Now we can talk about those who are willing to take bigger risks. This will probably be mostly poor people since it’s generally the desperate who are most willing to use these tactics, but those in privileged positions sometimes decide that this approach is necessary too. These aren’t things that most primitivists look forward to doing. They’re really more of a last resort. If reducing your personal carbon footprint, protests, attempts at educating and civil disobedience fail to bring about the changes that we need, and the habitability of the entire planet is literally at stake, then actions need to push beyond the boundaries of acceptable behavior. Even a U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, said "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable." In hindsight, violent resistance movements tend to be praised. The American Revolution and the abolitionists fighting against slavery are good examples. At the time they were doing these things though they weren’t exactly getting much encouragement from their peers. Today, despite the parallels with past movements, saboteurs are told that violence never solves anything. Yet those who are saying this are the same people who “support our troops” and show off their gun collections to their daughters’ boyfriends. Clearly they don’t believe that violence and intimidation have no uses.
Most of the “violent” tactics being considered by anarcho-primitivists and groups like Deep Green Resistance are aimed at inanimate objects, and usually with the question “could anyone be harmed by this?” in their minds. Tree spikers, those who drive nails into trees in areas being logged to discourage the loggers from using their chainsaws, are known to leave warning signs. The goal is to stop the logging, not harm the workers, or even their equipment in a lot of cases. The Unabomber and James J. Lee (the crazy Daniel Quinn fan who took hostages at the Discovery Channel Headquarters building) aren’t the norm. Even anarchist violence tends to stick to breaking windows and vandalizing cop cars. The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is probably the closest anyone’s come to major acts of sabotage in the name of environmentalism so far, at least in the U.S., and the worst they did was burn down empty buildings. All the talk of blowing up dams, or “liberating rivers”, demolishing cell phone towers and other major attacks on industrial infrastructure has so far not really led to anything. Good people take a lot longer to act than sociopaths do. They don’t move forward with a risky plan until they know all other options have failed and all potential consequences have been considered. I mean, even with voting we consistently choose the lesser of two evils because we think there’s too much risk of unintentionally helping Republicans when we support a third party candidate (it’s absolutely amazing that we haven’t even adopted something like “ranked choice voting” yet). Or we even do the math on whether the benefits of having the lesser evil win are worth the decrease in activism that we can expect from a more placated left-wing, like the recent “Bernie or Bust” crowd. We worry that, with economic collapse feeling so imminent, having the better candidate in office when things fall apart will only make it easier for the Right to scapegoat environmentalists and welfare recipients, even if that candidate does a better job mitigating the damage than any Republican would have. Those who are selfish get a lot more done because they just childishly bounce from one whim to the next with almost no consideration for anything other than their own personal dopamine levels. This puts us at a major disadvantage, and honestly I have no idea what can be done about it. I definitely don’t want to recommend sacrificing scrupulousness for the sake of productivity. All we can really do is make more sacrifices so we can come to our conclusions faster, I guess.
It’s actually pretty crazy how patient and well-behaved “extremists” have been so far considering what we’re putting up with. We’re being poisoned, brainwashed, impoverished and exploited for cheap labor. We watch lives get ruined over cannabis possession while people who destroy thousands of lives get rewarded for it. The habitability of the planet we live on is now threatened. These are things that literally justify murder and we’re called traitors for making posters and growing vegetables. You have to wonder why violent activism isn’t more widespread already. Personally, I think it’s a combination of precariousness, distraction and stupidity. We’re more dependent on others for our bare necessities than ever before and we need a lot more crap just to live respectable lives (cell phones, computers, internet, cars, refrigerators, etc.). We’ve never been further from sustainable lifestyles and never known less about them, and therefore have never needed bigger changes or understood less what changes we need. Everywhere we go, we’re surrounded by the messages of advertisers and corrupt political parties. We’ve never been more heavily medicated. We’ve never had more games and shows to keep our brains occupied. Surveillance has never been more ubiquitous, which obviously adds some risks. And don’t forget about the fact that endocrine disruptors have cut our testosterone levels in half. All of these things make it less likely for people to fight back.
Peer pressure is likely another reason. A lot of peaceful activists blame the more radical crowd for the increasingly draconian measures being taken by police at protests. But remember, even simple living is seen as a threat. Actions as innocuous as bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store and asking a barista to fill a mug that you brought from home instead of one of their disposable cups result in less stuff being produced. Anything that reduces consumption at all is bad for somebody’s livelihood. Advertising trains people to hate anyone wearing out-of-date or secondhand clothing. Even growing a beard is bad for companies that sell shaving cream and disposable razors. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is a good example. Simply for refusing to buy Israeli products, in an attempt to pressure them to comply with international law and stop violating the rights of Palestinians, the same strategy used to end apartheid in South Africa, protesters are being labeled as “antisemitic.” That’s a pretty strong accusation to make and it invites all sorts of hatred towards these protesters. This is what activists need to expect though. As companies get more and more desperate for growth they’re going to scapegoat any easy target. They’re not going to just admit that there’s something wrong with the structure of the economy and commend the protesters for opening their eyes. There’s no reason to think that non-violent resistance will be treated as any less of a threat than property destruction.
In Will Potter’s book, Green is the New Red, he explains how things as harmless as leafleting and taking photographs can get you labeled as a terrorist now. And despite how little harm has come to human life as a result of this form of “terrorism” (The Unabomber’s letter bombs are the only official deaths so far, and even he only killed 3 people), eco-terrorism is considered the number one domestic terrorism threat by the FBI. “Eco-terrorist” is not something that you want to be called these days. Basically, they’re trying to scare people out of activism, and it clearly has nothing to do with preventing violence. Their true concern is protecting economic growth. It makes little difference which tactic you use. You will be treated as harshly as they can get away with. The point is likely to come when punishments get so outrageous that more people actually feel encouraged to use violent tactics. They’ll say “if I can be treated as a terrorist, locked up for the rest of my life, for blocking traffic or vandalizing a billboard then I might as well not hold back what I really want to do.” Whether you agree that violence is needed or not, violent responses should just be expected to increase.
We all like to think that people are rational, that they’ll wake up, see the error of their ways and choose to make the necessary sacrifices. They won’t condemn their own kids to misery just so they can get a few more years of watching Dr. Phil and major league baseball. But they will. This won’t be the first time that a civilization has fallen apart while the privileged members of society dragged everyone else kicking and screaming straight off a cliff. The only difference this time is how much damage is being caused on a global scale. One way or another it has to be stopped. If the majority of people won’t even consider tepid changes, like passive solar homes and carpooling, then can we really expect protests alone to save us? Looking back through history, have polite requests ever succeeded without some form of intimidation? It doesn’t seem like it to me. In Charles E. Cobb Jr.’s book This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed, he describes how peaceful protesters depended on armed groups for their protection. Without them it seems unlikely that the Civil Rights Movement could have survived. Martin Luther King’s house, despite most people now treating him as the paragon of peaceful resistance, was described as an “arsenal.” Similarly, Gandhi’s peaceful approach had the aid of Bhagat Singh’s violence. The suffragettes started polite and ended up resorting to bombs. The Luddites had to turn to property destruction after protest proved ineffective. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta formed after the execution of non-violent protester Ken Saro-Wiwa. India’s “Maoist” Adivasis picked up guns after realizing how little anyone was paying attention to their words. The Zapatistas, although mostly non-violent now, have had to arm themselves. This is just what you need to expect. People with power use it when their subjects start getting “uppity.”
This isn’t to say that non-violent tactics are a waste of time. The vast majority of activism should be non-violent. As Deep Green Resistance says, we need it all. But it kills me when I hear people making all these naïve claims about how worthless or counterproductive violent tactics are. Even ignoring the fact that transitioning away from civilization is way more of a change than things like getting women the right to vote or replacing one corrupt leader with a slightly less corrupt one, the movements that accomplished such things were not as exclusively non-violent as most seem to think. This level of change, if it’s ever accomplished, will require the entire arsenal. Limiting our tactics only weakens our effectiveness, and being effective is all that really matters. We need to support those who push the boundaries and not let the media convince us that they’re the ones to blame for the rest of us having our freedoms taken away. Even if there weren’t any activists doing these things, those in power who want increased surveillance and harsher punishments would just make it look like there were anyway. They do it all the time. We can’t afford to be cowed into compliance like this. There’s too much at stake.