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What do anarchists think of agriculture?

+2 votes
I ask this question with the hunter-gatherer mode of life in mind, but don't want to answer/comment on it justified by anthropology or the hunt/gather mode of existence:

Can you see anarchists having an independent existence based on farm work, with all of its unhealthy back-breaking work, and the possessing/counting of plants and animals? How would an anarchist do agriculture in an anarchistic way?
asked Oct 9, 2016 by anonymous

from wikipedia (and therefore inarguable - lol!):

Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that nurtured the development of civilization.

right off the bat, that description presents an obvious chasm between those that see civilization (mass society) as something to be supported, perpetuated and improved; and those that see civilization as inherently problematic and largely contradictory to one's desires for an anarchic life. i realize this question is not about civilization per se, but i did want to point out the inherent connection between it and agriculture. 

since self-sufficiency is very much a desire/value of my anarchic life, the ability to produce the food needed to feed and nourish myself and those i care about is paramount. it is not my desire to have to exist solely on hunted/gathered food. so if i/we had a decent gardening area (with a good variety of seed stock) and some chickens and goats, we could produce pretty much everything we need - food wise - to survive and thrive. of course it would be ideal if there were also wild lands around that allowed us to hunt, forrage and gather wild foods as well.

is that agriculture? is all gardening "agriculture"?

F@, yes.

undetermined: distinctions between a) gardening, b) farming (including perhaps subsistence farming vs farming for trade with friends vs farming for trade with strangers), c) agriculture

2 Answers

+4 votes

Great question, but also a huge one. I will try to keep my response as succinct as I can.

As funkyanarchy commented, agriculture seems inherently tied up in civilization. Certainly, the delayed return inherent in agriculture is tied up with the sublimated desires necessary for civilized work (slave) life – and recent anthropological findings at Goebekli Tepe do indeed suggest that religion (alienated value and meaning) occurred just a few hundred years before the emergence of plant and animal domestication.

Because agriculture involves so much drudge work, it is very much tied up in slavery – as one example, the Sumerian (first agricultural empire) word for foreigner is the same as the word for slave. Avoiding unpleasant work is a powerful incentive for slaving, after all. And the depletion of soil from agricultural monocropping means that expansion in some form (whether literally taking more land or taking synthetic fertility from elsewhere in the form of fertilizers) is necessary for agriculturists – hence, you have war, which in turn ensures a steady supply of slave foreigners, and so on. James C. Scott points out that, on the macro-scales of time and space, foragers are really the sedentary ones whereas agriculturists always need to be moving into new spaces.

Permaculturist Toby Hemenway points out that once you have agriculture, you have a stored surplus. And once you have a stored surplus, you need a lord to dole it out, bureaucrats to measure it, soldiers to defend it, slaves to create and maintain it, an ideology to rationalize the whole process, and so on – in other words, you have civilization.

More basically, in whatever greenwashed form, agriculture is fundamentally ecocidal – it requires the destruction of nonhuman habitat, the loss of topsoil, a reduction in biodiversity, and increasingly absurd and destructive means of combating non-domesticated organisms (pests) who are trying to rebalance their local ecology by attacking domesticates. Organic agriculture does nothing whatsoever to change this fundamental problem – hilariously, in fact, organic farmers often have even worse soil health on their farms than do the “conventional” ones.

So, for anti-civilization anarchists (like me), a critique of and hostility toward agriculture is essential.

In response to dot and funkyanarchy's comments asking whether all gardening is agriculture, I would reply with a hearty no. The image of a pure forager or hunter-gatherer is an idealized, anti-ecological fiction – every organism (including non-animals) does a kind of /gardening/, that is, they all attune their environments to better support them, whether by spreading seed or altering soil flora with their shit, broadcasting secretions that poison or support creatures around them, and so on. So, the question is not whether to manipulate one's environment, but how it is done. Forest gardening – an ancient and diverse set of practices employed by peoples the world over (off the top of my head, I know of cases in what are now called North America, Central America, South America, West Africa, and Central Asia) – is a way of manipulating one's environment that allows the human organism to behave like most organisms behave: in dynamic equilibrium with one's local ecology, minimizing self-alienated activity (work), and increasing biodiversity by creating localized, moving disturbances in so-called climax forest conditions. Correspondingly, it tends to create and reproduce anarchic, rather than hierarchical, social conditions.

Being an anti-civilization anarchist, for me, means making as a core part of my theory the recognition that our subsistence is always in a reciprocal relationship with our social conditions and belief structures.

answered Oct 9, 2016 by Bellamy (410 points)
What about in areas that lack a forest, like arid areas? There'd be a need for some sort of irrigation and stuff. Would there be something similar to forest gardening, but in arid areas? I'm under the assumption that irrigation means agriculture, but I could be wrong.
i largely agree with bellamy. a major point they made (implicitly) is that "agriculture" implies large-scale farming. which is why it is so destructive.

i live in a very arid area of the southwestern u.s. pueblo peoples around here have had "irrigation" of sorts for dozens (if not hundreds) of generations, without large-scale agriculture or wholesale destruction of native habitat. they were mostly much more "settled" than h/g tribes, and certainly stored some of their crops for the harsh winter months (lots of high altitude areas).

i have had to create my own soil for garden and greenhouse beds, as the soil around here is almost pure clay (great for earthen construction) and highly alkaline, and much of what i want to grow requires serious amending of the native soil. but once that was done, and i was set up to catch as much rainwater as possible (which of course has its own destructive components, though it could be done with largely local materials and resources), i could grow plenty of food for myself and my very small band of anarcho n'er-do-wells. and i absolutely can (as in jar) and dry as much "surplus" for the winter as i am able. i don't think of myself as a farmer, much less an agriculturalist; i am just a gardener.

so i guess the real question becomes not only what is agriculture (in terms of scale), but how is it done?
–1 vote
I'm a farmer and an anarchist, and I work with lots of other farmers to help them diversify their crops.

I see it this way: Anarchist farming needs to follow these 3 rules:

(1) a farm should behave as an independent, individual organism: the plants, animals, soil and farmer must act as a system, each helping its partners thrive. Problems start when the farmer views herself as a ruler exploiting plants, animals and soil as means to an end.  All organisms on the farm must be appreciated as equals. That means the farmer can't ask anything of the soil without improving and empowering it in kind. There is a long-term view here: the life of the farm organism is much longer than the life of the farmer.

(2) The farm should only be as big as can be worked by the farmer herself. It is not OK to hire labor or force anyone to work the farm. It is not OK to be an absentee farmer delegating the work to a salaried farm manager.  It is OK to hire independent contractors to do work if the fee is fair. That does not mean gardening. I see nothing wrong with using machinery or bringing in purchased fertilizers//pesticides to increase one's power to correct imbalances or defend partners beyond what could be done by hand. Rule 1, however, puts a lot of responsibility on the farmer to stay informed and make good decisions. Not easy, but nothing is.

(3) The farmer should not own the land. Since all land is owned, this means he'll have to pay rent. But she must pay it with the knowledge that she is paying protection money to an extortionist to avoid trouble -- not because the owner has any "right" to the land. At least by refusing land ownership herself the farmer embraces the reality that she is not lord over the other organisms of the farm, that the time of her participation in the system is brief.

The observation that farming leads to oppressive civilization is not a reason for people to disapprove of farming wholesale. The fact that there are unintended ecological consequences is no reason to stop farming altogether.  Humans working together with symbiotic species of plants, animals and microbes is not bad in itself. It is inevitable: organisms benefit by working together, and if allowed any freedom they will find ways to do so.
answered Oct 12, 2016 by Syrphant (560 points)
Syrphant, you just a reworded your answer. What you are describing sounds eerily similar to tenant farming. Why does the land have to be owned?

I don't see where f@ made any moral judgment about anything. Stating that they'd ignore your rules doesn't seem like a moral judgment to me.
OK, I see what you both mean, funkyanarchy and bornagainanarchist. As an exercise I'll try to avoid using words like "rules" "should" "right" and "wrong." It will be interesting to see how I manage that !

I have to recognize, however, that my own personality is not well-suited to relativism, nihilism or any sort of "nothing is real," "nothing matters," "it's all an illusion," etc. I can't live up to my own ethical standards, and being a hypocrite does make me uncomfortable. But if I play the selfish game I see others playing I'll win. And people will get hurt. And I know I'll find no satisfaction down that road; what's the point of satisfaction anyway when you can't take it with you? I'm scared to death of being a sociopath. I know it's all pointless -- there's no "progress," no reward for kindness or punishment for selfishness, our minds are just chemicals working hard to rationalize our feelings, justify our actions, construct a coherent perception of reality and delete troubling memories or observations.  I force myself to believe in an absolute, universal morality. I force myself to try to figure out what it is and to try to live it. Maybe just for the glory of the hopeless struggle.

I won't push it on you or ask you to accept it. It's just how I force myself to think. I'll defend it hard, simply in order to have some kind of will; so that I can have goals that benefit others rather than hurt others.

syrphant: just fyi, i am very definitely NOT one of those post-modern, nihilistic "nothing is real", "nothing matters", "it's all an illusion" types. to the extent i understand what "relativism" is, it does have some resonance with me. that is one of the primary areas we seem to disagree.

i also understand being uncomfortable with hypocrisy. i am surely not comfortable with it; i just accept that sometimes i am forced to behave in ways that i would really rather not. and because i know who i am, and i am not usually looking to others for validation, i have no need to beat myself up for that. sure, sometimes in retrospect i wish i had behaved differently. but rather than ruminating on that, i just try to use it as another life lesson, and hope i can use it the next time it is applicable.

"what's the point of satisfaction anyway when you can't take it with you?"

could you explain that a bit?

" I force myself to believe in an absolute, universal morality. I force myself to try to figure out what it is and to try to live it."

do you see how that might just be a trap? also, as a self-proclaimed anarchist, how do you see such a universal morality being possible without some form of authority to define and enforce it? what makes you think that every single unique individual being would inherently share the very same wants, needs and behaviors in their lives?

it seems to me that your perspective has a binary prefiguration; there is no apparent gray area. either there is a universal morality which you want to force yourself to adhere to, or you're a sociopath? i suspect there is some wiggle room somewhere in there.

" so that I can have goals that benefit others rather than hurt others." where are YOU in that? is your life only about others? does the well-being of others so completely override your own? i'm not saying they are completely unrelated, i'm simply questioning what seems to me to be a recipe for self-repression.

of course you can't push universal morality on me, and i understand that is not your intent or desire. i guess what i would ask is this: if you can force yourself to think in a certain way, can you force yourself to question that way? what is your critique of universal morality?

syrphant: "I have to recognize, however, that my own personality is not well-suited to relativism, nihilism or any sort of 'nothing is real,' 'nothing matters,' it's all an illusion,' etc." 

the way i see it, thoughts like "nothing matters", "nothing is real" also come from an absolutist position. 

from my perspective, things matter differently to each person, and what one calls "real" can take many forms, depending on the person(s) and places involved. 

and i also look at life as a paradox....for example, i see money as both an illusion and real.....everything matters and nothing matters....etc.

that doesn't feel selfish or pointless to me. it feels fluid and somewhat unpredictable, but not pointless.

i don't know with certainty if what hurts you will hurt another person, but i certainly know pain when i see it or experience it....so rather than prefiguring a morality that tells me "do this, or don't do that", i (try) to constantly respond and project according to my perceptions, thoughts, and feelings at any given moment. 

funkyanarchy, bornagainanarchist:

My critique of universal morality is simple, unoriginal, and constantly pointed out by the little devil cartoon daffy-duck on my other shoulder:  Even if there is a universal morality, and even if we can discover this natural law governing the realm of consciousness (and I think I can distinguish its outline through the fog), its application to any situation is context-dependent, and no organism can possibly fully understand the world around it because our tools for perception and information processing are faulty.

As for funky's accusation of altruism: what about me? Well, my physical me is also an ecosystem of living things that my conscious me should try to help and not hurt. Because I think that helping is good and hurting is bad, when someone/thing hurts the conscious me (or another) I see that person or thing as a bad-guy. And it is always open-season on bad-guys. Problem:  I always have my doubts about what is help and what is hurt in a particular context since there are always multiple beings affected. I get pissed but don't go for the nuclear option: just a little effort to limit what I see as unfair harm... careful to keep unintended consequences to an acceptable level.  I am not altruistic. I think my responsibility to defend radiates outwards from my immediate ecosystem, of which I am a part.

bornagain: to your comment about absolutism.  Thank you. You help me understand why I hate relativism: because it is absolutism in the sense that it says there is NO universal morality. I guess what I really hate is absolutism. This is the same reason I hate the absolutist proponents of organic agriculture. They say that ALL synthetic chemicals are bad. That is just irrational. Clearly there is good and bad in everything, and it all depends on context and the hows and whys.

I do see the world in ones and zeros, what you all call binary. But I see it as dialectic: where everything contains its contradiction, its undoing, its particular destabilising element. So that equilibrium is unatainable. Homeostasis -- even if the non-living universe wasn't always life to adapt and adjust -- is naturally unstable.
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