Despite the fact that technology, living in democratic societies and all kinds of cultural advancement are considered by the vast majority to be inherently positive, a source of well-being and security for humanity, there are those who disagree very strongly.

There are people whose vision of civilization as we live it today is seen in such a crude way that they advocate a return to a primitive state, to the lifestyle of our prehistoric human ancestors.

Anarcho-premitivism has as a sign the defence of this idea . It considers that the inequalities between people are fundamentally due to the abandonment of a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary and progressively more complex one. Let us see more deeply what this peculiar current of thought consists of.

What is anarchopromoting?

Primitivist anarchism, shortened to anarcho-premitivism, is a current within individualist anarchism that criticizes the origins and progress of civilization . This form of thought is included within radical ecologism and ecocentrism, that is, it places the conservation of the environment at all costs as the main objective of its ideology.

Within anarcho-premitivism, it is argued that one of the main historical events that brought about a great advance for humanity, the passage from a nomadic hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian and sedentary one, gave rise to injustices among human beings, manifesting itself in the form of social stratification. This stratification, would be the beginning of both the idea of civilization and the power dynamics within humanity, with dominated and dominators.

The primitivists advocate making humanity return to a primitive state , a “non-civilized” era through deindustrialization, the abolition of the division of labor or specialization in professions. An abandonment of technology is also advocated, although, given that the idea behind this term is very broad, anarcho-primitivist positions range from the abandonment of electronics to the complete abandonment of any human-made product, however simple it may be.

It should be said that within this current of thought, several causes are pointed out as the evils of civilization: the industrial revolution, the invention of monotheism, writing, patriarchy, the use of metal tools… Whatever these causes that generate inequality, what all anarcho-primitivists share, as we were saying, is the desire to return to a simpler state of humanity, a pre-civilization era, some being advocates of a return to nudism and “re-savageage”.

Historical background

Anarcho-premitivism has its origins in the most original anarchism, only with changes in the conception of it and the way of understanding the need for the human being to live without depending on the organization of a state or political hierarchy.

This current of thought began to take a more ecological approach thanks to the figure of Henry David Thoreau, an American individualist anarchist. In his best known book, “Walden” (1854) (not to be confused with B. F. Skinner’s “Walden 2”) Thoreau advocates the idea of living simply and self-sufficiently in natural environments as a way of resisting the advance of industrial civilization. It is for this reason that, although in the book he does not defend the idea of returning to prehistory, Thoreau is considered a precursor of ecology and anarcho-premitivism.

Today, the main representative of the anarcho-primitivist movement is John Zerzan, who although he does not defend such a radical idea as that advocated by certain violent characters and groups, he does defend the idea of returning to a world in which technology does not monopolise our lives, and almost better avoid its use. Zerzan maintains that, eventually, humanity will see this return to its most primitive state as plausible.

As for the most radical and dangerous sector of the movement, there is the figure of Theodore Kaczynski, alias “Unabomber” , and eco-extremist groups such as Individuals Tending to the Wild. Although Kaczynski is not an anarcho-primitivist per se, part of his thinking could be considered as such. Ted Kaczynski is known to have carried out several terrorist attacks between 1978 and 1995, sending package bombs that killed three people and injured 23 others.

Theoretical Foundations

The main idea behind anarchopromoting is that before the advent of agriculture, human beings lived in nomadic tribes. In these tribes individuals were not organized in hierarchies or in relationships of submission-domination; they all lived socially, politically and economically in an equal manner . In fact, the more general anarchist movement itself sees in this type of tribe a precursor to a properly anarchist society.

Primitivists see in the emergence of agriculture the beginning of a greater dependence on technological development, which has been aggravated over time. Parallel to this greater need for the benefits of technology, society has been fostering an increasingly unjust power structure based on the division of labour and the creation of social hierarchies.

However, despite the fact that there is a move away from nomadic living to living from agriculture in sedentary societies, there are conflicting views within the movement on the need to reject horticulture altogether. While some defend that agriculture, to a greater or lesser extent, is necessary, understanding its risks insofar as there are individuals who may have more than others, other anarcho-premicists defend the return to a strictly hunter-gatherer society .

1. Rejection of civilization

Within anarcho-premitivism, the idea of civilization is considered as a physical and institutional apparatus which is the origin of domestication, control and domination, both over other animals and over human beings themselves. Civilization is the root of oppression and the ultimate goal of anarchocrimitivists is its destruction.

The appearance of the first civilizations, about 10,000 years ago, was the beginning of a disconnection from nature and from other human beings that culminated in an individualistic lifestyle, separated from the rest, but in which each of our vital aspects is strongly controlled.

Before civilization, individuals had ample leisure time, gender autonomy and social equality. They did not have greater needs than the basic ones: to feed themselves, rest, reproduce, maintain contact with others…

Since not much was needed to live, human beings lived in peace and harmony. As they were sedentary societies, there was no idea that a land belonged to one tribe or another, and therefore there were no territorial conflicts that ended up in the form of war.

But with the advent of civilization this changed. The creation of this type of society is associated with the emergence of war, the oppression of women, population growth , labour injustices, the idea of property and, eventually, capitalism.

2. Critique of symbolic culture

Anarchopromimitivists criticize one of the greatest, if not the greatest, advance of the human species: symbolic culture. In other words, they are critical of the idea of language, be it oral or written.

One of the questions that is often asked in the face of this particular criticism is how anarchopromimitivists intend to communicate . It is impossible not to think about the stereotypical figure of prehistoric man, who to make himself understood grunted and gestured.

According to anarcho-premitivism, and in the mouth of John Zerzan himself, it is the idea that prehistoric human beings got along so well was because there was no language, that they communicated in a more direct way.

It should be said that, despite their criticism of the idea of symbolism, they have not yet provided a solid argument to understand why language is a bad tool of communication or what alternative exists that is better.

3. Domestication of life

Within the logic of anarcho-premitivism, it is understood that domestication is a process that has served to control life in accordance with the designs of civilization .

There are several mechanisms involved in this process, and they are applicable to both animals and humans (eugenics could be considered one of them): breeding, taming, genetic modification, caging, education, governance, enslavement, murder…

These mechanisms are imposed through institutions, customs and rituals, be they seemingly harmless.

4. Rejection of science and technology

Primitivists reject modern science, especially that which incurs the constant use of new technologies in our daily lives . They defend the idea that science, as it develops, is not neutral: there are interests, both commercial and dominant, behind every technological development.

They have a very cold view of science, seeing it as something that has distanced itself from human values and emotions, being extremely quantitative. Science implies a mechanical way of looking at life and sometimes behaves as if it were the dominant religion of our time.

As for technology, they see it as an element that fosters the alienation of human beings, and diminishes significant interactions between people . This is especially evident with the media, which offer a distorted and partial form of reality.

Criticisms of anarchopromoting

Given the radical nature of the anarcho-premitivist foundations, it was only a matter of time before strong criticisms of the movement emerged.

The main criticism that anarcho-priimitivists receive is that they have an inconsistent attitude . They criticize the idea of civilization, but most of them continue to live a properly civilized lifestyle, often Western. Another idea is that, despite rejecting technology, they make use of mobile devices, offer interviews via Skype, sell books in both physical and digital formats…

However, it can be said that to consider the defenders of this current as hypocrites for advocating the abandonment of technology and society as it is organized today, without them taking the first step, is a very simplistic criticism. These are “ad hominem” arguments, which instead of criticizing the ideas they defend are limited to criticizing the lifestyle of those who put them forward.

In the same way that they defend a gradual abandonment of civilization, the anarcho-premicists are aware that it is very difficult to abandon the current lifestyle . If a catastrophe were to occur that would force humanity to organize itself into nomadic societies, it is very likely that the apocalypse would be near, and authors like Zerzan know this.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kaczynski, T. (1996). The Unabomber Manifesto: Industrial Society and Its Future (3rd ed.). Berkeley: Jolly Roger Press. ISBN 0-9634205-2-6.
  • Jensen, D. (2000). A Language Older Than Words. New York: Context Books. ISBN 1-893956-03-2.
  • Zerzan, J. (1999). Elements of refusal. Columbia, MO: C.A.L. Press/Paleo Editions. ISBN 9781890532017.
  • Gagliano, G. (2010). Il ritorno alla Madre Terra. The green utopia between radical ecology and ecoterrorism. Editrice Uniservice. p. 229. ISBN 978-88-6178-595-3.