.In recent years the debate around the desirability and sustainability of civilization has to some degree been thrust from the margins of fringe-radical theory into a surprisingly mainstream spotlight. While the topic is by no means ubiquitous or mundane, the popularity of Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay’s books on the topic, coupled with increasing media coverage of the mass environmental crises of our times has made it so that you don’t have to lurk the small alternative coffee shops of Eugene, Oregon any more to get a decent dose of anti-civilization (anti-civ) theory. More established, long-time figures in the field, such as John Zerzan, are suddenly getting a bit more main-stream attention as a result as well. Interestingly, a few characters usually thought of as liberal-progressive celebrities, such as Arundhati Roy (author, God of Small Things) and Chris Hedges (Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist) have joined in the radical questioning of civilization.
Additionally, I believe that the revitalizing emergence of Zapatismo in the 1990s and an upsurge in decolonization theory by radical indigenous authors such as Waziyatawin and Ward Churchill, in some instances geared specifically towards anarchists, has shifted the center of anarchist debate toward a place friendlier to anti-civ thought. It has in part done this by helping to target the more problematic aspects of our collectively Marxist-influenced anarchist politics, questioning the logic of even collective or non-authoritarian settler/industrial society. The few trans anti-civ radicals that I have known personally have, for their part, tended to get to that position by a more esoteric route, sometimes drawing on the work of French philosophers that I find to be thoroughly confusing, or the likes of Stanley Diamond, an intriguing anthropologist who came to a kind of anti-civ stance because of his Marxism.
In any case, I think it’s relevant to note that one of those three authors mentioned at the beginning of all this, Lierre Keith, has been identified as a rabid transphobe. For some time it had been suspected, considering her background in radical feminist (radfem) and lesbian separatist circles. Suspicions were confirmed when she responded to questions about the issue prior to speaking at an anti-porn event with something of a transphobic polemic. In it she goes so far as to claim that she watched the concept of ‘trans’ be created by the porn and s/m culture during her own lifetime, though overall her attack is made up of the same tired tropes that we’re used to debunking.
Is it just a coincidence? Do her anti-trans and anti-civ politics overlap in any significant way? It appears to me that they are largely incidental, but also not particularly surprising. I have to imagine that she’s at least sympathetic towards Janice Raymond’s paranoid view of trans women as duped gunea pigs, fodder for the medical industrial complex’s evil scheming and ultimately monsters on par with Frankenstein’s. Within the context of her anti-civ analysis, she most likely sees transsexual people as naturally reactionary defenders of the industrial system, hopelessly addicted to a ‘medical empire’ that can’t last. She probably suspects, in as much as she might think about it at all, that trans people will simply wither away and disappear after civilization is brought down. Never mind the fact that we have existed in just about every place, in every culture, through the ages.
The issue is, however, one that cannot be dealt with in a single, cutting come-back. Calling the topic ‘complex’ would be putting it lightly. Everything from social/personal identity to physical survival is bound up in this stormy field of consideration. As someone who is actively seeking to medically transition in certain ways, and someone who has serious qualms with (particularly industrial) civilization, how to navigate this field is one of THE questions that I find myself preoccupied with.
I feel that disability politics are intimately bound to this discourse. For his part, Lierre’s co-conspirator Derrick Jensen has made it clear that when or if civilization comes down, the presumed lack of access to the drugs that he currently relies on for survival (he has a chronic, degenerative disease) will kill him. He says he’s ready to pay that price, and I believe that he means it. Plenty of folks have asked them both what they suggest people with various disabilities do in order to survive or maintain mobility, etc., in a post-civilized world. Their responses tend to be less nuanced than I would like, often hinging on crass admonishments to stockpile drugs or wheelchair parts, for example. That archeologists have made it fairly clear that people with various debilitating conditions were supported well enough to make it to reasonably old ages in plenty of ancient, pre-industrial settings is somewhat more comforting to me, but doesn’t come close to answering all of my questions.
On a scientific/environmental basis I agree with most of what folks like Jensen, Keith and McBay say about industrial infrastructure. For those not familiar with the basics of this position, essentially the creation, expansion and maintenance of this infrastructure, the whole complex of fossil fuel/electric energy and its metal and plastic components, is at its very base toxic through and through. Industrial civilization in particular is so destructive that it will eventually obliterate itself, and presumably anyone dependent upon it for survival. However, simply waiting for civilization to implode and then preceding from there is not much of a viable option since it’s likely to collapse the life sustaining capacity of our environment in the process. Therefore, if we want to survive, we need to bring civilization down sooner rather than later.
i am loving this blog. loving it for so many reasons.
1. anti civ trans man writing nuanced and critical work about gender, disability, trans experience, deep green resistance, etc.
2. that it was posted by bella, who has, i guess stopped working with dgr and was writing in the comments about how she thought that the way that rad fems in general talk about trans folk is dehumanizing and horrible. which is a shift from what she was saying a few months ago when i last talked to her and she was much more dogmatic in her defense of rad fems.
*i am doing a little booty shake in joy*
The mythology of human superiority justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people.” Daniel Quinn
— (via thegabriellawrence)