Anarcho-primitivism is a collection of complementary ideologies which critique the origins and development of civilization from an anarchist perspective. The anarcho-primitivists allege that humanity lived an idyllic lifestyle as hunter-gatherers prior to the development of complex societies. What caused our purported fall from grace is a source of some debate; John Zerzan argues that it was the development of symbolic expression, while Fredy Perlman says that it was the emergence of abstract power relations. However, most of them agree that since the advent of agriculture and the increased population densities that it made possible we have become bound to technological processes that alienate us from our true nature. The only way to create a healthy, sustainable way of living, they claim, is to abolish civilization in its entirety and fundamentally rework society so that these trends cannot redevelop.
“Agriculture has been and remains a ‘catastrophe’ at all levels, the one which underpins the entire material and spiritual culture of alienation now destroying us. Liberation is impossible without its dissolution.” – John Zerzan1
By arguing that agriculture was where our species went wrong, Zerzan implies that we should return to pre-agricultural means of obtaining food — that is, a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Yet agriculture allows us to acquire much greater quantities of food from a given area than hunter-gatherers could secure. Estimates of how many people could live on the Earth as hunter-gatherers based on the amount of food that would be available to them suggest a carrying capacity of around 100 million (Earth’s Carrying Capacity). How the global population would be reduced to this figure has not been adequately explained by any anarcho-primitivist, but I’m not sure that would be possible without starvation and suffering on an unheard of scale. Even if an ecological disaster resulted in the deaths of billions, those that perished would generally not include the economic elite because they have the resources and power to monopolize the remaining supplies. In all likelihood this event would be used by capital to restructure society and ensure that the class divide remains despite the enormous loss of life.
“Life before domestication/agriculture was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health.” – John Zerzan2
Zerzan’s understanding of the life of the hunter-gatherer is based on a preconceived ideal that ignores the more difficult aspects of their existence. Besides the dangers involved in dealing with predators without weapons of greater complexity than a spear or a bow and arrow, ailments that are easily treated with pharmaceuticals could become life- threatening illnesses. Forty percent of the world’s population (approximately three billion people) are at risk of contracting malaria and 200 to 300 million already suffer from it…