Fascism, Genocide, and Extinction: An Indictment Against Civilization
Fascism, Genocide, and Extinction: An Indictment Against Civilization
by Sean Swain
“…It is iron and wheat which have Civilized men and ruined the human Race.”
–Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourses on the Origin of Inequality” (Rousseau 24)
“It would be better to dump the whole stinking system and take the consequences.”
–The Unabomber (Kaczynski #179, Unabomber 140)
Just as human activity has taken the world to the brink of ecological destruction, Al Gore has emerged as the ecosystem’s ostensible messiah, mobilizing millions to change their habits of consumption. Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” has made it fashionable to “go green,” to “save the planet.” His analysis, however, seems somewhat mitigated compared to the more urgent descriptions of others who contend that this generation “is on the verge of the most profound catastrophe the human species has ever faced. Death threats to the living earth are coming from all sides. Water, sunlight, air and soil are threatened” (Koetke 155). With “every organism on the planet” threatened (Koetke 155), the intentions of Al Gore and his millions of “go green” proselytes—who want only to scale back consumption –are called into question; is their conservation message truly designed to save the planet, or merely postpone the inevitable through a drink-slower-party-longer approach to global warming, then they in no way save the environment; they save civilization. In other words, scaled-back consumption will still destroy the environment—it will simply take longer before the destruction causes civilization to sputter out.
So, the question arises: What if it is civilization itself—the very thing Gore and friends are saving—that is the cause of ecological catastrophe? “For the first time in more than three billion years of life, a living system is relentlessly creating the means not of self-preservation, but self-destruction” (Schmookler 175); that “living system is civilization. In the proper historical context, civilization is revealed to be a fascist system of control, a ten thousand-year genocide against sustainable ways of life that pushes humanity toward extinction.
It is necessary, then, to define civilization. The word itself is derived from ‘civis,’ for a town or city, which would suggest sedentary life, but it also implies “writing, division of labor, agriculture, organized warfare, growth of population, and social stratification” (Heinberg, “Was” 118). Encyclopedia Britanica’s “History of Agriculture” provides interesting insight:
Nineteenth-century scholars hypothesized four stages in human development: (1) a savage stage in which all people were hunter-gatherers, (2) a herdsman or nomadic stage during which man domesticated some animals, (3) a farming stage, and (4) civilization. Researchers have since attempted to determine when and where man first changed from hunter-gatherer to pastoralist or agriculturalist. (172)
Curiously, while this entry does not define what civilization is, it certainly reveals what it is not: It is not “savage,” “nomadic,” nor simply, subsistence “farming,” but is the transcendence of all of those. Civilization, then, by this view, is the culmination of an evolution, the final stage toward which all other stages of human society were invariably progressing. Civilization is humankind’s final destination.
Yet, strangely, none of the ‘inferior” stages of social evolution ever threatened to murder all life on the planet. Savages, nomads, nor subsistence farmers had to confront the problem of self-made planetary ecocide. Only the absolute pinnacle of human social evolution, so superior and rational, can potentially kill everything that lives by conducting business as usual.
Considering this, could it be that our perception of civilization as a final, grand stage of human social evolution may somehow be faulty? Could it be that this way of life we call civilization may in fact be a wrong turn? One ground-breaking anthropologist who has called into question the standard interpretation provided by the likes of Encylopedia Britannica, has written:
Indeed, most of what we have learned to think of as our cultural evolution has in fact been interpretation. Moreover…this interpretation has more often than not been the project of the still prevailing dominator worldview. It has consisted of conclusions drawn from fragmentary data interpreted to conform to the traditional model of our cultural evolution as a linear progression from “primitive man” to so-called “civilized man”… (Eisler__)
In other words, the brahmans who write our cultural mythology have shaped the facts to fit the conclusions; they have interpreted history to fit their idea of evolution from primitive culture to advanced culture, thereby reinforcing the idea of superiority of modern civilization—no matter how much that view conflicts with what is known of human civilization and its history.
“There are whole disciplines, institutions, rubrics in our culture which serve as categories of denial.”
–Susan Griffin, A Chorus of Stones (Churchill 111)
The beginning of civilization occurred somewhere between 7,000 and 9,000 B.C. (“History” 172). Dubbed “The Agricultural Revolution,” it represents ‘the morally elevating story of humanity emerging from pre-social barbarity” (Bauman 131). The brahmans who created this mythology “extolled the Neolithic Great Leap Forward” (Sahlins 35):
This historic development, the launching of the Neolithic, was an occurrence that began penetrating the human mind the moment we purposefully isolated domestic plants from natural ones, the moment we captured beasts from their homes in the wild and corralled them into human-built enclosures. (Gendinning 91)
This early domestication of plants and animals gave humans control over their food and provided the capacity to create food surpluses. Thus, stored grain became “the oldest form of capital” (Zerzan, “Elements” 68). This mass-production of food and consequent food control—what author Daniel Quinn appropriately termed “totalitarian agiculture” (Story 247) –soon began exhibiting a number of unwelcome symptoms. It “created the potential for rapid environmental destruction and the domination over nature soon began to turn the green mantle that covered the birthplace of civilization into barren and lifeless areas” (Zerzan, “Elements” 70-71).
Subsequently, this Agricultural Revolution, this birth of civilization, gave human control over their environment and gave them mastery over their food production, but it changed their relationship to the world around them. They also domesticated “animals, which also defies natural selection and re-establishes the controllable organic world at a debased, artificial level. Like plants, animals are mere things to be manipulated; a cow for instance, is seen as a kind of machine for converting grass into milk” (Zerzan, “Elements” 70). The resultant creatures became docile, rounded, infantilized, herded, bred, and slaughtered (Shepard 79).
But it was not simply plants and animals that were domesticate; humans too were impacted. With domestication of plants and animals came specialization (Shepard 78), making each otherwise autonomous individual dependent upon the larger system of smiths and carpenters and potters. Civilized people were domesticated people:
If my first reason for criticizing civilization has to do with its effects on the environment, the second has to do with its impact on human beings. As civilized people, we are also domesticated. We are to primitive peoples as crows and sheep are to bears and eagles…(My landlord keeps two white domesticated ducks. These ducks have been bred to have wings so small as to prevent them from flying. This is a convenience or their keepers, but compared to wild ducks, these are pitiful creatures.
Many primitive peoples tend to view us as pitiful creatures, too—though powerful and dangerous because of our technology and sheer numbers. They regard civilization as a sort of social disease.
…We weren’t made to endure this. You live in prisons which you have built for yourselves, calling them “homes,” offices, factories. (Lame Deer and Erdoes 259)
Totalitarian agriculture as the basis of civilization certainly provided for an increase in material goods (Shepard 76), as it still does. But whether those material goods were a blessing or a domesticating curse remains a matter of perspective. It can be argued that material possession and conveniences came at quite a great cost. “Something about these steps took away our autonomy. They made us dependent. Supposedly we were freed from the barbarism of self-determination toward a new Freedom of work and a world of stuff. We sold egalitarianism for plastic” (Tucker 6).
Civilization, with its fascist control over domesticated plants and animals, became a “world of stuff” that domesticated people. This grand, final stage of evolution described by Encyclopedia Britannica appears more accurately to be “the lifeway of Peoples who control and regiment the natural order. It is the current lifeway of most humans, and of animals, plants, and environments they have harnessed or domesticated to live it” (Song 141).
Perhaps the destructive results of civilization were unintended:
I don’t think the first people to domesticate plants and animals knew that what they did would turn the world they loved into something to eventually fear…it’s really doubtful that the first people to settle in one area thought hat they were taking steps toward a life of warfare. Or that having more children would mean a constant and increasing state of growth. It’s doubtful that the first people to become largely dependent upon stored food would realize that this would mean the creation of coercive power and break the egalitarianism that a group of autonomous people had. (Tucker 5)
As unintended as the consequences may have been, they were catastrophic. People formerly residing in classless, sustainable, tribal orders were more and more under the control of a centralized, controlling, stratified system, a societal machine that exploited them as labor to keep itself going—a system no longer in harmony with its surrounding world but at war against it:
No explanation and no speculation can encompass the series of events that burst the community and generated class society and the state. But the result is relatively clear: the institutionalization of hierarchic elites and drudgery of dispossessed to support them, monoculture to feed their armed gangs, the organization of society into work battalions hoarding, taxation and economic relations, and the reduction of the organic community to lifeless resources to be mined and manipulation by the archon and his institutions.
The “chief features” of this new state society…are the centralization of political power, the separation of classes, the lifetime division of labor, the mechanization of production, the magnification of military power, the economic exploitation of the weak, and the universal introduction of slavery and forced labor…in other words, the megamachine made up of two major arms, a labor machine and a military machine… (Watson 192-193)
In this way, civilization became a kind of expanding machine, separate from the natural order and intent on conquering it, subduing it, reducing it to its use-value for human consumption. “At one extreme stands organic community: an organism, in the form of a circle, a web woven into the fabric of nature. At the other is civilization: no longer an organism but organic fragments reconstituted as a machine, an organization” (Watson 194). Separating itself from the web of life, civilization made itself “a grid expanding the territory of the inorganic” (Watson 194).
Subsequently, at one end of the spectrum, one can see the natural order, anarchic and free; at the other end, a centralize control system where everything and everyone is exploited and enslaved for the ultimate benefit of he system as a whole—in short, fascism. While the over fascism of Nazi Germany, for example, may be the most exaggerated expression of this centralized and imposing “soft” fascism that civilization itself otherwise represents, the foundational aspirations of control and subjugation—both of the organic environment and of the human population—are present in civilization.
Nazism, then, from this perspective is not so much a barbaric contradiction of civilization as it is “civilization on steroids.” It is not the antithesis, but a magnification of all the sickness that civilization, at its basis, really represents; it can arguably be seen as the purest and truest expression of civilization’s ruthless, death-machine character. From this perspective, no one is more civilized than Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and George Armstrong Custer.
The fascist character to this way of life is not the primary issue, however; if people chose to leave tribal life for civilization, that would imply a choice of somewhat moral equity, analogous to choosing between natural spring water and a Coke. Unfortunately, civilization is distinguished, as already demonstrated, by its constant growth and expansion, by its consequent imposition and compulsion. As Quinn explains, “You don’t become a farmer to reduce food availability, you become a farmer to increase food availability” (Story 295). There exists a direct, causal relation between this food availably and population growth. Objectively, then, one can view the expansion of the civilization over its ten thousand-year history as one would view the spread of a contagious virus across the entire community of life, or the annihilation of European populations under the grinding wheels of the Nazi war machine:
Fueled by enormous food surpluses generated uniquely by this style of agriculture, a population growth occurred among its practitioners, followed by an equally rapid geographical expansion that obliterated all other lifestyles in its path (including those based on other styles of agriculture). This expansion and obliteration of lifestyles continued without pause in the millennia that followed, eventually reached the New World in the fifteenth century… (Quinn, Story 247-248)
Contrary, then, to the cultural mythology of civilization as a friendly, wonderful bandwagon upon which all Neolithic peoples happily jumped, civilization was, instead, the forcible de-tribalization of everyone, the enslavement of everyone. Civilization was an obliterating war machine that destroyed cultures that were millions of years old, turning the people it encountered into unwilling labor to keep the machines going; turning plants and animals into fuel to feed the slaves.
Ward Churchill, a fierce opponent to European colonization of the Americas, contends that, for Europe to colonize the Americas, it had to colonize and de-tribalize Europe:
…In order for Europe to do what it has done to us—in fact, for Europe to become “Europe” at all—it first had to do the same thing to all of you. In other words, to become a colonizing culture, Europe had to first colonize itself. To the extent that this is true, I find it fair to say that if our struggle must be explicitly anticolonial…yours must be even more so. You have, after all, been colonized for far longer than we, and therefore much more completely. In fact, your colonization has by now been consolidated to such an extent that….you no longer even see yourselves as having been colonized. The result is that you’ve become self-colonizing, conditioned to be so self-identified with your own oppression that you’ve lost your ability to see it for what it is, much less to resist it in any coherent way. (“Indians” 236)
The irony in this view is that those who are the most victimized by this oppressive machine of civilization, absent of all knowledge of any alternatives and steeped in the false logic of Encyclopedia Britannica perspective, actually become the greatest defenders of this fascist system. They are self-colonized and self-identified with the slavery that de-tribalized them and obliterated their indigenous, tribal lifestyle hundreds or even thousands of years ago. This consolidation that Ward Churchill describes is called “The Great Forgetting” by Daniel Quinn; this Great Forgetting explains how de-tribalized peoples, after only a few generations, would remember nothing but the fascist farming system imposed on them:
Our cultural ancestors knew nothing about any agricultural “revolution.” As far as they knew, humans had come into existence farming, just the way deer had come into existence browsing. As they saw it, agriculture and civilization were just as innately human as thought o speech. Our hunting-gathering past was not just forgotten, it was unimaginable…
…What was forgotten in the Great Forgetting was the fact that, before the advent of agriculture and village life, humans had lived in a profoundly different way.
Consequently, this ten thousand-year expansion of the fascist farm that began in the Near East and spread across the globe, obliterating every way of life and subjecting everyone to forced deculturation can be summed up in a single word: Genocide.
Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killing of all the members of a nation. It is rather intended to signify the coordinated plan of different actions aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the group themselves. The objective of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of personal security, liberty, healthy, dignity, and the lives of individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is the destruction of national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity but as members of the national group… (Lemkin qtd. in Churchill, “Confronting” 44)
The obliteration of culture and de-tribalization of peoples disintegrated the political and social institutions of tribal peoples, imposing the fascist farm system across the globe. From this perspective, the New World genocide that began in the fifteenth century was not an anomaly, not an exception to the general rule that civilization brings peace and order; the genocide waged against the peoples of the Americas was simply a brutal continuation of a centuries long, violent trajectory, a systematic genocide that assimilates everyone by force. More simply put, the experience of Native Americans in their tragic encounters with the harbingers of civilization represents a case-study into the truly genocide character of civilization’s fascist farm system.
“I never should have surrendered. I should have fought until I was the last man alive.”
–Last Words of Geronimo, Chiricahua Apache (“We Shall Remain”)
The civilized view of Europe’s conquest of the new World was summed up succinctly in Theodore Roosevelt’s The Strenous Life:
That the barbarians recede or are conquered, with the attendant fact that peace follows their retrogression or conquest, is due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost their fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian people of the world hold sway. (qtd. in Churchill 63)
The position could not be more plainly stated. It could also not be more historically inaccurate. From the very beginning, the relationship between “barbarian people” and the “mighty civilized races” was perfectly inverted from Roosevelt’s subjective summation. The mighty civilized races brought anything but peace.
From Columbus’ own narratives, the “Caribs are represented as a virtuous and mild people, beautiful and with a certain natural intelligence, living together in nakedness and innocence, sharing their property in common” (Fairchild 15). The Europeans’ brutality would soon provide a bewildering contrast, as Columbus would quickly institute “policies of slavery…and systematic extermination against the native Taino population” (Churchill, “Confronting” 53). Every Taino fourteen years or older was forced to provide a hawk’s bell of gold every three months under penalty of getting their hands chopped off and being left to bleed to death (Churchill, “Confronting” 53-54).
Bartolome de las Casas, a witness to the events, described how Spaniards would make bets as to which of them could cut off a head or open the bowels or cut a person in two with a single slash of a sword (Churchill, “Confronting” 54), or how they “tore babes from their mother’s breast by their feet and dashed their heads against the rocks” and then “spitted the bodies of other babes, together with their mothers and all who were before them, on their swords” (Churchill, “Confronting” 54). They routinely hacked children into pieces for use as dog feed (Churchill, “Confronting” 54). This is the barbarity inflicted upon tribal people that de las Casas described as
very simple, without trickery or malice, most obedient and faithful…; most humble, most patient, very peaceful and manageable, without quarrels, strife, bitterness or hate, none desiring vengeance. They are also a very delicate and tender folk, of slender build…these people who possess little, and who do not desire many worldly goods; nor are they proud, ambitious or covetous…certainly these people would be the happiest in the world if only they knew God. (qtd. in Fairchild 15)
Much to their eternal consternation, the Spaniards quickly introduced the Taino to God; five of eight million were butchered in just three years; only twenty-two thousand remained in 1514; they were extinct within fifty years of Columbus’ landing (Churchill, “Confronting” 53). At least 14 million tribal people were slaughtered at first contact with Columbus (Churchill, “Confronting” 53), an extermination that more than doubled the number of Jews killed in Nazi death camps.
But Columbus would not be the end of the genocide. He would be followed by Cortez in Mexico, Pizarro in Peru, Ponce de Leon, Coronado, De Soto (Churchill, “Confronting” 55), and still others who would document this brutal genocide again and again: The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake from New Spain to the Northwest of California; First Voyage Made to the Coast of Virginia, by Phillip Amadas and Arthur Barlow; and Raleigh’s Discourse of the large, rich and beautiful Empire of Guiana (Fairchild 17). Amadas and Barlow described the tribal people as “most gentle, loving and faithful, void of all guile and treason, and such as live after the manner of the golden age” (qtd. in Fairchild 16-17). Raleigh described that they “never eat anything that is set or sowen: and as at home they use neither planting nor other manurance, so when they come abroad, they refuse to eat of aught, but of that which nature without labor bringeth forth” (qtd. in Fairchild 17).
It was against this tribal people living in harmony with the community of life that civilization waged genocide, first employing biological warfare by circulating blankets and a hankerchief from a smallpox hospital, a captain of the Royal Americans noting cryptically that he hoped it would “have the desired effect” (qtd. in Churchill, “Confronting” 55). If the desired effect was the wholesale slaughter of a hundred thousand people in the Ohio River area in just a few month’s time, the captain’s wishes came true (Churchill, “Confronting” 56).
There was a thoughtful and purposeful strategy to this deliberate genocide, as General Phillip Schuyler of New York set forth in a letter to Congress in 1783:
As our settlements approach their country, (the Indians) must, from the scarcity of game, which the approach will induce, retire further back, and dispose of their lands, unless they dwindle to nothing, as all savages have done…when compelled to live in the vicinity of civilized people, and thus leave us the country without expense of purchase… (Churchill, “Like” 144, emphasis added)
Schuyler’s diabolical plan had worked effectively for ten thousand years to destabilize tribal life every time civilization encountered it. Civilization’s encroachment into tribal areas choked off the food and tribal people’s movement; it altered the environment and destroyed the tribal lifestyle. George Washington himself was enthusiastic in his support of this genocidal strategy. Commenting how “gradual extension of our Settlements certainly cause the Savage as the Wolf to retire” (qtd. in Churchill, “Like” 144). As American Indian Movement leader Russell Means would later observe, to sacrifice the land-base of a land-based people is to sacrifice the people as well (qtd. in Churchill, “Breach”, 127). This sacrifice of tribal people was clearly methodical and deliberate. A British officer in 1784 observed that U.S. policy was one of “extirpating them totally from the face of the earth, men, women, and children” (qtd. in Churchill, “Like” 160), while Secretary of State Henry Clay predicted the “Indian race” to be inevitably “destined to extinction” (qtd. in Churchill, “like” 160). General Phil Sheridan called for their “complete extermination” (qtd. in Churchill, “Like” 160).
Civilization’s official policy is quite consistent. Tribal people were left with the clear choices of assimilation or death. This likely represents the choice provided to tribal people throughout the world, beginning in the Near East where fascist farming first arose and expanded. In this way, the Native American experience is indicative of the genocide waged against everyone over the last ten thousand years of civilization’s reign of terror. However, the Native American experience was different in the respect that, from early on, it was clear that assimilation was not an option. Even Ben Franklin remarked pointedly how, when an Indian child was raised in white civilization, the “civilizing somehow does not stick” (qtd. in Turner 64) and at first opportunity he would race back to his uncivilized relations. Just as puzzling to Franklin’s civilized mind, however, as the alternate situation
When white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and have lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pain that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them. (qtd. in Turner 64)
Interestingly, Franklin uses the same word for leaving behind civilization that one would use for leaving behind prison: “escape.” This is a consistent theme, as Cadwallader Colden described in 1699 the great pains made to arrange the return of prisoners held by the Iroquois, but few could be persuaded to return (Turner 63). Colden’s neighbor noted that “thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those aborigines having from choice become Europeans!” (Turner 64, emphasis added).
How bewildering it must have been for a people transfixed by the idea of their own superiority, the mythology of civilization’s primacy, to daily see their numbers dwindle, their neighbors running off into the tree-line and refusing to return. How confusing for self-colonized victims of the Great Forgetting, seeing those who led the inferior savage life resisting assimilation.
When considering the so-called “captive” stories such as those by Mary Rowlandson and Isabella McCoy, women in particular make excellent cases that they were treated far better in tribal society than in civilization (Churchill, “Fantasies” 205; n.143 412). There exists a “veritable mountain of evidence that rape was practiced in few if any native societies” (Churchill, “Fantasies” 205), an indication of the general status of women in tribal society. As Lillian Smith once quipped, “What Freud mistook for her lack of civilization is woman’s lack of loyalty to civilization” (qtd. in LeGuin 147)—it would appear that her disloyalty is well-earned.
Given the incredible rate of settlers escaping civilization for tribal life—by the “thousands” as described by Colden’s neighbor—tribal life must have had some kind of attraction. Men and women both gave up lives too awful to tolerate for lives seemingly too good to be true:
Native people required but an average of two hours a day to provide their needs and desires, no matter whether the environment is lush tropic or desert. Their rich cultures, strong families, and lavish handiworks attest to their bountiful spare time. Their labor applies directly to their needs, as opposed to the more abstract Civilized concept of “going to work” to provide needs in a less direct way. Simply put, Natives transfer energy efficiently by direct involvement in what they need; whereas Civilized People, through a complex and non-personally involved process, expend much more time and energy to meet the same need. (Song 143)
The work ethic at the heart of civilization, the slavery to mass production, is the very distinguishing feature absent from tribal life, where needs are efficiently met in play and joyful activity.
“But none of them ever worked. And everyone knows it. The armored Christians who later ‘discovered’ these communities knew that these people did no work, and this knowledge grated on Christian nerves, it rankled, it caused cadavers to peep out.” (Perlman 29). Tribal people, unlike the Christians who slaughtered them, did not see it as the duty of humankind to subdue the earth, to tame it, to domesticate plants and animals and turn them into use-values. For tribal people, the organic world was not a supermarket; the “state of natures (was) a community of freedoms” (Perlman 28). Tribal life, without forced labor, went on “Without kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents, parliaments, congresses, cabinets, governors, mayors, police officers, sheriffs, marshals, generals, lawyers, bailiffs, judges, district attorneys, court clerks, patrol cars, paddy wagons, jails, and penitentiaries” (Harris 46). Further, none of those things were missed.
Life without fascist farming was “one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health. This was our human nature, for a couple of million years, prior to enslavement by priests, kings and bosses” (Zerzan, “Future 220-221) This tribal mode of existence, so foreign to the civilized settlers, was “consonant with the true, underlying needs of the human creature, and…we denigrate that mode and deny those needs to our loss and disfigurement” (Sale 249). Tribes work as “units of great cohesion and sodality, of harmony and regularity, devoid for the most part of crime or addiction or anomie or poverty or suicide, with comparatively few needs and those satisfied with a minimum of drudgery” (Sale 248).
Contrary to the mythology embraced by the civilized mind, tribal life provided for generally better health and well-being. As Mark David Cohen contends, “Civilization has not been as successful in guaranteeing human well-being as we would like to believe” (83). There is evidence to suggest the incidence of accidental trauma and interpersonal violence in tribal life was lower (Cohen 81), the diets more well-balanced (Cohen 82), the risk of starvation lower (Cohen 83), susceptibility to infections—until the advent of antibiotics in the last century—lower (Cohen 84-87), incidence of degenerative diseases lower (Cohen 87), and there is evidence that life-expectancy actually declined with the advent of sedentary farming and civilization (Cohen 99).
From a psychological standpoint, civilized persons removal from the organic world can be seen as their “original trauma” (Glendinning 94) and their displacement from tribal life seen as “our homelessness” (Glendinning 94).
From this perspective, then, settlers who had been colonized for hundreds or even thousands of years—victims of the Great Forgetting-rediscovered in tribal life in the New World what they had never known: Their original, tribal identities. Their mass escape from civilization may have posed a grave threat to the fascist farm’s fragile mythology of its own superiority, requiring the extermination of tribal society. Thus, the New World encounter progressed likely as it had for approximately ten thousand years, employing the tactics of Columbus and his ilk in the wholesale slaughter of native peoples. Men, women, and children were butchered by the hundreds: The Lakota in 1854, Shoshones in 1863, Cheyennes and Arapahos in 1864, Cheyennes in 1868, Peigans in 1870, Cheyennes in 1878 and at least three hundred unarmed Lakota massacred at Wounded Knee in 1890 (Churchiil, “Like” 148).
The Navajo Nation was interned at a concentration camp for four years, resistance leaders such as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were assassinated, and other “recalcitrant” figures such as Geronimo and Stants were imprisoned in faraway facilities like Fort Marion, Florda (Churchill, “Like” 148). Survivors of civilization-sponsored terror had their children torn from their arms and shipped off to remote “residential schools” were the children were forbidden to use their own language, were stripped of their customs, religion and culture, and were forced to cut their hair and don western-style clothing to become “little white people” (Churchill, “Like” 152). As a result of this multi-dimensional, textbook genocide, the internal cohesion of tribes unraveled and their distinct ways of life disintegrated (Churchill, “Like” 152).
“All told, it is probable that more than one hundred million native people were ‘eliminated’ in the course of Europe’s ongoing ‘civilization’ of the Western Hemisphere” (Churchill, “Confronting” 53), a slaughter that is staggering in its sheer magnitude. The genocide waged against tribal people in the New World was so ruthless that at the end of World War II, Nazis charged with war crimes by the U.S. led coalition expressed disturbed shock that they were being placed on trial; they had, after all, done far less than the Americans had done to the Indians (Churchill, “Confronting” 66). In fact, it was the nineteenth century extermination campaign employed against tribal people that inspired Hitler himself when he engineered his lebensraumpolitik (Churchill, “Confronting” 56; Hitler 403, 501).
Zygmun Bauman’s analysis related to the victims of Hitler and Stalin could just as appropriately apply to the victims of Hitler and Custer when he observed, “The two most notorious and extreme cases of modern genocide did not betray the spirit of modernity. They did not deviously depart from the main track of the civilizing process. They were the most consistent, uninhibited expression of that spirit” (134). In the case of tribal people, civilization’s Final Solution may yet succeed:
Eventually…the probability is that a “Final Solution of the Indian Question” will be achieved…the last self-consciously Indian people will pass into oblivion silently, unnoticed and unremarked. The deaths of cultures destroyed by such means usually occur in this fashion, with a faint whisper rather than resistance and screams of agony. (Churchill, “Like” 161)
For ten thousand years, civilization’s fascist machinery has destroyed cultures with faint whispers rather than resistance and screams of agony, expanding its territory and colonized slave populations across the globe. One can extrapolate from the specific genocide waged in the New World how civilization destroyed and assimilated tribal people everywhere for ten thousand years, enslaving them to itself. So, having established the fascist character and genocidal nature of civilization, the remaining question relates to civilization’s causal relationship to the progressing ecocide and consequent extinction of humans as a species.
“Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.”
–Derrick Jensen (252)
The essential, fatal flaw of civilization is that very component that makes it civilized: Domestication. Domestication of plants and animals leads invariably to food surpluses and food surpluses, in turn, lead to population growth. Consequently, the very defining element of civilization is what makes it perpetually expansive:
Unfortunately, agriculture was a two-edged sword. It’s advent allowed many more mouths to be fed and encouraged humans to multiply. But…the balance between food and population was never quite right. Time and time again people become too numerous for their fields to support and so they migrated and conquered until hey reached the ends of the earth and nowhere left to go. (Mukerjee 98)
So, what is now perceived as an ecological crisis is really a civilization crisis. Civilization has gotten too good at expanding and too good at multiplying the human population so that now the population has reached Mukerjee’s proverbial ends of the earth with nowhere left to go. Toward this point, Daniel Quinn provides an interesting contrast between the interval it took for tribal people to double their population, as compared to the interval it takes for civilization. The results are quite telling.
Over a period of two hundred thousand years, tribal people doubled their population approximately every nineteen thousand years, which is ‘glacially” slow (Quinn, Story 262). By that interval, if there were ten million people alive at the time of the Agricultural Revolution, the human population today would be somewhere between ten and twenty million people. With population growth that slow, it would take tribal people millions of years before their population levels would in any way strain the natural system.
In contrast, civilization’s interval for doubling the population is much smaller and it is rapidly speeding up. Civilization doubled its population in just two thousand years (5000-3000 BCE), which is roughly ten times faster than under sustainable, tribal living (Quinn, Story 262-64). The next doubling (3000-1400 BCE) took only sixteen hundred years (Quinn, Story 264-66). Like a train picking up speed, the interval decreased again (1400-0 BCE), and again (0-1200 CE), until the population was doubling in only five hundred years (1200-1700 CE) (Quinn, Story 266-270). At the turn of the twentieth century, it was doubling in just two hundred years (1700-1900 CE), roughly a hundred times faster than in tribal society (Quinn, Story 271-73). That interval dropped to just sixty years (1900-1960) ad then to thirty-six (1960-1996) before the close of the twentieth century (Quinn, Story 273-75), the planet packed with six billion people. Civilization is poised now to accomplish in under thirty years what it took tribal society nineteen thousand years to do.
Civilization is a runaway train of human population. “Civilization’s railroad leads not to ecocide, but to evolutionary suicide. Every empire lurches toward the oblivion it fabricates…” (Watson 195). Thus, the problem for the larger eco-system is not civilization’s failure but civilization’s rip-roaring success:
The forces of centralization and power have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams: the entire planet is becoming one great marketplace, with every last tree and stream, and the labor of nearly every human being, available to the highest bidder. Industrial civilization is invading every last corner of the globe, foreclosing every alternative, narrowing our options to two: participate or die. But participation is death, too…(Heinberg, “Memories” 196)
We must do something to address the problem of civilization “and we must be quick about it. Either quick, or dead…” (Schmookler 173). Participate or die, quick or dead—these are the choices civilization makes available on its ten thousand-year march to extinction, a march that has accelerated to a sprint. In this context, “green” technology,
recycling, and reducing consumption make as much sense as a seatbelt on a kamikaze plane. All of those erstwhile solutions do little to make a fascist, genocidal system more eco-friendly when the very foundation of the system is built up on chewing up the organic world as resources to be consumed and tossed away, when the very nature of the system is to expand and conquer and subjugate. “We cannot reform civilization, green it up, or make it more fair. It is rotten to the core.” (Disorderly Conduct 268). This “environmental overload” is an “inescapable result of civilization (Sale 251). “Industrial civilization…is now much larger and more powerful than any known before, by geometric differences in all dimensions, and its collapse will be more extensive as thoroughgoing, far more calamitous” (Sale 251).
In this context, civilization’s very existence, as a system, can be seen as an inimical threat to all life on the planet. Its survival and the survival of the organic community of life—and therefore human life—are mutually exclusive.
With this in mind, any activity that supports and extends the life of this fascist, genocidal death machine is both an act of treason against life and an act of suicide. Cooperation and support of that larger system, enabling it, reduces each collaborator to the “moral equivalent of a ‘Good German’” (Churchill, “New” 269):
You should see the letters I receive every week from despairing teenagers Who can live with a light heart while participating in a global slaughter that makes the Nazi holocaust look like a limbering-up exercise? We look back in horror at the millions of Germans who knew more or less exactly what was happening at those death camps and wonder what kind of monsters those people were. In 50 years our grandchildren (if any survive) will look back at the billions of us who knowingly and wantonly laid the entire world to waste and wonder what kind of monsters we were… (Quinn, Providence)
What can someone do to avoid being an accomplice to extinction? Certainly, the solutions envisioned by Al Gore and others are far from adequate; in fact, such mitigated conservation serves to keep civilization afloat into a more distant future. Others argue for the abandonment of civilization and its institutions.
The current system has already begun to collapse under the weight of its ecological excesses, and here’s where we can help. Having transferred our loyalty away from our culture’s illegitimate economic and governmental entities to the land, our goal must be to protect, through whatever means possible, the human and nonhuman residents of our homelands. Our goal, like that of a demolition crew, must be to help our culture collapse in place, so that in its fall it takes out as little life as possible. (Jensen 254)
This resistance fits the logic that “the bigger the system grows the more disastrous the results of its breakdown will be, so if it is to break down it had best break down sooner rather than later” (Kczynski #3). To this end, then, the guiding principle to any effective resistance must be to make civilization increasingly unmanageable:
The primary purpose of everything we do must be to make this society increasingly unmanageable. That’s key. The more unmanageable society becomes, the more of its resources the state must expend in efforts to maintain order “at home.” The more this is true, the less the state’s capacity to project itself outwardly, both geographically and temporally. Eventually the point of stasis will be reached, and, in a system such as this one, anchored as it is in the notion of perpetual growth, this amounts to a sort of “Doomsday Scenario” because, from there, things start moving in the other direction—“Falling apart,” as it were—and that creates the conditions of flux in which alternative social forms can really begin to take root and flourish. (Churchill, “New” 270)
In the free spaces that open in the collapse of this fascist system, people would have the opportunity to re-discover their tribal nature stolen from them and reclaim their past. Ward Churchill advi indigenist ses to being with decolonization of your own minds, with the restoration of your understanding of who you are, where you came from, what it is that has been done to you to take you to the place in which you find yourselves” (“Indians” 237). It is from connecting to those lost traditions that people will find models upon which to “base your alternatives to the social, political, and economic structures now imposed upon you” (Churchill, “Indians” 237). Thus, rediscovery of tribal identity provides both an alternative method for living and a basis for resistance to the imposing system.
The ideal tribal revolution, according to Daniel Quinn, would (1) not take place all at once, (2) work incrementally as people built off of each other’s ideas, (3) be led by no one, (4) not be initiated by any governmental, political, or religious body, (5) have no target end-point, (6) proceed according to no plan, and (7) reward supporters with reciprocal support (Quinn, Story). In this view, then, resistance to civilization takes on an antithetical character to the rigid, centralized and institutional forms of the fascist system. It becomes, in its character and operation, non-teleological, non-hierarchical, non-institutional, de-centralized, and organically organized. In short, it must be everything civilization is not.
While this perspective is much less comfortable to face than the one presented by Al Gore, civilization—as it has for the duration of its ten thousand years of fascism and genocide—offers only two options: Collective resistance or death. How the colonized captives of civilization respond does not just determine the trajectory of this planet’s future. It determines whether there will be one.