Considering destroying agriculture: more soothing than I expected.

I am feeling excited to research radical ecology and anti-industrial ideas lately. This is one result of considering my Scottishness: I decided to read extra-radical critiques of Eurocentric civilizations as a respite from the horrifying, delusional narratives in books about Scottish settler history.

Somehow I didn’t realize there were folks in radical ecology movements looking at very intersectional politics of oppression and how they relate to fundamental systems like agriculture, cities, and industrial production. Sometimes I find an analysis that also overlaps with what I know of media theory about currencies, clocks and the alphabet. I’m still in a skeptical phase where I am cross-referencing everything and looking for criticisms, but it is very relaxing to feel like there might be a way to fit a lot of interests together. One huge, complex idea to apply instead of a whole bunch of big, complex ideas.

This morning I was listening to ideas about agriculture.

Lierre Keith: A Hard Look at Agriculture, and Strategies for Collapse, a podcast at Resistance is Fertile. Why even veganism and local organic farming is not sustainable.

You have to understand what agriculture is. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it— and I mean down to the bacteria— and then you plant it to human use. It’s biotic cleansing. This lets the human population grow to gigantic proportions, because instead of sharing that land with millions of other creatures we’re only growing humans on it….

Besides the fact that you’ve permanently displaced any number of species— and when i say that, we’re really talking about extinction— the real problem is that you’re destroying your topsoil and topsoil is the basis of life [on land]…. We have to talk about overshoot.

And pretty soon, she starts connecting this to systems of oppression.

So you’ve got these power centers that arise wherever agriculture is started and they need a constant influx of new resources because they’ve overshot their landbase. Because you have a surplus, that means somebody else can steal it, so the first thing that happens in agricultural societies is you have a class of people whose sole purpose is to be soldiers. You’ve got the beginnings of militarism. The surplus has to be protected. But the surplus is also what lets there be an entire class of people who don’t have to get food, all they have to do is fight. So now you’ve got a class of soldiers.

The other thing that the power base needs is more resources because they’re constantly using them up. So the other job of those soldiers is to go out and get more and bring it back.

And the third thing that agriculture needs is slaves, because it’s back-breaking labour. By the year 1800, when the fossil fuel age began, three quarters of the people on this planet were either living in conditions of slavery or indentured servitude. The only reason that we’ve forgotten this is because we’re using machines now to do that work, but believe me when the fossil fuel runs out, we are going to remember just how much work is involved in this.

It’s this feedback loop, where agriculture creates the need for a military and the military is made possible by the surplus of agriculture. And the entire system together needs to keep taking land because it’s forever using up its own soil.

They go on to make connections between agriculture and patriarchy, disability rights, classism, imperialism, and some more.

I have a million ideas about things to do, but I want to post some more inputs before I write about them. I was quiet for so long that I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do just to make my premises clear.


A sonnet is built on a fourteen-line frame, of five-foot lines. Hence, the soneteer knows exactly where he is headed, although he may not know how to get there.

I finished reading The Elements of Style. The famed, much recommended Elements of Style. It’s alright. You need to bring your own race and class analysis goggles. An example.

Style rule #2. Write in a way that comes naturally.

Style rule #15. Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.

Style rule #20. Avoid foreign languages.

Where this leaves a person whose natural dialect doesn’t sound good to an English professor is a matter for the analysis goggles.

I would at least pair the book with this old, also somewhat famed, David Foster Wallace essay about English usage wars.

That essay is a delight but I feel sad when I read it. I feel sad reading anything by DFW since his suicide, but there’s more this time. He gets all the way to seeing that language has class signifiers and that Standard Written English is an elitist, white, academic dialect, and then he gives in. His best suggestion for surviving in this classist, white supremacist (capitalist colonial heteropatriarchal… might as well get it all in there) system is to learn to pass. That is soul crushing advice.

I’ve gotten this vibe from a lot of David Foster Wallace’s writing. There’s a part that is generous and open and loving and grounded (he calls it a Democratic Spirit in that essay), and then a part with… I want to say with no faith in the power of consciousness. I don’t know if that’s exactly it. But something. Resignation? I count him as one of my favourite authors, but usually when I read something by him I have to debrief afterward. I just looked at my little list of “books read in 2006” and saw that my note for Infinite Jest was “not sure yet.” (Since then I’ve given it as a gift at least three times.)

I am really wishing that Dark Daughta’s archives were still public so I could link to something about passing and anxiety, or about changing the power dynamics of a situation by speaking and acting with a grounded analysis. DD, since you went members only, I sure notice how much I was depending on your output and not pitching in, so thanks for that wake up. If I find alternate links I will come back and stick them in.

Re-entry, being Scottish, the other end of cultural appropriation, not yet being able to write short sentences but maybe one day.

I’ve been sitting here for three weeks attempting to write my grand re-debut in blogging, where I would declare my intention to overshare again like I haven’t since about 2002, note that a lot of anxiety that I was blaming on work deadlines actually seems to stem from not writing enough about things I care about, and delve into the limitations I’ve been accidentally sticking to regarding not scaring my family or offending my friends or embarrassing my partner, but how about I skip that for now since it has become a bit of an albatross, and just post something already?


So I’ve been thinking about European ethnicities, whiteness, colonialism, and cultural appropriation, and what I need to do to make sense of being, apparently, of 100% Scottish ancestry.

This Scottishness is new-ish information because my dad was adopted. Until my dad (or my mum?) saw his adoption paperwork a couple of years ago I thought of myself as half Scottish, half mystery, and really, mostly as a generic white settler person. Lately it has occurred to me that if I can get more rooted in being a specifically Scottish-descended settler person, I might be able to use that to subvert whiteness a bit. I’m thinking that since whiteness works as a generic, supposedly neutral, supposedly non-racial racial quality, then knowing my ethnicity better might help me to be more aware of whiteness instead of taking it for granted, and also might help start conversations about race and privilege in everyday life. This is very early stages here. I get the impression a lot of people have thought about this, and I have a lot of reading and thinking to do. I don’t know what “understanding my Scottishness” would look like yet. I’m hesitant to suddenly care about kilts and druids partly because maybe they aren’t relevant to me, and partly because I associate, e.g., Celtic knotwork jewellery with New Agers and metal bands. More on that in a minute.

This is part of a bigger, backwards personal growth quest. Years ago I started reading about death and dying, and got interested in denial. There’s a lot of writing about denial in radical politics and anti-oppression work. Privilege and denial, collusion and denial, performance and pretending. Darkdaughta writes (or did write, when she was public) especially clear analyses of how personal denial perpetuates political oppression.

Trying to be thoroughly anti-oppressive, then, merges right up with trying to be an honest person, and both missions lead to sorting through my family dynamics, my parents’ families, and back and back. It’s useful to apply some historical context and political analysis to all of that. So again, I have a lot more reading and thinking and talking to do.

For starters, I’ve been hunting for general history about Scotland and colonialism. It is very easy to find writing about the oppression of Scotland by England, but, predictably, harder to find anti-colonial perspectives on Scottish settlers.

This caption was the first promising thing I found: Professor Geoff Palmer of Heriot-Watt University believes Scotland is still in denial over its role in British slavery. A signal! Involving the codeword, denial! I found some leads and put some books on hold at the library about Scotland and colonialism.

Towards the end of that article though, they are talking about other aspects of the Scottish diaspora, and the subject turns to cultural appropriation.

David Hesse, an “urban intellectual from Zurich”, who gave up a journalism career to study in Edinburgh, says: “You could call my field the imagined diaspora. I investigate highland games in Germany and Scottish clubs in eastern Europe. I look at people dressing up as Scots. Those people have no “real” Scottish ancestry but feel aesthetic connections. I think international fascinations with Scotland and Scottish-looking things are a phenomenon.”

Hesse sees imaginary Scottishness as an identity that is becoming increasingly popular in northern Europe. “It is a folk identity, but it is quite macho. It involves military music and martial games. It is also a generally white phenomenon.”

I laughed when I read that. Cultural appropriation has never inconvenienced me before, but I think this is what’s going on with my cautiousness towards anything celtic. It’s been taken over by metal bands and the scented candle crowd. I’m used to thinking about cultural appropriation from the other end, choosing not to wear dreadlocks or sari silks, not to get tattoos of asian calligraphy, not to use imaginary ancient aboriginal terms for my menstrual period. I think Operation: WTF Scottish Roots is working already. Things that made intellectual sense make a little more experiential sense.

So, hi again internet. It’s been years since I wrote regularly and I think I must still write like a twenty two year old, but I’m ok with just spitting things out until I get the hang of it.