Please note; Publishing this article here doesn't necessarilly mean I agree with the author on all accounts. I do so in order to tickle the mind of and provoke some thought by the readers
Searching for truth in a post-green world
I’VE RECENTLY BEEN reading the collected writings of Theodore Kaczynski. I’m worried that it may change my life. Some books do that, from time to time, and this is beginning to shape up as one of them.
1. Technological progress is carrying us to inevitable disaster.
2. Only the collapse of modern technological civilization can avert disaster.
3. The political left is technological society’s first line of defense against revolution.
4. What is needed is a new revolutionary movement, dedicated to the elimination of technological society.
I knew what I wanted: To go and live in some wild place. But I didn’t know how to do so. . . . I did not know even one person who would have understood why I wanted to do such a thing. So, deep in my heart, I felt convinced that I would never be able to escape from civilization. Because I found modern life absolutely unacceptable, I grew increasingly hopeless until, at the age of 24, I arrived at a kind of crisis: I felt so miserable that I didn’t care whether I lived or died. But when I reached that point a sudden change took place: I realized that if I didn’t care whether I lived or died, then I didn’t need to fear the consequences of anything I might do. Therefore I could do anything I wanted. I was free!
The best place, to me, was the largest remnant of this plateau that dates from the Tertiary age. It’s kind of rolling country, not flat, and when you get to the edge of it you find these ravines that cut very steeply in to cliff-like drop-offs and there was even a waterfall there. . . . That summer there were too many people around my cabin so I decided I needed some peace. I went back to the plateau and when I got there I found they had put a road right through the middle of it. . . . You just can’t imagine how upset I was. It was from that point on I decided that, rather than trying to acquire further wilderness skills, I would work on getting back at the system. Revenge.
BACK TO THE SCYTHE. It’s an ancient piece of technology; tried and tested, improved and honed, literally and metaphorically, over centuries. It’s what the green thinkers of the 1970s used to call an “appropriate technology”—a phrase that I would love to see resurrected—and what the unjustly neglected philosopher Ivan Illich called a “tool for conviviality.” Illich’s critique of technology, like Kaczynski’s, was really a critique of power. Advanced technologies, he explained, created dependency; they took tools and processes out of the hands of individuals and put them into the metaphorical hands of organizations. The result was often “modernized poverty,” in which human individuals became the equivalent of parts in a machine rather than the owners and users of a tool. In exchange for flashing lights and throbbing engines, they lost the things that should be most valuable to a human individual: Autonomy. Freedom. Control.
EVERY SUMMER I run scything courses in the north of England and in Scotland. I teach the skills I’ve picked up using this tool over the past five or six years to people who have never used one before. It’s probably the most fulfilling thing I do, in the all-around sense, apart from being a father to my children (and scything is easier than fathering). Writing is fulfilling too, intellectually and sometimes emotionally, but physically it is draining and boring: hours in front of computers or scribbling notes in books, or reading and thinking or attempting to think.
The longer Levin went on mowing, the oftener he experienced those moments of oblivion when his arms no longer seemed to swing the scythe, but the scythe itself his whole body, so conscious and full of life; and as if by magic, regularly and definitely without a thought being given to it, the work accomplished itself of its own accord. These were blessed moments.
THE HOMELY, pipe-smoking, cob-and-straw visions of Illich and Schumacher take us back to what we would like to think was a kinder time: a time when no one was mailing out bombs in pursuit of a gentler world. This was the birth of what would become known as the “green” movement. I sometimes like to say that the movement was born in the same year I was—1972, the year in which the fabledLimits to Growth report was commissioned by the Club of Rome—and this is near enough to the truth to be a jumping-off point for a narrative.
For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.
Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.
IN HIS BOOK A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright coins the term “progress trap.” A progress trap, says Wright, is a short-term social or technological improvement that turns out in the longer term to be a backward step. By the time this is realized—if it ever is—it is too late to change course.
The perfection of hunting spelled the end of hunting as a way of life. Easy meat meant more babies. More babies meant more hunters. More hunters, sooner or later, meant less game. Most of the great human migrations across the world at this time must have been driven by want, as we bankrupted the land with our moveable feasts.
The machine appeared
In the distance, singing to itself
Of money. Its song was the web
They were caught in, men and women
Together. The villages were as flies
To be sucked empty.
A tear. Enough, enough,
He commanded, but the machine
Looked at him and went on singing.
OVER THE NEXT few years, the old green movement that I grew up with is likely to fall to pieces. Many of those pieces will be picked up and hoarded by the growing ranks of the neo-environmentalists. The mainstream of the green movement has laid itself open to their advances in recent years with its obsessive focus on carbon and energy technologies and its refusal to speak up for a subjective, vernacular, nontechnical engagement with nature. The neo-environmentalists have a great advantage over the old greens, with their threatening talk about limits to growth, behavior change, and other such against-the-grain stuff: they are telling this civilization what it wants to hear. What it wants to hear is that the progress trap in which our civilization is caught can be escaped from by inflating a green tech bubble on which we can sail merrily into the future, happy as gods and equally in control.
FOR NOW, I’ve had enough of writing. My head is buzzing with it. I am going to pick up my new scythe, lovingly made for me from sugar maple, a beautiful object in itself, which I can just look at for hours. I am going to pick it up and go out and find some grass to mow.