Authority and Civilization

Within the greater anti-civilization milieu, two major factions have been vocally distinguishing their approaches from one another: the anarcho-primitivists and the Deep Green Resistance movement. Occasionally this effort towards differentiation has been based on honest disagreement about theory and practice. More commonly, it has been a tit-for-tat based mostly on personality conflict. During the brief period of its existence the Internet has often proved to be a safe haven for mean-spirited personal attacks. Insofar as concerns are raised about the actions of certain public persons in a critical spirit, they can contribute to a critical discourse. This is my intention, not to sling mud simply for cursory amusement.

Anarchists have voiced a number of legitimate criticisms of the Deep Green Resistance crowd. Among these are the cult of personality and careerist methods of Derrick Jensen and the anti-trans prejudice and cop-calling of Lierre Keith. Other potentially problematic aspects of Deep Green Resistance are not necessarily so obvious and are in need of careful critical inspection. For their part the DGR have called into question several aspects of anarchist thought and practice. But how salient are these criticisms? Are they based in honest disagreements on theoretical and tactical differences?

One of the main theoretical points of contention is authority. John Zerzan and Kevin Tucker have accused DGR of having authoritarian aspects. While the quotes they draw from can certainly be interpreted as authoritarian, notably Lierre’s injunction for anti-civ folks to “think like field generals”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMRXT4Rg1p0), it makes for spare evidence of authoritarianism. For my part as skeptical, anti-civilization anarchist i will not come to a conclusion about DGR as a whole until i have seen what they have to say in their tome of a manualfesto. Nonetheless the topic of authority is of utmost urgency to discuss.

To at least get a point of reference we must ask ourselves what is meant by “authority”. Mikhail Bakunin described authority as “the eminently theological, metaphysical and political idea that the masses, always [...] must submit at all times to the benevolent yoke of a wisdom and a justice [...] imposed on them from above.” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Michail_Bakunin__Marxism__Freedom_and_the_State.html#toc5) In this conception authority is a way of thinking that leads to hierarchy and oppression. Bakunin seems to imply that authority is derived from religious institutions. And “hierarchy” is etymologically derived from ancient Christian social structure (literally “rule by priests”). Hierarchy and authority are much more ancient, however. While complex hierarchy is only conceivable in a civilized context, there are plenty of examples of oppression and authoritarian behaviour in non-civilized societies. Bakunin differentiated between the non-coercive “natural influence” individuals can have on one another, versus the authoritarian “artificial, privileged, lawful, and official influence” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Michail_Bakunin__Writings.html#toc2). This is a key distinction underlying anarchist theory of authority.

Derrick Jensen began to distinguish his differences with anarchism on the question of authority:

“indigenous peoples have an entirely different relationship with authority. It doesn’t mean that there is no authority. It’s different because there aren’t what we consider bosses. I don’t want to speak for all indigenous peoples, because there are as many kinds of authority relationships as there are indigenous peoples. Some of which are pretty nasty.”

Here, Derrick seems to be attempting the same distinction between legitimate and illegitimate influence as already attempted by Bakunin and other anarchists. In this quotation there is no clear difference between his position and that of anarchists, but later in the same interview Derrick states,

“I got in a big disagreement with some young anarchists not very long ago, who said they couldn’t see the need for a larger, more hierarchical organization system than the leaderless cell. I disagreed. Part of the problem with our notion of authority in this culture is the assumption that all authority is oppressive. That’s a toxic mimic of real authority. You can have authority and leadership that are fluid and based on effectiveness. You can do small-scale actions with leaderless cells, but you can’t do a large-scale one. You can’t do actions spread out all over the country and the world with leaderless cells. You have to have people who are making decisions like those.” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Various_Authors__The_A_Word.html#toc37)

Here we begin to see some clear disagreement between anarchism and Deep Green Resistance, tho Derrick seems still to be using the term “authority” to refer, in some instances, to “natural influence”. The more salient point is the advocacy of hierarchy and centralized power. Anti-authoritarian analysis contends that hierarchies can never be trusted, and the history of resistance movements tends to justify this analysis. As Alfredo Bonanno succinctly put it, “The superior aims of the revolution no longer exist when it is betrayed by the authoritarians.” (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/Alfredo_M._Bonanno__Revolution__Violence__Anti-authoritarianism___A_few_notes.html#toc5)

It may be the case that for some people anti-authoritarianism is a dogma (as some DGR folks contend: http://fightciv.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/a-critique-of-anarchism-and-its-effectiveness-as-a-strategy-to-bring-down-oppressive-power-systems/), but for many – probably most – anarchists the rejection of authority (or “unnatural influence”) is based on the lessons that history has taught us the hard way. Authority always acts against the liberatory impulses of humanity.

I get the impression that the folks in the DGR movement are sincere about wanting to end the destruction of human and non-human life caused by civilization. It disheartening that they are so quick to dismiss anarchist theory and practice as ineffective. Is a resistance movement effective when it reproduces the same fucked up social relations that it (allegedly) seeks to abolish? Admittedly much of the anarchist movement remains mired in authoritarianism. No anarchist could honestly deny the significant disjunction that remains between theory and practice. DGR seems unwilling to even contend with the critique of authoritarianism.

The major difference i see is that whereas anarchists do not shy away critiquing their own movement, and even listening to criticism from outside their movement, thus far the leadership of DGR, Derrick Jensen especially, have been loathe to listen to anyone that raises concerns about DGR. Critics are consistently shut out of the conversation. Probably any concerns i raise will be ignored by the DGR leadership, but hopefully the rank-and-file of the movement will remain open to the words of those in other resistance movements. Otherwise DGR risks becoming just another insular ideology, maladapted to the constantly shifting terrain of struggle. The same also applies to anarchists that seek to prematurely dismiss DGR.

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