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+4 votes
I'm reading the The art of not being governed by James C Scott. Which tells the story of the hill people of upland southeast Asia and how they are not untouched by civilization but have fled from it. Scott says that their culture, agriculture/gardening and location in the hills was a choice made as part of their escape from civilization in the valleys. He says that many people who are living outside of civilization today are in similar positions as having fled from nation-states. Is this analysis different from primitivist/anti-civ conceptions of "primitive" peoples and the rise of civilization. How does this relate to potential focus of struggle ie on escape from civilization vs fighting civilization? I know that the primitivist/anti-civ category is a really varied one but are there people who agree or disagree with this analysis?
by (390 points)
This is a really great question by the way, thanks for posting! I love nuance.

1 Answer

+4 votes
As one of the few "anarcho-primitivists" on the internet these days (hate the term but agree with the critiques), I find the people of Zomia very interesting, very inspiring, and great that they're not romanticized as ideal societies so much as different and better societies that suffered colonization and overcame it, because beyond civilization will be messy as fuck, and that's the more pertinent issue. I think Scott's analysis supplements and augments in beneficial ways what others have written, and supports the assertion that history is not a straight line forward and upward toward escalating social hierarchy and complexity.

Anarcho-primitivism as a tendency primarily deals with examining the rise of power and alienation rather than active decolonization; Scott's analysis gives it some teeth showing that insurrectionary nihilism's not the only possible response that can achieve something, that active cultural decolonization is a possibility and a threat to the existing power structure in that it shows autonomy is possible and preferable in the meantime to a certain extent. Anarchists hear the "escape versus fight" argument everywhere, whether red or green anarchist, whether discussing state & capital or cities & industry, but the two are in no way separable; one must do both to different extents in different contexts.

Only the communities that could maintain both autonomous communities and a fighting spirit had any success against colonization, as chronicled in "500 Years of Indigenous Resistance" zine. That fighting spirit however could become toxic to the culture as well, as shown in "Against His-Story, Against Leviathan". A key part of Scott's analysis for anarchists is that the people of some parts of Zomia are willing to use violence against potential rulers [1] moreso than for policing themselves and becoming militaristic, and the ones that don't have that issue don't have that issue. There's no one-size-fits-all-solution, there are only general principles and frameworks and social norms.

[1] http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/12/06/the_mystery_of_zomia/?page=full
by (8.9k points)
This is still a great answer to a very good question.
Thanks again.