On the Two Forms of Primitivism
Life Ascending & Descending
The popular television show Alone presents some of the most impressive human specimens by way of their abilities and skills. The game show involves dropping off individuals into areas of harsh wilderness, with a minimum of equipment, no supplies, and the expectation that one of them will last the longest. They have to build a shelter, find and boil water, hunt and fish, and protect themselves from animals such as grizzly and polar bears. Despite their extraordinary skills in bushcraft, carpentry, bow hunting, improvised fishing, building boats, nets, fish traps, and so forth, many of them suffer from a peculiar set of psychological dispositions and traits. Men crave the company of their wives and girlfriends, to the point where they might try meditating to connect with them; many struggle with having to kill animals in order to survive in what amounts to a frivolous competition; others explain how their love of nature and the outdoors stems from childhood bullying; most see their vocations as hunters, trappers, primitive skill teachers, as a means of escape from civilisation, which is viewed as soft and ultimately fake. This is what I call ‘egalitarian primitivism’, a set of overlapping beliefs which craves Man's return to the primitive as a form of levelling, a spiritual horizontalism. We can contrast this to a second type of primitivism, one we could call ‘hierarchical primitivism’, which is animated by a metaphysics of ‘strife’ - the impulse of which is to engage in a struggle, a struggle which glorifies Life. The first is descending, the second, ascending. The first is present in many corners of many philosophical and political movements today, the second is barely visible at all.
How can Man overcome his current debased condition? He can look to the future with optimism and hope, or he can seek to plant one foot firmly back in the past. But the past is dead, is it not? The fleeting moments of kings and dynasties all end, like so many mayflies, but the real, deep, True past is Nature herself. You can return to her bosom and dismantle every shackle of civilisation, but why, and for what purpose? The roots of egalitarian primitivism obviously run deep, the psyche wants to dismantle existence and join the great multitude, the swamp of all primal being.
A man who seeks freedom from his drab office life, or maybe he never had such a job, but was repelled by the mere thought of it, such a man seeks solitude in the woods, as he always did from boyhood. He thinks of the trees as friends, he observes the squirrels in their domestic coming-and-goings, he learns the songs of the birds. This is his secret garden, Nature is a portal through which the world of conformity and regularity can be escaped. He was a sensitive boy, now a sensitive man, some sensations dulled by being forced to interact with modernity. But he learns to hunt, to harvest Nature’s bounty and live among her boughs. Some men like this turn such experiences into painfully private mental spaces, to inhabit at will, as a refuge and cool watering hole for the spirit. Other men might actually find employment or a vocation here. More insidiously some men will twist and wring it all to squeeze out a drop of morality, and oh will they run with that. Every environmentalist NGO is staffed with these men and women, who have warped Nature into a morality play about human greed, excess, waste, selfishness, cruelty. The parables they tell themselves are about wise indigenous stewards, obliterated by boorish and crude colonisers, they talk of biodiversity and of capitalism, and a thousand more abstractions. “Man Must return to Nature, to live within his Limits!”.