The First Step Is Admitting Civilization Is the Problem

It’s Wednesday morning – our first in our new apartment. I’ve found the morning sunshine; it’s right where I’d been planning – am still planning – to put my desk. I am grateful for this sunshine. It is simple, it is sweet. It’s a thing I discount, when I stare at my screen and plot how I’ll make it in industrial civilization.

Reading liberal responses to Trump’s election, I keep feeling this visceral no. No, you’re not going deep enough. No, I won’t help you cling to your delusions. No, the carnage did not abate under Obama, and would proceed apace even if millions of petition signers were to get the electoral college to break rank for Hillary.

What, then, do I say yes to? What news, if I heard it, would make my heart thrill?

News of industrial collapse. News of mass defection. News of efforts to replenish the nutrients offered by a limited land base. (Do we really think we can keep sewering our poop forever?)

What is the opposite of extraction? Replenishment. Regeneration.

Pretend our culture is a Rubik’s Cube. You have eight of nine blue squares on one facet; you desperately want to complete the grid with that ninth blue square. Yet you refuse to make any turns, because you’re loathe to disrupt the near perfection of your favored facet. So you peel the blue sticker off that elusive ninth square, and re-affix it where you want it. Look! You’ve forced your picture to please you. But you haven’t solved the puzzle.

The movement to get electors to go rogue, and dump Donald for Hillary, strikes me as similar in spirit to peeling off and re-applying that ninth blue stickeer. It would perfect one facet of the cube (the one the viewer chooses to look at); it would eliminate a disturbing element that surely (in the viewer’s opinion) does not belong. Yet the other five sides of the cube would still be a royal mess, and the fix would have been accomplished without having engaged, or even acknowledged, them.

I appreciate the desire to incrementally gentle industrial civilization; I am heavily invested in aspects of it myself. (How would my book achieve wide distribution without industrial publishing machinery? Maybe wide distribution is not what books are for; maybe it is more beautiful for stories to be passed, in precious volumes, from hand to hand, by those who adore them.) However, I do have access to another story, in which the cracks Trump’s election has exposed widen to engulf our faith in monetization, the military, plutocracy, punishment, captivity, debt, jobs, clocks, hospitals, drugs, paperwork, success, celebrities – all underpinned by the everyday brutality of treating our fellowbeings as “resources.”

In the story that flows beneath the brittle city of life as I know it, I am welcomed, with fire and warmth, back into the wild.

If you liked this post, you’ll love my memoir, Mating in Captivity, in which my twenty-two-year old self enters a cult with a radical take on sex and relationships. Learn more here.

3 thoughts on “The First Step Is Admitting Civilization Is the Problem

  1. Bravo, Helen!
    When my eldest son was in college, he was an anarchist. I recently found some of his books and papers from back then. One was a short book on anarcho-primitivism. This perspective on the problems that civilization has wrought rings pretty true for me.
    Trump’s election may have a silver lining, after all!

  2. Great blog Helen!

    How do we stop civilizing ourselves? Close the universities? Burn the books and kill the intellectuals? Calcify our brains? Is there a way back?

    • Mark, I don’t see un-civilizing ourselves as a subtractive process (though I do believe that universities as currently constructed often function as funnels towards captivity, and I do believe we’d be better off without industrial infrastructure); rather, I see it as a process of dramatically widening the sphere from which we gather intelligence. All the words ever written represent a tiny fraction of what there is to understand, when we allow in the knowings and workings of non-human communities, of the microbes in our own guts, of humans who once stored, who still store, their wisdom in their bodies, their soil, their unwritten traditions. What if we are looking, through blinkers, at a paper-thin slice of a picture that would explode with color and beauty we can’t begin to conceive, so long as we make “resources” of our fellowbeings? I recommend the book Deep Green Resistance (

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