Interview with Permaculturist Willi Paul by Ross Lawrence Wolfe. Including: “Man and Nature, Part IV: A Radical Critique of the “Green” Environmental Movement” by Mr. Wolfe. Sponsored by the


Interview with Permaculturist Willi Paul by Ross Lawrence Wolfe. Including: “Man and Nature, Part IV: A Radical Critique of the “Green” Environmental Movement” by Mr. Wolfe. Co-Sponsored by the charnel-house &

Interview with Willi Paul by Ross Lawrence Wolfe, charnel-house

1. First things first: an introduction. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of work do you do? Could you sketch out, briefly, some of your principal concerns and misgivings regarding modernity?

My work is to publish and teach thru my network that includes Magazine, - and a new site called - to support a post crash transition and to help the build a healthy planet for all life on future Earth. I am almost finished with my first two tools for a sacred permaculture: a new symbolic language for the coming tribes and a second myth generator.

Modernity is not a word I use these days but my reaction to the present slate of war making, materialism, greed and lack for human respect is as follows:

  • Technology will not save us.
  • Big business really only cares about their profits. The environment is either a greenwash advert or a cost of making profits.
  • The environment is only here to serve our material needs.
  • The lack of a common definition and actionizing around the sacred will be our downfall.
  • All of the traditional religions - west and the east - have failed us and need to be replaced by a global, Nature-base spirituality.

2. You have mentioned in a comment on my blog that "[a] dire lack of the sacred is the real crisis." In Rudolf Otto's 1920 work, The Idea of the Holy, he described the holy or the sacred as that which is numinous, as that which stood under the aspect of the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans. For him, the experience of the sacred included elements of awefulness (literally "filled with awe"), overpoweringness (majestas), and dire urgency. Not only that, but that the feeling was also "wholly other," as that which feels completely otherworldly, beyond description. At the same time, however, the sacred fascinates the subject who experiences it as well.

Otto diagnosed that the modern age suffered from an acute lack of this feeling of the holy, the sacred, as if the world had been desacralized. So it would seem that your belief that the crisis of our age is its universal profanity has some precedent. In light of Otto's description, how exactly would you define "the sacred"? How does one experience the sacred? Finally, how does the sacred manifest itself in the world? In objects, practices, or flights of fancy?

My own understanding and practice of the sacred has evolved from my 300+ interviews with thought leaders on Magazine. I seem to be working around the edges of a new definition – please see my model of the sacred:

The best that I can offer today is that the way to the sacred is an integration between new myths, permaculture and several new types of alchemy. To be honest, I am seeking a new sacred, without the dogma, brain-dead ritual or money-centered traditions of traditional religions.

I feel something sacred coming now, perhaps through the soil, the stars or our empowered hearts. We need to work the new sacred and be open to a new consciousness that comes with it. Think Nature as sacred for now.

3. You have said, furthermore, that "a new alchemy/mythology for a sacred in permaculture has my heart," that this is one of your primary motivations. Let us begin with the subject of alchemy. What is your definition of "alchemy"? What is its relation to the long alchemical tradition of past ages?

For example, would you agree with the one of the greatest authorities on all things alchemy, the famous alchemist Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, pseudonym Paracelsus, that "[a]lchemy can render poison salubrious"?

Would you furthermore agree with him that the alchemist "understands nature itself as the bearer of a macrocosmic stomach or archeus"?

My leap into things alchemic started with a life changing interview with internationally renowned author, lecturer and alchemist Dennis William Hauck for Magazine.

As my instinct and innovation on this subject evolved, including many sound scape / alchemy experiments, I am now touting the following types of alchemy to support the global leap in consciousness now under way:

Imaginative : This alchemy excites and creates our ideas, conflicts and even prayers in our brains.

Eco : Seeds, soil, plants and animals living, birthing and dying in a inter-related system pulsed by eco alchemy.

Shamanic : This is alchemy transmutates healing through ceremonies and rituals lead by a trained spiritual leader.

Sound or Sonic : The ancient alchemic power of song from cave rants to classical music and rock’n’roll.

Digital : Electronic learning and feeling working with computers including chat text, email and documents.

Community : People working with people: transforming attitudes, sharing ideas and making plans.

Earth : Planetary consciousness building and human evolution on a universal scale.

I would hasten to add here that most of the “stone to gold alchemy” of the past has no interest to me now. Alchemy is transmutation on many levels, a process and not the end result. To me alchemy is a new glue for the revolution.

4. Moving on to the other element of your statement, let us address the topic of mythology. It was the three Tübingen seminary roommates Hegel, Schelling, and Hölderlin who first called for the establishment of a new mythology to replace the old, now that the Scientific Revolution had disenchanted nature. They drew up drafts of an early philosophy of mythology. Only Schelling ended up seeing it through, thirty years later.

In Weber's use of the term, "[I]ncreasing intellectualization and rationalization does not mean increasing general knowledge of the conditions under which we live our lives...It means the knowledge or belief that if we only wanted to we could learn at any time that there are, in principle, no mysterious unpredictable forces in play, but that all things — in principle — can be controlled through calculation. This, however, means the disenchantment of the world. No longer, like the savage, who believed that such forces existed, do we have to re¬sort to magical means to gain control over or pray to the spirits."

Though capitalism has its metaphysical and fetishistic character in the form of commodities, it has generally led to a further disenchantment of the world. Nothing is sacred to it. Is this why you propose, as many have before, a new mythology? What would this new mythology look like? A potpourri of deities picked and chose from past mythologies, or the invention of entirely new deities? Does it require a story, or mythos?

You can read my six new myths and call me to the carpet for a debate! Children can now write the new myths, using digital and other alchemy. There is no intelligentsia in my mythic vision. The old classic myths are withered and are at best examples of story structure and other authoring principles. Clearly Joseph Campbell’s mythic tools are still as vibrant as ever – initiation, journey and the hero.

As my model clearly shows, new myth + permaculture (a primarily source for new symbols, songs, stories, heros, etc.) + the new alchemies produce the new sacred.

5. Your work seems to draw heavily upon Bill Mollison's Gaia Manifesto, as well as a book he authored on permaculture. As you yourself have written, "To me, permaculture is more than design principles like those in sun angles, crop selection, drainage patterns or roof top grasses, and must include a spiritual connection so I journeyed to discover how the Mollison’s ideas juxtapose with the my work in the new alchemy, new Nature-based myths and the search for the sacred."

Why do you think that some permaculturalists engage in their work without this inchoate feeling of the sacred, without a spiritual dimension? Do you believe that they can ever truly practice permaculture without these components? Would you encourage them to explore the more spiritual side of permaculture, in terms of myth-making and alchemical experimentation?

My new relationship and recent video conversation with Permaculture Editor Maddy Harland has revealed an interesting controversy in the permaculture movement. It seems that many permaculturists in the UK want to stay away from the spiritual aspect of the field due to a concern with the conservative land use laws and government zoning process. I also understand that some do not wish to be seen as Burning Man types.

My position on the sacred in permaculture and the long-term security of the plant have been address already here.

6. You have furthermore claimed that "[m]agic and mystery remain as dynamic and positive a force for many moving forward." What do you mean by magic and the mysterious properties of things? How exactly are they registered as a force? Are they demonstrably magical and mysterious? And do they not admit of scientific explanation, which would thereby demystify and disenchant them?

Any “force” that gets us to an sacred, beyond the idiocy in politics, the greed in war making, and the crap on TV is worth considering, yes? It is true that my sacred comes with new beliefs (not science) about environmental protection, imagination (i.e. magic) and the rest of the new consciousness. Humans have much to experience – in a hurry!

7. You yourself have posed the following questions: "Isn’t Nature inherently sacred to many? Is sacred in Nature a lens that we use to protect her? Obviously Nature is not sacred at all in many traditional religions – she is just a collection of raw materials to use up before the planet blows up and God call some of us to go to Heaven!"

How do you account for those religions that treat Nature as just a source of raw materials to be utilized by mankind? How must the alchemical permaculturalist orient himself (or herself) to these religions? As false? As blasphemous?

We need to get on the same page, forgive the sins of our Fathers and get on with the task of building a new, post-crash future. We need everybody to make this happen. I hope that the hard-core permies will soon be traveling to the backyards of the world to turn over the sod and educate us on the soil alchemies.

We are running out of time.

8. To what extent do you believe that nature is a thing-in-itself that inherently remands our "respect"? Inversely, to what extent do you believe nature can be fundamentally transformed by the will and technologies of men, who have gained such mastery over the natural world?

I keep hearing me thinking this these days: Nature will survive the crash but it’s the human that will be extinct soon with some practical and global process to a new sacred.

Men + technology = profit + environmental destruction. Period.

9. Is the central problem of our age spiritual, or does it have to do with the structure of our society? Might the spiritual crisis you detect not be an ideological representation of an underlying problem in our socioeconomic substructure?

Well, to be redundant, profit is the over-arching problem here. I can’t wait to see the rich folks in Hillsborough bartering their processions in the post-crash economy!

10. Closing now, would you like to add a few words in light of our discussion and interview thus far? What is the overall message you would like to convey to our readers about man's relationship to nature?

Many in my circle view the current smoldering meanderings from the old myths as in dire need of a refreshed power center - free from the burden of the withering storylines in old plots, online game slaughters, and our twittering kindergardens. My quick scan of mythic sites includes the home page of the Institute for Cultural Change (formerly the Foundation for Mythological Studies), which does mention sustainability, as well as MYTHOS for Creatives, working a global culture-based view. And, of course, Joseph Campbell Foundation is still blessed with the Hero's Journey and Initiation from Mr. Campbell. But myth needs a new spiritual search engine to go with the Internet. This new story base and vision map is permaculture and the new alchemy and sense of the sacred that comes with it.

-- from the April 2011 Joseph Campbell Foundation web site ( posting:“Mother, Sun, and the Compost Pile: Integrating Permaculture with the New Alchemy, New Mythologies, and the Sacred” by Willi Paul, Associate

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“Man and Nature, Part IV: A Radical Critique of the “Green” Environmental Movement” by Mr. Wolfe. by Ross Lawrence Wolfe.

Surveying the various constituencies that make up the present-day Green movement, a number of distinct tendencies can be observed. These each have their own peculiarities and distinguishing features, and are sometimes even at odds with one another. But there do exist overarching themes that hold this jumbled mass of ideological fragments together. One trend held in common by most of them, for example, is a shared opposition to “big business” and “corporate greed.” It is on this basis that many of them fancy themselves to hold a generally anti-capitalist worldview.


But on closer inspection, it can be seen in most cases that these activists don’t really want to overturn capitalism. They merely want to turn back the clock to what they perceive as a kinder, gentler capitalism, in which the “little guy” wasn’t stomped on so severely by all the corporate giants. They want the family-run local shops down the block where everybody knows each other’s first name. They miss the nearby farms that were owned by honest, hardworking families who brought their fresh produce into market every day. They want to get rid of all the corporate suits who come into town and vampirically leach off the hard labor of others and put these local stores and farms out of business by importing cheap goods made by foreign labor and selling produce enhanced by synthetic additives. (The völkisch and vaguely crypto-fascist/anti-Semitic overtones of this perspective should be obvious). Instead, these activists advocate to “buy local” and “go organic,” since they imagine that a world built on these principles is more “natural” than the one in which we live today. The pro-organic and “locavore” movements are based on precisely this belief, which they consider to be more “eco-friendly.”

This world is, of course, a fiction. But that doesn’t stop activists from calling for a return to this paradise that Marx and Engels called “the idiocy of rural life.” Indeed, many leftish urbanites and self-proclaimed radical students have developed a bad conscience out of their sense of distance from the more natural and “authentic” world of organic farming. In fact, this has driven many such greenophiles out of their urban lofts or student housing in some vain hope of achieving a “return to the land.” They buy some land out on the outskirts and set up farms where they can grow their own food. This gives them an overweening sense of self-satisfaction; they experience the thrill of producing homemade, holistic goods, which they can consume or perhaps sell at the local co-op back in town. The maintenance of such small-scale organic farms, however, is a luxury available only to those who are wealthy enough to afford selling their produce at a loss, or those who find clientele wealthy enough to afford paying much higher prices for local organic products rather than their mass-produced synthetic equivalents. It is thus an elitist phenomenon not only in the smug sense of ethical virtue that comes with buying organic or local, but also in a very real, economic sense.

There are those, however, who have not even had to look beyond the city limits for a place to reunite with nature. Though parks and public gardens have been a feature of most major urban centers since the nineteenth century, the movement toward urban-agriculturalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, and is associated with the whole ideology of Green. Many urban-agriculturalists are simply private individuals buy their own plots at outrageous prices inside the greater urban municipality, where the retail-value for the same acreage bought on the countryside would be dwarfed. So it goes without saying that those who can stand to keep up such an expensive hobby must be extraordinarily rich. But what they’re buying is almost certainly not the crops they will grown on it, or the relaxation brought from the hobby, but rather the knowledge that they, city-dweller though they may be, are eco-friendlier than thou.

That this fetishization of small local farms stems from a romantic anti-capitalist ideology should be obvious. However, the deeply conservative and reactionary character of this tendency remains hidden to its adherents. They imagine a past where everything was done at the local level, with “organic” social relationships and good family values. They remember the honest farmer, with his pitchfork in hand and his wife by his side. What they forget is the revolting reality and chronic backwardness of the old, small family farm, most famously condemned by the journalist H.L. Mencken, whose vitriol must here be quoted at length:

…Let the farmer, so far as I am concerned, be damned forevermore. To Hell with him, and bad luck to him. He is a tedious fraud and ignoramus, a cheap rogue and hypocrite, the eternal Jack of the human pack. He deserves all that he ever suffers under our economic system, and more. Any city man, not insane, who sheds tears for him is shedding tears of the crocodile.

No more grasping, selfish and dishonest mammal, indeed, is known to students of the Anthropoidea. When the going is good for him he robs the rest of us up to the extreme limit of our endurance; when the going is bad becomes bawling for help out of the public till. Has anyone ever heard of a farmer making any sacrifice of his own interests, however slight, to the common good? Has anyone ever heard of a farmer practising or advocating any political idea that was not absolutely self-seeking that was not, in fact, deliberately designed to loot the rest of us to his gain? Greenbackism, free silver, the government guarantee of prices, bonuses, all the complex fiscal imbecilities of the cow State John Baptists — these are the contributions of the virtuous husbandmen to American political theory. There has never been a time, in good seasons or bad, when his hands were not itching for more; there has never been a time when he was not ready to support any charlatan, however grotesque, who promised to get it for him. Only one issue ever fetches him, and that is the issue of his own profit. He must be promised something definite and valuable, to be paid to him alone, or he is off after some other mountebank. He simply cannot imagine himself as a citizen of a commonwealth, in duty bound to give as well as take; he can imagine himself only as getting all and giving nothing.

Yet we are asked to venerate this prehensile moron as the Ur-burgher, the citizen par excellence, the foundation-stone of the state! And why? Because he produces something that all of us must have — that we must get somehow on penalty of death. And how do we get it from him? By submitting helplessly to his unconscionable blackmailing by paying him, not under any rule of reason, but in proportion to his roguery and incompetence, and hence to the direness of our need. I doubt that the human race, as a whole, would submit to that sort of high-jacking, year in and year out, from any other necessary class of men. But the farmers carry it on incessantly, without challenge or reprisal, and the only thing that keeps them from reducing us, at intervals, to actual famine is their own imbecile knavery. They are all willing and eager to pillage us by starving us, but they can’t do it because they can’t resist attempts to swindle each other. Recall, for example, the case of the cotton-growers in the South. Back in the 1920’s they agreed among themselves to cut down the cotton acreage in order to inflate the price — and instantly every party to the agreement began planting more cotton in order to profit by the abstinence of his neighbors. That abstinence being wholly imaginary, the price of cotton fell instead of going up — and then the entire pack of scoundrels began demanding assistance from the national treasury — in brief, began demanding that the rest of us indemnify them for the failure of their plot to blackmail us. [1]

Not only is the historical memory of the locavores fantastic and imaginary, however, but their vision for the future is equally unthinkable and alarming. To generalize the practice of local farming and small shops would mean a regression to a quasi-feudal state of existence, with massive urban depopulation and the death of probably 95% of the Earth’s people. For many Green activists, however, such a development might not be so unwelcome. Unwittingly echoing the arch-conservative Malthus, they insist that the current growth of population is unsustainable and will inevitably exhaust the world’s resources. They fail to recognize: 1. that it is classist (since the lower classes have more children); 2. that it is racist (since non-whites have more children); 3. and that it is sexist (because women are supposed to be the “gatekeepers” of reproduction). Yet the activists who still hold fast to the fear of overpopulation continue to reinforce their claims with apocalyptic rhetoric and eco-scaremongering, evoking images of global environmental collapse. The Malthusian theory of a limit-point to the growth of population was materially disproven by the industrial revolution taking place before his very eyes. And while many may fear the influence that chemical additives might have on their food, the kind peddled by vast multinational corporations like Monsanto, there’s a good reason that population growth has accelerated at such a rapid pace since the end of the eighteenth century: capitalism, and its concomitant industrialization of the agricultural process.

Indeed, there was a time when the Left advocated the industrialization of agriculture, calling for the mass-production and distribution of foodstuffs throughout the world. They welcomed mechanization insofar as it rendered the labor-heavy mode of traditional farming superfluous and produced more goods for consumption. And this is very much what has happened over the course of the last century. The elimination of small family farms and the mechanization of crop production has taken place on its own in the West and throughout the modern world, without the brutal programs of forced collectivization and “tractorization” implemented by Stalin. And while famines still take place in some of the poorer countries, it is only in recent times that all famines could actually be prevented — that for the first time we produce enough food to potentially feed the entire world. So it is a bitter irony of history that many on the Left today seek to return to more primitive modes of local production, rather than to take control of the massive forces of agricultural production that capitalism has unleashed — and end starvation forever. But instead, the Green ideologues exalt and glamorize the small family farmer, and demonize and vilify big agrobusiness. Huge agricultural corporations may be ruthless and unmerciful when it comes to the way they operate and do business, but only a fool would want to return to the world of petty small-time farmers that Mencken described.


To return to the prospect of worldwide ecological catastrophe, however — we needn’t fear, some Green activists will say. “If we all chip in and do our part,” they continue, “together we can really make a difference!” This sort of puerile rhetoric brings us to the next subject of our investigation: lifestyle politics, or lifestylism, as it is sometimes called. Its origins can be traced to Gandhi’s famous injunction to “be the change you want to see in the world.” But lately it’s more the kind of message usually delivered by some well-known spokesman (or spokeswoman) — a famous athlete or movie star. The celebrities, always insecure of their ethical status because of the fame and fortune they enjoy, are always ready to join in for a good cause. And so they become the mouthpiece for this or that social message, usually inoffensive and uncontroversial. “The change begins with YOU,” they will say. And then they will parade around the fact that they’ve donated to many charities, rescued sick animals, or adopted a vegan diet. In this way are they spared the guilty conscience of knowing that they have it better off than most people. It’s why they’re so easily lampooned for their endless (and almost pornographic) pontificating.

But the lesser-known practitioners of lifestyle politics are hardly less smug, sanctimonious, and self-satisfied than their celebrity counterparts. They are almost invariably ostentatious in the exhibition of their given way of life. A vegan might take every opportunity to point out how the waiter must first check with the chef to make sure that no animal products are being used in the preparation of his meal, before he can order. Oppositely, they’ll rarely miss a chance to sneer or take offense at something that falls outside their narrow, single-issue worldview. A fur coat, an unrecycled recyclable, a “gas-guzzling” SUV — they’ll find almost any excuse to launch into one of their patented, pre-rehearsed tirades. The word “speciesism” often enters into the diatribe, followed by absurd casuistry and moral equivalencies. The lifestylists thus usually find their way into a clique of like-minded ethicians, who share the same ideals and who can feel virtuous with one another. As certain lifestyles become unfashionable, many tend to drift away from their chosen lifestyle or simply burn out — so there’s typically a high turnover rate. But there are some diehards who still cling to their diet or other ethical habits of living (“dumpster diving,” buying “eco-friendly” products, reducing one’s “carbon footprint,” etc.).

That they tend to flaunt their given way of life may be obnoxious, but in the end it’s fairly harmless, really. Far more dangerous, politically speaking, is the delusion that the sum of their individual lifestyle choices will have a significant impact on society. This is all the more true if they believe that they are somehow undermining capitalism through their actions. Quite the opposite is true. If anything, these various lifestyles are so readily integrated into the edifice of capitalist society that they almost immediately lose any revolutionary force they might have had. They are reduced to mere niche markets within the greater totality of capitalism. This is why it should not come as a such a surprise that one sees organic food aisles in major supermarket chains, as well as the opening of a “Green” McDonald’s in Riverside, Los Angeles. Lifestyle politics is remarkably assimilable to capitalism. It was for this reason that Lenin as well as Marx argued against prefigurative utopianism: the idea that one must behave as if he already lived in a perfect society, a Kantian kingdom of ends. Marx was a merciless critic of the utopian socialists of his day. Lenin would later write off the ultraleftist utopianism (or “Left-Wing” Communism) that surrounded the Revolution as merely an “infantile disorder.” One must accept the social reality that obtains at any given time, and not imagine himself to be ethically superior to the rest of humanity by virtue of some lifestyle change. Such a conceit is all too easily repackaged — and thereby absorbed — by capitalist society.


Closely related to, but distinct from, lifestyle politics is a “gendered” strain of eco-activism — eco-feminism. They offer an environmentalist critique that is at once broader and more particular than that of the lifestylists. For many eco-feminists, the whole problem of man’s domination over nature (and yes, specifically man’s) can be traced to a male way of viewing the world. Men, they argue, seek to dominate and bend to their will everything that stands in their path. They will stop at nothing to bring Nature, often culturally identified as female, under their dominion, and so they must beat it into submission. And so patriarchal society has pursued throughout history a campaign against nature, as a test of manhood, an eternal struggle. By contrast, a more feminine perspective on nature, the eco-feminists contend, would be more empathetic and understanding. It would accept nature in all its abundance and fertility; it would show compassion where the men showed none. Many eco-feminists draw inspiration from the mythological representation of nature as a woman — Gaia, Terra, Mother Earth, and so on. This often leads them to embrace numerous mystifications, many of them anagogic or primitivist in nature. These eco-feminists will then point to indigenous tribal myths that teach that nature should be revered and held sacred. An eco-feminist worldview, its proponents insist, would lead to a more harmonious relationship with nature.

Of course, there are several problems with these arguments. First of all, it essentializes (one could even say naturalizes) the difference between men and women. It hypostatizes the old patriarchal myth, so often repeated, that men are strong, bold, and decisive, while women are weak, caring, and empathetic. This is a dichotomy that feminists have for centuries been trying to disprove, and now many eco-feminists are looking to resurrect it to serve the purposes of their argument. Secondly, the appeal to the mythological symbolism portraying Nature as female must be seen as inadmissible superstition. The phantoms of religion and mythological deities cannot be used as evidence in any rational discussion, no matter how “authentic” or “sincere” some of these indigenous beliefs might seem. Finally, even if one were to accept such dubious symbolic evidence, would it not stand to reason that men would refrain from acts of environmental destruction like deforestation? After all, the act of chopping down a tree (a longtime symbol of the phallus) could be easily interpreted as an act of castration, the worst fear of men, according to Freud. If the eco-feminists were to trot out such symbolic interpretations in defense of their arguments, one could easily counter with symbolic interpretations of his (or her) own.


There are those within the Green movement, however, for whom a superficial change in one’s way of life or a gender critique is not enough. As self-styled radicals, they cannot be satisfied by such modest acts. Nor can they be content with merely participating in theatrical demonstrations, marches, and protests against animal or environmental exploitation (though they continue to do these things as well). These young firebrands feel they must do something more. A truly radical activism, they contend, must seek to do away with the whole bloody system — dismantle it piece by piece. So what you usually get is a bunch of angry young activists, often with some sort of anarchist orientation, who will sometimes whip themselves up and engage in isolated acts of corporate sabotage, office disruption, and animal “liberation.” These acts are usually carried out by either single individuals or small groups coordinating their efforts according to some preconceived plan. The most notorious organizations advocating such militancy are the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), with which it is closely associated. But there are countless little coteries of activists strewn throughout the more developed world that operate by using such tactics. In the age of the internet, they issue any number of online manifestos or proclamations of intent.

Much of this is just militant posturing, though occasionally some groups are able to muster the courage of conviction to actually pull off some of these stunts. They are, however, often quickly arrested and given harsh sentences. There have some been some journalists who believe the courts have been a bit heavy-handed in labeling these activists’ crimes as “terrorism.” They even believe these rulings to be the result of some conspiratorial plot cooked up by big business interests, who then pull some strings in Washington to specifically target eco-activists through their legislation. Though there might be some small truth to this belief, the reality is that these isolated attacks on corporate property and sporadic acts of animal liberation barely dent the profit index of most of these major businesses. Militant Green activism isn’t even half as disruptive or effective as its practitioners would like it to be. It would be (and perhaps is) an extreme overreaction for business interests in government to insist that these young crusaders be classified as “terrorists.” If anything, this only ennobles them by giving them the sense that they are martyrs of state oppression, when in fact they are little more than petty pranksters who got in over their heads.

We have already mentioned how many of these militant tactics owe their origin to the long tradition of political anarchism, which dates back to the first decades of the nineteenth century. Many anarchist authors actually did call for individual acts of terrorism — one needs only read Mikhail Bakunin and Sergei Nechaev’s Catechism of a Revolutionist or look to the acts inspired by Georges Sorel’s book on revolutionary violence to witness this fact. (Lenin would famously critique such Narodnik terrorism in his book, What is to be Done?). This does not, of course, imply that all forms of anarchism employ or even approve of terrorist tactics, as there have been almost innumerable anarchist tendencies over the past two hundred years — some violent, others not. Indeed, most Green anarchists and “veganarchists” are so oblivious to the history of political anarchism that they might scarcely be aware that there were ever any major figures within the annals of anarchism who considered terrorism an acceptable revolutionary method. Their association with anarchism is in most cases purely ahistorical. It’s a sad truth that many activists who identify with anarchism do so out of temperament rather than a thorough course of study. Nevertheless, we may close this critique of the contemporary Green movement with an examination of the peculiarities of the Green anarchist Weltanschauung, then moving on to its most troubling manifestation, anarcho-primitivism.

The anarchist elements within the greater ideology of Green manifest themselves mostly in their anti-hierarchical organizational structures and belief that individual actions can spark revolutionary change. This is closely connected with the more general theme of lifestyle politics, to which almost all Green anarchists adhere. The Green anarchists tend to associate themselves with an anti-globalization political stance, as well. Their critical perspective on what they call “mainstream” environmentalism also distinguishes them from other eco-activist groups. Green anarchism understands itself to be part of a radical fringe, and often takes great pleasure in that occupying that status. Indeed, for all too many Green activists, the anarchist affiliation is little more than a fashion accessory that they pin to their preexisting beliefs in ending climate change and animal cruelty. They enjoy marching side by side with other self-declared anarchists, wearing black bandanas over their mouths and waving a large black flag. They will usually hold up some placards covered with anarchist slogans and chant commonplaces like “this is what democracy looks like!” and “ain’t no power like the power of the people ’cause the power of the people don’t stop!” — mindless populist jargon. While these are the kind of people who can sometimes get caught up in the Durkheimian swell of religious fervor and overturn a police car or break into a Starbuck’s, in their life outside of protest their anarchism is more like a hairstyle or tattoo. They might go out of their way to get arrested (in order to wear that fact as a badge of honor), but for the most part their anarchism extends no further than that.

There are the true believers, though. The most frightening among them identify with the anarcho-primitivist movement — a tendency founded under the ideology of John Zerzan, who has a number of followers who live up and down the west coast of the U.S., but also some residing in the northeast. Considered fanatics even by many of the other Green anarchist currents, the anarcho-primitivists are actually pro-collapse. In their interpretation of history, society has been built on slavery, injustice, and the ruthless exploitation of nature ever since the first agrarian communities were established. Domestication, to them, is the root of all evil. Even simple farming is too “unnatural” for their tastes; they look to small bands of hunter-gatherer tribes as the only natural mode of human existence. Everything else is “Civilization,” and must be destroyed as a whole. This is why they actually welcome climate change and the prospect of ecological catastrophe — because it would undo the accomplishments of human society and force mankind to “rewild,” to really finally return to nature. Only this can end man's alienation from nature, the anarcho-primitivists maintain. And so some of them even prepare for this “endgame” scenario by going on barefoot runs through the wilderness at night or learning basic nature survival skills. The lunacy of their ideology is so patent that it would almost honor it too much to offer a critique of it. Needless to say, this is the outermost extreme of the present-day Green movement, but still can claim a number of adherents.


And so with that shall we close the critique of contemporary eco-activism we have pursued thus far. It might be appropriate here to recapitulate some of its results. In the final analysis, far from being a single, unitary ideology, the ideology of Green is rather just a hodgepodge of past ideological remnants — neo-Romanticism, vitalism, primitivism, Luddism, Eastern mysticism, and quasi-fascist Germanic naturalism. Though there is a small kernel of truth to its project insofar as it deals with sustainability (i.e., the ability to carry on the exploitation of natural resources without the threat of environmental catastrophe), more often than not there is an underlying notion amongst eco-activists that humanity should have some sort of “respect” for nature as an inviolable thing-in-itself. The Green movement therefore views nearly every industrial-technical instrumentalization of nature, plant and animal alike, as invasive and chauvinist. Insofar as it preaches “eating local” and “going organic,” and then promotes the long-outdated ideal of self-sufficiency, it's tacitly advocating a return a semi-feudal mode of production, which would necessarily involve massive famine and urban depopulation.

Humanity does, indeed, stand alienated from nature. And yes, there is good scientific evidence that supports the theory of global warming, though the scientists are characteristically more cautious in their predictions. Those on the Right who insistently deny the fact of climate change are just as delusional as the hysterical dispensationalists on the Left who declare the world is doomed. But the present-day Green movement provides no real answers for reconciling man with nature, when posed as a social problem, outside of, perhaps, its notion of sustainable growth. So what might a Marxist approach to the societal problem of man’s relation to nature look like?

To begin with, it must acknowledge that the answer can only lie in radical social transformation. Since humanity’s alienation from nature began with the foundation of the first societies — i.e., the beginning of history as such — and since the precise form in which this alienation has manifested itself has varied throughout history, we are left two options. Either we renounce society in its entirety, with all its freedoms and higher sensibilities, and retreat into the dark recesses of prehistory (as the anarcho-primitivists suggest), or we must progress into a new, as-yet-unseen social formation. With the former option, nature would no longer present itself as a problem to humanity because there wouldn’t be a consciousness of anything different, and we would act on our every savage instinct. Following the latter course of action, human society must gain a more self-conscious mastery over nature, such that it would become merely an extension of our will. What we are faced with is thus clear: either we must accept the renaturalization of humanity, or, inversely, the humanization (or socialization) of nature. Only by pursuing one or the other of these options can the contradiction be overcome — only then might humanity be disalienated from the natural world.

For the Marxist, the choice is simple. Though regressions do occasionally take place throughout history, one cannot turn back the hands of time wholesale. Thus is the dream of the anarcho-primitivists only a nightmarish fantasy, never to be realized. One can only progress by moving forward. The only answer the Marxist can accept is worldwide revolution — the fundamental transformation of existing social relations. This revolution must honor neither regional convention nor national boundary, it must extend to encompass the globe. And only by eliminating society’s foundation on that insatiable category called Capital, only then can society exist for itself, only then can men truly make his own history, rather than be made by history. In the words of Marx, “[m]en make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”[2] Engels expanded on this in later work, Socialism, Utopian and Scientific:

With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then, for the first time, man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature, because he has now become master of his own social organization. The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face-to-face with man as laws of Nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him. Man’s own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have, hitherto, governed history, pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history — only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.[3] [my emphases]

How to achieve such a seizure of the means of production is a political question, one that has been dealt with historically by figures like Lenin and Trostkii. And although it would be utopian to speculate exactly what such a realized society would look like, a few possibilities seem plausible. First, such an emancipated society, freed from the rule of Capital and the forces of history, can now consciously direct its actions at a global level. No longer would there be the haphazard, chaotic hyperexploitation of nature that one sees under capitalism, which so often gives rise to crises and acute shortages. Secondly, humanity, liberated from its servitude to merely use technology as a tool to generate relative surplus-value, can now self-consciously harness the vast technological forces bestowed upon it by capitalist society. No longer beholden to these machines, gadgets, and other devices, but their master, human society can use these technological instruments to radically reshape nature for the benefit of both society and nature. Indeed, this would involve both the transformation of man and nature. Or, as Trotskii put it in the conclusion of his book, Literature and Revolution, in a quote that might as well serve as an appendix to our whole discussion:

The Socialist man will rule all nature by the machine, with its grouse and its sturgeons. He will point out places for mountains and for passes. He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans. The idealist simpletons may say that this will be a bore, but that is why they are simpletons. Of course this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens. Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain. And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times. The machine is not in opposition to the earth.[…]

[And thus, t]he wall will fall not only between art and industry, but simultaneously between art and nature also. This is not meant in the sense of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that art will come nearer to a state of nature, but that nature will become more “artificial.” The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests, and of seashores, cannot be considered final. Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are not few nor insignificant. But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming. Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing “on faith,” is actually able to cut down mountains and move them. Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan. Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature. In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste.[4]

This entry is intended to serve as a standalone piece, but it is informed by three previous posts I made in which I establish my theoretical position. For those who are interested in reading them, please refer to the following links:

Man and Nature, Part I: The Shifting Historical Conceptions of Nature in Society

Man and Nature, Part II: The Marxist Theory of Man’s Alienation from Nature

Man and Nature, Part III: An Excursus into the Structuralist Opposition of Nature and Culture

[1] Mencken, H.L. “The Farmer.” From American Mercury, March, 1924. Pgs. 293-96

[2] Marx, Karl. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

[3] Engels, Friedrich. Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.>

[4] Trotskii, Lev. Literature and Revolution.>

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