For Wildness and Anarchy | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

For Wildness and Anarchy

For Anarchy and Wildness
By Kevin Tucker
FC Press/Black and Green Press, 273 pp.


In July, microbiologist Frank Fenner predicted that within 100 years, the human race will be extinct. This was notable, ironically, because Fenner is one of the scientists who helped eradicate smallpox.

Fenner, 95, lives in Australia. He said humanity is threatened by climate change, one form of the ecological damage industrial civilization has wreaked in just a few centuries. He gave The Australian newspaper a counter-example to our ways: the Aborigines, whose Stone Age culture lasted some 40,000 years.

Keep this in mind before simply dismissing For Wildness and Anarchy, local writer Kevin Tucker's new collection of essays. Tucker is an anarcho-primitivist whose target is no less than civilization itself.

For Tucker, civilization and environmental destruction are inextricable. Humans evolved as semi-nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers, but while most call the 10,000 years since settled life began "progress," Tucker prefers domestication -- the transformation of free beings (human and otherwise) into slaves to society. Villages and empires, he argues, foster the same logic of accumulating surplus and exploiting the people and the land, just on different scales. "Civilization is warfare," he writes.

But Tucker is not simply against civilization. He's for wildness -- unmediated existence in nature. He considers "rewilding" a matter of learning to live as we evolved to, and thus reclaiming our full humanity. Much of the book skewers our assumptions about what is truly vital: the civilization that encompasses our daily lives, or the natural world that civilization exploits, yet without which it is impossible.

Tucker, 30, studied anthropology at Pitt, and these 20-some essays from the past decade draw on everything from academic papers to the writings of fellow primitivist theorist John Zerzan. 

Tucker's earlier writings, especially, can be turgid (and poorly proof-read). But around 2004, it seems, he became an able polemicist and social critic. "We have come to see life as a problem," he writes. "Our desperation and search for Perfection is bleeding this planet and ourselves dry."

Notable is "Open Cages, Closed Minds," this former vegan's critique of veganism. Targets include the hypocrisy of animal sanctuaries: "The vegans carry the message that it is better to live a long life encaged than a short one that ends in systematized murder. That is the burden of civilization: that we would rather prolong life than live it."

Likewise, while some consider consumer capitalism the environment's chief enemy, Tucker argues that civilization, by definition, cannot be reformed with "better" economics: "Capitalism is a form of domination, not its source." Another big theme is the futility of political revolution, which Tucker contends just replaces one flavor of domestication with another. "If you want to take power on, you need a revolution," he writes. "But if you want to take power out, then you need something different."

As humans continue to exceed Earth's carrying capacity, Tucker believes civilization will eventually fall of its own accord. But like nationally known Endgame author and fellow activist Derrick Jensen, he writes approvingly of hastening that fall with acts like disabling power stations. (One essay here details Tucker's philosophical differences with former pen-pal Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber.)

Yet while Tucker is hardly mainstream, his primitivist arguments comport with much environmental scholarship. For instance: Stone-age hunting and gathering "was without a doubt the most successful and flexible way of life adopted by humans and the one that caused the least damage to natural ecosystems." That's not Tucker, but Welsh historian Clive Ponting, in his acclaimed A New Green History of the World (2007).

I know Tucker a little, having written about him for CP in 2006. In person he's equally passionate, though much funnier and more ironic than he comes off in For Wildness and Anarchy.

Yet with the natural systems that support life reeling globally, his voice is a necessary one. In a summer of especially spectacular environmental devastation, most of us won't even drive less. We are not asking fundamental questions about our relationship to nature. Tucker and others like him do.