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What is so wrong with civilization?

+1 vote
Excluding the effects of external forces that anarchists want to eliminate anyway (such as capitalism, statism, paternalism, religion, etc.) why do (some or all, I'm not sure) post-leftists want to also eliminate civilization?

PS: I'm not very good at tagging, feel free to change them to more appropriate ones.
asked Jul 31, 2014 by Anarchisteve (290 points)

i don't think that margaret killjoy considers themselves a post-leftist. i don't know that post-leftists in general consider themselves anti-civ at all. i'm not sure why you want to ask post-leftists what is wrong with civilization, when you could as easily and more pointedly ask that question of people who are anti-civ.
but all that aside, i think the link i provided is a good read.
I'd like to write an answer for this question, but just in case I don't get around to it, there's one distinction worth bearing in mind here - not all anti-civ/civ-critical anarchists want to eliminate civilization (or think that it could be eliminated).
"Excluding the effects of external forces that anarchists want to eliminate anyway (such as capitalism, statism, paternalism, religion, etc.) "

some would say that those external forces (that @'s want to get rid of) are all symptoms of "civilization", and so eliminating one (or more) without eliminating the root cause is futile (if freedom from all institutional sources of oppression is the desire)..

and to be clear (and somewhat repetitive), post-left is most definitely NOT synonymous with anti-civ. and anti-civ is NOT synonymous with anarcho-primitivism.  though there may be a good amount of overlap betwixt and between.
You're talking to a brick wall. Steve has consistently ignored all attempts to set him straight on his ignorant caricatures.
lawrence - i've noticed on this site you can be quite harsh. i'm not making any judgement on whether or not that's a good or bad thing, but maybe steve's reactions have been partially built-up due to your responses and comments.

based on my experiences of being hostile to post-left stuff at first, i view the fact that he's still around and asking these questions means he's interested in these ideas and just doesn't understand why people are into them.
I appreciate your candor about my often impatient demeanor. However, it seems clear from Steve's earliest posts that he came here with an agenda to bash his ludicrous caricature of post-left@. I (and a couple others) have attempted to get him to look at his various assumptions and mischaracterizations, to no avail. He is impervious to dialog and consistently refuses to read three paragraphs, let alone three pages of what post-left @s have said about themselves. He uses the term as a catch-all insult for anything he doesn't like, and when he's called on that (and especially when I challenged him to cite examples of "post-left activities" that are pro-capitalist, for example), he either changes the subject or ignores it. He may still be here and asking questions, but they are other questions; he has failed to respond to the answers he doesn't like.
this is a moderated site. posts and comments do get removed. repeating both political misinformation and also personal insults is one way to have things get deleted.

edit: oops. this message from me is for someone whose post got removed. not in response to the lawrence/flip conversation.

omg - edited because i used "who's" instead of "whose"! wtf. where is mr grumpy when we need him!!!
flip: good on ya for trying to have a balanced perspective on this. and while i agree about lawrence's communication style (at times), it is also clear that steve has no interest in seeing any perspective but his own. he, like so many folks i have no interest in, KNOWS the one true answer. in this case, what is the one and only true anarchist way. and it is socialism!  i won't even comment anymore on his willful ignorance of post-left critique.

and now i am chiming out of this particular ... discussion?
fair enough.

i just know that i was very vocally dismissive and hostile to post-left stuff when i first heard about it, but secretly was curious and kept looking into it. perhaps steve isn't come from the same place, i just thought i'd say something.

2 Answers

+3 votes
There's a couple of ways that I think about this.

From an ethical mindset civilization is essentially the domination of humans over everything: all animals, all life, and the planet itself. Since I want to destroy all coercion, hierarchy, and authority; and I understand that these systems are all connected I can't help but view the human domestication of all of the above (aka civilization) as a part of the coercion that I face in my daily life. This leads me to not value the lives of humans inherently over that of animals or other life. Also: I just flat-out don't like oppression and domination, it makes me sad when I see it. Maybe that's moralistic, I don't really care, but I just don't want animals to be in such degrading and terrible conditions that we created for them with civilization, I want them to be free to live their lives.

The critique of civilization is an extension of that of capitalism also. Hence why it fits into the "post-left" category. The original division of labor (we think) was that of the patriarchal gender/sex split between male and female. The advent of agriculture is where the reproduction-related anatomical differences between humans becomes important. Before, in non-civilized societies, there were no set institutions, humans lived for themselves. With agriculture and cities it becomes necessary to produce a workforce that will tame the land and produce the necessities of life for the beauracracy/elites. A deskilling and general division of labor, mirrored by the creation of an administration, was absolutely critical for the development of cities. And we all know what happens when you put some people in positions of authority. So the division of labor, the creation of gender and emphasis on sex, and the authoritarian institution were all products of/produced by civilization. In this way they form the foundation of our civilization today.

It's also apparent to many that life under civilization is boring, routine, and not fulfilling. The existence of compulsory labor (that is, labor done for a reason outside of ones own desires and needs) aka work, the sterile and monotonous way the landscape and physical content of the world has been shaped for the forces of production and consumption, and the way our minds have been colonized by these forces don't seem like something that self-managed factories could fix.

There's a whole lot more to be said on the subject, for example about how humans view themselves as objects in the subjective eyes of everyone else, causing social anxiety and the donning of an array of masks/roles to be played out in everyday life. Or about how we don't have anything to relate to others except our consumption of things that carry nothing of us within them (shows, sports, music we like). Modern life is alienating, we never feel like ourselves. But maybe someone else can touch on that existential stuff.

You absolutely cannot have a civilization without these things in some form or another. As long as life is super complicated you're gonna need work, administration, domination, and the world/ourselves to be shaped in order to serve the needs of those things.
answered Aug 3, 2014 by flip (3,970 points)
+4 votes
Flip covered part of what I had planned to write (about the origins of division of labor/specialization/objectification of other life). Another piece, as I see it is purely practical. Where will we get what we need to maintain massive urban populations? Food, energy, and all the infrastructure to maintain the flow of these things.

Here is the normal answer I would expect to get: "Cities don't have to be what they are now. Without capitalism, people would be free to create urban farms, redesign transportation systems, and so on. The power could come from wind and solar energy, or in some places wave-driven energy."

Granted, all this is true. But then there are more questions - where does the water to irrigate the crops come from? Some of it in some places comes from gathering rainwater, but definitely not everywhere (imagine Los Angeles trying to maintain civilization minus the state without the massive diversion of the Colorado River, or perhaps the residents of Dubai trying to be more than a small coastal village without imported water). We import it then? What do the people upstream and downstream, or from whatever aquifer is having their water sent to wherever think about that?

Speaking of shipping, another issue is what fuels transportation (and industry)? Solar and wind power require both the raw materials (highly toxic ones in the case of solar panels) to harness them, and they also require an energy system that relies upon extractive industry (mining in this case). Who is mining those? We can recycle and repurpose some, but who is working in the highly toxic repurposing centers? How is this different than what we live in now? I suppose it could be entirely mechanized, but that just takes us back in the flow chart: where do the robots come from (raw materials, energy, etc) who builds and maintains them?

Oh, the waste. Where does it go? Civilizations create waste on a massive scale, and while grey and black water systems can work on certain scales, they don't address the toxic waste of civilizations. Where I live the salmon are having a harder and harder time coming back to their home streams not only because of dams and toxins and everything else from civilization, but because of coffee and curry. What I mean by that is the concentrations of these things (and other spices) that leak into the sea that they travel through via urine, groundwater leaching, etc is inhibiting their sense of smell, which, it turns out is a big part of how they navigate. Back to what Flip said about not valuing humans over animals, this is a real life example of the impact we civilized humans have on other species that isn't even addressing things like animal agriculture.

Most of the answers I hear to these lines of inquiry are that people will willingly choose to do that work, or that it will be worked out free of capitalism. The thing is, civilization has existed without capitalism. It wasn't any better.

While a lot of my perspective on all this is informed by anarcho-primitivism, I hesitate to call myself such. I think it is entirely possible people can create a freer reality using some pieces of what exists now (I wouldn't say I am hopeful about that on any sort of large scale), and I don't think a wholesale return to the Pleistocene is likely either.  I just don't seen any of these things as compatible with the world I would like to live in.
answered Aug 3, 2014 by ingrate (20,520 points)
edited Aug 4, 2014 by ingrate
All good points, and easy to understand. And it would be the Neolithic, not the Pleistocene ;-)
agreed - good answer, ingrate.

i like particularly that you have pointed out the onion aspect of most typical arguments FOR civilization: you need to keep peeling away the layers of "what is really necessary to produce/transport X", so that the true and full cost of industrial production can be exposed.
Thanks Lawrence - I was referencing the Paul Sheppard book "Coming Home to the Pleistocene,"  but yes, neolithic is what people actually talk about in a-p circles. Probably should change it in edits (or just let your comment do the same).

Dot: I take in that in your ideal post-leftist world you and your co-dictators (the other people with all the bombs) wouldn't be limited to censoring anything you don't agree with and would instead have the full death-squad and torture chamber thing going on?  Oh, and don't, whatever you do, DON'T be at all critical of Larry the Lamb's trolling.  He's a post-leftist so completely ignore any and all wrong doing on his part.

Ingrate:  Sorry, I thought that by saying "excluding external forces that anarchists want to eliminate anyway (such as capitalism, statism, paternalism, religion, etc.)", but you instead assume I was talking about something else.  You seem to assume that a post-capitalist world would be run in much the same way as a capitalist one (and I suppose that would be true, if the post-capitalist world is a post-left world and the bomb-throwers get to rule everything and everyone).


Right, I'm done with you silly people, your silly ideas, and this silly website.  I've wasted far too much time on you losers (especially Larry the Lamb, go on, bleat for us once more, Larry).  Fortunately most of you will either blow yourselves up or end up in prison so I don't think the post-left movement will be a stain on anarchism for long.
lol cool story bro, enjoy your consciousness raising tea parties or whatever it is you do, best of luck with the general strike and whatnot!
I am ignoring the invective of your comment steve-o, except to say that if you are comparing Lawrence to a lamb, you clearly haven't met him. Nothing sheepish there.

I was really hoping you or someone would fire back about the part "excluding external forces that anarchists want to eliminate anyway (such as capitalism, statism, paternalism, religion, etc.)"

What I didn't explicitly say (I was actually hoping it would be the logical extension of what I did) is that almost all of this at some point boils down to scales that are not possible without extensive bureaucracies, and, most likely inter-group fighting. On the levels required to manage civilization, we are talking about armies, and governments, even if we call them Defense Forces (hmmm, can't think of anywhere acting warlike right now that doesn't have an army but has a defense force...),  Workers' Councils.

I thought I was going to respond at more length since you aren't the only one who benefits from the answers here, but I will let other questions do so naturally, and have addressed a lot of this elsewhere, as have many others.
none of the points I made above, which was a sincere answers to your question, were addressed by you steve.
hey i upvoted this because it was a really good response

but i have one doubt....when has civilization existed without capitalism? I ask this assuming that primitive accumulation is still capitalism, the continuous accumulation of resources.....
rs66:  i have the feeling i'm repeating someone else's comments elsewhen -- must be my dementia or something.

There has been a lot of flinging around of the term 'civilization'; but do we all mean the same thing when we use that?  If we mean the imposition by violence of social hierarchies, and the concentration of populations into cities, and the concentration of foodstuffs (by violence) into those cities, and the dumping of the waste of those cities (by violence) on those downstream...

by this measure, civilization is synonomous with the rise of the city-states thousands of years in the past; thousands of years before the emergence of the european mercantilism that ushered in industrial capitalism.  capitalism requires civilization; civilization can take many forms other than capitalism.

Primitive accumulation.  (this is only my opinion, unsupported by any peer-reviewed journal, but fuck them...)  I'd consign this idea to the compost heap with everything else that came from the apologists of economic theory.  'Primitive' people aren't generally big on accumulation - the more shit you have, the more shit you have to carry.  If they have more than they need they generally eat it, share it, or dump it in the lake as an offering (to whatever).  Accumulation doesn't make sense (as much as it sense to the sociopath) until they have enough thugs to collect the accumulation; and to guard the accumulated!  It's funny how all those academics pretend that if you put a bunch of grain in a building, all the hungry people outside will just politely stand around; practical experience tells us that the only thing between the hungry and the fed is a line of vicious thugs.
Welcome to Sumer, welcome to Britannia, welcome to America.  [Welcome to the end of the line.]

edit:  see also Lawrence's answer ->  http://anarchy101.org/6770/what-are-the-definitions-of-civilization-and-society
i like your clarification of civilization, it seems pretty dead on to me. Civilization=cities

Im definitely not a marxist, but i kinda like his term "primitive accumulation" to describe the first form of mass plundering/slave labor as a shorthand.  I wasn't referring to indigenous tribes that were anarchist in nature. However, "Primitive" is not a word I like, it immediately has a negative connotation towards lack of technological "advancement".