Thursday, January 27, 2005

Tempting Godwin: The Primitivist Green SS

Via, an anarchist criticism of the primitivism pervading many observers of peak oil, by Andrew Flood. While we disagree on a number of points (particularly in the notion that anarchism can ever be viable), his arguments resonate most where he brings to the fore the millenialist Green ideas that primitivism will eventually become necessary. Conceding the idea that mass die-offs would be necessary were civilization to end -- the carrying capacity of land varies depending on the technology used; farming supports more people than hunter-gatherer lifestyles (and, by implication, industrial civilization supports far, far more):
The earth's population today is around 6000 million. A return to a 'primitive' earth therefore requires that some 5900 million people disappear. Something has to happen to 98% of the world's population in order for the 100 million survivors to have even the slightest hope of a sustainable primitive utopia.
But going backwards implies something has to change, and that something is the size of the population. Flood writes
My expectation is that just about everyone when confronted with this requirement of mass death will conclude that 'primitivism' offers nothing to fight for. ... Most primitivists run away from the requirement for mass death in one of two ways. The more cuddly ones decide that primitivism is not a program for a different way of running the world. Rather it exists as a critique of civilization and not an alternative to it. This is fair enough and there is a value in re-examining the basic assumptions of civilization. ... Other primitivists however take the Cassandra path, telling us they are merely prophets of an inevitable doom. They don't desire the death of 5,900 million they just point out it cannot be prevented. This is worth examing in some detail precisely because it is so disempowering. What after all is the use of fighting for a fair society today if tomorrow or the day after 98% of us are going to die and everything we have built crumble to dust?
Which is to say, sizeable numbers of the readership of, at least, judging by my experiences there. I would disagree with him, though, on the idea that people don't want 5.9 billion to die: consider the typically amoral discussions going on wherever peak oil is mentioned.
The most convincing form the 'end of civilisation' panic takes is the idea of a looming resource crisis that will make life as we know it impossible. And the best resource to focus on for those who wish to make this argument is oil. Everything we produce, including food, is dependant on massive energy inputs and 40% of the worlds energy use is generated from oil.

The primitivist version of this argument goes something like this, 'everyone knows that in X number of year the oil will run out, this will mean civilization will grind to a halt, and this will mean lots of people will die. So we might as well embrace the inevitable'. The oil running out argument is the primitivist equivalent of the orthodox Marxist 'final economic crisis that results in the overthrow of capitalism'. And, just like the orthodox Marxists, primitivists always argue this final crisis is always just around the corner.

When looked at in any detail this argument evaporates and it becomes clear that neither capitalism nor civilization face a final crisis because of the oil running out. This is not because oil supplies are inexhaustible, indeed we may be reaching the peak of oil production today in 1994. But far from being the end of capitalism or civilization this is an opportunity for profit and restructuring.

Again, this is where I part company with Flood's arguments; muttering on about class-based societies and such like flies in the face of American social reality, where huge majorities, no matter how wealthy, think of themselves as merely middle class. Well: he is Irish, or at least, resides there; perhaps he is ignorant of such matters. But essentially, I believe he's right -- hence the name of the blog -- on the lone issue of resilience. We didn't domesticate dogs, cattle, geese, chickens, rice, corn, and wheat just to starve to death.

For the record, I extend the following offer to the Green millenialists: come out shooting, now, the better to get the killing over with early, so we know who you are. But I do not think my offer will be accepted; comfortable behind keyboard and monitor, they cower and gloat, smug in their doomsaying, certain the lines tail off to the right side of the graph, the rest of humanity clueless and powerless. They know that, were they to take me up, they would be shot down dead as any other sociopaths. Well: we punish all sorts of crimes around here, those of both omission and commission. Those unwilling to lift a finger to prevent the deaths of 5.9 billion, please note your future place in the hall of infamy is assured, along with the likes of Göhring, Stalin, and Mao.