Green Anarchy & Self-Sufficiency
So last week I introduced the concepts of the Green Anarchy movement and Bellamy Fitzgerald’s, founder of the journal Backwoods, opinion of how the essence of Green Anarchy can be achieved in today’s world. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you do as the topics we are talking about in the interview directly relate to it.
Initially, I asked him about what he would want people to know about his political philosophy right out of the gate. He stated that his philosophy has evolved over time and that what makes it different to what is out there, although he states that his ideas have not solely originated with him, he does say that whatever liberated or revolutionary existence comes after what we have now, he does not see a unified, singular or uniform world. He wants to see a radically decentralized world that allows for a very wide plurality of different economic forms, social forms, cultural norms and forays to develop and, ideally, for people to be able to freely associate in order to find and live with others that share their core values. Now, this would not allow for conquering imperialistic forms. Inevitably, he feels that these would develop but that would need to be resisted some combination of groups, in order to avoid being taken over.
I asked him what he wanted people to know about Green Anarchy, especially for those that feel that all anarchists want and believe in world domination. He responded that he would call anarchism the ethical view, and therefore also political view, that people are capable of freely cooperating and mutualistically relating with each other and that it is possible to live without the state, it is possible to create social forms that don’t rely heavily on coercion, and don’t have domination and exploitation as core parts of them. That does not mean that people are angels but that you can dramatically, dramatically reduce what we have now. Basically, that things can and should be handled at the local or communal levels to avoid all the layers of BS we have now. He stated that he thinks one of the worst things we have developed culturally is the monopoly on legitimate violence that we have now which is basically what the state is and we can, definitely, do without that, even if we can’t get rid of violence all together. Green anarchism, specifically, he says is a tendency within anarchism to develop a more maximal critique, whereas most forms of left anarchism reject and critique the State and capitalism, institutions like public school. Right wing anarchism is very focused on the State and how monetary systems are exploited. Green Anarchism transcends and includes those but also looks at phenomenon like how we relate ecologically to the biosphere and how that creates all kinds of toxic social and psychological effects and if we look at our relationships with non-human animals, we look at really subtle phenomenon like how our sense of time, our measurement of time, technology, looking like obstacles to the anarchism we would like to have. Since anarchism is, at its heart a philosophy, I asked him about how Nietzsche (whom he mentions often) and other philosophers have informed his opinions on anarchy the most. Nietzsche influenced him because he encountered Nietzsche before he was ever interested in anarchism. At the time (age 19), he began reading Nietzsche, he stated that he was scandalized because here was this person critiquing democracy and critiquing liberalism, stuff that he had taken for granted were good things. By that time, he was starting to see a lot of the problems of the world, he still took it for granted that democracy was a fundamentally good thing that we developed and he (Nietzsche) was also very critical of the fact that modernism and secularism were still fundamentally religious ways of looking at the world, even though they were not recognized as such. Also, his critique of resentments and, sort of, the leftist psychology of his day was also very surprising and hard to digest, but it did, then, affect the way he saw certain forms of anarchism, by either not going far enough or developing these toxic psychological tendencies. He goes on the say that he was very influenced by Ted Kaczynski and John Zerzan and the way that they had introduced him to the problems of runaway industrial technology, which was also a really tough pill to swallow as well.
We went on to discuss how he feels this philosophy fits into ways of living, such as subsistence farming, permaculture and the renewed interest in homesteading. He, initially questioned as to whether there actually was a renewed interest in these subjects. Considering the amount of new and continuing information on it (including this blog), I felt confident in saying that there definitely was. Owing to people realizing that dependence on the state to get you what you need to live wasn’t as secure as they once thought, especially in the year of COVID. He was glad to hear that people were actually interested in these things. He encountered the ideas of permaculture a few years after getting into anarchism and felt that the concept made so much sense and that they fit together. He believes that there is a lot of synergy there because if you are serious about radical rejection of so much of what there is right now, in terms of the State being dominant, the dominant economy, dependence on industrial infrastructure, dependent on food being transported over long distances, you can’t seriously reject it unless you have some way of surviving and put forward some different positive projects. He states that some anarchists don’t like it because they think that you can, as much as is possible, just reject and destroy what exists now and that if you try to prefigure what should exist afterwards, you end up making it some new kind of tyranny because we are so psychologically colonized that we couldn’t possibly know what freedom really looks like. He thinks its important critique to keep in mind but It’s almost like mental hypochondria. He thinks that these people who think we can tear everything down, blow everything up and riot until it all goes away, are, effectively, bluffing because unless you have the means to live without all this stuff. That is what controls people the most is their dependence. We talked briefly about the infrastructure necessary to provide food to everybody and how many anarchists want to just take that over for the people, without realizing that the roads, the trucking, the factories, the packaging on that scale simply cannot exist without a huge, overblown, mediating hierarchy to make sure that everyone has what they deserve, which is completely contrary to traditional anarchist values against those very hierarchies. He stated that the entire reason there is so much coercion in the system is because most people need the system to survive. I think that is a fact that most homesteaders, survivalists and permaculture folks can agree with wholeheartedly.
I mentioned to him the small ground movements that are occurring all over the country in sustainable development. Here in West Virginia, non-profits like West Virginia Forest Farming Initiative, the West Virginia Beginning Forest Farmers Coalition, Appalachian Sustainable Development (in Appalachia as a whole) are working with United Plant Savers to save endangered botanicals by using mini-grants, internships and cooperatives to supply demand for botanicals that are being overharvest from the wild, in order to provide supply for a demand. Rogue River Farms in southern Oregon are doing similar work in sustainable development. These groundswell movements are popping up all over the country, in an effort to create a new type of food system and encourage people to live more sustainably. Eating locally and seasonally is an important part of this work.
Next we moved on to the fact that there has been an uptick in people becoming more interested in spinning, weaving, herbalism, blacksmithing, and all manner of different types of providing for oneself, instead of mindlessly consuming what industry has to offer. I asked him if he felt this is where humans should be heading, as a species. He answered we are creatures of our ecology and, right now, our ecology is a machine world. We, as humans, don’t have the skills, as individuals or as cultures, to just leap into living a dramatically different way. If we were to try, initially, there would be a lot of deaths, there would be a huge opportunity for whatever gang or warlord who could provide for people, because if people feel that their basic security is threatened, it is very easy for a tyranny to appear in a time of crisis. The best outcome would be a deceleration, where people could gradually reskill and gradually reintegrate with their local ecology. In that respect, skill building is really important. He also feels that many people will find that, when they start doing it, they will find it very personally rewarding and that its good to work with your body and your mind. Many of us have very boring jobs because they’re so incrementalized and separated from the end product.
At this point we pivoted to a little more philosophy. Green anarchy talks a lot about technology as evil and anti-civilization themes and humans and their relationship with the biosphere, I asked him to explain Neo-Luddism and how much technology, in his opinion, was appropriate to stop the ecocide we see happening everywhere. He followed with this Neo-Luddism being a reference to Luddites who were people in England, who, as the Industrial Revolution was taking off. There were many incidents of sabotage and breaking of machines because a group of people were resisting huge changes to their way of life. It gets misrepresented as they were just worried about losing their jobs, but if you look at what was going on, it was more profound than that. It was rejecting a cultural transformation. So Neo-Luddism is then this slightly cheeky term for saying how do we take that basic idea of looking at cultural transformations that are happening and apply it to now. It results a lot of skepticism of the benefits of technology and he thinks that some of the people who have done the most with this are authors and thinkers like Kirkpatrick Sale, Chellis Glendinning, Jerry Mander, Jaques Elllul, who wrote one of the strongest books called “The Technological Society”, more recently, David Skrbina, who he’s hoping to have in the next issue of “Backwoods”. He doesn’t feel confident to say what level is appropriate, because he doesn’t have an engineering background and what he does say is that following the analysis of Ellul and Skrbina, he thinks the biggest change happened with the Industrial Revolution and so he believes it would need to be a level of technology lower than that. Skrbina actually was so bold as to pick an exact date, stating that the level in technology in Europe in the year 1200. Skrbina states that would allow us to have a certain level of comfort and security without deteriorating the ecology and without all the social implications as well. We did joke about having to handwrite books in a monastery again!
I’ll stop here for a moment to confess, I am as guilty as others, at the time of this interview, I had 5 adults in a 3-bedroom house during the lockdown.… 4 flatscreens, 5 cell phones, 3 x-boxes, laptops, all the trappings, and I do mean TRAPPINGS, of modern technology. I lived in a subdivision where my house was 4 feet from the neighbors on either side. I commented that I was fairly confident that our small 4 blocks of the larger subdivision (in a city of almost 30 subdivisions, UGH!) most likely used enough energy to power a small country. The company we had gotten a quote from for solar wanted to put 18 solar panels on our roof. I warned my “adult” children many times that going off grid means reducing energy use as much as possible. I still use my laptop and phone daily but living here I use it much less. So following on that, we discussed the use of low tech building such as cob houses, earth-ships, ways of living with the environment instead of these extreme wired existences. I asked him if he lived off grid. He stated that he had purchased an old farmhouse in upstate New York on land that is not off-grid, not for lack of interest, and that when they moved in there was so much involved in fixing up and repairing an old house that, at 4 years on the land, they had spent the majority of time and money fixing the house and regenerating he land. They are definitely planning to go off-grid as soon as possible.Along those lines of technology, I wanted to ask about bio-mimicry as an appropriate use of technology. Julian Vincent defines biomimicry as the emulation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. An of biomimicry is using the locomotion birds use to fly in airplane wing designs that create a lower fuel need, or using fungi to clean up waste. He stated with any technology we have to examine things like what was needed to produce this, how long is it going to last, what’s going to happen to it when it is no longer useful, what kind of social arrangements were necessary to produce this. One of the things Ellul talks about is the fact that technologies are not separable from each other because things need to be mined, factories are needed to build them, trucks to transport them. He gives the example of his chainsaw. It enables him to do an incredible amount of work at one time, but it’s made of plastic and metal and runs on gasoline, you cannot isolate that chainsaw from the network used to produce it. When you have technology that can be made on a very small scale, of mostly basic materials, you not so tied in to an entire network to be able to utilize it. Each technology would have to be analyzed through that lens.
On his YouTube channel, Liberty and Logos, they often talk about property rights and homesteading as it exists today. I asked him about his position on property rights. He responded that he came through the left wing of anarchism, not rejecting everything about it, but moving past it. In left anarchist world, the word property is such a dirty word, any understanding of it. Therefore, Liberty and Logos was the first time he really ever started talking about it. He has had people make comments about why is he even talking about property rights. Part of that is coming to grips with the need for some sort of system for people needing land and access to it and you need an ethical system on how that works. He says he hasn’t necessarily arrived at his final view on it but that the anarchist system of mutualism, which started with (Pierre-Joseph) Proudhon and, actually, predated Marx’s angles and ideas about communism, it is the idea that property rights should be based on occupancy and use. If you are actively using a piece of land, then it is reasonable to make a property claim over the part that you are using, but not this kind of large scale absentee ownership that we have now where you can own property that you have never interacted with and use them to extract wealth. One of the reasons he likes mutualism, as well, is the property arrangements we have now were caused by this enormous slaughterhouse of historical violence. He feels that to claim that we can just start from where we are, is just not reasonable, people have just been so screwed over. We discussed that fact that colonists came and saw all this forest and thought it to be a wilderness. However, the indigenous peoples that came across the land bridge of the Bering Strait actually brought with them ideas about forest management. They had controlled burns, they would use a part of the forest and then move to a different part of the forest and leave that part alone to regenerate for a decade or more. By the late 1400’s Europe had no forests really. We had so much diversity here but there, trees had to be planted and animals brought in so that an ecosystem could actually happen. His fiancé is German and he recounted that when they went to visit, they have public forests that were clear-cut and when replanted, they literally only planted one type of tree over the whole area. Such a sign of not watching nature and how ecosystems works synergistically. Romania is the only country left in Europe with 40% wilderness, the ecosystems there are thriving.
Now, we turned to where my interests lie very deeply. I asked him about his beliefs in spirituality and whether he feels that nature spiritualities are in line with the philosophy of green anarchy or go against it. He responded green anarchy is more concerned with this question more so than most other forms of anarchists. A lot of the early European anarchists in France, Spain and Italy, were very specifically atheistic. Mostly having to do with the fact Catholic church having such an authoritarian influence in Europe for so long that they tried to consciously reject them, but also because the vogue among European intellectuals at the time was this belief in total Materialism at the time, nature is a machine, humans are machines, made of matter. He argues whether that view ever made sense with the information they had access to at the time is questionable but that it definitely is falsified now. So, with green anarchism, you are looking at your relationship to nature, your relationship to other animals. Those are almost inherently spiritual questions, it has implications of meaning and value, which is a spiritual concern. He has been drawn to the perennial philosophy, which has been pointed out by many, traditionalist school of theologians and religious scholars at the start of the 20th century, most are apolitical but concerned with religious and spiritual questions. They are very anti-modern. Basically, the Perennial philosophy is concerned with a recurring kernel of truth at the heart of all authentic religious and spiritual traditions that is the one truth about reality and then each tradition develops their cultural shell around it. There is a divine truth that everybody interprets a little differently. It takes on this cultural coding, historical contingencies at the time and the need for humans to anthropomorphize things and simplify things so that they can be understood at a basic level but it’s not saying all religions are all the same. It is saying that there is an esoteric core. The mystical side to the major religions. They are about experiencing an intense divine experience on a level most don’t understand. He feels very positively about these things, that they dovetail perfectly with anarchism. It was a historical accident that anarchism started out atheistic.
To end the conversation, I wanted to know one basic fact, DOES HE VOTE? He has only voted once. His partner at the time (during the Romney/Obama presidential election) was so angry that he didn’t vote. She was worried that if Romney got elected, they would lose abortion rights. He stated he tried several times to explain to her why it made no sense but, ultimately, voted to placate her. Voting is meaningless in almost every case. He doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder about if people want to. He just chooses not to. We then discussed the fact that the dichotomy of our political situation puts us in the position of having to vote for the lesser evil but the lesser of two evils….is still evil.