THE NEXT few years, the old green movement that I grew up with is likely to fall to pieces. Many of those pieces will be picked up and hoarded by the growing ranks of the neo-environmentalists. The mainstream of the green movement has laid itself open to their advances in recent years with its obsessive focus on carbon and energy technologies and its refusal to speak up for a subjective, vernacular, nontechnical engagement with nature. The neo-environmentalists have a great advantage over the old greens, with their threatening talk about limits to growth, behavior change, and other such against-the-grain stuff: they are telling this civilization what it wants to hear. What it wants to hear is that the progress trap in which our civilization is caught can be escaped from by inflating a green tech bubble on which we can sail merrily into the future, happy as gods and equally in control.
In the short term, the future belongs to the neo-environmentalists, and it is going to be painful to watch. In the long term, though, I’d guess they will fail, for two reasons. Firstly, that bubbles always burst. Our civilization is beginning to break down. We are at the start of an unfolding economic and social collapse, which may take decades or longer to play out—and which is playing out against the background of a planetary ecocide that nobody seems able to prevent. We are not gods, and our machines will not get us off this hook, however clever they are and however much we would like to believe it.
But there is another reason that the new breed are unlikely to be able to build the world they want to see: we are not—even they are not—primarily rational, logical, or “scientific” beings. Our human relationship to the rest of nature is not akin to the analysis of bacteria in a petri dish; it is more like the complex, love-hate relationship we might have with lovers or parents or siblings. It is who we are, unspoken and felt and frustrating and inspiring and vital and impossible to peer-review. You can reach part of it with the analytical mind, but the rest will remain buried in the ancient woodland floor of human evolution and in the depths of our old ape brains, which see in pictures and think in stories. Civilization has always been a project of control, but you can’t win a war against the wild within yourself.
Is it possible to read the words of someone like Theodore Kaczynski and be convinced by the case he makes, even as you reject what he did with the knowledge? Is it possible to look at human cultural evolution as a series of progress traps, the latest of which you are caught in like a fly on a sundew, with no means of escape? Is it possible to observe the unfolding human attack on nature with horror, be determined to do whatever you can to stop it, and at the same time know that much of it cannot be stopped, whatever you do? Is it possible to see the future as dark and darkening further; to reject false hope and desperate pseudo-optimism without collapsing into despair?
It’s going to have to be, because it’s where I am right now. But where do I go next? What do I do? Between Kaczynski and Kareiva, what can I find to alight on that will still hold my weight?
I’m not sure I know the answer. But I know there is no going back to anything. And I know that we are not headed, now, toward convivial tools. We are not headed toward human-scale development. This culture is about superstores, not little shops; synthetic biology, not intentional community; brushcutters, not scythes. This is a culture that develops new life forms first and asks questions later; a species that is in the process of, in the words of the poet Robinson Jeffers, “break[ing] its legs on its own cleverness.”
What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.
If you don’t like any of this, but you know you can’t stop it, where does it leave you? The answer is that it leaves you with an obligation to be honest about where you are in history’s great cycle, and what you have the power to do and what you don’t. If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time.
And so I ask myself: what, at this moment in history, would not be a waste of my time? And I arrive at five tentative answers:
One: Withdrawing. If you do this, a lot of people will call you a “defeatist” or a “doomer,” or claim you are “burnt out.” They will tell you that you have an obligation to work for climate justice or world peace or the end of bad things everywhere, and that “fighting” is always better than “quitting.” Ignore them, and take part in a very ancient practical and spiritual tradition: withdrawing from the fray. Withdraw not with cynicism, but with a questing mind. Withdraw so that you can allow yourself to sit back quietly and feel, intuit, work out what is right for you and what nature might need from you. Withdraw because refusing to help the machine advance—refusing to tighten the ratchet further—is a deeply moral position. Withdraw because action is not always more effective than inaction. Withdraw to examine your worldview: the cosmology, the paradigm, the assumptions, the direction of travel. All real change starts with withdrawal.
Two: Preserving nonhuman life. The revisionists will continue to tell us that wildness is dead, nature is for people, and Progress is God, and they will continue to be wrong. There is still much remaining of the earth’s wild diversity, but it may not remain for much longer. The human empire is the greatest threat to what remains of life on earth, and you are part of it. What can you do—really do, at a practical level—about this? Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set one up yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place. How can you create or protect a space for nonhuman nature to breathe easier; how can you give something that isn’t us a chance to survive our appetites?
Three: Getting your hands dirty. Root yourself in something: some practical work, some place, some way of doing. Pick up your scythe or your equivalent and get out there and do physical work in clean air surrounded by things you cannot control. Get away from your laptop and throw away your smartphone, if you have one. Ground yourself in things and places, learn or practice human-scale convivial skills. Only by doing that, rather than just talking about it, do you learn what is real and what’s not, and what makes sense and what is so much hot air.
Four: Insisting that nature has a value beyond utility. And telling everyone. Remember that you are one life-form among many and understand that everything has intrinsic value. If you want to call this “ecocentrism” or “deep ecology,” do it. If you want to call it something else, do that. If you want to look to tribal societies for your inspiration, do it. If that seems too gooey, just look up into the sky. Sit on the grass, touch a tree trunk, walk into the hills, dig in the garden, look at what you find in the soil, marvel at what the hell this thing called life could possibly be. Value it for what it is, try to understand what it is, and have nothing but pity or contempt for people who tell you that its only value is in what they can extract from it.
Five: Building refuges. The coming decades are likely to challenge much of what we think we know about what progress is, and about who we are in relation to the rest of nature. Advanced technologies will challenge our sense of what it means to be human at the same time as the tide of extinction rolls on. The ongoing collapse of social and economic infrastructures, and of the web of life itself, will kill off much of what we value. In this context, ask yourself: what power do you have to preserve what is of value—creatures, skills, things, places? Can you work, with others or alone, to create places or networks that act as refuges from the unfolding storm? Can you think, or act, like the librarian of a monastery through the Dark Ages, guarding the old books as empires rise and fall outside?
It will be apparent by now that in these last five paragraphs I have been talking to myself. These are the things that make sense to me right now when I think about what is coming and what I can do, still, with some joy and determination. If you don’t feel despair, in times like these, you are not fully alive. But there has to be something beyond despair too; or rather, something that accompanies it, like a companion on the road. This is my approach, right now. It is, I suppose, the development of a personal philosophy for a dark time: a dark ecology. None of it is going to save the world—but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from.
FOR NOW, I’ve had enough of writing. My head is buzzing with it. I am going to pick up my new scythe, lovingly made for me from sugar maple, a beautiful object in itself, which I can just look at for hours. I am going to pick it up and go out and find some grass to mow.
I am going to cut great swaths of it, my blade gliding through the vegetation, leaving it in elegant curving windrows behind me. I am going to walk ahead, following the ground, emptying my head, managing the land, not like a god but like a tenant. I am going to breathe the still-clean air and listen to the still-singing birds and reflect on the fact that the earth is older and harder than the machine that is eating it—that it is indeed more resilient than fragile—and that change comes quickly when it comes, and that knowledge is not the same as wisdom.
A scythe is an old tool, but it has changed through its millennia of existence, changed and adapted as surely as have the humans who wield it and the grasses it is designed to mow. Like a microchip or a combustion engine, it is a technology that has allowed us to manipulate and control our environment, and to accelerate the rate of that manipulation and control. A scythe, too, is a progress trap. But it is limited enough in its speed and application to allow that control to be exercised in a way that is understandable by, and accountable to, individual human beings. It is a compromise we can control, as much as we can ever control anything; a stage on the journey we can still understand.
There is always change, as a neo-environmentalist would happily tell you; but there are different qualities of change. There is human-scale change, and there is industrial-scale change; there is change led by the needs of complex systems, and change led by the needs of individual humans. There is a manageable rate of evolution, and there is a chaotic, excitable rush toward shiny things perched on the edge of a great ravine, flashing and scrolling like sirens in the gathering dusk.
When you have mown a hayfield, you should turn and look back on your work admiringly. If you have got it right, you should see a field lined with long, curving windrows of cut grass, with clean, mown strips between them. It’s a beautiful sight, which would have been familiar to every medieval citizen of this old, old continent. If you were up at dawn, mowing in the dew—the best time, and the traditional one to cut for hay—you should leave the windrows to dry in the sun, then go down the rows with a pitchfork later in the day and turn them over. Leave the other side of the rows to dry until the sun has done its work, then come back and “ted” the grass—spread it out evenly across the field. Dry it for a few hours or a few days, depending on the weather, then come back and turn it over again. Give it as much time as it needs to dry in the sun.
After that, if the rain has held off, you’re ready to take in the hay. O
Mr. Kingsworth, you have quite the ability to give me goosebumps and make me question everything I do. As a college student studying forestry, while engaging myself in environmental and sustainability “movements,” your essays have often sent me into crises of faith, causing me to completely reevaluate what I’m doing. Thank you for this essay – it has restored some degree of faith that there are things that can be done. This semester I think I entered what you describe as a “withdrawal” stage – turning more to introspection and engaging myself directly with the natural world and not with “solutions” and “progress.” I am relieved to read that you find merit in this sort of “inaction,” as I was beginning to question whether this withdrawal was a sign that I had lost all hope in the world.
I am constantly investigating words like “wild” and “nature,” looking into what it means to be both human and animal. Coming back into my own body, and learning to interact on a direct and visceral level with the world around me, has proven to be the most comforting and satisfying thing I can do.
Thank you again for your words. Even when you think you might sound cynical and not relatable to the younger generation, know that there are people like me who find guidance in your experience and contemplations.
It’s not an unbrave thing to do to make common cause with the wiser side of Theodore Kaczynski, the unibomber. Bill Joy, the chief scientist of Sun Microsystems and creator of Java also found Kaczynski a source of insight, particularly with regard to recognizing the machine as becoming more and more the active agent of control or at least influence.
I think Kingsworth has written a terrifically thoughtful and provocative piece. If I have one criticism it is that he simply writes off all within-the-system solutions. I think public parks are worthy efforts defending Kingsworth’s ability to drop out into wilderness. Like most environmentalists he takes a pass on overpopulation and efforts to address it, something that activist groups and nations from time to time have attempted to deal with. I’m sure Mr. Kingsworth is happy that the treated water he drinks is cholera free. Is it really that hard to say that the society we live in that will probably take us off the cliff has at least concentrated some of the surpluses it has gouged out of nature into knowledge that we can hopefully walk back to a simpler, more sustainable life?
I appreciate the attempt to offer active alternatives, rather than simply leaving us high and dry with a lot of thoughtful negatives. One alternative which is implied in 5 but not really focused on is building self-sustaining alternative communities. When things break down it would be nice to have waiting some model communities with all the “appropriate technologies” like your scythe and the teachable skill sets that go with them. From my background one interest I would have would be in sailing craft. Like Orlov, I think it is bound to make a comeback as the main vehicle of ocean transportation.
Mr. Kingsworth you come across as a work in progress. I hope you will keep updating and refining your thinking here as long as the world allows it. Your dark ecology meditations certainly stimulate my thinking.
I am writing a book called Dark Ecology, strangely enough. I too am distressed by the neo-environmentalists though many people thought my first book Ecology without Nature was just that (no, it wasn’t). Because of some talks I did recently, John Zerzan started writing to me, out of the blue.
This is an amazing piece. Thank you, thank you. You express much of what goes on inside my tangled mind and sad heart. I too read the Ted K book and sat nodding and muttering “yes” to myself in the process.
I lived a much more intimate and reverent lifestyle before the computer invaded my life. I have spent over 2 decades in technology as an artist and designer and for the past several years I have been experiencing a deep existential anxiety. I desperately desire to “withdraw” but it is a monumental challenge once technology has its hooks in you.
One of my favorite reads is this interview with Norman Mailer shortly before he passed. http://nymag.com/news/features/38961/
I look forward to your next post.
Another great essay. I enjoy your writing so much Mr. Kingsworth– its like having my innermost feelings, thoughts and ideas given voice in a profoundly eloquent, erudite and insighful way. It is truly comforting to know there is another human being out there who sees the mess in the same way and has arrived at many of the same conclusions and course of action.
I hope you will consider putting out a collection of your brilliant and insightful essays. They really do deserve such treatment.
The risk for all published writers is that they keep issuing the same ideas, without much in the way of back-and-forth, or any of the sparks of illumination.
Kingsowrth has said much of this before, but his particualr retreatism is not going to remake the green posture.
Banish the telly, scythe your life away – but social reality is all that will be set upon the earth by our species, and there is no way to wish away the trappings of modern civilization – the figures of energy use and environmental collapse are too stark for any of this advice.
Even as bright a figure as Craig Dilworth, in his monumental “Too Smart for Our Good,” posits some sort of “paradigm shift” as possible for us, but his own vicious circle principle refuts this. We, as humans, responds to large, devastating, mounting social forces, and no amount of “voluntary simplicity” advice is going to deter the trajectory of more people, more energy, more inequality, more ecological devastation.
No matter much Orion and McKibben and Kingsnorth and any of the merry brand of green spiritual gurus try, this is a global corporate suspersysem we all are subject to, in whole or in part or just the majority of our neighbors, and that absorbs any of this as it heads, over the larger scale beyond our own lives, to its logical destination.
This is all offered in the spirit of generosity – Kingsnorth and a few others here are trying to make sense of this disconnection they feel, here amidst the spiritualists, but he is flailing jsut like the rest of us.
In my limited english I’ve enjoyed Kingsworth writing, with a little google translator help. It is a pity that we, non native english speakers, have such limited access to these bright thinkins and, worse, that we can’t share with you ours. Nevertheless is great hearing armonic foreign words from the distance
Very glad to have read some of your work, again, Paul.
I was given Ellul, yesterday, by someone, and it prompted me to remember where I’d been recommended it before – so ‘here’ I am.
The writers that really doom me, though, from what I’ve been reading over the last few years are McLuhan, Baudrillard and Virilio – the masters of implosion.
And that’s because I reacted badly to the internet and media when it got too much, when it left me a little freaked. These guys seem so right it worries me deeply. Your article has made me again think that your solutions may well be the only way to live a somewhat ‘normal’ life, rather then this lightning-war we expose ourselves to so willingly.
@ #6 Martin:
It is a pity you took away none of the points that the author has made. Your criticisms – and cynicism – are discussed throughout the article. It is a challenging piece – but while you may have trouble accepting some of the premises, I urge you to not idly dismiss them.
An Internet comment challenge should be responded to – the fate of the world depends on this. GEF is wrong to cast my words aside as rank and empty cynicism.
1. Kingsnorth becomes infatuated with the Unabomber. Unfortunately, this is a wrong premise for extensive thinking. Like the stupefying Derrick Jensen, the Unabomber believes one central fallacy – that violence directed the supersystem will somehow lead to its breakdown.
Anyone who wants to consider this angle is not dealing with social reality. The Unabomer killed people for no end – no benefit for the natural world, anywhere. Kingsnorth’s sober contemplation of eradicating the violence of the supersystem is delusionary – these are massive, massed, amplifying social forces at work, and to pretend otherwise is to evade intellectual responsibility.
2. This is completely not “cynicism.” All of us must contend with a destructive, immovable, inchoate political system that has given all the power to maruading transnational corproations. Individuals persist in seeing themselves as somehow above or beyond this supersystem, but they are not. Some, like Tim Morton, follow fantasies of Buddhist supra-wisdom, while others look for the alleged “sacredness” of ephphenomena.
3. Orion is major environmental site- at least Kingsnorth has some second thoughts about becoming enmeshed in the fallacies of green neoliberalism, but, judging by this essay, he still has a ways to go. He can further his entry into the world of facts by reading Dilworth’s amazing book, or try to entertain some criticism.
He is trying to deal with the brute facts of our predicament, but he is following a well-worn, dubious path of heroic simplicity.
Thank you for this lovely essay. I’ve been a member of the Nature Conservancy for a long time, but have become increasingly uncomfortable with their position of, well, accommodation with the status quo. Thank you for putting into focus so clearly what my concerns have been.
I’d also like to thank you for your suggestions at the end of your essay. While it’s not a “survival of the Earth” issue, I have been struggling with a similar question (“What to do that is not a waste of my time?”) in my own profession. Your answers have given me much to think about.
Jean-Marie ApostolidÃ¨s, who has translated the Unabomber’s writings into French and was briefly a penpal, has come to some different conclusions about Kaczynski’s work:
This is how I see it. I have withdrawn, since some years ago.
I’m about a generation older than you, Mr. Kingsworth. Regrettably, those of my time, able to enjoy the orchards, creeks and insect-dense grasses of, for instance, Silicon Valley, didn’t see the inevitable. Else we might have saved some of what made such a time worth living in.
â€œWe shape our tools and then they shape us.â€ So said McLuhan. Something similar could be said for our economy. It begins as our servant and then becomes our master. â€œThings are in the saddle and ride mankind.â€ Who said that? Emerson? Thoreau? The point is, somehow human agency gets lost as we become entangled in our own clever inventions. Between them, technology and our economic system are riding roughshod over everything that makes human life, and all Life, worthwhile, and we seem powerless to stop it.
Iâ€™ve never been a bumper sticker person, but I did have on once upon a time. It said: Nature Bats Last. I take that as an article of faith. It is bigger than we are and seems to have better â€œinstincts,â€ or at least better results. I wonder if I am alone in believing that a total collapse of the global industrial economy would be the very best thing for the Community of Life, for Mother Earth (or Gaia), and maybe even for a possible human future? Yesterday would have been better than tomorrow, and if it takes a decade or two there likely wonâ€™t be enough left worth havingâ€”certainly not for any of the mammals larger than a squirrel.
When I assume my larger identity, and not just that of a single individual of one particular species; that is, when I identify with all of Life, and all the abundance, complexity, and diversity that four billion years of evolutionary history managed to create, before we came along; I find it painful, but not unthinkable, to contemplate a world in balance and thriving, and better off, without us; and preferring that world to the one we are ruining now. If we are the nemesis and destroyer, and we canâ€™t help ourselves, then maybe we just donâ€™t belong here. I wish that werenâ€™t true; I hope it isnâ€™t true. But if it is, I side with Life that thrives in beauty.
Fire, plague, and famine; flood, tsunami, volcano; earthquake: These are Her old tricks, and they are cleaner than what we might do with geo-engineering, nuclear disasters, or even just driving Her resilience past toxic and thermal points of no return, because of the way we liveâ€”because we canâ€™t help ourselves. Pathetic, isnâ€™t it? Too smart for our own good, and too weak to take on our own earth-devouring culture. I guess we deserve what we get! Nature bats last.
Gary, I think you are seeing the stark matter clearly, but a “total collapse of the global economy” is not be wished for. The global economy is in terrible shape, producing mass immiseration for the majority, ladling out yachts for the marauding rich, but the benefits of technology will be clung to until its the the lasr remaining social good.
B. Species extinction, which we have caused more than any other predator, as you put it well, is not a happy time for the species going under. We are adaptable as social life forms with a rich history of perseverance, but the coming adaptation to climate catastrophe and the horrors of malevolent institutions will require managing heartlessness, despair, self-limitation.
C. The GAIA hypothesis is as fake as any biblical account – “Earth” is not a mother, nor a sweet balancing system – the natural world’s rumblings caused by our removal of its protections will be terrifying.
D. I don’t think any person can come to these realizations without having been genetically steeped in skepticism – I have been, since birth, seeing the accelerating folly of schools, workplace ambition, politics, literature. Now, the world’s systems are exemplifying the trends that any dropout can voice – but who likes a dropout?
E. Any place that keeps advertising its “sacred work,” as Orion does, should have one or two people to bat it around for its hubris. I understand that Orion is a cheap target, being a shoestring operation that generally tries to do more good for humanity than bad, but most anger gets expressed within the family.
The best article I’ve read about the future of environmentalism in some time, perhaps ever. Loaded with heavy, difficult, yet inspiring ideas. Techno-triumphalism and its progress traps dominate the environmental conversation, which only accelerates the world’s problems. There is no looking back in a complete sense, but there is certainly no hope in a high-tech future – an exceedingly tenuous, potentially doomed balancing act for activated humans. Every hyper-sensitive being on this planet must fight apathy and the tug of prevailing currents if there is any hope for our own future. Given some time, the biosphere will chug on just fine, thank you…
Martin: I think you miss my point about the desirability of an immediate collapse of the global industrial economy. Yes, of course, it would be more than an inconvenience to us, but according to my sources, that is about all, at this late stage, that gives this planet any chance at all of not going into catastrophic collapse. Most climate models being used today do not include positive feedback loops brought on by the uncovering of peat bogs in Siberia and methane release in the arctic, due to ice melt. Methane, by the way, is in the short term about a hundred times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon. Interestingly, and a point rarely or ever discussed, is the amount of methane released from the stomachâ€™s of cattle (cattle raised for humans to eat) and paddy-grown rice (also for humans to eat). The methane burden on climate is actually greater than that of carbonâ€”but giving up beef and rice would be too big an inconvenience to contemplate. Check out Guy McPhersonâ€™s website, Nature Bats Last, if you can take the really bad news about this planetâ€™s future. If, for instance, we were by some sweet miracle to immediately lose electricity globally, that would slow down our poisoning and devouring of the planet to the point that it might actually not lose all four billion years of evolutionary creativity. Yes, I know, it would really spoil our wonderful high-tech way of life, and make kind of a mess for us in the short term. But is life on Earth really only about usâ€”we oh-so-special humans? And do we honestly believe that everything else can go down, and we will stand here alone, triumphant on our poisonous heap of destruction? Well, thatâ€™s not the world I want. And itâ€™s not the way of the world, anyway. Everything is connected to everything else. When the Earth goes down we go down with it. And as regards that economy you are so fond ofâ€”every time we â€œgrow the economyâ€ we are diminishing the living Earth. What we call â€œwealth creationâ€ come from the destruction of ecosystems and the Community of Life. That never gets put on the human balance sheet, but the economy of Nature feels the loss that comes with our short term gains. In the long run, weâ€™ll feel it, too.
You say: â€œthe Gaia hypothesis is a fake,â€ as if you believe you know what you are talking about. To me, your opinion sounds like dogma based on the doctrines of reductionist, materialist science. I am seventy years old, and have by choice spent most of my life living very close to Nature. I know what I have seen and experienced, and know there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in materialist philosophy. Iâ€™ve also read a few books on the subject. You, of course, are free to have your own opinion. But I advise against taking any doctrine, scientific or otherwise, on faithâ€”otherwise science becomes just another religion, just another unexamined belief system.
I will make one last point: Any answer to lifeâ€™s Big Questions should be regarded as provisional and partial. It means living with ambiguity and uncertainty, but if truth is your goal, and not just comfort, youâ€™ll have to learn to live in a world that is probabilistic and beyond full understanding. Special as we think we are, we are not equipped to encompass the Mystery.
FOR OVER 30 YEARS AND THROUGH A LEGAL CAREER I HAVE BEEN TAKING SMALL STEPS TOWARD THE “WITHDRAWAL” DESCRIBED BY MR. KINGSWORTH.MY JOURNEY WHICH BEGAN WITH READING WENDELL BERRY HAS TAKEN ME INTO RETIREMENT ON A SMALL FARM WHERE I RAISE VEGETABLES AND MY WIFE TENDS TO 5 HORSES.”WITHDRAWAL” DOESN’T HAVE TO BE COMPLETE.FOR INSTANCE LAST YEAR WENDELL BERRY PARTICIPATED IN A “SIT DOWN” PROTESTING MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL.WE CAN DO BOTH:WITHDRAW AND JOIN A CAUSE WHEN IT SEEMS COMPELLING.I HAVE TRIED TO HELP GATHER MATERIAL FOR THE SIERRA CLUB’S CAMPAIGN TO STOP BUILDING COAL FIRED POWER PLANTS.THANKS FOR THIS THOUGHT PROVOKING ESSAY.
I suspect Martin is not whole heartedly trying to discredit any of the folks who think there are opportunities to shift the paradigm, but rather make the point that the strength of the dominant system is so powerful, so overwhelming that the likelihood of making ground with even well thought out ideas, is not likely. Yes, he may be implying it is a waist of time and I have strong suspicions he is correct.
My position is to look at it as my personal options, as a way to address my own, possibly my families and with luck my small communityâ€™s direction in the future. I suspect, like many, that it will all come down to the local systems, the ones closest to us that will carry the day. Having a pie-in-the-sky dream of changing the world and the masses in it (many are illiterate, many too engulfed in their day to day, many in a euphoric trans state over the glories of techno-trumphalistic pipe dream, multitudes of religious wet dreamers) is not really possible.
Obviously, Kingsworth is also struggling and like many writers, and the list is long, at the end of their writings, toss out a couple of possibilities just as a way of appeasing the dreamers, maybe just tidbits of thought food, knowing that the odds are not in our favor. Nature will bat last and she might clean out the stadium doing it. I sure as hell have no confidence that the present system of plunder and pillage will end well, and I donâ€™t believe Martin does either.
With luck, the system will slowly decline under the load of depletions, misuse, mis-allocations, over population, pollution and other maladies brought on by the system. Those folks not suffering from rectal-cranial inversion and possessing proper placement, and raw living knowledge may fare better than others. There will be peripheral damage to all species
Great, well-written article. and I just LOVE Leonard Cohen’s quote in the opening paragraph 🙂
I agree that the article is beautifuly written, but while I haven’t read Kascynsky, I have read Derrick Jensen, and yes, I think they are right, EXCEPT – violence is one of the most polluting and wasteful activities of men (gender cited advisably). And I do appreciate his helpful suggestions.
However, there is one thing he’s overlooked, which is needed even as much as we all need to withdraw from time to time. We need to be able, expert, at joining together!That we haven’t really developed, an area in which we are, perhaps, years behind. That is, forging cooperation, indeed going back to tribal forms of joining together.
Whether our species survive on earth or perish, in the short term all the possible ameliorations we can try will depend on cooperation, both in the long and short term, on a huge scale . Someone in this discussion said the people ‘gave up control to'[the powers-that-be].
We have to take it back. And we could if we could join together, because I believe there are enough who believe in the climate crisis now, especially in the poor nations, many of which are closer to destruction than we lucky few.
The latest US election gives cause for hope – not because of Obama but in spite of him. The hopeful thing is that the poor, the brown, the black, the women, the gays coalesced against the forces of prejudice, and denial; that is, against the fascists, and that will bring some change for many of us.
The trouble is that scientists, intellectuals and political activists aren’t like other people; they lack the ‘common touch’; the ability to reach out to more people who are not like themselves. Gotta work on that,too!
It seems to me that w
Mr. Kingsworth, good for you to share your thoughts and to sharpen the tools of scholarship to amplify them. Well written if fairly orthodox, and I love your oxymoronic “enlightened science”.
When I think of Kaczynski, I think of cowardice, brutality, and villainy, not clarity in service of conviviality. But, I suppose, I’m a cockeyed Friedmanite, maybe neo-Friedmanite, maybe even post-neo-Friedmanite. Imagine some trivial, off-campus Reaganite opening what he thought was a gift-book only to marvel, in the millisecond before oblivion or blindness, at the use of green materials, recycled wood chips even, before the cleverly contrived environmental statement detonated in his face.
Surprise, you un-tenured boob! Better yet, imagine his children, mere nascent machine-cogs, discovering the cute, little, disguised manifesto before daddy does. Damn, these math majors are clever. But we expect sharpness from men of Harvard.
I guess the raw beauty of wreaking havoc, the who, the why, the where, is in the eye of the beholder. I get it. The homicidal hermit has something to teach us. Why mess with letters to the editor when anonymous, random violence can correct our civilization and its misguided ways. Have we overlooked unsung prophets from other campuses? Where did Ted Bundy go to school? What about Charlie Manson? He lived in the desert. Wasn’t he really a frustrated songwriter? Maybe a retro-album on the evils of urbanization and chain-store proliferation? Probably just a dumb bomb that won’t hurt anyone. Boring.
It’s funny to see me aligned with this economy – not at all. It’s a terribly unjust system, but its adherence to the growth delusion shows no sign of abetting.
Guy McPherson has chosen to disengage himself from the economy, which is a private, psychological matter – of utterly no consequence to the natural world that you and I speak of. Global emissions of fossil fuels are rising, and poised to rise much higher. What overall good does any one’s disengagement do in view of that fact?
I don’t know what you mean by that you “know there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in materialist philosophy” – the nature that I live in has death and disease, violence and predation, along with some bouts of beauty. Religious terms are just empty words – but we do live with irrational drives, insticts, emotions. Again a phrase such as ”
we are not equipped to encompass the Mystery” may mean something to you, but I cannot imagine what you are getting at.
We’ve all read books – we’ve all thought about these matters. No one deserves too much credit for any of these lifelong attempts, since we are in such dire straits. However, we all lead finite adn aprtial lives, as you suggest, and there might be some amelioration heading somewhere toward us – check out Alex Smith’s Radio Ecoshock for a great interview with a young, very knowledgeable climate scientist who advocates for geoengineering sulfates into the atmosphere to cool down the warming poles.
David M. makes many rugged points, but I differ with his localism – in view of the enormity of our global and common problems, “local” means tokenism, like saving water in a cup while a flood washes through the valley.
I wish to underscore and uplift all the affirmative comments regarding your magnificent work here. Magnificent, yes, I say, because it most clearly elucidates the very things that have bedeviled me for more years than you have been alive. I began to withdraw in some way at the age of 8 or so when I sensed â€œsomething comingâ€, an intuition which 50 some years of living have not withered in the slightest. I have not reproduced. My biggest gift to the future is that my minimal carbon footprint ends with me. MANY of my friends, college educated and upper middle class, are also childless I know the standard warnings against this tack. But I could not have a grandchild living in the world I know to be coming.
And just a selfish comment: I do believe Nature can survive all that humans can do to her. Of course, how not? A tsunami is one way of cleansing your home but is hell on the French Provincial furniture. As we wreck our way to the end only to prove that we will loose the fight against Her, the tigers, the frogs, the giant Sequoias will go down first. If there is a Goddess, She will be REALLY pissed about our wrecking Her lovely creations. Who the hell do we think we are? It is not at all hard to see human consciousness as a lethal virus set loose on this exquisite planet.
Thank you for some positive, humane, ethical, dare-one-say-it â€œspiritualâ€ suggestions for ways forward.
I wrote a little homage to a singer of the scythe Hilaire Belloc whose distributism still has adherents.http://ombhurbhuva.blogspot.ie/2012/07/the-mowing-of-field-by-hilaire-belloc.html
Your neo-greens are frightningly persuasive calling us on to the rocks. I’m looking forward to getting out my digging shovel shortly.
Keep it going.
Seems unfair to put people like Emma Marris and Stewart Brand in the same hopper with Bjorn Lomborg. Marris and Brand take climate change very seriously, while Lomborg does not.
It made me happy to see this article, as with others the author put into words the feelings I have. We seem to be grieving our loss, in all the phases Kubler Ross identified.
All five of his tentative answers are also mine; I wonder if our 25 year old will feel the same. He has a harder choice, he will see more of the dissolution, lose many more species, be tangled in more social disruption and disarray.
Whether we like it, or not, we are a product of nature and nature has a dark side. It also developed levels of biological complexity hundreds of millions of years ago, that our technologies and societies are only now beginning to mimic. We are cells in some larger organism. If I was to ask if nature has some larger, fractal plan, it would be that the planet is growing itself a central nervous system, with humanity as the medium. Yes, we are now top predator in a collapsing ecosystem and are likely many generations and much turmoil away from even an infantile formulation of this, but I don’t think it’s as dire as some may project.
This is an essay I wrote last winter, on taking stock of our situation:
” The essence of human civilization is the creation, organization and storage of information. The problem is that information tends to be static. It holds and binds the energy required to maintain it. This sets up a conflict between the dynamic energy and the static information, so the system develops methods of reseting and erasing excess information. Biology does this by individual organisms dying, as the species regenerates. Bodies are processes in themselves, as generations of cells are formed and shed. As our social institutions build up legacy costs, they also find themselves losing ground to less burdened, more dynamic entities. So there is a constant churn of structures building up and breaking down.”
“donâ€™t destroy more than they create.
Just as individual mobile organisms evolved central nervous systems in order to navigate complex environments and respond to circumstances, groups of people develop governing structures in order coordinate their responses to situations they encounter. This requires a conceptual frame to define the purpose of the organization and instill allegiance, such as religious texts, national constitutions, or even company mission statements. Goals, group narratives, external adversaries, etc. are some of the many incentives to keep the group cohesive. There are many equally powerful influences both internal and external, trying to break down such organizations. Even conflicts between keeping them together and continuing to fulfill original purposes can be rending, as management and vision clash.
The problem here is that we tend to think of good and bad as an issue of black and white moral clarity, even if the details are usually messy and unclear. While we instinctively think of good and bad as ideals, they are really the primal biological binary code. Life is attracted to the beneficial and repelled by the detrimental. What is bad for the chicken is good for the fox and there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. Between black and white are not just shades of grey, but all the colors of the spectrum. While it’s bad for good things to come to an end, it is necessary to having good things in the first place. The price we pay for being able to feel in the first place, is that a lot of it is pain.”
“No matter how much we disrupt things, nature is always finding ways to balance our actions. There are consequences to consider when we are moving; The faster we go, the less able we are to maneuver and the greater damage when we encounter the unexpected. Going slow limits our access to new environments, but strengthens our connections to the one in which we exist.”
” Money is a contract. It is drawing rights on the rest of the community. Its value stems from the willingness of the participants in that contract to honor it. Contracts are not owned by any one party. They are an agreement among different parties. To the extent the financial system is the circulatory system of society, money is the blood flowing through it. Its effectiveness is dependent on its fungibility. We no more own the money in our pocket, than we own the road we are driving on. Yes, we are in sole possession of any one spot on that road at any one time, but its value is due to the connectivity with all other roads. We own our cars, houses, businesses, etc, but not the roads connecting them and no one cries socialism over that. We have to think of money in the same way.
If people understand that money is a form of public utility and not actually private property, then they will naturally be far more careful what value they take out of social relations and environmental resources to put in a bank account. This would serve to make people’s own self interest a mechanism to put value back into the community and the environment and allow more organic systems of economic connectivity and reciprocity to grow, as well as reduce the power of large financial and governmental systems over our lives.”
“Money is a contract.”
I’m afraid money as a contract escapes me. I would say it is an evolved store of value, closer to a commodity. If money is worth something one day and loses value the next day, no contract is violated.
“Just as individual mobile organisms evolved central nervous systems in order to navigate complex environments and respond to circumstances, groups of people develop governing structures in order coordinate their responses to situations they encounter. This requires a conceptual frame to define the purpose of the organization and instill allegiance, such as religious texts, national constitutions, or even company mission statements. Goals, group narratives, external adversaries, etc. are some of the many incentives to keep the group cohesive. There are many equally powerful influences both internal and external, trying to break down such organizations. Even conflicts between keeping them together and continuing to fulfill original purposes can be rending, as management and vision clash.”
This would be a terrific basis for a discussion. How much did civilization purposefully evolve and how much was it some kind of trial and error process, like say a beehive.
“Seems unfair to put people like Emma Marris and Stewart Brand in the same hopper with Bjorn Lomborg. Marris and Brand take climate change very seriously, while Lomborg does not.”
As far as I’ve read Lomborg he accepts AGW. I think his main argument is a strong fossil fuel driven economy will, down the road, fund some bangup technological solutions to our environmental problems better and faster than a fossil fuel deprived weaker one. He seems to think our ability to adapt will carry us through the interim.
It is a commodity to the banking system, but that’s the problem. The law of supply and demand applies, so in order to increase supply, demand/debt has to be increased. Yet there are serious limits as to how much sustainable debt the economy can support, so there is pressure to lower standards, since stored wealth is very popular. Yet its value is an obligation drawn on the larger economy and that is a contract. So back to my point that if people began to understand it as a multi-party contract and not just some nebulous store of value, they would better understand how it functions and not be so naive as how the strings are pulled. The essay puts this in a broader context than what I pasted.
As Candide said…”That was well said Pangloss, but now we must cultivate our garden.” I say also well said! Remember withdrawing is merely moving in a different direction…that is the intelligent response.
Brilliant essay. In the Costa Rica rainforest the equivalent to the scythe is the machete in all its manifestations. We’re growing cacao trees in the midst of the forest.
“The law of supply and demand applies, so in order to increase supply, demand/debt has to be increased. Yet there are serious limits as to how much sustainable debt the economy can support, so there is pressure to lower standards, since stored wealth is very popular. Yet its value is an obligation drawn on the larger economy and that is a contract.”
That makes sense John. I guess where I would put the emphasis is that borrowing operates on the expectation of economic growth. At some point that runs into limits and then you are operating on faith economics. Achieving steady state economics restores money to its pure store of value function for facilitating barter in goods and services. I don’t know how we get there without at a minimum getting population growth under control.
like huxley and bateson before him…
thank you paul for this article which distils everything i think and believe, and teaches me more besides.
my small garden in the suburbs of adelaide appears as an oasis in a desert of concrete and a terrible neatness. the rewards are the daily visits by insects and birds, and the places to lurk and look.
i wish i could live further from so-called civilisation, but income is tied to the steady supply of internet connectivity. in any case, reading your article has given me ideas for my next project, and some relief from the feelings of isolation from my fellow humans and their interminable hubris.
Here, Mr. Kingsworth lies your hypocrisy.
“Is it possible to read the words of someone like Theodore Kaczynski and be convinced by the case he makes, even as you reject what he did with the knowledge?”
You don’t have the honour and integrity to confront reality and support an argument of ecological necessity terrorism on behalf of Kaczynski. Too busy selling articles on Orion? Not willing to rock the boat? So, there is no military necessity justification for defending Nature and Industrial Civilization’s war on Nature?
Who in their right mind, call themselves a deep green ecologist and ‘rejects what Kaczynski did with his knowledge’????
Why majority of ‘Greens’ are fu**ed: They deny Kaczynski and others fighting on behalf of a Deep Green Resistance, a defence of Ecological Necessity; while voicing no objections to allowing all other Political activists their right to ‘Political Necessity’ defense arguments.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor authorizes military necessity for soldiers to kill civilians, under ‘military necessity ‘circumstances. (OTP letter to senders re: Iraq, 9 February 2006)
In the International Court of Justiceâ€™s advisory opinion of 8 July 1996, on The legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons, they justify the use of Nuclear Weapons, in a case of Military Necessity for Self Preservation.
The Rendulic Rule set the legal precedent for the importance of the subjective test in determining a case of Military Necessity.
In October 1944, Generaloberst Lothar Rendulic was Armed Forces Commander North, which included command of Nazi Forces in Norway. After World War II, he was prosecuted for, among other charges, issuing an order â€œfor the complete destruction of all shelter and means of existence in, and the total evacuation of the entire civilian population of the northern Norwegian province of Finmark…â€ where entire villa villages were destroyed, bridges and highways bombed, and port installations wrecked, hundreds died from exposure or perished at sea, while still others were summarily shot for refusing to leave their homeland; which left some 61,000 men, women, and children homeless, starving and destitute. He plead to ‘Military Necessity’ at Nuremberg and was acquitted. He presented evidence that the Norwegian population would not voluntarily evacuate. (The Hostages Trial: Trial of Wilhelm List and Others; United States Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 8 July 1947 – 19 February 1948)
International law has justified, acquitted or given lenient sentences to violent and non-violent actions of civil disobedience, which included murder, kidnapping, arson, etc:
* Murder * Regina v Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273; * Prison Escape * Spakes v. State, 913 S.W.2d 597 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996) * Mutiny * United States v. Ashton, 24 F. Cas. 873, 873-74 (C.C.D. Mass 1834) (No. 14,470) * Manslaughter * United States v. Holmes, 26 F. Cas. 360 (E.D. Pa. 1842) (No. 15,383) * Kidnapping * State v. Wooten (Arizona, 1919) * Arson * Surocco v. Geary, 3 Cal. 69 (1853)
Other Protest / Civil Disobedience:
Anti Nuclear (10): State v. Mouer (Columbia Co. Dist. Ct., Dec. 12-16, 1977), People v. Brown (Lake County, Jan. 1979); People v. Block (Galt Judicial Dist., Sacramento Co. Mun. Ct., Aug. 14, 1979); California v. Lemnitzer, No. 27106E (Pleasanton-Livermore Mun. Ct. Feb. 1, 1982); State v. McMillan, No. D 00518 (San Luis Obispo Jud. Dist. Mun. Ct., Cal. Oct. 13, 1987); Massachusetts v. Schaeffer-Duffy (Worcester Dist. Ct. 1989); West Valley City v. Hirshi, No. 891003031-3 MC (Salt Lake County, Ut. Cir. Ct., W. Valley Dept. 1990); Washington v. Brown, No. 85-1295N (Kitsap County Dist. Ct. N. 1985); California v. Jerome, Nos. 5450895, 5451038, 5516177, 5516159 (Livermore-Pleasanton Mun. Ct., Alameda County, Traffic Div. 1987); Washington v. Karon, No. J85-1136-39 (Benton County Dist. Ct. 1985)
Anti US Central American Foreign Policy (3); Vermont v. Keller, No. 1372-4-84-CNCR (Vt. Dist. Ct. Nov. 17, 1984); People v. Jarka, Nos. 002170, 002196-002212, 00214, 00236, 00238 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Apr. 15, 1985); Colorado v. Bock (Denver County Ct. June 12, 1985)
Anti-Military Industrial Complex (4): Michigan v. Jones et al., Nos. 83-101194-101228 (Oakland County Dist. Ct. 1984); Michigan v. Largrou, Nos. 85-000098, 99, 100, 102 (Oakland County Dist. Ct. 1985); Massachusetts v. Carter, No. 86-45 CR 7475 (Hampshire Dist. Ct. 1987); Illinois v. Fish (Skokie Cir. Ct. Aug. 1987)
Anti-Apartheid (3): Chicago v. Streeter, Nos. 85-108644, 48, 49, 51, 52, 120323, 26, 27 (Cir. Ct., Cook County Ill. May 1985); Washington v. Heller (Seattle Mun. Ct. 1985); Washington v. Bass, Nos. 4750-038, -395 to -400 (Thurston County Dist. Ct. April 8, 1987)
Pro-Environment/Cycling (1): People v. Gray, 571 N.Y.S.2d 851, 861-62 (N.Y. Crim. Ct.1991)
AIDS: Clean Needles Campaign (2) California v. Halem, No. 135842 (Berkeley Mun. Ct. 1991); etc…
Lara in his discussion about Kaczynski the author’s second reason he states for not wanting to end up being convinced is that Kaczynski “killed three people and injured twenty-four others. His targets lost eyes and fingers and sometimes their lives. He nearly brought down an airplane….Kaczynski wasn’t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.”
I think Mr. Kingsworth states his position with regard to being a violent revolutionary when he says later “Maybe you can buy up some land and rewild it; maybe you can let your garden run free; maybe you can work for a conservation group or set up one yourself; maybe you can put your body in the way of a bulldozer; maybe you can use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place.”
Violence met with violence creates more violence. Non-violence actions, like putting yourself in the way of a bulldozer inspire others. Martin Luther Kingâ€™s words are as insightful and thought provoking today as they were when he wrote them:
1. Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.
2. The goal is not to defeat or humiliate the opponent but rather to win him or her over to understanding new ways to create cooperation and community.
3. The non-violent resister attacks the forces of evil, not the people who are engaged in injustice. As King said in Montgomery, â€œWe are out to defeat injustice and not white persons who may be unjust.â€
4. The non-violent resister accepts suffering without retaliating; accepts violence, but never commits it. Gandhi said, â€œRivers of blood may have to flow before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood.â€ Gandhi and King both understood that suffering by activists had the mysterious power of converting opponents who would otherwise refuse to listen.
5. In non-violent resistance, one learns to avoid physical violence toward others and also learns to love the opponents with â€œagapeâ€ or unconditional loveâ€“which is love given not for what one will receive in return, but for the sake of love alone. It is God flowing through the human heart. Agape is ahimsa. â€œAlong the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate,â€ said King.
6. Non-violent resistance is based on the belief that the universe is just. There is God or a creative force that is moving us toward universal love and wholeness continually. Therefore, all our work for justice will bear fruit â€“ the fruit of love, peace, and justice for all beings everywhere.â€
All beings, those who are not people and those who are. I may be putting words into the author’s mouth, but I think not.
Lara’s comments are precisely the nonsense I have inveighed against -and have yet to here even a semblance of response, from Kingsnorth or the other withdrawalists.
First, though, the peevishness of Lara is symptomatic of the deep green fraud. Kingsnorth is sincere in his withdrawal – he makes about as much “money” scything as Lara does through artisan bread making, or whatever she chooses for recompense. There is enough “hypocrisy” in all of our lvies, since we all are of the same species, to stop this artificial spearation of purists vs. satanists.
Second, to use the Megamachine-State-Leviathan-Supersystem ‘s own official words as the solid basis for “Deep Green Resistance” acts is ironic, to the point of sheer nonsense. The State chooses whatevr words its wants when it enforces its rule. How do you think Daniel MacGowan went to prison for so long, and what do you think will keep him in the chains of parole now?
This is the immorality of Orion giving space to poseurs like Derrick Jensen. Anyone advocating violence against this supersystem, which possesses the courts, the jails, the “post-release supervision,” the media, the supertankers, the academia, should spend a debriefing session with some of the Green Scare prisoners. What should be the price of advocating martyrdom?
The awful case of Assange should be a further instruction. Yes, the Supersystem is thoroughly corrupts, thanks for pointing it out, but Assange makes the foundational of error of thinking that it can be “reformed” through revelation. Did he not have one iota of comprehension of how powerful are its institutions of repression and counter-attack?
Does not the Occupy failure confirm this?
I guess Kingsnorth’s/Orion’s silence in the comments section here are a sign, too.
It sounds like either you (a) misunderstood my response, or (b) you did understand it, and you are a nonviolent fundamentalist.
Non-violence is fine; if you dealing with someone who may be convinced, after you have demonstrated to them your sincerity and commitment to the issue.
Non-violence in defense to being attacked, is also rather idiotic, I would think; but if you are a nonviolent fundamentalist, by all means, enjoy and remain addicted to your fundamentalism.
If you are being attacked, international law, military law, states that you have the right to respond violently to being attacked, in self defence.
Kaczynsky sincerely (subjectively he met the military necessity subjective test) believed that nature is being attacked, that industrial civilization is at war with nature.
You are suggesting that when Party A is at war with Party B, just cause you are a pacificst fundamentalist, you cannot make a statement of support in favour of Party B, responding militarily in self defence (i.e. in support of a military necessity defence), because you are a non-violent fundamentalist?
I have a rap sheet for (a) terrorism, (b) malicious damage to state property, (c) contempt of court (swearing at judge and prosecutor), (d) crimen injuria (insulting a politician).
I am non-violent, but only in terms of refusing to attack someone else violently. When it comes to self defence, from being attacked, I ain’t got no ‘non-violence’ fundamentalism.
Is it possible to read the words of Theodore Kaczynski and Daniel McGowan and be convinced by their cases, that they deserve support in arguing on behalf of the defence of ecological military necessity?
Will they be acquitted?
Certainly not the first dozen or hundred; but as more people realize the ecological military necessity of defending nature, by means of non-violent political activism, and for those few who choose violence, that even they should should be supported to stand before the court and argue a defence of ecological military necessity; so there message spreads.
Where are the Frantz Fanon liberals now????? Not long ago… liberals were falling over themselves in support of arguments that ‘colonized minds’ can only be liberated by violence on the rotting corpses of the settlers?
While Industrial civilization exterminates 200 hundred species a day, you want to deny Kaczynski the moral support of an ecological necessity defence, cause his “targets lost eyes and fingers and sometimes their lives. He nearly brought down an airplane…”
That would imply… you don’t think Kaczynsky chose his targets well.. that even though Industrial Civilizationists are at war with nature, and those who support nature…. to the point of exterminating 200 species a day…. you care more about the few fingers, eyes and lives of these soldiers AT WAR WITH YOU AND NATURE.. than you care about defending NATURE and an ecological sane future!!!
Your choice is thus to prioritize the lives of those who support Industrial civilization, whose are at war with you, willing to exterminate you….. above defending yourself and nature, while calling yourself an ‘environmentalist’?
It is quite possible to buy up some land and rewild it; or let your garden run free; or work for a conservation group or set up one yourself; or put your body in the way of a bulldozer; or use your skills to prevent the destruction of yet another wild place……… AND also TO STAND IN SUPPORT OF KACZYNSKI AND PEOPLE LIKE HIM… TO RAISE A DEFENCE OF ECOLOGICAL MILITARY NECESSITY FOR THEIR ACTIONS…..
Am I correctly interpreting your response?
Could you clarify which of my arguments were ‘nonsense’, and your definition of ‘nonsense’.
Also, I am not clear what you mean by ‘peevishness’.
Anyone who commits the acts of a Daniel McGowan or Kaczynski, knows very well they stand the chance of going to prison. Thats fine, they don’t mind that. If you think you get change without being willing to sacrifice, you are delusional.
Appreciate those who are willing to sacrifice. McGowan and Kaczynski are in US prisons… which are five star hotels, compared to African prisons!
When you deny a McGowan or Kaczynski the moral support for an ecological military necessity defence — YOU, not the Prosecutor, or the Judge, or the MOnster System, BUT YOU — deny him the moral authority, that based upon his knowledge, and his concern, and his subjective experience of Industrial Civilization’s war upon nature…. was not sincere in his actions of fighting back.
YOU call him a LIAR AND A FRAUD!!! YOU SEND HIM TO PRISON AS A LIAR, INSTEAD OF AS A SOLDIER FIGHTING FOR NATURE!
Mother Nature’s Peak Oil ecological reality is analogous to the largest army ever assembled to bring Industrial civilization to its knees…. the McGowans and Kaczynski’s are but its human mini-saboteurs….
YOu appear to confuse (a) advocating violence, with (b) advocating that those who have made their own subjective choice, that violence is their own option, be denied an honourable ecological subjective necessity defence.
I ain’t advocating violence. I am advocating that it is reality, that my subjective and your subjective experience may be ‘lite’ compared to other people’s subjective experience. They may have knowledge that I could not acquire in dozens of years, and htier knowledge places them in a subjective position, that their only option is violence. Who the hell am I to tell them, that just cause that is not my experience, it should not be theirs, and they should be denied an ecological military necessity defence for their violent actions?
Thats like someone who has never subjectively experienced rape, telling a gang rape surivor – hey, you should have laid back and enjoyed it.. practiced non-violent resistance….
As for Assange.. he is not remotely interested in exposing the ecological reality, underpinning the anthropocentric Left and Right’s war upon nature. He is interested in a left wing fan club…. pretending the war is about Left vs Right. (Ref: Alien on Pale Blue Dot vs. Reporters Comittee for Freedom of Press, Wikileaks, Assange, et al)
Finally: David does — not infrequently — beat Goliath:
“Of the 200 conflicts studied between 1800-2003, David won 28.5% of the time. Between 1800-49, the stronger side won 88% of the conflicts studied. That number dropped to 80% between 1850-99 and dropped (again) to 65% between 1900-49. Between 1950-99, it dropped, wait for it, to only 49%. Now, on average, the strong side possessed ten times the power â€“ where â€œpowerâ€ is measured in terms of armed forces and population â€“ than their adversaries. And between the years 1950-99, they lost more than they won.” (Increasing Your Odds by Rethinking The Rules, Casey Flanagan; and How David Beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules, Malcolm Gladwell)
Lara, I thought we were talking about Mr. Killingworth’s article, not my beliefs or actions. I thought it a very good article with sound thoughtful provocative suggestions; I don’t believe him a hypocrite.
I share your deep anger. I do believe that non-violent action is the bravest action. I don’t think that makes me militant in any way.
I very much appreciate Orion allowing for so much thoughtful discourse on the horrid state of the earth and our continued malevolent effect on it.
You raised the issue of your non-violent beliefs. If you ain’t comfortable opening them up for critical enquiry. no problem.
I dont imagine Killingworth is a hypocrit, in general. However, in terms of his rejection of Kaczynski’s actions, I do think that specifically is hypocritical.
In my culture, when a person exposes any possible hypocritical action of mine, he is doing me a huge favour. If his criticism is accurate, I am able to confront and amend the particular aspect in which I was being hypocritical, and that is something I very much appreciate. That is the act of true friend. Better an honourable enemy, than a false friend.
I got allot of respect for honest mass murderers, or honest redneck bigots. At least you can have a clear specific discussion, on any topic under the sun. No political correctness, just plain simple no bull**it. I ain’t a fan of bullshit the public relations image management passive aggressive non violent con artists. By con artists, I mean people who talk nonviolence, but never been to prison to test their commitment to nonviolence, to prove their commitment to it.
I think we all, certainly I have, aspects in which we are unconsciously hypocritical, when we ain’t explored an issue deeply enough.
Not sure what you mean by my alleged ‘deep anger’. I ain’t got ‘deep anger’, right now, about anything. When I get shallow anger, on any issue, I let it out there and then, even in a court room, to a Judge, with a very loud “fuck you”. I don’t suppress my anger, and let it get into a ‘deep anger’. Life is way too short, and besides, expressing yourself totally honestly in the moment, is an awesome kind of freedom, if you don’t mind learning the lessons life has to give from the consequences.
I never said anything about you being militant. I would imagine a better description would maybe be passive aggressive. I said it sounded like you were a non-violent fundamentalist. Which is fine, if that is what you want to be.
1. Attacking someone who makes no money off the corporate supersystem meets my definition of “peevishness.” You obviously think hard about this stuff – is the over-the-top, burners-on-high approach, shouting “fuck you” the way to winning debates? Could be for you – not so much for others.
2. Macgowan or Kaczunski do not need “moral support” – they need rational people to ask them to reconsider the efficacy of their actions – as I am doing with you. MacGowan hurt no one, yet endured hellish conditions, torture really, and so does the Unambomber. You seem so cavalier about imprisonment – it is really a horrible, wasteful condition when seen from the inside – a matter of shame for all.
3. I did not send him to prison. You did not send him to prison. You seem to have great confusion over the reach or limit of the actions of people. Sacrifice, suffering, belligerance – for what end? Can you consider the folly of trying to accomplush something that cannot be accomplished?
It’s nice to see comments on this piece, and thank you to all who have engaged with it thoughtfully. I particularly appreciated the comment about my ideas being a ‘work in progress’ – which all ideas are, I’d say, if they’re worth anything.
However, I am intrigued to see my surname mutating from Kingsnorth to Kingsworth and now to … er, ‘Killingworth’? Not that I want to sound petty, but if you can’t get even get my name right, I’m not sure how much attention you are likely to be paying to the other details on offer.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest I’ll just say ‘happy new year’ to you all.
Here’s my non-violent response:
I’m sure all you violent folks are a hell of a lot more intelligent than Mr. Ghandi or Rev. King, with all your citations, you make me sick. Why don’t you get your hands dirty and do something like the author suggests? Get a scythe, get a machete, get out there and do the good work or shut up. You assholes know nothing about working in the dirt. Your life is an endless debate. Give it up.
Darryl Hannah. That’s my girl.
Attacking someone? Good lord, whom did I attack? Do you consider constructive honest criticism, an attack? You ain’t ever read Kaczynski’s Unabomber manifesto about liberals with fragile ego’s who perceive all sincere constructive criticism as an attack? (See: The Psychology of Modern Leftism and Feelings of Inferiority). I doubt anyone who sincerely appreciated Kaczynski’s arguments would perceive my constructive criticism feedback as an ‘attack’.
I’ve never felt ‘attacked’ by words on a screen, not even words physically screamed at me. Only thing I interpret as an ‘attack’ is a fist through my face. And twice when someone hit me, I did not even, interpret their fists in my face, as an ‘attack’; only as them making a physical statement for which they did not at the time have equivalent words. I imagine, if I had consciously responded that I was being attacked, at the time, my responses would have been very different. wonder what would have happened! Interesting!
It appears we got a very different definition of ‘attack’.
I never used the word peevish, so ain’t got a definition for it. But thanks for providing yours.
I also imagine you got a different worldview perspective. I’d consider your Bullshit the public relations image management, passive aggresive manipulation to get what you want to be ‘over the top’, approach to winning debates. I ain’t got any attachment to ‘winning any debate’. I am interested in an honest conversation, wherever it leads.. I am interested in being honest and sincere in the moment, 24/07… total freedom to be my fucked up self, and sometimes my piss off the PR addicted anthropocentric self righteous liberals or conservatives genius self.. LOL! I give all whom I am in conversation with, the same freedom; to be their honest, sincere fucked up genius self, 24/07.. and together as cripple, idiot freethinkers.. to go wherever the convo goes…
Most people are interested in ‘winning’ debates… I find that rather fucked up, but if it works for them. Great. So if you want to ‘win’ the debate… I am happy to concede. You won, whatever you wanted to win.
So, you consider yourself ‘rational’. Oh good lord! The end point of rationality, is to demonstrate the limits of rationality. I ain’t convinced there is such a thing as absolute rationality. What is ‘rational’ to you, based on your life experience, is not necessarily ‘rational’ to Macgowan or Kaczunski… You sound like a cultural supremacist, who lacks the honour and integrity, to admit you are a cultural supremacist, and instead wants to passive aggresively manipulate others to adopt your worldview, cuase that makes you feel more secure about your worldview, isntead of facing the uncertainty that people have different life experiences, and different worldviews, and thier worldview can be as rational to you (if you step out of yours, and sincerely listen to step into their worldview) as it is to them.
I perceive Macgowan and Kaczunski are hero’s for being true to themselves. I appreciate those who support them, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, that they did, what they sincerely believed, was the best thing for them to do at the time; and were willing to accept the consequences. I think they are people who can be described as true believers in those justice principles, of ‘innocent until proven guilty’…, which includes the right to a necessity defence.
Read what I said again… if you want… not to ‘win a debate’, by misrepresenting what I said… but to hear what I said…
“When you deny a McGowan or Kaczynski the moral support for an ecological military necessity defenceâ€”YOU, not the Prosecutor, or the Judge, or the MOnster System, BUT YOUâ€”deny him the moral authority, that based upon his knowledge, and his concern, and his subjective experience of Industrial Civilizationâ€™s war upon natureâ€¦. was not sincere in his actions of fighting back.
YOU call him a LIAR AND A FRAUD!!! YOU SEND HIM TO PRISON AS A LIAR, INSTEAD OF AS A SOLDIER FIGHTING FOR NATURE!”
Anyone who commits the acts of a Daniel McGowan or Kaczynski, knows very well they stand the chance of going to prison. Thats fine, they donâ€™t mind that. If you think you get change without being willing to sacrifice, you are delusional.
Kaczynski knew he would be sent to prison…. thats a given. But we each, individually, can choose how we perceive — in our consciousness — our participation in sending him to prison.
What do you think I am ‘trying to accomplish’?
My two primary goals are: (a) be sincere and honest, no matter how politically incorrect, and (b) listen, engage discussion like a hitch-hiker, lost in the universe, seeking a ufo, for a ride through a new worldview, or dimension…. no specific destination.. just a sincere interest in finding sincere minds interested in sincere seeking… if from that, anything manifests in the form of fully informed consenting agreements, based upon additional goals.. awesome. If not…. listening and honesty is a very high freedom reward, in and of itself.
As for accomplishing that which cannot be accomplished. I think you are referring to a religion known as futilitarianism..
The Pope of No Hope… who is the Pope of Futilitarianism.. says: “Attachment to belief is the source of hell on earth. All anger stems from our attachment to ideals and our insistence that we and others live up to them. If we could give up all the false hope, attachment to ideals, wishful thinking, attempts to cheer ourselves and each other up, then something actually hopeful might emerge from the authentic acknowledgement of despair. Our only hope comes from the indepth perspective of the comedian, from the love/hate relationship with our own minds as reflected in the conflict between ourselves and our loved ones, created by withholding and lying to protect ourselves.” (Futilitarianism: Radical Hope, Brad Blanton, Tikkun)
Kingsnorth, Kingsnorth – I’ll try to remember. “Worth” is the last syllable for so many names, Wordsworth and Woolworth come to mind, I guess I let habit take over.
Going back to Martin #23
“David M. makes many rugged points, but I differ with his localism – in view of the enormity of our global and common problems, â€œlocalâ€ means tokenism, like saving water in a cup while a flood washes through the valley.”
Local in the sense I’m using it means the longer term goal of self-sustaining communities. Obviously we have to presently work with the world we are handed. From the latter perspective if we don’t get to negative population growth I don’t see other important matters, including a lower carbon foot print per capita, finally saving us from collapse.
An additional thought is the local sustainable model has a good track record. We don’t have to ask if it works. It has for most of our history. It is simply up to us to perfect it, which among other things would mean less isolation from other communities than in the past. Obviously the problem of conquest would need to be addressed.
MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!
TOOLS FOR NEED, NOT GREED!
In the discussion of Ted Kaczynski I haven’t seen a link to his Manifesto, his principal expression of his society-technology views. For those interested here is the link.
Thank you Paul Kingsnorth, for another thought-provoking piece. I appreciate the dialectic of your injunctions both to “withdraw,” and to find active ways to preserve non-human life. I appreciate the comments of those here who emphasize the importance of community and cooperation. For me, joining wholeheartedly in the climate justice movement, in conjunction with the transition movement makes most sense in a time of little hope. As EO Wilson points out, as both altruistic and competitive beings, we are at war with ourselves and not just each other. Cultivating cooperation in the face of hopelessness — in the face of Exxon’s expenditures of $100 million per day to search for new sources of fossil fuels — is my version of picking up the scythe. I hope you keep sharing your journey, Paul.
And there is the VERY odd conjunction of “facts” in the film The Net:
“The Net” (Das Netz, 2003), an independent film directed by Lutz Dammbeck.
Kaczynski, Brand, the Grateful Dead, Harvard, US government secret mind-control experiments. . . .
Re: “From the latter perspective if we donâ€™t get to negative population growth I donâ€™t see other important matters, including a lower carbon foot print per capita, finally saving us from collapse.”
We will experience negative population growth, the choice is whether its voluntary or by Nature’s four apocalypse horsemen.
My calculations are:
A Sustainable (Eco-Innocent) footprint is:
* 0 children, consumption < 36 gh (Intn'l Biocapacity (1.8 gh) x 20)
* 1 child, consumption < 1.8 gh (Intn'l biocapacity (1.8 gh (2007)
* 2 children, consumption < 0.09 gh (Intn'l biocapacity 1.8 gh Ã· 20)
* 3 children, consumption 36 gh (Intn’l biocapacity (1.8 gh) x 20)
* 1 child, consumption > 1.8 gh (Intn’l biocapacity (1.8 gh (2007)
* 2 children, consumption > 0.09 gh (Intn’l biocapacity 1.8 gh Ã· 20)
* 3 children, consumption > 0.045 gh (Intn’l biocapacity 1.8 gh Ã· 40)
 Every child increases Ecofootprint by a factor of 20 – Oregon Univ. Study
 Biocapacity: In 2006, the average biologically productive area (biocapacity) per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita.
I doubt any of Kaczynski’s dead were ‘innocents’…. all were Breeding/consumption combatants.
“We will experience negative population growth, the choice is whether its voluntary or by Natureâ€™s four apocalypse horsemen.”
I’ll agree with that. Voluntary of course is better.
“ Every child increases Ecofootprint by a factor of 20 – Oregon Univ. Study”
You might want to explain that or supply the link.
As for Kaczinski I can’t justify his approach. His victims weren’t an agreed party to his actions and he hadn’t even opened negotiations with them so they had no idea they were combatants. Educate, cooperate and then seek voluntary solutions. Access to birth control services is a lot more to the point and developing small is beautiful local solutions is also. I don’t preclude more radical voluntary approaches such as facilitating suicide or even fight to the death gladiator contests for money if folks want to sign up. Giving violent criminals the possibility of early parole if they accept sterilization is a thought. But mailing some computer guy, who arguably is eliminating a fair amount of motorized travel in his work, a package bomb? No way is that a solution to anything.
Bin Laden also had a few choice observations to make in his various Fatwas but when he retaliated at 9/11 the dialog was reduced to vengeance and I would guess technological overkill was accelerated. The biggest spur to technology is conflict. The ultimate slippery slope of the dark side of Kaczinski is if he had the nuclear button at his disposal he would push it. That would sure be a technology killer.
Appropriate technology, which means locally based to me, not no technology.
MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!
FAMILY PLANNING: A MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL EMPHASIS
The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives â€“ things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
Comedy sketch by Doug Stanhope citing the Oregon Univ study
I don’t think that anyone who did not/does not support Ted’s right to a free and fair Political Necessity trial, instead of a Stalinesque Political Psychiatry showtrial, where he could have freely argued his case, his evidence taken seriously, and impartially objectively and subjectively tested….. should be considered a credible critic of whether Ted’s chosen targets were appropriate or not.
Do you think Killingsworth sent Ted a copy of his article, and invited Ted to respond, to be published by Orion?
Kaczinski got his manifesto published and didn’t get the death penalty. He’s not my idea of a political martyr but you are welcome to think otherwise. I understand his family thought he was kind of nuts but I’m no expert on the guy. Psychiatric trials are more often pursued by the defendants lawyer to get a lesser sentence.
To take it further a more coherent version of the manifesto probably could have been published on Orion or some of the earlier low tech anarchist journals like ‘Earth First’ in its earlier more radical incarnation without the bodies splashed around.
The fact that Kaczinski makes some good points doesn’t mean anything he does to pursue it should be applauded. Every low tech person now has to contend with his persona. Schumacher is more my style.
Great and thoughtful article. While I think there is a lot of evidence to suggest a technological collapse will be necessary for survival, I have not accepted it as a certainty yet. So I do go on working on both the local and national level to put things on a more sustainable path thru my water and energy conservation and green building consulting paid and volunteer work. I feel compelled to defend to a degree the neo-environmentalists who I also sometimes disagree with. I think the author misses the point in saying that because they support efforts to “recognize” the economic value of nature that somehow that is all they recognize in nature. I think in our current system where economy trumps most other things, if you can get people to recognize the economic value of nature you have a better chance of having a seat at the table where the decisions are made as to what to do with that piece of nature. I wished and hoped for years that more decisions were made in other ways but they usually aren’t. I applaud the idea of carbon taxes and reduced subsidies for fossil fuels which if adopted worlwide would lead to a more sustainable path and greater protection of nature. A great article in the New York Times recently how Ireland adopted carbon taxes and it is shifting their economy. I think it is one of best chances for a major shift, along with many other actions from energy efficiency to living more locally.
Lara, as the author himself politely pointed out, the name is Kingsnorth, not Killingsworth. I think you have diverted this conversation from a useful track long enough. Kaczynski neither earned himself a read-through of this article, nor anything other than life imprisonment, though hopefully he gets the mental health attention he clearly needs.
I happen to be closely acquainted with a neo-enviromentalist, and his views are precisely as described by PK in his article. Incredibly disturbing. Was at a talk by EO Wilson lately, at which he made a point of discussing the neo-environmental phenomenon, how deplorable it is, and sought to enlist the audience’s help in fighting it.
I imagine you are a scarcity combatant, pretending to be an environmentalist.. aka neo-environmentalist.
You are clearly not a liberal — liberals support the right to a free and fair trial, for everyone. Liberals don’t worship the Bullshit the Public Pharmaceutical lobby’s Political Psychiatry definitions of ‘mental health’!! Wow…. I know die hard right wing republicans who are more liberal, in terms of their commitment to a free and fair trial, for everyone, incuding Kaczynski.. and their disdain for Big Pharma’s Political Psychiatry mental health definitions!!!!
In my honour journalistic book.. whenever I write an article about anyone, particularly if there is criticism in it; I always provide them with an honourable copy. Not for them, but for my honour. Don’t stab people in the back, not even my enemies.
I think anyone who practices what they preach, irrespective of their ideology is worthy of consideration as a political martyr. Whether Kaczynski, McVeigh, Breivik, Dzerzhinsky, Buck, Laaman, and hundreds of others.
From my experience, the majority of people who make allegations of ‘crazy’ ‘nuts’ or any type of lack of mental health claims against another person, are cultural supremacists.
The only person I consider to be credible in any allegation of ‘insanity’; is the person who (a) provides thier clear concise definition of ‘insanity’; (b) how the other person fits their definition of insanity; and (c) is willing to have themselves institutionalized, if their thought processes fit their own definition of insanity.
“There is no such thing as mental illness. Psychiatric diagnosis of “mental disorders” is just a way of stigmatising behaviour that society does not want to live with. Psychiatry thrives on coercion and is replacing religion as a form of social control.” – Dr. Thomas Szasz
“There is no such thing as a mental disorder. A mental disorder is whatever someone says it is, and if the person saying “This is a mental disorder”, has enough power and influence, then people believe ‘Oh, that is a mental disorder’. – Dr. Paula Caplan, Harvard
â€œTo admit the central role of value judgments and cultural norms [in the creation of the DSM] is to give the whole game away. The DSM has to be seen as reliable and valid, or the whole enterprise of medical psychiatry collapses.â€ — Lucy Johnstone, The Users and Abusers of Psychiatry
Lara, I’m not going to bother with this, since you are clearly a bully, and the type that sucks the oxygen out of every room, virtual and otherwise. I hope a fruitful dialogue can be had among others, nevertheless, though at the moment you are succeeding in hijacking the conversation. All the best to you.
Breivik too? Now we’re up for shooting twelve-year-olds in the head as they cower behind rocks? Right on.
This is some impressive trolling, but I would like to echo Jen’s suggestion that the conversation, if people would like to have one, be diverted back to the themes of the article. Kaczynski’s mental health, martyrdom, trial, morals and strategies may well be interesting subjects for discussion, but they are a diversion from the thrust of my piece.
I find your writing interesting on a personal level, having grown up on a farm in the eastern US, during the sixties, with parents who tended to do things the old fashioned way. Been a while since I used a scythe, or milked a cow by hand, though I still ride horses for a living and they haven’t invented a replacement for the pitchfork.
That said, I do feel there are some deep paradigmatic issues, foundational to western culture in particular, that need to be addressed, if humanity is going to reconcile itself to existing on this planet in any long term fashion. I posted a link to an article I wrote, further up the thread, only because I do manual work, not writing, for a living and it clarified some of my thoughts on the subjects involved. In that essaay: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/17/1075305/–What-is-Your-Occupation#, I focused on the nature of money and how it evolved and that it functions as a social contract, but is treated as a commodity, such that the resulting illusion of atomized wealth is a significant factor in what drives people to monetize social networks and environmental health, but I use this economic argument to inject some far more abstract and far reaching points. The deepest of which is that we treat time as a vector from past to future, rather than the changing configuration of what is, that turns future into past. To wit, the earth doesn’t travel some fourth dimension from yesterday to tomorrow, but that tomorrow becomes yesterday because the earth rotates. The reason this has such deep social significance is because as sequence, the point of reference moves against context, which is the basis of the object oriented mindset from which social atomization emerges. We are the individual point of reference in our context. Yet it leaves us powerless, since we cannot change the past, or affect the future.
On the other hand, if we treat time as an emergent effect of action, ie, a measure of change, our actions are part of what create events. In this view of reality it is more a thermodynamic tapestry of activity, with each action balanced by and balancing others.
When viewing time as a universal flow from past to future we are easily herded into monolithic belief systems that mostly empower those leading them.
Which then gets to another foundational observation: The absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be the essence of being from which we rise, not an intellectual and moral ideal from which we fell. Socially this might seem to invoke a certain degree of anarchy, since it is a bottom up spirituality, but we are highly evolved and complex organisms, which are therefore inclined to organized societies. Much as our parents go from being the model we follow, to being the foundation from which we rise, humanity is reaching the stage where we have to shed our illusions and rise to the occasion.
I have a barn to go tend to, so I will leave it at that.
Though you make interesting points, I can’t help but be befuddled by a withdrawal. It speaks to me of a lack of perspective, for there are many who would love to withdraw in this world to an idyllic peace, hundreds of thousands, millions even.
This speaks from a privileged perspective, the ability to withdraw, but much like the withdrawal of Kaczynski, how long will it last?
We live in a world that will not allow for long such withdrawals.
We come from a world that has billions, not simply millions. Thoreau is a mythic creature today.
The environment will change and draw forth any who try to withdraw from its changes.
To withdraw ourselves is to withdraw the resources put into us by the society at large, the hundreds if not thousands of hours of socialization and human interactions.
Is that not a debt in itself? Is any human suddenly so enlightened that they can detach from a society that they are suddenly enlightened enough to be better than, to want to live outside of it? Who enlightened and taught that person to think as such?
It has taken my world thousands of years to teach humans enough to bring knowledge and society to this point. I would be loathe to see such a vast amount of human thought resources be withdrawn, no matter who they are.
Provocative peace as I see it.
Paul Kingsnorth. What a nice article, thank you. Scythe made me smile, at the rare occassion of teaching this, the instructed become better at scything than the teacher in short time, must be good teaching, no? (Or bad scything of the teacher?) Many things, to be short, gave in, gave up, being environmental activist since all conscious life, political and otherwise 10 years ago by now. Today understand that there is no such thing as “environment”. The web of life is interdependent on every level, in every aspect and we within. So only the wise ape could think of something like environment that needs protection (from us). Peace.
Is there a single thing in this essay that is new?
The idea that hunter-gatherers lived in a state of harmony with nature, and that it was ended by evil agriculturalists, is the story of Eden in the Book of Genesis.
The idea that modern civilization is fallen and corrupt requiring an apocalyptic revolution is a Christian idea in new clothing.
Rousseau’s noble savages are here, along with his view of society as corrupting and “nature.”
Even the author’s valorization of the Unabomber is not unoriginal. All revolutionaries justify murder and violence in the name of creating more harmonious societies.
I hope the author does what he keeps saying he’ll do â€” withdraw from modern civilization, including computers and the Internet â€” and shut up. Hopefully he won’t go any further down the path of the Unabomber.
If agriculture is evil, and hunting-gathering is harmonious, why does he go on and on about a scythe?
Shouldn’t he be an expert in clubbing seals or harpooning whales or something properly “indigenous” rather than agriculturalist?
“Unlike many other critics of the technosphere, who are busy churning out books and doing the lecture circuit and updating their anarcho-primitivist websites, Kaczynski wasnâ€™t just theorizing about being a revolutionary. He meant it.”
So guys like Kingsworth don’t “mean it” unless they maim and murder? How else can you read this sentence?
Its difficult for people who don’t practice what they preach, to respect, people who do practice what they preach. I ain’t an ideological bigot.
You pay taxes. With those taxes, you hire UK Army hitmen, who kill non-political children; doing your killing for you. Then you hypocritically pronounce judgement, on those who go out and do their own killing.
You intending to withdraw from paying your taxes to UK Army hitmen also; or you ain’t willing to put your money where your mouth is, and sacrifice the jailtime, it may cost you?
You want to express your rejection of Kaczynski’s eco-terrorism, and providing a counter-argument thereto, is trolling?
I’ve never called anyone a ‘troll’ in my life. I prefer to address a persons arguments.
I’ve never commented on Orion before. This is the only Orion article, I have ever commented upon, due to my interest in the issue of ecological terrorism, which is what Kaczynski was; and which I have some experience about.
I had no intent to comment further, but then others responded directly to my comment. In my cultural information operations worldview, I never ignore anyone who addresses me, with a question or comment. Everyone gets an honest response.
My interpretation of the ‘thrust of your piece’.. is your self-righteous perspective of neo-environmentalists, positioning yourself as a pure environmentalist. My perspective is that what those neo-environmentalists are to you; you are to Kaczynski.
Kaczynski the diamond, Killingworth the zirchonia.
Kaczynski — like Linkola – believes that pacifism is a techno-industrial civilization value, along with its promised techno-utopia; and ‘that such an interpretation is counter-productive to the ultimate anti-civilization/anti-tech goal as it attracts “leftist types” who are by nature uncommitted and act to dilute the movement.’
Thanks, Paul, for this interesting and thought-provoking article. I will want to read it over again; I’ll also be Googling your scythe workshops.
Other commenters have already covered questions arising fairly comprehensively, so I’m afraid I’m going to be lowering the level of debate… but I need to ask… Are you sure that second quote is from D. H. Lawrence? Because it sounds more like something T. E. Lawrence would have said…
Bizarrely enough, I had just finished a blog post/broadcast quoting exactly the same Unabomber quote that is so central to Mr. Kingsworth’s essay, (including saying, “there, but for the grace of my deep commitment to nonviolence, go I”) in the course of discussing the same subject: The strategies that so many of us in the Green/Bioregional/ecology movement have been pursuing for the last 40-50 years have, after a hopeful beginning, not produced the desired results, and we find ourselves feeling increasingly futile and marginalized as the world slips, seemingly inevitably, into a chaos more challenging than we can imagine, all in pursuit of imaginary profits and in hope of ultimately illusory technofixes.
I read the essay eagerly, hoping for some breakthrough insight into how to proceed, and, although his conclusion was, essentially, the same as mine–that we are heading into a “dark age” that may or may not include human extinction or near-extinction, and the best we can do is practice non-attachment even while we preserve what we can (I, too, own a scythe, though I am not as proficient with it as he!). Mr. Kingsworth’s “dark ecology” is cold comfort, but the cold comfort of the truth is better than warm, hopeful lies. It’s some comfort to know that my friends and I are not alone in confronting our inability to create the world we dream of.
Orion, is there someone monitoring this discussion? A number of participants, Lara in particular, but others as well, are past the point of abusive. Admittedly a conversation about Theodore Kaczynski is going to elicit some strong reactions, but I think you’re going to lose most of the people you are seeking to bring into a discussion of Mr. Kingsnorth’s article if there is a complete breakdown in both civility and rationality on the site.
“Lara” in response to Kingsnorth: “You hypocritically pronounce judgement on those who go out and do their own killing.”
“Do their own killing”? Excuse me? Hate speech and incitement have no place in an Orion discussion. This is appalling.
If the grass had feelings, how do you think it would feel towards the scythe? Like Kaczynski does towards technology, perhaps?
The Harvest is upon us. You can curse the Scythe if you want, but it is just doing its job.
It sounds like you are an anthropocentric human, by that I mean, you consider the killing of humans to be horrid, while the killing of animals and plants, to support human life, is just fine. Your ‘environmentalism’ is either (a) anthropocentric guilt, and/or (b) neo-environmentalism, as described in the article: “Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversityâ€™s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.”
I am an ecocentric human: humans are simply one of the species on this planet, and since all other species are part of the food chain; if humans are not able to live in harmony with nature (i.e. be eco-innocents), then they too should be considered part of the food chain. I’d like to donate my corpse — when I die — to be fed to some wild animals in a national park, or something like that; instead of taking more space from other species, in some cemetry.
When elephants overpopulate the Kruger National Park, where they are destroying the habitat for all other creatures, the Game Rangers, cull them back to a size where they are in harmony with other species.
When humans overpopulate the planet, and are destroying the habitats of other species; the Game Rangers, should cull them back to size. Genghis Khan was probably the best Game Ranger, in history. (“Genghis Khan the GREEN: Invader killed so many people that carbon levels plummeted” http://tiny.cc/GreenGenghisKhan).
Humans, unlike elephants (as far as I know), are capable of making decisions to limit their procreation and consumption, to a point below carrying capacity; which according to my Ind:Civ:F(x) war chart, would place them on the Eco-Innocent list.
Humans who breed and/or consume above the carrying capacity, are Breeding/Consumption War combatants! Breeding/Consuming Soldiers! By their actions of breeding and consuming.. they are waging war on other species, destroying other species habitats, exterminating them into extinction.
If you want the ‘killing’ of humans to stop; you need to demand that all humans immediately end their breeding and consumption war behaviour. If you are not willing to do so, your hysterical screeching against ‘killing’ is hate speech. Since you don’t seem to have any objections to the breeding and consumption combatants killing of all species, and Eco-Innocents; you only got a problem when the Eco-Innocents fight back in self defence.
In my experience… hysterical leftists who object to ‘killing’… are no different to fat women, who whine endlessly about how fat they are, and yet refuse to do any exercise, or stop stuffing their faces with twinkies. They have absolutely no understanding between cause and effect, and root cause problem solving.
If you are a US citizen, your taxes pay your US Army Rangers hitmen — like McVeigh, — to be taught the mantra that “Blood Makes the Grass Grow, Kill!! Kill!! Kill!!”.
In fact.. I am more probably way more against killing than you; since I (a) pay no taxes, and have never paid taxes, and even refused jobs, where they insisted I would have to pay taxes, and even informed the US military and IRS (when I lived in the USA) that I refused to pay taxes; and (b) in terms of my procreation and consumption, am an ‘Eco-Innocent’ (hence my breeding/consumption is not exterminating any species), and (c) advocate on behalf of root cause problem solving: humans living in Eco-Innocent (breeding and consumption) harmony with nature, and have even been sent to prison for my advocacy; and (d) advocate that if Scarcity Combatants (consumption and breeding war combatants) insist on their behaviour, they make the decision to enter the killing zone, and should not later complain when they are killing targets, particularly not by any Eco-Innocents, whom their behaviours contribute to killing every single day.
Are you — intellectually — one of those fat people who whine and whine about being fat (pacifist / anti-killing), while refusing to exercise and stop eating twinkies (advocate that everyone breed and consume in accord with carrying capacity?)
Just the sort of paleo-conservative nonsense that puts a lot of people like me — urban, with an enjoyment of technology — off environmentalism. (You’re also into C.S. Lewis and Ivan Illich, eh? Bet you’re a Wendell Berry fanboy, too… I can only imagine your POV on women’s “place” in general and on birth control in particular.) Susan Jacobs at #65 has your number.
Lara, thanks for all that fatphobia and internalized misogyny. They’ve given me a mind to have steak tonight.
While we appreciate and honor the contributions of all of our commenters and value the diversity of opinions expressed here, we expect our readers to treat each other with the civility and grace that are called for in discussions where there are strong emotions and widely differing points of view. Words are powerful, and we expect all of our commenters to keep that in mind. Personal attacks have no place in this discussion.
I read Paul Kingsnorth’s article again and am even further impressed by the carefulness with which he develops his topic. He even recognizes the irony that his focus on the scythe does with his notion of the “progress trap.”
From my standpoint what is missing is the elephant in the room that most environmentalists seem to want to avoid, the Malthusian one. We just can’t seem to stop expanding with all the ills that come with that. What kind of individual solution is there to that? It seems we are trapped in a critical problem that only has a collective solution.
If we evolved with certain psychological tendencies that are suicidal in nature(Original sin anyone?) what are we to do? I would say we aren’t born corrupt but are born highly corruptable which seems to amount to the same thing.
So how do we get out of this box? It seems to me we need some kind of broadly shared insight that given inherent human deficiencies there need to be a lot less people and they need to go low tech so they cause less damage. Also they can live more convivially with nature and each other in the most adaptive way without being ruled by the power of the high tech corporate machine, linked to some unfortunate human tendencies like mindless group-think.
MORE TREES, LESS PEOPLE!
TOOLS FOR NEED, NOT GREED!
Lara has every right to state her opinions here – she has obvious courage, and has given us on all sides, despite her extremism, some respite from platitudinous greenwashing that typifies sites like these.
I, in no way, find her definitions of herself as an “eco-innocent” defensible, and do not see her casual veneration of political martydom through murder of humans as fun stuff, but she is right in pointing out much of the hypocrisy of “greens” who live atop a brown, murderous world.
Orion: “Words are powerful.”
You know, I never knew that.
“Words – are – powerful.”
No kidding – wow- I must have missed that day in kindergarten.
Thanks, Orion, for that incredible insight. “Words are powerful.”
Then why aren’t commenters all kinds and queens?
Origami: LOL.. that was funny. Thanks. I actually like fat folks, who are happy being fat folks. I ain’t a fan of fat folks who whine about being fat, anymore than I am a fan of thin/white/black/green folks who whine about being think/white/black/green. If a fat friend of mine whines about being fat; who isn’t willing to exercise, or eat less; I tell them, to give up whining and be happy with who they are. Enjoy being fat and happy.
Itâ€™s the most simple analogy I know, that everyone is capable of grasping. If you got a better one, I’d be happy to use it.
I don’t like people who whine about any particular problem, but who refuse to address the root cause of their problem; and want me to listen to their whining and remain silent about their hypocrisy or self deception. Its pointless insincere BS conversation.
Its got nothing to do with their race, gender, religion, culture; but their self deception. I make the effort to try and find out whether: (a) they are consciously deceiving themselves; and if so, thatâ€™s okay: I just don’t want anything to do with it; or (b) unconsciously deceiving themselves, and would appreciate the feedback from an honest enemy/friend, or (c) unconsciously deceiving themselves; and prefer to remain unconsciously deceiving themselves.
I don’t know what you mean by ‘internalized misogyny’.
I doubt anyone who love’s nature: rivers, trees, clean air, etc; will ever stop loving nature. Such people cannot be ‘put off’ loving nature, if you stuck a gun to their head.
Long time ago such people used to be called ‘environmentalists’… but that term was hijacked by people who do not prioritize nature, but were looking for some cool movement they could join, or to impress their friends with their ‘green’ credentials, or who knows.
Nature four horsemen, Peak Oil, Peak NNR, climate change, etc.. are going to decapitate civilization, particularly the industrial technological part, along with a 50 to 100 year reduction of human population to way below 1 billion…. Nature really doesn’t need any ‘environmental’ movement, on her behalf, the only thing ‘environmentalists’ can really do is mitigate the effects of the impending Armageddon…., and if such mitigation does not include, a very strict one child or less international policy.. all other mitigation is shuffling deck chairs on SY. Civilization titanic….
I also think Lara has every right to state her opinions here on issues and also think personal attacks have no place in this discussion.
No conflict unless somebody is trying to gin up one.
Martin: Glad to see you back in the discussion, because I have a couple questions for you. I believe you said you have read Too Smart for Our Own Good. I am slogging my way through the first chapter, and it feels like trying to wade through quicksand–itâ€™s that technical, academic, and abstract. Does it ever get any better than this? And if it doesnâ€™t, did you find it worth the effort? I gather his outlook is not one to excite optimism about the human future, or celebration of the human past. I guess Iâ€™m looking for reassurance that the agony and frustration of tractoring through his turgid prose is worth it in the end. Is it?
You once remarked that the Gaia Theory is â€œa fake.â€ Iâ€™m wondering what makes you think so.
Wow, a fellow reader of Dilworth!
Yes, I agree with the “technical” description of the book – but that is Dilworth’s nature: he has put an immense amount of reading and cognitive organization into one framework. Turgid and not likely to excite optimism – most likely yes, but it’s like a degree in one book, and I don’t find it too “academic” – the prose is readable, if thudding. I’m at page 377 out of 477, so I think the end is in sight for me. I’m just taking Dilworth as a pedant, and boiling the fat down. The book jacket promises some “new paradigm” to get us out of the latest vicious circle problem, but what could that be?
Admittedly, my knowledge of paleo-history is cursory, which also explains my off-hand dismissal of Lovelock. The popular criticism, though, of him is his New Age angle – what scientific precision is there in calling the earth’s ecosystem some sort of super-being?
I would guess that you have delved far more into Lovelockian controversy more than me, but we all benefit from challenges, as Lara said.