First there was the Word, then Came Civilization, and Crime & Reward from an Anarcho-Primitivist Perspective, by Layla AbdelRahim
Q: How would a society based on a different narrative work?
A: It’s not How it would work, but How it has worked. Because life on Earth goes back to billions of years. And that life was wild life. That species, and individuals within species, interacted in a diverse manner, their own manner, there was no anthropology, there was no geography, environmental science, or ethology to go observe and focus on one aspect that was disconnected. And that life, we were part of it and we are still part of it. Even today, in spite the 10,000 years of the domesticating or civilizing narrative, there still exist people, more and more difficult because of us, because we have taken over, but think of the nomads, think of the gatherers, still today, we have societies that, the ones who were spared by civilization were the ones who were also hunting, because the first natives that were killed were the ones who were gatherers, vegans, fruitarians and vegetarians. And the ones the Europeans wanted to trade with were the ones who had some skill to trade. They kind of collaborated in showing where they could get fur, where they could fish, etc. And so if you start looking around, the relationships in the wild have existed, still struggling to exist, and the only thing that is killing this diversity, destroying the species, is monocultural narrative.
Q: But you always have between species, the relationship with the victim and the …
A: This is one of the stories, it’s the monotheistic, or Darwinian narrative. There are other ways of looking at this. There is Peter Kropotkin, a Russian anarchist. He was born as a prince and he renounced. Some anarchists like to say, ‘Oh Prince’! Peter Kropotkin at the age of 12 asked to not ever ever be called ‘prince’, he renounced. And if you get new editions of Darwin’s writings, you will get Peter Kropotkin’s response that the narrative of struggle of competition is not a fact of nature, it’s a fact of the observer coming from Great Britain, an imperialist power, observing breeders. Darwin drew his conclusions from breeders. He drew his conclusions based on domesticating practices of rape. Peter Kropotin did his studies in Siberia in the harshest of climates, and he observed solidarity, cooperation and empathy. That is the basis of life, not struggle and competition.
Q: If a cheetah eats a gazelle, it’s good for the cheetah, it’s bad for the gazelle.
A: Are you the gazelle or are you the cheetah? You’re a primate, so you are not supposed to look and say, ‘Oh cheetahs and gazelles.’ Cheetahs and gazelles don’t domesticate each other, they don’t ravage the environment. But humans deciding to follow a narrative, to make up a story that we are cheetahs, and they make up these stories how cheetahs are, or the wolves. The wolves, complete mythology of what wolves are according to the civilized, has nothing to do with wolves, the matriarchal, the solidarity, the intensity of cooperation. How little predators eat, I talk about this research in the book. It’s part of this invented story. We as primates sleep much less. We are supposed to be hanging in the trees just having fun.
Q: Our lives involve more than just hanging in the trees having fun. Part of being alive is deriving energy from the environment, and that comes from living things, that costs those living things.
A: That’s a narrative, that’s a story. That’s a predatory story. I also talk about how energy gets miscalculated in the predatory narrative. In domestication, there’s a lot of hidden costs, and that is why it is not viable, it’s not sustainable. And this is where also patriarchy and rape come in. The minute you start exerting energy to hunt, you need to have outside sources of labor. Most gatherer-hunting societies, the luxury for the hunt comes from the extra work that the women have to do in order to feed the men. By doing that the women are not free to go and enjoy themselves as much as they would have because they have to labor for the men. Already gender bias and parasitism starts getting installed in hunting.
…But from my observation, we are still born wild, the children resist as much as they can. And one of the reasons is to reach that wild child who is still surviving in every one of us, that we don’t want to consume pain, yet we consume it and consume it because we engage in a relationship of pain to the one who possesses the rights to our labor, Marxist narrative (laugh)… There’s a lot of resistance, organized, conscious, maybe not as great and healthy as we would liked it to be because the world is suffering, but it’s there. One of the big things we could do for ourselves is to start relating to this world in this wild relationship. If you exist for your own pleasure of being. If a flower exists it does not exist for me to take it and give it to a loved one. It exists for its own being. And once you start relating to others and overcome speciesism, and this is the core of the problem in domestication, is speciesism. Because with speciesism comes every other ism, every other oppression. The racism, the sexism, domestication of sexuality, it comes with this concept that the world exists because different beings different groups that will act or will fulfill a certain purpose. Once you don’t attribute this anthropocentric reason for species and for the existence of others, then all the differences, they don’t matter, they become interesting, they become part of what gives us life, because our life depends on diversity, it depends on the fact that there is enough clean water, trees and animals and insects, and everyone relating to each other in a symbiotic fashion and not parasitic… And so how can we overcome this is by rewilding ourselves and seeking these relationships of diversity.
Q: Human beings have created different stories in opposition to predation, like communal living, that’s one example. David Suzuki is creating a different story, because when he talks about nature, he talks about the reciprocity in nature of all of us, in that we are primates and we are a part of nature. Part of the story I think we need to create is the story that we are all in the net, and that whatever we do influences everything else that’s being done.
A: Yes and no. The problem is that to create the story it’s still an imposed story. Communal living, who is included in that narrative? Is it anthropocentric based? If it’s still anthropocentric based, the space is still engineered, it’s acted upon by humans for human use. So there’s no diversity there. Once you start including in your stories, in your conception of you relations of your community that which you do not even consider life…’Even the flowers are people, even the rock, and the rock exists for its pure pleasure of being.’ She could not know why it exists. She doesn’t say it exists to please her eye. It is pleasing simply because it is. And that is part of her community, that rock. Then the Europeans came and said Oh it has gold, well therefore it exists for this purpose, its gold, it’s for mining. If you start including real diversity in your thinking of your community, then you overcome. Otherwise the story becomes the same, How do we engineer, how do we organize this space for humans? And that is a predatory relationship that is not sustainable because you always need to use more energy to domesticate to get more energy.
Q: What you’re saying is that the natural course of nature is that some animals are gonna eat other animals, and that some animals are going to eat grass. And so the grass who’s there and is happy to be growing is also going to be eaten by the animals. So what you’re talking about is a reciprocity. You’re talking about a natural reciprocity.
A: That’s not reciprocity, that’s a predatory narrative to justify our own predatory relationship with the world. It tries to paint humans as predators.
Q: Is it possible that you’re adding an extension narrative to a very simple observation about life living on life, and life and death being part of the circle.
A: The situation is that primates are frugivores, for the most part, foliovores in those places where there’s not enough fruit, foliovores which means they eat greens, but actually frugivores, and you find that human children when they’re born they nurse for years like the primate children, and the first thing they like is berries and fruit. And then our narrative, our doctors who have studied the narrative well will tell the mother You have to introduce meat, because your child will die. Fear based predation. If we observe, just the primates, the relationships in the wild, up until only 100 years ago, a big collapse in ecological balance happened right after this massive conquest by the Europeans of Americas. Up until then predators comprised much smaller percentage of life on earth. Most herbivores and most frugivores, we and other primates, when we would eat the fruit, we don’t kill the whole tree. Actually, what we were doing, we would eat the fruit, you eat raspberries, you go out and poop in the bush, and more raspberries. We were actually helping life. And that was our role until this whole new concept of ourselves came as predators. The more we started reenacting that predation, because energetically it is not a sustainable paradigm, we needed more and more. So hunting, abstract thought and similar thinking helped as a tool, come toward domestication. Domestication required more energy. So the more we put into this predatory self-image, self-anthropology, the faster we started escalating the economy of collapse. And if we continue like this, well there will be no life on Earth. Focusing, accentuation of predation as a narrative is a political tool, is a political strategy. Because most people have not lived, except for this civilization that is based on the middle east and domestication, most people around the world, they have been killed by our civilization, but they still exist. And if we don’t let that narrative prevail monoculturalism will consume itself because it is not sustainable.
Q: So with the interpretation of cheetah eating the gazelle being good for the cheetah bad for the gazelle, that predatory lifestyle, that in nature it’s not good or bad it’s just nature.
A: What we focus on is the fact of the cheetahs eating the gazelle. So you start celebrating the cheetah. This is part of nature. What is left out is that there are much less predators than herbivores. They eat very rarely. The herbivores and the frugivores need to eat more. And our eating and sleeping patterns, regardless of how long we’ve been engaging in predatory relationships, we still continue to have frugivorous lifestyles. And so for the cheetah, when they get a gazelle, that is either old or sick, the cheetah does not view the purpose of being of the gazelles, all of them forever, as ‘my food’. When its hungry it gets. Lions, when they get a gazelle they share it, they sleep, they consume other things, berries whatever in the meantime. When you observe nature and those relationships, it’s the predatory narrative that focuses and says ‘It’s the law of nature that all the sickly shall be eaten.’ It’s not even that because there are much fewer predators that not even all the sickly and the slow and the old will be eaten, every now and then. The focus of life is on cooperation and empathy, even sometimes across species. If you start looking at the other side of the picture, some indigenous people, they will tell a story, their stories will not be a story with a moral of the story how to domesticate. ‘Yeah, today I went to the woods and a cheetah ate a gazelle’ and that was the story. They don’t make a whole symbolic paradigm out of it. And another day it will be ‘Today I walked through the forest and the lions were protecting a little girl from a rapist.’ And move on. They don’t make a whole grammar out of it. This is where I talk about stories vs The story. The minute you have The story, it’s always at the expense of diversity.
…The whole concept of hunting, if humans scavenged because they were forced to in different periods, we don’t know what happened, environmental… and so maybe some went out, started scavenging, but most would go back, and this is how most primates still continue to do. They can hunt, other primates, they can use tools, but they refuse to, and the minute they can go back to relationships of diversity that are much less costly, they go. Jane Goodall noticed that the chimps started waging war against each other, she surmised it was because she was interfering with feeding them, the land was taken for agriculture and cities were sprouting. The minute she started working with locals to give back to the chimps with reforestation projects, the conniving, violence between the chimps decreases. The reliance on hunting decreases. Those relationships are also fueled by civilization
Q: Do you believe that murder or killing another individual human being is acceptable in any framework?
A: When you state that, Humanity for 10,000 years has been practicing this, many people use it as an excuse, we have to keep doing it all our lives. I think it’s a problem for several reasons. One is anthropology of predation, constructing the human being as a predator, first of all is not a genetic fact, just for the fact that we still have to keep talking about it. The medical establishment insists that parents feed meat, or victims, to their children. And if you don’t force the kids, the kids usually want to eat what our siblings, the primates do, berries, fruits, nuts, things that they helped propagate. I find it really problematic to build our anthropology, our self-knowledge as human beings on predation. And this is the problem, when you build this anthropology on predation then in that narrative, in that framework its ok to kill human beings because in the end, who do you construct as a person? Who has the right to personhood, and who does not have the right to personhood? Who is the prey in this narrative? Until recently black people were not even considered persons, so its ok to use them for work, its ok to kill them. It’s still, it’s part of this narrative. That’s why it’s ok to kill Travon Martin in this narrative. And obviously, my position is that it’s not ok, because then how do we frame our anthropology and self-knowledge? If we are meant to be part of diversity and community of life, then it appears that our role is to help life be and to consume that which helps this diversity. You go outside the whole narrative of consumption. Because consumption starts with predation. When we look at our siblings today, the primates, the chimps, the bonobos. The bonobos it appears don’t consume so called animal proteins, and chimps sometimes do. Maximum up to ten percent of their diet and the proteins are ants or termites, so it’s not like active hunting. A lot of the times when the chimps engage in warfare, it’s when the humans are encroaching, the humans are killing the apes, killing the forests, colonizing the land for agricultural purposes. Then you start seeing that the chimps are perfectly capable of behaving like civilized humans. And think of war, and think of cunning, political strategies of how are we going to gang up against another chimp, or another group of chimps. Nationalism, identity seems to appear in nonhuman life when they are dispossessed, just like it is in ours. My question then, it appears that this is an artificial narrative, that we are ensuring with everything, the political, the media. You can look at how the media framed George Zimmerman’s murder. And then when you bring in how we frame, even as victims, we frame our humanity vis a vis other people, nonhuman people. We see that it follows this narrative, and it doesn’t have to, and not only that it doesn’t have to, it leads to an impasse, it leads to an end, a dead end, literally.
Q: Do you think one of the solutions… so one way to change the narrative is to stop eating meat and slaughtering meat.
A: Yes, but it’s not only the fact of eating meat. Like if you stop eating meat but then you consume clothes made in Bandledesh, in this framework of relationships of dominance, your place in the food chain would not be as high up the predatory food chain, but still you have enough that you consume. Now a metaphorical death, or prolonged death, impoverished enslaved women, and slavery is still alive in Africa today and other places of the world. We’re still participating in that. how to undo this whole anthropology It’s one of the things you definitely need to address, How and what I consume. But what’s the hidden? Anarcho-primitivism comes in here. There’s a critique of civilization and there’s the economic systems that calculate how much nations expend, like this year the state receives that much and owes that much and how do we make sense of it. Ok, let’s see the real cost of civilization, of technology, of how we live. The real cost, as an economist who critiques civilization, there seems to be unaccounted for energy. How much energy is needed to produce something, to grow for example one hectare of wheat. How much energy, and how much it yields back. Does it balance out, or are there hidden costs? And so he goes to the north of Finland. This is where anarcho-primitivism comes in. If you are going to critique civilization, one of the things is we need to go back to primitive technologies or no technologies at all. There is a problem with going back and the term itself. Obviously me, having grown up in Africa, my father is half African half Russian, so to me it’s a problem because my other part has been called primitive, still is. But I can see how certain anthropologists would look at it in terms of strictly advanced technologies with hidden costs, or rudimentary technologies. So we look at apes or birds can make rudimentary primitive technology. And like I said it has this… but nonetheless. The project was meant to last a year or two. Ok, I start off with one goat, because I need milk, I need protein, I need a horse to help me plow. And then we’ll see where it goes from there. To keep the goat hostage to his need of milk, there’s reproduction involved, constant milking, the rape of the goat, that takes energy from him and time for which he has to account, does that goat give back enough. Same thing with the horse, to have the horse work, you need the plow, you need to feed the horse, you need to keep it, and to work the field and to make sure there are no competitive species. That’s another thing of monoculturalism, you don’t want competition, it’s yours right. So he found that the hidden costs, the mining industry involved to make the metal bit for the horse, the leather, he has to go and kill somebody to get the leather for the reins, the pole itself, cut of wood. All of these things, he found that the more that you rely on technology, the more you have these hidden costs. So if you want to go to a cultural place that can have diversity, that is pleasant to live in, that is healthy, that gives you leisure and health. This is why supposedly in school we pass these tests, get degrees, to have a good life, right? Otherwise there’s the death penalty, you will not eat if you don’t get good grades, if you don’t finish school. If you drop out, how are you going to live? That’s the thinking in terms of death penalty. And the reward is not a reward at all. The reward is that you are going to give your life as a resource in order to feed this machine that is not viable, because the expenditure is always war. And so how do we go to that place? There are different ways. The population problem obviously is a big problem, you can’t have everyone go to north Finland, so how are we going to do it? It’s something necessary, urgent, and a creative project of diversity, because in every place there’s going to be different solutions in different communities. But it’s an urgent thing to address. And that’s one of the things, only one tiny element.
Q: If human beings are not inherently aggressive and driven to kill and predate, with our predatory relationship to the environment, how did we survive for so long and in so many societies? Why did it survive for so long?
A: That’s exactly the point because it’s not a viable model because it brought us to the age of extinctions… The minute a part of humanity, for whatever reasons started, according to some evidence it was scavenging, and then they thought Why scavenge when you can…?, and then invented fire comes in at the same time because we’re not adapted to predation, and we’re still not adapted to predation. Our digestive tract has still not adapted to predation. We still get a lot of diseases, cancer, from consumption of meat. All points to the fact that even in terms of our physiology this narrative remains a narrative. And it’s liberating, because when you look that throughout the history of humanity, most human groups, if they predated it was an extravaganza, and the majority remained frugivore, herbivore and gatherers, it liberates us, that we are not genetically predetermined, we are neither made by this wrathful God who is like go and kill and pollute, and we’re not made by this evolution that is really into this predatory thing. It liberates us, we can change the narrative, we can frame our relationships differently, we can undo the structure. But we’ve come to a point where it’s come so far that, where do we being? And that’s a communal effort to find that solution.