A lot of stupid anti-anti-civ arguments are made, and I think Andrew Flood encapsulates them quite nicely in his (admittedly old, but these things are fun and useful to dissect) article, “Civilisation, Primitivism and Anarchism”.
While I am not a primitivist, I am a post-civ anarchist/eco-anarchist/Peak Oil doomer, so let’s take a crack at it.
Flood talks about the imprecision in primmie definitions of “civilization” and “technology”. I wonder if he’s changed his mind after Derrick Jensen’s Endgame… Primmie definitions of “technology” are often downright tautologous, however, if they are given at all. So, I agree there.
He cites Mikhail Bakunin pretty early on trying to prove that anarchism is compatible with mass society. However, what he cites is making a case about society, not mass society!
Many parts are about “going back” and as I do not advocate this, I can skip ’em.
He talks about overpopulation and how a return to hunter-gatherer society would kill most people. He also claims that hunting-gathering isn’t necessarily sustainable because large-scale extinctions happened in hunter-gatherer times.
The first point is true. More people would die if we had to switch straight to hunting & gathering. However, some anti-civ people, specifically the post-civ ones support permaculture, and even primitivists are warming up to it as a transitional thing.
The second confuses correlation with causation.
They cite Earth First! as an example of primitivist misanthropy. Earth First! aren’t an exclusively primitivist organization.
They talk about Peak Oil and how some countries are already transitioning away from oil. However, this transition will be harder and harder to make later on, since we use oil-based infrastructure.
They talk about capitalism surviving other crises. These crises were smaller.
They claim that the rich would be able to hoard resources in the collapse with helicopters and the like. However, these things run on oil.
The worst part is their description of if an anarchist civilization started from scratch. They talk about concrete and mining with dynamite in entirely uncritical terms, with absolutely no reference to sustainability or anything of the like.
They also point out a couple atrocious statements by people in the radical environmentalist scene and say it somehow disproves primitivism.
They also claim that only more technology can develop our standard of living. This falsely treats technology as monolithic (an error committed by primmies and techno-utopians alike), is unargued other then some references to things historical people were happy without and uses a quite vague concept (standard of living) that is never explained.
Fortunately he does make critical remarks about GMOs, nuclear power and cars.
He makes a concluding remark about the need for mass organization, ignoring the fact that larger societies raise more sustainability issues.
Ultimately, while there are some great criticisms to be made of primitivism*, Andrew Flood doesn’t make them. Instead he makes fragile and poorly thought-out arguments that unfortunately have served as the norm ever since in anarchist debate over civilization.
*See Ran Prieur, the post-civ movement and Jason McQuinn for examples. See William Gillis for a wide range of arguments ranging from thought-provoking critiques to baseless assertions.