EcoPunk #63 - Culture

some thoughts on human culture.

    Last fall I was kicking it outside of a small ejido in Baja Norte, México with three of my lady friends, surfing, eating beans and generally having a swell time. We were listening to the radio when one of the women, Skull, put on a reggae tape. Now, I’m usually down for reggae provided it doesn’t start trying to resurrect ancient Hebrew law and all its nasty isms, but the first song on this tape was called “Sodom and Gomorra” and in a manner a hundred times more scary than any Earth Crisis song, went on to metaphorically advocate burning all gays and women who lived outside their Biblical roles. I got pissed and yanked the tape out. I mean, for fucksakes, I am under no obligation to sit there listening to something that is condemning me to death and talking about dismantling all the “progress” we have made in dismantling Judeo-Christian laws of oppression. Especially in my own van. Now I am certainly not one for finesse when I am pissed, so as I handed Skull her tape back, I told her in not so many words how rasta culture is essentially an evil akin to Nazi-ism or the fundamentalist Christian Right and how I would have no part in glorifying it in my van. I might as well have strapped myself with dynamite and ran screaming into a Federal Building. Her face turned red and a continuous vein stretched across her face. “That is bullshit!!! All bullshit!!! I know lots of people who have become empowered through rasta and you have no right to talk down on it!!!”
    Being a fucking prick when I’m politically pissed(as you might have noticed by now), I responded. “Yeah, well what if their empowerment was based on the degradation of others... Like women. Doesn’t it bother you as a woman that bands like that are calling for the return of women to objects of property? Doesn’t it bother you that they were singing about burning queers? Ever had your life threatened by some big hoods with dreads because they saw you kissing a boy? Well I have and don’t owe that culture of patronizing oppression shit. Fuck rasta and fuck rastas. The whole lot of ‘em oughta go to Hell wrapped in their 2000 year old papyrus blanket of bullshit.”
    She walked off cursing my name. Although I regret the manner in which I delivered the argument and the fact that Skull and I have been enemies ever since, the conversation got me thinking. What do we as anarchists owe marginal cultures that contradict our politics? Does the race or political history of a group have any bearing on that debt?
    Let’s go back to the rasta example. Politically, the rastas are more fucked than Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan put together with a crew of Baptist skinheads behind them. They openly call for cultural genocide on everything that disagrees with their strict interpretation of ancient Hebrew Law circa Dueteronomy and Leviticus. They are the most homophobic, sexist people I have ever met in all my years and a large part of their politics, as developed in Jamaica by Leonard Howell, calls for the destruction of the white race. Now although I can’t necessarily disagree completely with the last part, the first two parts are completely contrary to everything I believe. Do I owe rastafarianism credit for empowering people if it is empowering future generations of gay bashing, woman beating assholes? Is political empowerment always a good thing?
    Then I started thinking of other groups that have pretty similar politics. The Aryan Nation for example. Minus the fact that they are calling for the destruction of different races, the two’s political agendas are similar. No, wait a second, the bald shitheads in brownshirts over in Hayden Lake are less sexist and way less homophobic than the rastas. And I know from talking with ex-Nazis that the racist scene gave them quite a bit of empowerment. So why aren’t activists hanging around racist metal shows and smiling for the empowerment that’s happening before their eyes. It’s simple, because everyone knows that Nazis suck. So this opens the question, if Nazis are so bad, why do we tolerate groups like the rastas, that are debateably worse. Because they are minorities? Because they don’t have the intimidating political power of their honkey equivalents? Because reggae is way more fun to listen to than RAHOWA and dreds are way cooler than dumb golf shirts or silly mustaches?
    So no, unless I want to be fair and start respecting Nazis for their “community building” and empowerment capabilities, then I don’t owe rasta shit for respect. Oppression, sexism, and homophobia are ALWAYS wrong, no matter the color, gender or religion of the perpetrator. And considering I hate the aforementioned, it is only just that I hate those who attempt to actualize their oppressive politics.
    So then taking this a step further and another few feet off the punk balance beam of political correctness, what about indigenous people that may have sexism and homophobia written into their culture? Do we, as the descendants of the people that nearly wiped their culture off the face of the Earth owe them support or even respect?
    Take the Maya cultures of Chiapas for example. We activists here in the North love the photos of short Indians with ski masks and rifles. We are inspired by the manifestos of Marcos and all look forward to going down there and participating in their struggle. But do we really support the whole culture? The native cultures I experienced in Chiapas were horribly sexist, to the point that there were essentially two societies, one for men and one for women. Like an India friend of mine from Oaxaca said, “In Chiapas, they treat women slightly worse than dogs.” Women share none of the political or social power of men and except for either the very rich or the very poor, most are confined to “traditional” duties of child rearing, cooking, cleaning, washing, farming, and collecting firewood. (The very poor do all of the above and spend much of the day begging change or trying to hawk mass produced Marcos dolls to white tourist revolutionaries.) Domestic violence affects upwards of 50% of women and most have no educational opportunities beyond grade school. Not exactly a shining beacon for the success of the global feminist revolution.
    And then there is the homophobia. Playos and Maricones are not exactly living it large in the indigenous cultures behind our favorite revolutionaries in skimasks. The native cultures in Southern Mexico are rigorously homophobic, at times to the point of violence. A friend of mine I met in a gay club in DF sent me some newspaper clippings that reported people being tied up in their homes and set on fire. These were always gays, lesbians or people accused of being witches. I wrote back and asked him if things like this were common. He wrote back and said events like this are a fundamental reason there are no “out” queers in small pueblos anywhere in México, but especially in Chiapas, Guerrero, Quintana Roo and Oaxaca. Apparently actions of this kind are not uncommon in the least.
    So this begs the question, should we as Northern Activists, with plenty to occupy our minds in our own backyards, worry about the future of cultures that demean women and repress gays to the point of invisibility? Do we owe cultures such as those in Southern México support even though they live almost 180° contrary to our beliefs? Should we buy the apologist line and admit that the equality of women and right of gays to exist at all are Euro-centric principles for the privileged North?
    I honestly don’t know. In my own mind, I have retreated to the bunkers of cultural relativism. My politics rest secure on the “fact” that homophobia and sexism in the maya cultures are not so much an active hatred as an inherited set of cultural conditions that couldn’t be removed without disrupting, perhaps fatally, the already endangered cultures. Perhaps there are issues more important than how more than half the population is degraded and another 10% forced underground. Although I am rather uncertain of the inherent worth of something that grows from such an unjust foundation, it is possible. And besides, it doesn’t really matter what I think. Period. Aside from the fact that I am hardly going to go change their minds with a few pamphlets and catchy slogans, there are other things at play here. The Zapatistas were designed as the poster children for the anti-neoliberalism movement. They are something of a mascot for the millions of people like myself who are working against the global economy and the proliferation of militarism. So as much as I disagree with them socially, they are something of an ally politically.
    In the end, I don’t know for sure what I think about these cases. I know that rastas and Nazis and Christian theocrats would all make rich compost to grow a shitload of Toffuti trees from, but in cases of indigenous culture, the issues become substantially more confounded. It is  sketchy for us in the Northern Culture of TV Guide and root beer to attempt to judge another culture that is living in a different reality (although I hate how woo that sounds, I think it is very true) with different concerns. It is even sketchier for us to attempt to apply our cultural standards to cultures that have yet to experience the same transitions and turning points as Northern Culture. So yeah, fuck rastas and Nazis and religious bigots. They are part of Northern culture and should be killed with it. But as a member of an entirely different culture, it would be fundamentally unjust for me to pass qualitative judgment on those who live outside the mass consumerist Leviathan we call Northern Society.

    However, I will draw in the sand. Whenever there arises a conflict between Nature and human culture, I shall always throw myself behind the former.
    Human culture is ephemeral by nature. Cultures evolve and devolve from pressures both external and internal. Political strife, war, environmental effects (defects) and a whole infinitude of other factors can catalyze change in human cultures. Human culture is always dynamic and always in a state of flux to compensate for the needs of the biological entities under the egos. And humans, being mobile beings, can move to compensate for changes.
    Ecosystems on the other hand, cannot move. Ecosystems take millions of years to evolve and centuries to adapt to the slightest change in climate or other environmental pressure. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, the forest that I live in has been evolving for roughly 400 million years. Like the famed tree philosopher Joseph Snieder noted, “There is a hell of a lot of wisdom accumulated over 400 million years.” And without question, he is correct. It took generation after generation of Douglas Firs, each generation surviving 500+ years to create the genetically enriched version that stands outside my window as I write these words. Thousands and thousands of years were spent, slowly altering defense mechanisms and growth patterns and water requirements before a subspecies of the Pseudotsuga Menseei could be created that was perfectly suited for life at 4,500 ft in the rain shadow created by the confluence of the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou ranges. Human generations pass every 60 years at the most liberal estimates, about five times faster than a forest ever could. They are born quicker, they die quicker and they evolve quicker. And if time expended is any signification of value, human culture is far more expendable than Earth culture.
    And I have no fear or resignation in saying that when human cultures are clashing with Natural cultures, it is the humans that should perish. Just like it being easier to pass harsh judgment on the bastard subcultures within the culture that dominates my life, I can likewise condemn my own culture, as it is almost always Northern industrial culture that collides head on with ecosystems. The Tzotzil and Tzetzil peoples in Chiapas and Guatemala know how to live within the generous limits of natural culture (at least until their populations got out of hand). As do the nearly extinct indigenous people within the continental United States. As do the indigenous people of Scandinavia. They have been living, and living fruitfully, for thousands of years in accordance with the laws and guidelines of nature. Generally the only time they come into conflict with Nature is when they are forced into the situation by the flails of Industrial society.
    And is an entirely different story with Northern Industrial culture. Northern industrial culture, arrogant and intoxicated by it mechanical developments, has not taken the time or care to learn sustainable living. Rather, it attempts to assert its culture on the rest of the Earth’s beings and as a result, is at perpetual odds with the laws of nature and the presence of intact ecosystems. For example, industrial forestry has only been practiced in the Northwest for about 140 years and in that time, has managed to demolish almost 98% of the ecosystems it has encountered. It has killed not only the ecosystems from which their timber grows, but also the ecosystems in the streams and rivers, in the valleys and the entire wildlife profile of the region. And one of the greatest arguments for handing what few forest ecosystems remain over to the bloody hands of the timber industry is “What about our culture? What about our children and the lifestyle we inherited from our fathers and our forefathers? What about the cultural icon of the barrel chested logger?”
    I’ll tell it straight up from the heart, both my heart and the heart of the wild. You and your culture can go find something else to do, whereas the trees cannot. There is a reason the timber industry has taken a nosedive in the past 50 years, a reason why without Federal welfare subsidies 95% of the timber industry would perish. The answer? Because your culture is unsustainable, impermanent and destined for extinction unless major changes are enacted. The latter won’t happen because it goes against the grain of the industrial mindset. 500 years from now, regardless of if the trees remain or not, there will not be barrel chested loggers with thick red suspenders. Oh sure, maybe 1% of their grandchildren will be needed to drive the feller/bunchers or run the computers at the automated mills, but in any case, there will be no logger culture. Furthermore, where in the Constitution or even Bible does it say “Amendment 666- you have a right to a job based on an ecocidal industry that cannot stay afloat without welfare from the government” or “Jed 4:17- Ye shall run to the nice places in the world and clearcut them so you can afford a new satellite dish and $45,000 Ford F-350 with a 4.9 liter powerstroke diesel and KC lights. And God shall support you forever more.”
    Human culture is by nature ephemeral and ever changing. It is regenerating and relatively quick to evolve. On the other hand, although natural ecosystems are indeed hardly static, they are not regenerating and very slow to evolve. When you clearcut a stand of native trees, the trees do not grow back unassisted. When a culture of humans is destroyed through attrition or assimilation, their void will inevitably be filled with other human, with other cultures.
    In the end, like any good financier knows, it is always in the best interest of all investors to place your money and your support with the long term, certain return investment, rather than go with the sketchy short term. I personally will fight to invest in the preservation of the Wild and all its varied ecosystems. human culture can go to hell.

- By the way, if anyone is interested in creating a land project in Oregon, there are several different plots of land for sale on the very same mountain which is home to the Firescar Ranch compound and two other anarchist owned land trusts. Lot’s of trees, lots of wildlife, water, out of the way, yet a mere 20 minutes from a nice liberal town with punk shows, health food stores and free food. Let’s take over this whole area!!! Write me for info...
- Several other like-minded compañeros from across the continent  and myself have decided to produce a publication dedicated to the ecopunk fringe and issues of self-sufficiency, gardening/farming, alternative power and medicine, autonomist politics and the like. This is intended to be a skills/fact based resource for those living or looking to live on land or with an interest in wilderness defense, self- sufficiency, food production and other such issues. Your contributions are needed ASAP. Please send photos, articles, a brief history and description of your project, poetry, photos, stories, event listings, and anything else that might be useful for networking or skill-sharing to: Paper Tigers PO Box 2945 Tulsa, OK 74101 And we need a name!!! Please send suggestions and donations.
—mike antipathy  • pob 11703  • eugene, or 97440 <>