This episode of the Brilliant is an active discussion between Bellamy, Aragorn!, and Wil about the new LBC journal project Atassa. It is worth checking out as an introduction to the journal and an exercise about how to think about revolutionary (or not) practice in a world where terrorism no longer has any meaning. Eco-extremism isn’t a solution that would work in the US but it does raise challenging questions about violence, the planet, and the spirit that inspires all of our actions.
Introductions to Wil and Bellamy
1:34 Atassa introduction
2:00 Wil: Attitude. ITS.
6:00 Market anarchism & Technophilia
7:30 Strong introduction. Defines terms. Bel: This is something you have to deal with (Why?)
9:45 Origin story of eco-extremism. Revolution. Kacynski. Ancestral Beliefs.
13:20 Shocking bits wrt Mafia style violence, appearance, adopt an accent, espouse a strong moral character. sXe. Necheav.
15:30 Return of the warrior. Clastres. What is the relationship between violence and the State? Monopoly of violence has unforseen consequence. Becoming.
29:00 More origin of EE. Solid piece from Jacobi. Notes on wildism vs EE vs AP.
34:30 Creek War. Market economy as invasion. Old ways. Brutal.
39:00 Indiscriminate anarchists. Today there is reaction by @ against indiscriminate attacks. There is a history here. This is another way to talk about social vs anti-social @.
41:40 Is this an anarchist journal? No! But @ should be engaged with it anyway.
45:30 Are you a pacifist? Kudos for your consistency. Otherwise you have to (internally) confront the questions of Atassa.
Clastres is used to eliminate the grey zone between brutal savagery and civilized state oppression,
Anarchists are used to justify indiscriminate violence,
Rewilding is used to justify scalping children and torturing women
South American gods are used to justify poisoning the civilized
Logic is used (badly) to justify ignoring logic
Indigenous groups are used to justify perpetual warfare
Extremism is used to justify violent patriarchy
Amoralism is used to justify immoralism.
Wildness is used to justify human extinction.
This group is going to inspire massive repression against all ecological resistance movements.
To your question at the end: are you a pacifist?: No. I’m a strategist and tactician and nihilistic terrorism is the ultimate subjugation of all to the ego–a hypercivilized instrumental/utilitarian tendency that will induce nothing but a death spiral. Blowing up the civilized on a bus cuz it makes you feel wild is fucking retarded. Even blowing up the grid is extremely removed from indiscriminate violence, because there is a strategic goal for the future. This group does not believe in the future. They believe in stroking their egos to orgasm with the civilized blood of whoever is unfortunate enough to be around them when their pathology strikes next.
Yay! Good to see all 3 of you all on this episode, keep it going.
I’m wondering why Bellamy thinks it’s not anarchism and A! thinks it is.
Also why should Jacobi care about anarchist trivia? If getting older is all about knowing about anarchist trivia, then kill me now.
I said EE is not anarchist in the moment of recording because they explicitly eschew the label anarchist, are critical of anarchists themselves, are largely rejected by anarchists in kind (as far as I can tell), and because they have at various times shown adherence to positions and values that are commonly criticized and rejected by anarchists (some form of racial or tribal nationalism, apologies for certain forms of authority, a refusal of the future, indifference to human life, endorsement of deities, and so on).
Of course, there are many definitions of anarchism, many of which are mutually exclusive. I agree with A!’s reasons for why this book is potentially interesting for anarchists.
I think EE is anarchist because I think the questions EE ask anarchists are anarchist ones. Is it possible to impact society in the meaningful ways we wish to without violence? How capable are we of committing the amount that we need? How capable are we of determining where that violence is best applied? Does the future world hold these violent, unconscious actions and beliefs in their belly?
I claim anarchist as a broad label because, whatever else happens, I want to grow old with people who share a world view with me. Who understand why trivia is important. I want an argumentation I care about and understand. This probably involves these hard questions and others shared with anarchists who use the word differently than I do. I’ll let B speak for himself…
The whole idea that indiscriminate attacks can be “individualistic” in nature strikes me as a false premise to begin with. One’s level of ethical aversion (or lack thereof) to violence in general doesn’t even need to enter into the discussion to recognize this as being the case. The act of setting off a bomb in the middle of a crowded city street is not grounded in the liberated desires of self-willed individuals acting as they choose, but in the same sense of self-imposed reactive urgency that underlies so many “activist” projects. The same impulse can just as easily be seen on a picket line as it can during an act of insurrectional violence.
It would be naive of anarchists to deny that there is a perverse form of personal liberation involved in any act of domination. Whether in the power of the slave master to crack the whip, the power of politicians to send people off to war, or the power of ITS to set off a bomb, there is a certain “freedom” in the ability to decide how the lives of others should be controlled, expended, or destroyed. However, as the saying goes, “heavy is the head that wears the crown;” or, in the case of eco-extremism, heavy is the arm that throws the incendiary device. In other words, to subordinate others is to inadvertently subordinate yourself.
The rationalization for indiscriminate violence that I’ve heard coming from ITS that there are no “innocent bystanders” because everyone who is not engaged in open revolt against civilization is complicit in maintaining its existence is nothing less than a moralistic justification for the authoritarian control and destruction of life. While this may appear in some depraved alternate universe to be an expression of “liberated desire,” the fact is that whatever visceral knee-jerk response to existing conditions motivates them to do what they do, it is based in reactive desperation rather than the active expression of individual will.
Much like the corporate CEO who has global brand recognition and billions of dollars to his name but nonetheless feels empty, vacuous, and burdened by the responsibilities of life at the top of a labyrinthine bureaucracy, I would assume that a life lived “underground” in an effort to evade the authorities and gather resources for the next attack carries its own set of burdens and privations. Constantly having to watch your back, stay on the move, and keep secrets from those you care about would get exhausting after awhile. It would be a highly ascetic lifestyle that would require a strong commitment to self-sacrifice and a willingness to abstain from many basic comforts.
If people want to choose that route for themselves, it’s certainly their own prerogative to do so, but they shouldn’t pretend there’s anything “individualistic” about it. If anything, they’re prostrating themselves on the altar of “the Cause” even more ardently than the most self-sacrificing of lefty activist community organizers who spend their days printing fliers and advocating to city hall for caps on rent hikes. The tactics may be way more aggressive in the case of something like EE but the underlying logic is the same, regardless of any rhetoric about “wildness” or “individual desire” they may put forward.
This is a very reasonable critique of EE, one that doesn’t fall into the usual pattern of internal contradiction and sanctimony. I wonder whether a future issue of Atassa could take this kind of criticism up.
Probably not 🙂
We get this a lot from egoist / nihilist people who think eco-extremism is a “knee-jerk”. The answer already exists.
“In the “Eco-Extremist Mafia” (as they like to call themselves) there are Nihilist Terrorists, particularly in Italy. These nihilists adhere to the position that true nihilism is active nihilism or it is not at all. It is no use to speak of one’s “nihilism” or “egoism” while one pays taxes and obeys traffic laws. Such a purely passive egoism or nihilism is perhaps more akin to Buddhism or the philosophical nihilism of the 19th century, which upholds all of the things that condemn one to be a cog in the great societal machine, but offers some sort of invisible integrity or purity (or a particular “emancipated space”) akin to “spiritual liberation”. Active Nihilist Terrorism as practiced by the Memento Mori Nihilist Sect and others seeks to attack that which obviously enslaves the individual to society, and that attack must always be a physical attack against real targets such as machines, buildings, etc. and the humanoid automatons who build and run them. All other manifestations of nihilism or egoism are no better than Christian or Far Eastern asceticism.”
From: The flower growing out of the underworld: An introduction to eco-extremism
“Active Nihilist Terrorism as practiced by the Memento Mori Nihilist Sect and others seeks to attack that which obviously enslaves the individual to society, and that attack *must* always be a physical attack against real targets such as machines, buildings, etc.” [Emphasis added]
The simple fact that you’re making moral proclamations about what a genuine egoism “must” or must not be illustrates my point. Strictly speaking, I am under no obligation to do anything whatsoever in the way of opposing civilization. The language of duty and obligation, even if you do not explicitly use these terms, is itself a system of repression that keeps the individual subordinated to the stultifying logic of technological rationality. As already suggested in my previous comment, this same appeal to duty and obligation can just as easily be seen in the left-activist milieu for whom the perceived urgency to “just *do* something” leads to moralistic guilt trips about “checking one’s privilege” and a deliberate refusal of theoretical critique under the guise of it being an “elitist” pursuit that the more abjectly oppressed are neither capable of nor can afford to engage in. Reframing the obligation in terms of a need to attack rather than a need to make formal demands to those in power does little if anything to uproot this logic. If, at any given time, it may prove to my advantage to take some sort of action against the civilized apparatus, I will cross that bridge when I come to it. However, what I will *not* do is be guilted or harangued into taking actions that, in my view, lack the strategic foresight necessary to knock the pillars out from under this civilization in such a way that does not expand the scope of my own or other people’s autonomy. If that’s what “egoism” is to you, then you can keep it.
As for the concept of “active nihilism,” the above quote seems to be using the word “active” in the colloquial sense of “taking action” as opposed to “*not* taking action,” whereas I was using it more in relation to Gilles Deleuze’s discussion of “active and reactive forces” found in his book, “Nietzsche and Philosophy.” According to this perspective, any force exerted on or by a material body, whether that body is a conscious human agent or an inanimate object such as a marble or a stone, contains the potential to become either active or reactive. Thus, in order for an “action” to be to be truly active, it is not sufficient to merely “do something.” In Deleuze’s own words,
“When a reactive force develops to its ultimate consequences it does this in relation to negation, to the will to nothingness which serves as its motive force. Becoming active, on the contrary, presupposes the affinity of action and affirmation; in order to become active it is not sufficient for a force to go to the limit of what it can do, it must make what it can do an object of affirmation. Becoming-active is affirming and affirmative, just as becoming-reactive is negating and nihilistic.”
These dual notions of *becoming-active* and *becoming-reactive* fundamentally break down the false dichotomy between “action” and “*in*action” in the colloquial sense. Consider, for example, a game of marbles in which Marble 1 strikes Marble 2 and Marble 2 rolls off in some other direction. While Marble 2 is still undergoing the “action” of rolling away, this action is itself *reactive* in nature because it is reacting to the force of impact from Marble 1. Now, let’s say for the sake of argument that Marble 2 continues along its trajectory and ultimately makes impact with Marble 3, which then rolls off in a different direction of its own. While it can certainly be said that the force exerted on Marble 3 by Marble 2 temporarily “became” active at the moment of impact, this doesn’t negate the fact that the active power of Marble 2 was borne out of its initial reactive encounter with Marble 1. In the case of both becoming-active and becoming-reactive, the potential for each is always contained within its opposite.
It is also worth pointing out that Deleuze isn’t necessarily just talking about the becoming-active or -reactive of conscious human individuals carrying out whatever tasks they happen to be choosing for themselves – whether it is the task of insurrection or something completely unrelated like eating or clothing oneself. A theory of “forces” in general is not yet concerned with individuals and their choices, merely with the interactions between bodies in space and time. It is only through these interactions that a “Self” can be said to emerge in the first place – a Self that is always multiple and always in a process of emergence. A consistently nihilist (or, for that matter, egoist) perspective would be one that unapologetically acknowledges the illusory nature of any and all sacred categories – be it the category of “God,” “Mankind,” or even the “Self” as a pre-constituted identity. Even Max Stirner, for all his apparent veneration of “the Ego” as a quasi-divine being, concludes his book “The Ego and Its Own” by saying that “no *concept* expresses me, nothing that is designated as my essence exhausts me; they are only names.” To this, I personally would add that I *am* the capacity to create myself as I choose; I *am* the becoming of myself from out of a pre-personal void.
Pushing nihilism to its furthest possible conclusion, I would argue that nihilism’s ultimate goal is to negate even *itself* – a negation that, paradoxically enough, begins and ends with an act of affirmation. The affirmation of life as a creative force that breaks free from the shackles which chain it to civilization’s own narrative about duty, obligation, and technological rationality. The idea of nihilism as an ideological “position” to be “adopted” like one might adopt the position of “liberal” or “conservative” in the arena of representational politics runs counter to the spirit of nihilism itself; which, when donned as an identity, transforms *negation* as such into yet another sacred category. I take Raoul Vaneigem very seriously when he says that
“Nihilism is a self-destruct mechanism: today a flame, tomorrow ashes. The old values in ruins today feed the intensive production of consumable and ‘futurized’ values sold under the old label of ‘the modern’; but they also thrust us inevitably towards a future yet to be constructed, towards *the transcendence of nihilism.* In the consciousness of the new generation a slow reconciliation is occurring between history’s destructive and constructive tendencies.” [Emphasis added]
However, let no one fall into the trap of being so enamoured with this talk about flames and ashes that they overlook the deeper ideas being discussed here. There is a far more nuanced strategic and ethical (not moral) sensibility here than an excessive preoccupation with *real* flames and *real* ashes could ever hope to comprehend. To speak of “historical tendencies” and “the transcendence of nihilism” is to demand a level of attention to detail that actively rejects reactive desire itself, its false dualisms, and its fetish for “negation” for its own sake. If it is not only the coercive structures of techno-industrial civilization but also my own enjoyment and my own autonomy that are being negated through an allegedly “active” nihilism, then I see no reason why this is something I should even *want* let alone devote my energy trying to achieve. In fact, it is precisely the sort of ascetic self-denial that I am trying to get away from. An “active nihilism” that seeks to become “active” in more than just name only is not an ideological position in which to languish as one would alongside a swimming pool with a margarita in one’s hand. Rather, it is a tool to be picked up and used as needed, only to be discarded again when it has outlived its usefulness.
Eco-extremism is the tragic sense of life embodied in our epoch. It is a product of the contradictions of our time, of the haziness of anthropological scholarship, of the renunciation of political action, and of the contemporary ideological impasse. This tendency knows that this impasse will not be solved by better philosophies or moral codes, but only in the destruction of all that exists, including the “hyper-civilized” (i.e. all of us). Techno-industrial society is a problem that should have never existed in the first place, and all of the “defects” and “contradictions” of eco-extremism as an ideology are the result of society’s contradictions reflected as in a distorted mirror. There is no solution. The only appropriate response is fire and bullets.
Eco-extremism isn’t moralistic because it doesn’t have a “telos” per se outside the individual, in other words, it isn’t trying to convince you to do anything. The benefit of thinking collective action is useless is you don’t have to make “moral appeals”. Eco-extremists aren’t trying to make more eco-extremists. There are no eco-extremist brigades or communes. They’re not trying to build a community or even a “union of egoists”. If you want to do that and it appeals to you, if you have affinity to it, by all means. But they have no illusions that they are going to convince anyone of anything.
But if you feel they are “judging” you and your course of (in)action, what can I say, that’s just your opinion, man. They’re not going to argue with your feelings, though they don’t particularly care about them either.
Nor do I really care whether the adherents of eco-extremism choose to martyr themselves on the altar of nihilistic destruction – which is, whether they care to admit it to themselves or not, the disavowed “telos” that unconsciously guides all of their actions. Having done with teleology isn’t a simple matter of merely proclaiming it to be the case, regardless of how strong may be your conviction to the contrary. If you look closely at the language of your previous comments, you have already revealed the hidden “telos” of eco-extremism which, according to you, does not exist: that of “physical attack” or “fire and bullets.” (And don’t get me wrong, I think that, under certain conditions, these sorts of tactics are as valid as any.) This goes back to what I was saying about negation itself being elevated to the status of yet another sacred category along the lines of “God” or “Mankind.” In the absence of an affirmative, consciously-stated “goal,” the means do not merely “justify” but effectively *become* the ends. This blurring of means and ends shouldn’t be confused with what is often frivilously referred to as “praxis” in anarchist circles, in which the desired ends are *contained within* the means so that each is forever transforming the other as circumstances demand. Rather, it is a sort of unconscious retroactive imposition of a *de facto* if not theoretical “goal” that takes effect precisely *through* the conscious refusal of teleology itself.
Believe me, I spent much of my 20’s relishing the idea of an “anti-teleological” insurrectionary anarchist praxis. However, the conclusion that I slowly came to is that an escape from the “telos” is not to be found in the refusal of teleology as such, but in a fundamental reconceptualization of the relationship between means and ends. The whole idea of a “goal” as a dialectical end-point to be arrived at via the linear exchange of thesis and antithesis needs to be dispensed with entirely and replaced with the idea that goals are forever transforming and being transformed by the means used to achieve them. Simply making grand declarations about not having a “telos” at all does not cut the mustard here. You can shout it from the rafters as loudly as you please and it wouldn’t change the fact that *negation* itself has retroactively filled in the gap where an explicitly-stated “goal” otherwise would have been. It is in this sense that, despite its best intentions, eco-extremism still manages to remain “moralistic” in nature. The level of sensitivity that eco-extremists may or may not have toward my personal “feelings” about my own supposed moral obligation to “the Cause” aren’t even the issue here. What is at issue is the false narrative that the eco-extremist milieu seem to be telling themselves about being an expression of “active” nihilism and the liberated desire of “the individual.”
One of the reasons why I’m constantly harping about Gilles Deleuze is because he posed a question that I think has been largely ignored by anarchists for far too long: what is it that causes people to desire their own repression? Setting aside the typical Joe Six Pack who would rather spend his time watching the Super Bowl or beating his wife than worrying about how the existence of techno-industrial civilization runs contrary to his interests, let’s just deal with the eco-extremist milieu itself for the time being. When you speak of eco-extremism as being “the tragic sense of life embodied in our epoch,” I don’t hear the defiant voice of joyful rebellion, I hear an almost forlorn resignation to precisely the sense of duty that I talked about earlier. There’s a certain “woe is me” quality to it that almost seems like it should be accompanied by violin music. I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s comment in “On The Genealogy of Morals” about “the spirit of priestly revenge”:
“Those who have been the greatest haters in world history and the most spiritually rich haters have always been the priests—in comparison with the spirit of priestly revenge all the remaining spirits are, in general, hardly worth considering. Human history would be a really stupid affair without that
spirit which entered it from the powerless.”
As a quick refresher in Nietzsche’s critique of morality before moving on to my main point, consider the fact that, for Nietzsche, all of Christian morality is grounded in an *inversion* – an inversion of the “aristocratic” values of the pre-Christian nobility. In other words, with the rise of Christianity, values such as “nobility,” “strength,” and “pride,” came to be replaced by ones like “humility,” “meekness,” and “temperance.” This inversion of aristocratic values is what he referred to as “the slave revolt in morals,” meaning that those who had historically been denied the capacity to act in accordance with their own “will to power” at last found a way to compensate for this by transforming their powerlessness from a vice into a virtue; and, thus, taking vengeance on those who had until that point denied them of their power. This is what led Nietzsche to say that, “[i]n order to arise, slave morality always requires first an opposing world, a world outside itself. Psychologically speaking, it needs external stimuli in order to act at all. Its action is basically reaction.” The connection here with Deleuze’s discussion of “active and reactive forces” should now be quite obvious.
In the first of your two most recent comments, it’s almost as if you’re saying directly to the apologists for civilization, “you have created us through your own contradictions! You have yourselves to thank for the havoc that we carry out! Behold what thou hath wrought!” While this isn’t strictly what Nietzsche referred to as the “imaginary vengeance” of the priests (in the sense that real bombs blowing up real buildings is hardly imaginary), there is a sense in which you are making a spectacle of your own perceived victimization by transforming it into a weapon against the moral consensus of the established order. Civilization encountered as a unified object is precisely your “world outside,” your “external stimulus” that grounds all your actions in *re*action. Expressed in Freudian psychoanalytic terms, it’s what you experience as the “reality principle” imposing itself upon your “pleasure principle” – an experience that you react to violently by resisting the sublimation of the drives.
Fortunately, however, Deleuze (among others) did a fine job of turning Freud on his head at one and the same time as he set him back on his feet. As much as I have spoken at different times as if “civilization” is a specific “thing” that exists “out there” in the world, the reality is no where near this clear-cut. If I have spoken in these terms up until this point, it has merely been for ease of communication and nothing else. For Deleuze, civilization is not an external “object” that one must “react” to either positively or negatively, but an “abstract assemblage” – a diffuse network of machinic, conceptual, and intersubjective relations that is always already in the process of reconfiguring itself. If people continue to encounter civilization as an external object rather than a network of relations in which they are bound up from the very beginning, it is because they are being perpetually habituated to a dualistic logic of instrumental rationality that regulates their desires to serve its own purposes. Deleuze developed the concept of “micropolitics” as a discursive field within which to grapple with questions of how to disengage one’s desires from the regulatory functions of (post-)industrial capitalist civilization and its machinic landscape.
I suspect this is something you would probably write off as the “spiritual liberation” of “Christian or Far Eastern asceticism,” but this would presuppose the sort of dualistic separation between “inner” and “outer” that Deleuze fundamentally rejects. Aside from the fact that, as I already explained in my other comment, “the Self” is always actualizing itself from out of a pre-personal void and is thus open to a reciprocal exchange with its environment, there is also the question of how *desire* is conceptualized in “Christian or Far Eastern asceticism” vs the perspective that I am articulating here. While I can’t speak on Christian asceticism not having read much about it, I do happen to possess my very own copy of Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching,” which stands as a prototypical example of the latter. I remember one particular stanza that addresses the question of desire directly:
“Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
What he learns is to unlearn.”
I would modify these words by making one change and one change only: what the Master desires is desire itself. Desire is not the desire for an object that is lacking, but a *productive energy* that manifests its objects through its own reproduction. It is only in this sense that desire can become “active” at all; and any “action” that does not affirm the outpouring of active desire is an action not worth taking.