From Capitalist Realism to Anarchist Idealism, Part Eight

Daniel Pinchbeck
8 min readNov 21, 2021

Anarcho-primitivists argue that our underlying problem is not capitalism, but civilization itself, or what author Darren Allen calls “The System”. Over the last ten thousand years, a number of civilizations around the world grew to a certain point, reached critical mass, and eventually imploded (as Jared Diamond documents in Collapse). As small-scale, egalitarian hunter-gatherer bands become large, settled societies, they start to produce surplus value through agriculture. The shift inexorably leads to class stratification, patriarchy, property rights, laws, accounting systems, literacy, border controls, wars of conquest, slavery, and the like. A civilization continues to expand in this way until it depletes its resource base and disintegrates.

Contemporary post-industrial civilization is the latest, most overwhelming, and perhaps the last iteration in this sequence. Our post-industrial technocracy is no longer a regional phenomenon, like previous civilizations. It has conquered the world as a whole. It has developed sophisticated technologies for resource extraction, transportation, indoctrination, surveillance, warfare, mass incarceration, and so on.

The goal of the System, according to Allen, is to shore up the insecure ego that fears death and dissolution with a temporary illusion of permanence. As this civilization expanded over the last millennia, humanity got lost in mental abstractions, such as our debt-based economic system requiring endless, exponential growth. The System seeks to construct a mechanized, hyper-mediated, acculturated reality, entirely severing humanity’s connection with nature. This has unleashed the global ecological cataclysm that will soon crush this civilization (because, as doomsaying ecologist Guy McPherson notes, “Nature bats last”).

In 33 Myths of the System, Allen defines anarcho-primitivism as:

The general rejection of civilized forms of organization, such as centrally controlled cereal cultivation, industrial technology, institutional hegemony and so on. Despite the caricatures which critics invent (‘using a phone! what a hypocrite!’), anarcho-primitivism does not entail the ludicrous refusal of all technology (such as fire, pottery or even agriculture, which, incidentally, predates the horrors of state-run farms)…

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Daniel Pinchbeck

Author of Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and When Plants Dream. I teach online seminars at www.theliminalinstitute.com