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ecoextremism

The Ableist Logic of Primitivism: A Critique of “Ecoextremist” Thought

By Conor Arpwel - Protean Magazine, December 30, 2018

In his recent article for New York MagazineChildren of Ted, John H. Richardson ruminates on the recent rise of a fringe political movement centered on the writings of Ted Kaczynski, the ecoterrorist widely known as “the Unabomber.” On its face, Richardson’s article amounts to an eccentric human-interest story for a mainstream publication. Yet, in typical liberal fashion, Richardson approaches his subject with a dangerous combination of cynicism and naiveté. He frivolously mischaracterizes much of modern anarchist thought by describing the article’s main subject, John Jacobi, as an (idiosyncratic and largely mythical) type of leftist radical who is “sure that morality is just a social construct that keeps us docile in our shearing pens.” Richardson goes on to assert that “Kaczynski was Karl Marx in modern flesh, yearning for his Lenin”—a highly misleading and facile assertion. Due in part to this semi-implicit disregard for the potential for fundamental social change, Richardson does little to present alternatives to Kaczynski’s fascistic “solution” to our climate catastrophe that has already begun.

KACZYNSKI ADVOCATES A PRELAPSARIAN “RETURN TO NATURE” IN ORDER TO ALIGN OUR SOCIAL REALITIES TO GENETICALLY PRESCRIBED HUMAN BEHAVIOR. HOWEVER, IT IS CRUCIAL TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS PERSPECTIVE IS FAR MORE INSIDIOUS THAN SOME ROMANTIC YEARNING FOR THOREAU’S WALDEN POND.

Although Richardson prefers to refer to this type of thought as “ecoextremism,” Kaczynski and his groupies are better understood as advocates for a callous strain of primitivism. This ideology is grounded in a belief that technological development must be stopped—even reversed. From Kaczynski’s perspective, industrialization and technological progress are responsible for societal instability and immense psychological suffering. To remedy this, Kaczynski advocates a prelapsarian “return to nature” in order to align our social realities to genetically prescribed human behavior. However, it is crucial to understand that this perspective is far more insidious than some romantic yearning for Thoreau’s Walden Pond. Kaczynski takes an artificially “constrained,” as Thomas Sowell describes it, view of humanity—namely, that we are defined by a “bedrock of selfishness,” over which altruism and cooperation manifest on occasion but remain mere exceptions to the cynical rule. This reflects the polemics of other reactionaries, such as white supremacist “race science” sophists and “intellectual dark web” charlatans like Jordan Peterson. Such ideologies all serve the same end: to foreclose the possibility of any systemic change to the status quo and dismiss any societal structure not predicated on hierarchy and subordination.

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