Letters to the Fifth Estate
Remember the 1–800 numbers game? It costs lots of money. It costs them lots of money and it’s free! Col. Oliver North Defense Fund now has a 1–800 number.
Just dial 1–800—521–0200 and pledge lots of money at whatever name and address you want and the North Defense trust will send out some mail to collect.
Ha, Ha, Ha! I’m laughing all the way to the phone booth.
SA, formerly of AZ now in a Seattle squat
To the Fifth Estate:
Greetings. I am writing to ya’ all from prison. I got your Winter ’88 issue. Thanks. If you can, could you please send me your next issue? I would really appreciate it. So would some others here who read it also.
If you can take some criticism or suggestions, I would like to tell you that on your articles like “Palestine” [in FE #330, Winter 1988–89], although they are good reading and enlightening, it would be very helpful if at the beginning of those discourses/commentaries you could outline, in brief, the reason for all the trouble. Can you dig it?
It’s like, even though I hear about all this trouble with, say, the PLO, I don’t really know the issues, about why they are fighting or whatever. So a brief synopsis would be good. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m reading until almost the end.
Anyway, keep up the good work, and thanks for the free issues!
With a song in my heart,
The following is a South African anarchist who’d like correspondence, ‘zines, etc. from A’s in the outside world.
Alfred Jack Cooper, Jr.
6281 Kroonvale, R. of So. Africa
Anti-Stalinist radicals in Nigeria would also like contacts: Awareness League c/o Samuel Mbah, POB 28, Agbari, via Enugu, Nigeria.
For the name/address of a second Nigerian group please send me an SASE: Bob McGlynn, 528 5th St., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215, USA
Dear Fifth Estaters:
Here are a few bucks for the New Modern Management subscription and whatever is over the amount put in the prison fund; hell, I might need it.
I am finally getting back to responding to E.B. Maple’s response to my letter about his or her article on race and class (see letters, FE #328, Spring 1988). I would like to focus on Rock Against Racism (RAR) activity, but first a few comments about the drug an’ thug situation.
Last summer I spent time on the lower East Side and in Harlem in Manhattan. I saw whole neighborhoods where every-building had crack and heroin being sold by brand name quite openly. I saw apartments where the only furnishings were a table, chair and a bent spoon. People wandered the streets both crazed and dazed.
The soup kitchen on Avenue C was destroyed by dealers and the squats were infested with addicts. Reaganomics had hit with a vengeance and Bush promises four more years. I was robbed at gunpoint, knife point and a tape deck worth $15 was stolen out of my van. My NAACP card was of little help, as was pointed out. In my case, it was an RAR button.
I have no illusions about revolutionary crack dealers, but the people who were my friends, some living, some now dead and some among the living dead, have been addicts, dealers and radical activists. Not all at the same time, but it happens and in the cities you deal with people as you find them.
Radicals and dealers would band together against the cops, sometimes it would be the other way around. Pot and ‘shroom dealers were among the most active street fighters in the Tompkins Square Park battle last August. Some street fighters had an M-80 in one hand and a bag of dope in the other.
Time was when many a radical event was funded with dope money. The Yippies are a prime example of this and in Latin America, there are people on the left taking dope money just as there are people on the right.
OK, on to Rock Against Racism. In New York City, RAR still functions with a concert in Central Park every spring. It’s a fun event, kids of all races come and the music is good. Info on squats, free food, etc. is shared and different groups bring literature. At last May’s event, the pro-Palestinian group were thrown off stage by some who were offended by a flag that wasn’t anarchist black. The bickering was lively, but the same people all joined in fighting the cops in August. Black and white, ultra-leftist and homeless, dealers and users, straights and punkers from the burbs. RAR may not be much, but at least its a cultural event that people can get behind
We all need our alternative myths and institutions and, as pointed out by Ben Johnson in his article about Korea (see FE #330, Winter 1989), he missed that in their culture. We don’t have to grow up to become yuppies or worse, think-tank academics. Nor do we have to become factory drudges or dope dealers.
We do have some alternative space and we must fight for every bit of it we can. That was what Tompkins Square Park was all about and even if our spaces are rubbing shoulders with people we don’t particularly like, that’s what we got.
Until we can appropriate a few mansions and have our people’s gourmet shops, we have to settle for the rat and roach infested dumps with the rest of the dispossessed, or get a job.
Thanks to Bob Brubaker for the response to Zerzan’s article on agriculture [See FE #330, Winter 1989]. Speaking as a farmer, I’d like to add my own thoughts on the matter. Radical, to the roots, providing a basic necessity of life. Our culture is thousands of years away from the gathering-hunter mode of subsistence which is the closest we came to being animals, an integral part of the natural environment.
However, it is not like animals don’t have an impact on the environment because look at the beaver which creates a totally different ecosystem on the scale of acres to provide itself with a habitat. Is it alienated from Nature because it builds structures and kills hundreds of trees?
My objection to the bunny huggers is that the logical extension of their philosophy is to completely divorce ourselves from Nature and subsist on air and water. I find it odd that no animal liberationists, liberal self-flagellants, New Age vegans, no militant Earth Firsters have advocated mass suicide to solve humanity’s problem of damaging the Earth. Foreman (sic!) can wish it upon others with AIDS and starvation as the means but he’s still alive and consuming food, trees, gasoline, etc.
We have domesticated animals here and in my more exhausted moments, I despair that we are slaves to them but, no, it’s a mutual thing where we provide them with grain, pasture, water, shelter and they give us milk, eggs, sometimes meat and log skidding services. Now cats, there’s another story; they must be sacred ‘cuz we are slaves to them. It appalls me how many dead horses and maybe Central American beef by-products and dolphins go to feed them for the sake of warming our laps and catching the odd mouse.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the big animals kindly give us shit, too,. that goes to grow bigger vegetables and soybeans.
Lake St. Peter, Ont.
Greetings from Niger, West Afrique, where I am biding some time as an agent of Uncle Sam, teaching English and learning French, Hausa and a load of other things.
Since I’m here for two years, I won’t be able to attend the Anarchy “Convention” in San Francisco (my hometown). These things seem to be regular events and I note in your pages the “debate on tactics” amongst “the community.” (See FE #328, Spring 1988).
As someone who’s had a host of opportunities to observe (& feel!) the SF police in action, I would like to caution those who intend to go to SF looking for “action” in the form of pursuing arrest. SF pigs are particularly warped and delight in cracking heads.
They have been given free rein to do this, have organized methods and “war plans” which are quite effective. Among them, trained horses to stomp people and plainclothes pigs with brass knuckles who infiltrate crowds and go ape-shit. We saw this during the 1984 Democratic Convention NBAU actions where many (not incidentally led into cop-provoking situations by fearless organizoids who managed to sleaze away quickly enough) were seriously injured.
Seems a common tactic for organizer types to “radicalize the masses by letting ‘em see the forces of brutality in action.” Where “mass demonstrations” are planned, there’s always an agenda. The struggle against this has been well-documented lately in your pages.
In SF, it’s an on-going battle gainst the marxist goons who always seem to be recruiting for their little cults. As one who began to think for himself with individual and autonomous, anonymous action for 10 years, I urge folks who go to SF this summer to “let 10,000 flowers bloom” thru individual infiltration, spontaneity and creative tactics rather than reactionary battles. And have fun!
Yes, I have a personal stake in this. After the commie-led “No Business” and Demo-Con shit, we San Franciscans had to live with the cops’ crack-down whenever they saw “punks.” People were arrested and detained overnight, music parties were busted regularly, cops questioned and searched at random for at least a year after these events.
Say what you want about daily life, going to jail makes even riding the bus look fun!
The situation in a nutshell in Taiwan is that since the demise of martial law (the longest state ruled thus in recent history), the opposition forces that the ruling KMT party had hitherto managed to control are now emerging in various degrees of political and social consciousness.
The forces of capitalist expansion have also resulted in some costs to the division of wealth and to the environment. The gap between the richest 1/5 and the poorest 1/5 is beginning to increase. The transition from a rural culture has created a social malaise as masses of people shelter under the umbrella of urban enclaves which lavish material splendor on these new parvenu consumers.
This, in turn, creates the momentum for production and mountains of refuse. Taiwan is the world’s capital for plastic output in all its insidious forms; the environment in its turn is slowly beginning to collapse. As a result not a day goes by without some environmental mishap somewhere.
Citizens are fighting back, and gratifyingly, it is the disenfranchised and “Marxian sack of potatoes”—the farmers and rural dwellers that are leading the way in direct action assaults on rapacious and irresponsible entrepreneurs. Newspapers frequently report barricades at petrochemical industries; the storming of polluters’ offices and petitions to puppet parliamentarians and the like.
These folks have organized their own environmental committees free of government and political control, but as yet, the struggle has not heightened to an overall critique of the industrial-capitalist menace.
From another perspective, there is quite an intellectual/academic interest in things marxist, New Left, Gramsci, trotskyist, Foucault, Marcuse. Still, there are a few tomes in Chinese translation of the classical anarchists Kropotkin, and Bakunin’s God and State, but nothing that brings anarchism into the 1980’s influenced and transformed by feminist, ecological and anti-industrial perspectives.
There is no understanding of anarchism here, but a strong distaste of the institutions and apparatus that controls and distorts our beings.
I saw a really interesting and inspirational AP wire story about the depopulation of Detroit about a month ago. Ring necked pheasants living in the city, acres of vacant bulldozed land, many (but not enough) urban gardens planted. And, of course, crime, poverty, unemployment, etc.
In the midst of the Northwest’s “development boom” here, though, it sounds almost idyllic. Well, not quite, but it is the one and only shining example of de-urbanization on the whole continent. Let’s hope there will be many more soon!
Interesting too, how much the Fifth Estate perspective makes so much sense within the context of Detroit’s de-population and decay. I mean, the whole building up of a new culture in the ruins of the old that provides a lot of hope for human culture and community at the same time it views industrial civilization as completely doomed.
The tragic mistake of some EF!ers is to generalize all human society as being equivalent to industrial civilization. I must say that it is an easy perspective to have in the Amerikan desert Southwest. After spending time in the desert wilderness, there is simply no way to come back into Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, etc. and not feel the essential “wrongness” of those places.
Some EF!ers have developed an ideology based on the “wrongness” of Amerikan Koyannisqatsi/Babylon culture in the desert Southwest and generalized those quite cogent and accurate observations to include all human urban culture.
FE Note: Yeah, pheasants there are (see centerfold poem, “Crossing the Freeway”), but “idyllic” it ain’t. Detroit is being de-urbanized to some degree by the immense destruction of homes, but the ethos of capital still reigns supreme in the desire for commodities and the widespread crack industry.
It’s good to see the pheasants re-inhabiting the city, but they hardly make up for the despair, violence and deprivation so present in the inner city.
One interesting side note: the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources has been trapping pheasants within the city limits and shipping them up North for a re-inhabitation project up there.
Return of Return of Son of Deep Ecology
FE Note: The following exchange continues a long discussion going on in the pages of the FE over deep ecology, environmental philosophy and politics, and refers specifically to the recent special issue/essay “The Return of the Son of Deep Ecology” (FE #331, Spring 1989). For a listing of back issues on deep ecology and environmental politics, see our book page.
Dear Fifth Estate,
It was amusing how defensive Bradford and the FE were about using my brief letter as a foil to Bradford’s ponderous and largely incoherent essay (FE Spring 1989). Of course, my position on biocentrism is a minority view among radical environmentalists—strange, Bradford didn’t realize that after all his exhaustive “research.” Nevertheless, I regret not having spelled this out more clearly, in light of Bradford’s well-known obtuseness on the issue.
The question of fairness aside, Bradford’s article is a tour de force of banality. As I understand it, he’s willing to preserve some wilderness areas and even remove construction from “the fringes of wild areas.” Impressive. He also doesn’t think the world is overpopulated, but that we merely have to replace industrialism with farming—a position which seems to us “uninitiated” radicals (his quasi-religious term) as incompatible with even his limp commitment to wilderness.
Bradford has coyly avoided this issue in all his “environmental” writings. “Isn’t it clear,” he opines, “...that for me the notion of human life or well-being outside of its ecological context is a meaningless construct?” Well, no, George, it isn’t, since you don’t seem to know what that ecological context is. It’s not barnyards or Hopi cornfields.
Bradford misrepresents deep ecology as cryptically technocratic, Orwellian, dualistic, etc. by half-quotes and weird interpretations. For instance, he claims I’d support polluters and death squads in negotiating for the protection of “one preserve.” No, George, you support wilderness preserves; I want to restore the entire world to a state of wilderness, where not coincidentally Bradford’s urban-based death squads would find it impossible to exist.
Beyond Bradford’s tedious invective, the point remains: biocentrism (in my opinion) is not a “truth,” but a strategy for deconstructing the anthropocentric ethics that drive the civilization complex and its assault on nature and human nature. Dualism? Privileged ground? No, George, the project is negative and doesn’t require a philosophic ground, just the ground under my feet.
Bradford really needs to read some Foucault, who made Bradford’s simplistic notions of deconstruction obsolete about a decade ago. Unlike Bradford, most radical environmentalists don’t presume to prescribe what people must believe in the post-domesticated world.
We’re on this side of the wall, trying to knock it down. Biocentrism is a strategy in that de(con)struction, as are monkeywrenches, computers and anything else we can lay our hands on.
I will say I’m glad Bradford brought up the problem of ideology and rhetoric. It’s helped radicalize EF! and made many of us (myself included) more sensitive about using rhetoric with right-wing implications. It’s an important issue. Also, his critique of sociobiology is right-on, though oddly he then goes on to make an eerie argument that validates human domestication of plants and animals by comparing it with ant-fungus symbiosis! Doesn’t such a comparison also legitimate fascism, war, and picnic raids?
...Except for Bradford’s bad epistemology, I like everything in FE—Zerzan’s article was superb...
Miss Ann Thropy
P.O. Box 5871
Tucson AZ 85703
Return of Return
To the Fifth Estate,
George Bradford’s latest rambling discourse on Deep Ecology (FE #331, Spring 1989) will be read by very few, a pity because of the useful points, which are swamped by the endlessness of its incoherent whole.
What really seems the point, and the reason for its extremely unfriendly tone contra my essay on agriculture (FE #328, Summer 1988), is his frustration at feeling behooved to defend domestication. The easy part is to show that “Miss Ann Thropy,” in his condemnation of undifferentiated humanity (the eco-crisis as purely a population problem), refuses to recognize the social and political dimensions of the destruction of nature.
Part of Bradford’s problem lies in having to reveal that his critique of technology is rather shallow. He says, for example, that “no one has demonstrated that famine in Africa is any more than the result of social conflicts and capitalist looting.” In fact, mass starvations there can be attributed largely to agriculture itself, but G.B. has already decided to defend agriculture and accuses anyone who raises fundamental questions about it as themselves, directly or indirectly, in favor of a “mass die-off.”
Whereas Deep Ecology venerates wilderness (the absence of humans) above all else, and is rightly criticized by Bradford for it, where the two sides agree is in denying the real goal, namely wildness.
The idea of the feral, an anti-domestication return to nature, is equally rejected as a project for our species and the conservative biases of Deep Ecology are mirrored here by Bradford’s. Thus he repeats some of the worst out-of-date cliches regarding hunter-gatherer life and obscures the likely course of alienation’s development.
Forgetting Sahlins, et al, he says that if I find the Paleolithic so attractive, I should “try my hand at making arrowheads sometime, or working leather for clothing” and asks whether production wasn’t already present in the prehistoric practice of “driving animals over cliffs, etc.” It is tiresome to have to point out that gathering seems to have accounted for the overwhelming part of pre-historic sustenance, that tanning leather from cattle came much later, and that, yes, at the end of the long hunter-gatherer epoch large-scale hunting emerged—as I have pointed out—as an evidence of mounting estrangement. If Bradford wishes to return to the old scarcity/brutality model, fine, but it certainly flies in the face of now-accepted evidence.
Similar to the above points in his defense of agriculture is his embrace of false consciousness, on the model of Bob Brubaker’s efforts in the same vein (FE Winter 1989). Like Bob, he cites the Hopi, possibly the most religious of North American peoples, who “consider themselves as much a part of the natural world” as some hunter-gatherers. If only we could simply accept what individuals “consider themselves” to be! Obviously, a certain faction of Americans “consider themselves” to be the freest imaginable!
When one embraces domestication, the question emerges, how much of it is OK? Also, if the factors that generated a certain level of it are still accepted and developing (for example, in my view, symbolization and division of labor), then how can its progress be thought to be arrested? Why not seek out that place of wholeness outside of those forces?
I think that this is not so magical or irrational as some would have it seem, though I apologize if the way it has been presented (in my time, language, number, art, agriculture series) has seemed to anyone absolutist or arrogant; I’m aware that these notions of a pre-alienation could be wrong-headed as a vision of possible life, past or future.
As for abolishing agriculture, the materialization of early alienation, a friend and Earth First! dissident, Mikal Jakubal, makes a lot of sense to me. Referring to discussions with squatters in Seattle, he wrote that “what seemed best to us was a de-commodified, de-capitalized, voluntary, organic, de-massified sort of agriculture that would be gradually ‘deconstructed’ until hopefully it could be eliminated altogether.”
Let’s not turn our backs on a feral revolution; it may be our only chance for a life worth living and for the planet itself.
Eugene OR 97402
George Bradford responds: In the latest communique of Miss Ann Thropy (MAT), there is little substantive response to my arguments, only the bald assertions and misrepresentation of his critic’s ideas that I have already noticed among deep ecologists in general.
1. He finds me too “obtuse” to recognize that his is a minority view, implying that my arguments against it are therefore invalid. I call his attention to page 21, where I clearly indicate that his eco-catastrophism is “only a fringe” of deep ecology. The tolerance afforded this “minority view” in Earth First! and among biocentrists, however, makes it an appropriate object of comment and critique.
In any case, the essay obviously ranged beyond his view to the basic perspectives of deep ecology shared by minority and mainstream (for example that ecological paradigms can be directly applied to human society, that “anthropocentric ethics...drive the civilization complex,” that an ethical biocentrism subsumes and therefore may negate human social-political conflicts and concerns, etc.).
2. MAT claims that I don’t know what the ecological context is. Presumably, MAT and others who share his minority view do. This context does not appear to even Include either barnyards or Hopi cornfields; the “entire world” must be restored to wilderness. My essay has already shown that such a formulation is an ideological sleight-of-hand, not a coherent statement about our necessary reconciliation with the natural world.
3. I am told to read more Foucault, as if reading one more book would neutralize the social critique that has gone on. This suggestion from the fellow who has dismissed his (and deep ecology’s) critics as “academics.”
4. Biocentrism can’t be viewed critically because it is not a “truth” but a “strategy” for deconstructing an ethic. Thus he requires no philosophical ground other than the ground under his feet.
He happens to be standing in the quicksand of late twentieth-century industrial capitalism, and grew up in the metropolis of a global megamachine, in a racist, sexist, exploitive, genocidal, instrumentalized, anthropocentric empire. (Yes, I believe that anthropocentrism is a pillar of this murderous civilization; it’s just not what “drives” the power machine.) A strategic ethics without fundamental loyalties to human solidarity will end in the idea that everything is permissible.
5. MAT thinks that his simply saying that I don’t think the world is overpopulated suffices for an argument that it is. From the beginning, I have insisted on showing the population explosion as a symptom, and even a serious aggravating factor, though not a cause of present starvation and industrial development and contamination.
My call for social transformation, agrarian revolution, the liberation of the oppressed and the dismantling of the petrochemical machine he reduces to “merely” wanting to “replace industrialism with farming.” Really, now, just who is being defensive? But we need to remember that his alternative is Parson Malthus’ recipe, plague and famine—for others, of course, starting with those presently (and conveniently) being triaged by the capitalist world market.
I, like MAT, tend to think we are heading for what primal peoples have called a “great cleansing,” a catastrophe of proportions difficult to imagine and brought on by industrial capitalist exterminism and human conditioning to the machine. Given present conditions, a truly humane, egalitarian, ecological society with forms of subsistence and culture (including agriculture) that can preserve and expand wilderness may or may not be possible, but it is the only thing worth fighting for.
This brings me to John Zerzan’s letter. Zerzan is distressed by my drawing parallels between his agriculture thesis and MAT’S eco-catastrophism. Nevertheless, I think the connections are striking. They start from the same kind of error in thinking about what constitutes natural and end with the same implication that any modification of nature by human beings signals alienation.
I think in part that the problem stems from a misuse or confusion of language.
One interesting example is the term “feral.” Supposedly, a “feral revolution” would transcend the concept of wilderness with that of “wildness” (a distinction which Zerzan poses but never explains). In biological terms, human beings may already be considered feral, like feral goats and pigs that devastate habitat which has developed no natural defenses or balances to their activities—not a particularly positive term. Politically, it may sound poetic but it means very little.
In another example Zerzan mangles the notion of alienation. This complex process, in which people are compelled to exchange their creative energies for money in a society reduced to an economy of equivalents and production, is referred to loosely as a sense of estrangement, to a separation from what was once “whole.” Zerzan takes his wholism for granted as a point of departure and a measuring stick; he never entertains the idea that some ambivalence toward an environment that both nurtures and destroys might actually be quite natural.
For him, people are alienated because they do not live in the eternal present that he ascribes to some distant prehistory; in a circular fashion, they do not live in the eternal ecstatic present because they are alienated. Thus cultivation, because it demands activities not immediately spontaneous or gratifying, is not “whole” but alienated.
Following his circular logic, Hopis, Papagos and innumerable other primal cultivators, whatever they may think about their relation to the whole, are judged by the modern critic to be alienated. I’m sorry to have written that the Hopis “consider themselves” part of nature; they are part of nature (or better: they are nature). Comparing their vision with what “individuals” in mass society consider themselves to be is inane.
Zerzan also misconstrues my discussion of the absolute dualism he sees between hunting-gathering and cultivation in order to paint me as a Hobbesian defender of civilization—a rather laughable idea considering what I have written on the subject. My point was that if primal cultivators could be said to engage in instrumental, alienated production, then a similar argument could be made for aspects of hunter-gatherer society.
Interestingly, Zerzan shifts his argument somewhat here, jettisoning even hunting, which now reflects “mounting estrangement.” We are left with only gathering. Yet the digging stick of the gatherer, which prefigures that of the planter, must also eventually appear suspicious to him. And if symbolic activity, in which other species also engage, is the underlying cause of this “mounting estrangement” from “that place of wholeness,” then alienation must reside somewhere deep in nature itself. Maybe only the total oblivion of ultimate entropy will return us to the whole.
Of course, the fact is that “production” does not describe the activities of primal peoples, be they cultivators, hunters, fishers, gatherers or some combination of them. Only industrial capitalism, and to some degree the ancient slave state megamachines that foreshadow it, reducing everything as they do to economic equivalents and instrumental techniques, can be said to engage in production.
The distinction between such traditional cultures and mass society is extremely important; overlooking it oversimplifies technological critique, as in Zerzan’s argument that starvation in Africa is the result of “agriculture itself” rather than the social conflict and looting flowing from capital’s social relations. Such an assertion flies in the face of much extensive research that has been done on the hunger crisis. No one who knows anything at all about the subject would deny the role of colonialism, the creation of artificial national boundaries and onerous tax systems, the market economy and cash crop production for ex port, and the disruption of traditional, largely sustainable subsistence cultures in bringing about starvation. The crisis in Africa has been caused by mass, industrialized, capitalist agriculture, not “agriculture itself.” I shouldn’t need to repeat this.
Finally, Zerzan shifts his argument in another important, if subtle way, in his letter. Whereas in the concluding line of his essay he argues that human liberation “is impossible without its dissolution,” no matter what the implications, including the possibility of mass starvation, (“if we reach ‘alarming’ conclusions, then we do,” he wrote), he now appears willing to live with a little agriculture, even if only as a transition to something else. (Actually, this softening of his position goes against his own argument here that any amount of domestication is unacceptable, but the alternative belongs to MAT.)
It is encouraging to see Zerzan admit that his notion of pre-alienation may be inappropriate as a vision of a future life, and that a de-massified agriculture might be a first step towards reconciling humanity with itself and nature. Here we can agree. (Whether or not it could be, or should be, ultimately deconstructed altogether, is another question.)
My quarrel was most of all with the idea that speculations about the origins of our crisis can be aggressively applied as strategies for its resolution, not with the affirmation of the pleistocene cultures. But the Golden Age is not just in the past; it is within us. We can renew paradise, though it can’t be anyone else’s, it will have to be our own.