John Zerzan

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John Zerzan discusses The Coming Insurrection during a lecture at the 2010 San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair.
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John Zerzan (born 1943) is an American anarcho-primitivist political philosopher.

Philosophy[edit]

Zerzan's early life seems to have been a case of joining up with progressively more sharply leftward groups in succession, each time ultimately rejecting them as having compromised with something he understood to be inherently oppressive and thus abominable. Somewhat reflective of this by looking like a case of rhetorical outbidding among anarchists, his writings are critical of all civilization which he deems oppressive in turn. He lauds the life of hunter-gatherers, or at least, the absolute held-in-common core of the known ones. Taking the elements that are in common to all of them, he has constructed an idea of a primal human methodology that manages to have quite a bit in common with the archetypal noble savage, and that all of humanity — the current hunter-gatherers included — needs to regress to that point, if they are to be free of oppression and corruption. Most anarchists disagree with this, seeing it as dangerous bullshit or at least over-simplifying, to put it mildly.[citation needed]

Zerzan has inveighed against tool-making (inclined planes etc. are the furthest he's fully comfortable with), art, language, math, and the very concept of time itself, as he believes they deviate from his primal ideal.[citation needed] Essentially, he believes that any level of reification or distinction of objects is a distortion and alienation; little more than immediate desire, and openness to the totality of what one is interacting with are acceptable.

To clarify on the elements noted above, he believes that if a given group (a) has not developed a certain precept (say, number; this seems to be the case with a few South American tribes), and (b) is not obviously ravaged for it, then it follows that it isn't actually necessary for living, and is probably never going to go much past "hindrance". Zerzan may be thought of as believing that only the absolute simplest life possible is the one humans are "meant" to live by (despite the fact that so many beyond the South American interior, and some within, evidently found a non-ruinous purpose for number).

Quotes[edit]

On postmodernism:

Postmodernism advertises itself as pluralistic, tolerant, and non-dogmatic. In practice it is superficial, fast-forward, deliberately confused, fragmented, media-obsessed, illiterate, fatalistic, uncritical excrescence, indifferent to questions of origins, agency, history or causality. It questions nothing of importance and is the perfect expression of a setup that is stupid and dying and wants to take us with it. (p. 159, Running on Emptiness)

On Star Trek:

What Star Trek has to convey about technology is probably its most insidious contribution to domination… Always at home in a sterile container in which they represent society, the crew could not be more cut off from the natural world. In fact, as the highest development in the mastery and manipulation of nature, Star Trek is really saying that nature no longer exists. (p. 133, Running on Emptiness)

This of course, disregards the crew beaming down to planets (usually in very "natural" environments) every freaking episode.

Friendship with the Unabomber[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Unabomber

Zerzan was friends (to a measure, anyway) with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.[1][2] Or at least, the motivation of self-defense against civilization's encroachment; he doesn't approve of the means, on account of the severe risk of killing innocents. Curiously, Kaczynski is dismissive of leftward primitivism like that espoused by Zerzan; rather, he believes civilization is baleful to humanity because of liberal and leftward qualities, obstructing what he sees as honest resolve, desire for might and splendor. In other words, unlike Zerzan, Kaczynski is a rugged individualism-primitivist, and regards civilization's errors as being based on succoring the weak despite having to drag down and obstruct the strong and proud in the process. Whether Zerzan has internalized this is open to debate. In 2008, Kaczynski published an essay called "The Truth About Primitive Life: A Critique of Anarchoprimitivism" that dissects the philosophy, showing its idiocy.[3] Zerzan's work is the main target of the piece, indicating a possible falling-out between the pair.

External links[edit]

Sources[edit]

  • John Zerzan. 2002. Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization. Los Angeles: Feral House. ISBN 092291575X.

References[edit]

  1. One wouldn't buy in by John Zerzan (April 13, 1996) Eugene Register-Guard.
  2. The Anarcho-Primitivist Who Wants Us All To Give Up Technology by Ron Morin (Jun 25 2014, 7:40am) Vice .
  3. The Truth About Primitive Life: A Critique of Anarchoprimitivism by Ted Kaczynski (2008) The Anarchist Library.