Anti Civ, Capitalism, Futurism, Socialism, and Labor

Peter Berkman

Anti-civilization theorists (including Deep ecologists, biocentrists, and normative primitivists, etc) have suggested that back in the stone age and beyond there was a life of leisure and plenty. With all due recognition to certain egalitarian dimensions INTERNAL to various non-civ relationships, we must understand them also as realms of labor, ignorance, and xenophobic ingrouping and outgrouping. The very laborious dimension that capitalism enforces, anti-civ theorists and practitioners want to create through non- artificial exponents of labor.

Through work, the process of transforming raw material into artifice, we enable a potential to automate and mechanize parts of labor and the means of labor (the realm of biological necessity) and undesired work, to allow us to participate in political action and self-managed work. Political action is the public participation in history, where we immortalize our consequences through the ripple effect of action, shaping the human condition for ourselves and others. An expanded standard of necessity, (that includes things that were considered luxuries prior), also means that the necessary labor to reproduce such needs expands.

Non-civ humans are usually romanticized or demonized. There is either a conception of nature as inherently stingy, or so abundant that without work we do not have to labor. In pre-civ societies, 40 hours and more a week were used to obtain food resources 1. Far from the "original affluent society", Non-civ societies were realms of labor where we were forced to uptake biological processes without the technics to do more with less. Labor, in capitalist societies, is largely subsumed to the means of hierarchical work, and the work itself is primarily subsumed to the end of labor (biological necessity) for workers in a way that is technologically avoidable. Yet a low wage earner in the US does less work to gain more resources than they would in a non-civ society. This is due to artifice, the thousands of years of dead labor that have given us the world to act within. And as capitalism is explored, it is amazing how technics allow us to get so much with so little not because of capitalism but in spite of it, because:

  1. "Capitalization is a measure of control [over production] and not production." (Ryan Salisbury), and we get less out of production by not having direct control of production, as well as psychosocial stress (through structural violence 2 and the negation of autogestion).
  2. There are ways to develop productive forces that are non-capitalist, in fact it is desirable for them to develop in a non-capitalist way because the technology created under the influence and limits of capitalism sacrifice important ethical metrics to profit relative to directly pooling needs, skills, and technology, and distributing bottom upwardly towards luxury for all. The kinds of technology created with different means, ends, and limits will affect the means, ends, and limits of the technology.
  3. Miniaturization (as Murray Bookchin called it) or ephemeralization (as Buckminster Fuller called it) of technology allows us to "do more with less".
  4. The fruits of philosophy and scientific methodology over time and thousands of years of dead labor have been key factors in developing technology. Capital, like a parasite, reaped the fruits and invested surplus into itself and steered the development of the scientific method and technology, and the lives of wage laborers.
  5. We are decades behind in regards to liberatory technology, for example, solar panels being five decades behind, due to concerns of profit. Easily automatable and undesired labor is not automated because human wage laborers are more cost effective, and to not take cost efficiency into consideration is to cease to be competitive.

Anti-Civilization theorists are not merely revolting against institutionalized or federated interaction between roaming groups (which would potentially allow us to move beyond xenophobic kinship relations) , they also advocate for the abolition of work, at the expense of the minimization of labor possible through the labor done to allow humans to achieve a quality and degree of artifice to make the minimization of large amounts of labor an actual possibility.

The only activity which corresponds strictly to the experience of worldlessness, or rather to the loss of world that occurs in pain is laboring, where the human body, its activity notwithstanding, is also thrown back upon itself, concentrates on nothing but being alive, and remains imprisoned in its metabolism with nature without ever transcending or freeing itself 3.

Far from wanting to minimize labor, anti-civilization theorists want to abolish or minimize work (the transformation of raw material into artifice). Doing so would put humans into the realm of necessity and biological uptake, by extension giving us non-artificial labor imperatives that are time consuming, where we get less out of more labor. The rationale is usually either one of "ecology", claiming that we must suffer in order to be in harmony with "Gaia" (imposing immense restriction on part of what makes humans human), or that this "realm of necessity" is a realm of free-flowing non-imperative, when it is easily avoidable technically (while at the same time prescribing an imperative for almost everyone to do more labor).

To conflate the imprisonment within metabolism with freedom, is to conflate labor with freedom. Anti-civilization theorists do not see participatory politics or work as that which frees us from toil, irrationality, and hierarchy. They may even see such projects as the most promethean attempt to make civilization work, especially if they involve automating arduous labor (which they see as an automation of freedom). There is a lack of vision for technology to enhance the cycle of exertion and rest in life.

According to an anti-civilization worldview, to minimize non-artificial labor through artifice is to destroy freedom. By extension, anti-civilization theories are at war with the non-imperative, bounded by participatory political boundaries, and the technology required to enable such a public sphere. For anti-civ theorists, alienation does not exist in the reduction of humanity to non-artificial dictatorship of metabolism, but does exist in escaping from avoidable toil involved in the non-artificial dictatorship of metabolism. To be alienated from non-imperative while indulging in the imperative of "no building the world" is the anti-civ conception of freedom. A lack of artifice creates alienation from political deliberation, which creates alienation from higher qualities of contemplation, virtue, rationality, and human potentiality. Yet rationality, deliberation, and contemplation helps inform our higher order desires and volitions, allowing for individual or collective reflection, freedom, and action, and enables participatory boundaries (and the means of participatory boundaries) that are desirable for lack of imperative to exist within. Capitalism alienates us from our activities, our products (in a where products are hierarchically distributed), and our selves, but normative primitivism alienates us from the distinguishing features of humanity.

Of course, the process of abolishing artifice and the realm for action that it provides, makes it so we will abolish history. This also means depriving future generations of the potential positive consequences of action and the development of history, the development that gives us the thousands of years of knowledge and technics to potentially minimize large amounts of labor and undesirable work and have a pleasurable, virtuous, and free political life available to all. In this sense, anti-civ theorists want to abolish history, and in fact they want to abolish the very tools required for ecology. And they often do this under the name of the deepest ecology that there is, where the study of ecology leads humans to the realization to destroy the study of ecology in order to care for Gaia by forcing humans to obey the imperatives of the non-artificial world. And resistance to such a prescription is deemed anti-ecological by anti-civ theorists.

Anti-civilization theorists call for the murder of political life. It is a call for nothing less than the negation of the participation of humans in the process of history. It is a call for the negation of humans in the process of creating an artificial world. The abolition of art, language, and institutional arrangements would make it so humans are no longer humans but non-political and non-artistic beings, subsumed to labor without the benefit of the "ruthless critique of everything" (preserved in artifice) that allows us to steer our intention, however rudimentary, in ethical directions (individually and collectively).

Heideggerian calls to authenticity might prescribe some romantic conception of a human past. The search for authenticity is the search for some human condition before "the fall". However, such a conservative and backwards sighted worldview is ahistorical; It searches for some perceived romanticized ideal past time and prescribes it as a potential for us to actuate. Not only can we not reverse ourselves to "an authentic condition before the fall" (wherever one is locating it), it would not be desirable for us to. The progressive historical approach searches for what should be, and does not conflate the should with some time before the fall, and looks to all points in history for potential insights and dimensions to the good, and then seeks to transcend them by adding something new, and do so in a coherent way. We must rebel against anti-rational neophobia and neophilia, which cloud our judgment in regards to theory and practice of the good.

Capitalism and labor:

Under Capitalism, wage laborers compete with each other for labor in order to survive. However, wage laborers also compete with technology in order to survive. Under capitalism, the more potential for our tools to mechanize or automate labor without rapid enough job creation, the more unemployment occurs. Some theorists have claimed that this is the final straw in capitalism and that its internal contradictions will bring capitalism to an end due to itself and its necessary consequences. This teleology of the death of capitalism keeps getting born again in new forms. It is always "just around the corner," yet it does not arrive. Every crisis theory since Marx has failed miserably to prove itself through consequences. One fundamental flaw of many crisis theories is that they attempt to view economics through the lens of economics in reduction of other factors which might be cultural or political that can enable a capitalist world system or regional dominant economic system to continue, despite a real or perceived internal flaw within capitalism's ability to reproduce itself. But perhaps, a more fundamental flaw is the failure to see capitalism as a highly resilient and adaptive system or practice that can be textured with many adjectives and particularistic variables, while maintaining its most fundamental core: hierarchical privatized production being legalized within a market economy, with wage labor legalized, and a goal of accumulation of money and capital4.

Capital must extract sufficient surplus value to reinvest in itself to extract more 5. The process of doing so negates self-management through turning persons into instruments alienated from their activities, their products (in a way where products are hierarchically distributed), and themselves6. Rather than creating cities, urbanization is created, which negates civic unions and organizes what should be cities into instruments of capital, through the development of capital and the centralization of political decision-making 78.

Of course, time and space develop, and capitalism will one day fall (if not for any other reason than ecological crisis and external limits to itself). It will take an extra parliamentary political movement to bring capitalism to an end in a way where there is a positive result. That is, it will take action, and it is not sufficient for that action to be limited to a sphere of lesser evils and representative policy makers and bureaucracy (where persons give up their personhood to just follow orders, or to rule over persons at the expense of mandated and recallable administrations).


The futurist conception of positive development often reduces that which should be to the technical realm (or at least overly reduces that which should be to the technical realm). The action required for us to use our technics towards the good, is left out of the equation. This technical reductionism, claims that political action is entirely subsumed to artifice. This linear conception of causality misses the liberatory potential for technology by reducing technology to technology. All artifice and technics have a social life, intentionality that produced them, and actual consequences that might be different to the author's intent (in quality or degree).

Futurism often imagines current social relations under the influence of not yet developed technology rather than new positive social relations under the influence of current technical potential. But technology, in and of itself, is not sufficient for social relations to be more ethical. Projecting many years ahead, with regards to technical potential, is something very difficult with even leading experts missing the mark regarding many claims. That being said, it is possible and useful to posit science fiction-esque thought experiments to understand what we ought to do with potential technics, so we can be more reflective and responsive if or when they develop.


Socialism's most minimum program is some form of social ownership of the means of production, in the hands of workers, consumers or communities. In its most utopian, libertarian, and public form, ownership over productive forces needed to maintain political units is embedded directly within them (with personal and collective spheres of property embedded within the communal spheres bounded by usufruct).

Socialism is not "anything the government does that someone left of a republican likes", nor is socialism the mere redistributive and anti-neoliberal policies of someone like Bernie Sanders (as progressive as he is, compared to a right-winger like Hillary Clinton). Nor is socialism the barbarism that occurred under Stalin, Mao, Lenin or Castro. Such state socialists' projects have nothing to do with the trajectory of socialism9. All of them banned worker, consumer, and communal ownership of the means of production in favor of some form of hierarchical production in state or capitalist spheres as the dominant mode of producing and distributing goods and services. Centralization of power as a means for achieving a good society has been a hangover from Marx that has plagued the left. Marx being both indispensable in understanding capitalism, yet wrong about parts of it, and him having authoritarian and libertarian prescriptions, makes it particularly difficult to parse out what we ought to accept and reject from Marx.

Old debates over non-capitalist distribution systems have many dimensions. For the sake of saliency, these can be divided into: markets, labor voucher collectivism, and free or libertarian communist distribution systems (and mixes of all of the above). Markets distribute economic transactions through money, artificial markets through single-use labor vouchers (with an equalized system of accumulation per hour), and communist distribution where there is no money; instead, abilities and needs are pooled together to make distribution bottom-up, from basic needs to luxury10. Automation provides a new material dimension to communism; it means that so much of the undesired toil can be done away with to make society less based on rewards for undesired work.

Libertarian communist practices and arguments make sense even without post 1960s automation. Grades of them can exist, however nascently, as soon as dual-power gains momentum. As people attain power, and cooperative sharing of the realm of necessity, along with mechanization and automation of labor, communism can be more resilient than ever. As Bookchin put it, "a century ago, scarcity had to be endured. Today, it has to be enforced"11.

Back to productive questions of economics: Productive systems, for what is needed for the commune to reproduce itself, ought to be in the hands of a commune itself (or "communes of communes"). Administrative tasks can then be delegated to mandated and recallable delegates, who do not make policy outside of them making policy on an equal footing with everyone else in the directly democratic communal sphere. Technical delegation can be mechanized or automated as communes of communes gain greater gradations of post scarcity. In this sense, community ownership of the means of production becomes the main economic rudder, toil being automated, mechanized, or rotated, products distributed according to abilities and needs, people on an equal footing, within the limits of a non-hierarchical social contract, with the context, means, and ends of direct democracy and the means thereof12. That is, a means and ends based on deliberation and democracy without rulers (horizontality), a context that enables such ends, and a content that reproduces itself (as well as the context required for itself).

"Worker ownership of the means of production" is often claimed to be what socialism is. Yet, such a claim is misleading, for socialism can take other forms. Nevertheless, worker ownership is so refreshing compared to almost everything else that it almost does not seem fair to critique it; the last thing I would want is for people to think of something more reactionary than worker control to replace it as an ideal. However, there are other options. Despite limits of anarchist thinkers from Proudhon, Bakunin, to Kropotkin, they all placed the commune as far more central to their conception of the good society than the workforce. In this sense, they were building on ancient conceptions of politics, yet revolting against it by making economics political; bringing production and distribution of goods and services into the realm of the polis (at least partially) rather than leaving it to be something people do in their own oikos. Syndicalism, a highly organized and democratic libertarian praxis, essentially inverted many of the old anarchist notions of the relationship of the polis to the oikos, by making the economic sphere something that essentially subsumes political processes as a means and an ends through the means and ends of syndicates and worker control over productive forces.

But what does worker control over critical productive forces mean in a world where, for decades, it has been technically possible to automate anything simpler than production and distribution of cars or houses? If the workers increasingly become policy makers delegating the most arduous tasks to robots, there are few hours for them to labor. The vast majority of work that is left over would be more desired and enjoyed.

Worker control over productive forces the commune requires to reproduce itself, quickly becomes worker control over policy of communes. This privatizes policy relative to publicizing it in the hands of all community members on an equal footing in freely associated directly democratic communes. Relatively privatized collectives should not be making policy over that which a commune needs to reproduce itself, for all ought to be included in decisions that directly affect them (if there is to be communal self-management). Delegation of labor (and even undesired work) can then be automated, mechanized or rotated by those able to contribute. To put increasingly automated workers in the hands of policy-making over the community as a whole might socialize production, but it does not communalize it.

There are prescriptions from many sides which hollow out not only the public sphere, but the prescription of public economics: whether it is a private realm that expands into the public sphere, capitalist urbanization destroying civic bodies and cities13, states centralizing production and policy-making power, subsuming economics to non-political forces, the separation of politics according to some conception of "authenticity", or calls to abandon means of production altogether via reactionary misanthropic normative anti-civilization ideals.

For communes to be communal (rather than merely socialized), people within communes must be able to participate in the economics required to reproduce the commune and the persons and collectives embedded within it, therefore the means of existence should be distributed to all within it. The means of production for the reproduction of the commune are a means of existence. Thus, the means of production for the commune should be distributed to all within it. To avoid parochialism, isolation and particularism, communes must be federated so the commons can be managed on multiple scales, while keeping decision-making power at the "lowest level" in the hands of the people directly. This allows for mutual aid between communes which would add to overall resilience, ecological efficiency, and human cooperation.

For all to participate politically, the means of production as well as the products should be distributed to people who need it,. The most effective way to do so is to pool together needs and abilities and liberatory technology and distribute according to needs from the bottom up towards luxury and freedom for all through federated communes of communes. Communist distribution and communalist production systems become a context that enable the reproduction of communal politics.

Production of goods and services is part of city management and politics. If persons cannot participate in political production and redistribution of goods and services on an equal footing, regarding formal power with participatory rights and obligations, a polis becomes privatized to various degrees by privatizing the economics required to reproduce the polis. For "public life" is "possible only after the much more urgent needs of life has been taken care of"14.

The Athenian Polis, for all its virtues politically, artistically, andphilosophically (especially in regards to its historical context), relied upon everything from a patriarchal family, slavery, and various other forms of privatized and "strictly unequal" economics. Less than 20% of persons within the territory of Athens were able to participate. The technical context was one that required a great deal of toil to reproduce daily life. The toil and the direct political processes could have been shared in a more equitable way. In Athens, privatized economics was part of what excluded persons from public politics, either through the time required to toil, or the formal inability to participate on an equal footing. "Freedom from labor itself is not new,"15 and now, our modern technical context allows all, rather than just a few, to be free from labor, yet that potential is not actualized.

Public economics fosters the virtues of giving and receiving, which in turn foster public economics, both of which develop eudaimonia. Virtues of giving and receiving16 make the distribution of goods and services into something that is public. This acknowledgement of dependence upon each other enables us to have substantial freedom, where we take care of eachother to give each other the means of freedom, greater gradations of post scarcity, and the kinds of characters we need to sustain such relations.

What is left of the realm of necessity?

This leaves us with a new question: what should the role of labor be in a world where we can do more with less effort? We are dependent on society materially as well as emotionally for survival. Labor that requires emotive interpersonal care (such as parenting), ought not be automated, to do so would be to abuse children by depriving them of their social needs. However, the non-care labor involved in raising children can and should be automated according to what is possible, and the desires of the parents. When something required to reproduce daily life is easily automatable, and within humanist and ecological limits, and the task is undesirable, then it can and should be automated. However, we find some labor enjoyable, at least in an animalistic sense, such as the joys of eating, walking, showering, etc. An ethically automated society is not one where we automate every biological function, it is one where we ephemeralize our ability to reproduce daily life, freeing us to do what we want. Some persons may have an absurd desire to automate something that does not make sense for their actual interests (despite what their perceived interests are). To the degree they are virtuous, they can be temperate and reproduce temperance, to make it so their desires are more in line with their actual interests and of course in line with care for others. One's actual interest, regardless of perceived interests, is virtue, which by extension becomes the bridge for social and self-interest (given that emotive and mental virtues create eudaimonia in self and others). Superfluous automation of the realm of necessity (that is labor that is undesired yet should be desired for eudaimonia of self and others) that is within ecological limits is to be minimized by virtues, yet people should still be able to make such choices collectively and individually about reproducing communal and biological life.

The realm of necessity is not something that can be abolished. However, the degree we have to exert ourselves to meet our needs can be greatly minimized through technology freeing us to do work. We have a few forms of labor left:

  1. Care labor (requiring emotional or interpersonal connections)
  2. Unavoidable or unautomatable undesired labor
  3. Desired labor, whether it is automatable or not (eating, walking, for example).

The leftover labor should be done non-hierarchically to reproduce virtues that will allow us to apply our knowledge in ethical directions. The cycles of exertion and rest will have less exertion required for reproducing daily life, and rather than a society that does not know what to do with itself, besides laboring, such a society should have a culture that fosters work and action as well as play. Rather than being forced into exertion when there is not enough rest, such a society would enable people to reproduce daily life more leisurely, and allow people to exert themselves in a worldly and free manner, with more control over and participation within rest and exertion cycles.

In this communal sphere there is "freedom from the inequality present in rulership"