Zerzan follow up
We had some follow on questions for John Zerzan following our interview with him - these it is hoped both clarify and challenge him on certain points:
You?ve been described as an anarco-primitivist. For those who don?t have a clue what that is, could you summarise your views in a nut shell?
Anarcho-primitivist" refers to a relatively new and now - I would say - ascendant face of anti- authoritarian thinking. "Primitivism" alone might well put people in mind of right-wing survivalism, so the "anarcho" part is important. Mainly, it refers to our view that primitive lifeways can give us some important insights about how to live and that complex, mass society is not only very recent relatively but not inevitable. It also means, I would say, that the roots of today's crisis are very deep and began to emerge with the inauguration of domestication and civilization.
Do you find labels (such as anarco-primitivism!) a help or a hindrance?
Labels can be a helpful shorthand. But they can also contribute to ideology formation or the pigeon-holing of approaches into neat boxes and the tendency to reduce perspectives into dogma. It seems to be very difficult to avoid this; real vigilance and a stress and openness is needed.
How did you come to this perspective on life?
I went from being a labor organizer to writing about the historical role of unions to the emergence of industrialism to the wider question of technology. My overall interest has been systems of control and I began to notice how, for example, the factory system is not only an economic matter but a way to round up anddiscipline producers. Along the way it occurred to me that the most basic social institutions - e.g. division of labor and domestication - embody the dominant values of a society, are not "neutral." So one thing, over time, led to another.
When we met you in London you seemed to feel that Marxism was a redundant force, or certainly missed the point. Can you elaborate?
I think marxism is redundant mainly in the sense that for many it sets a limit to exploring the problem of domination. Class struggle, in my opinion, is an obvious fact but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the whole problem by any means. Many marxists seem threatened by the questioning of civilization and technology because that's outside the purview of marxism; they accept its limits, in other words.
I?d like to push you further on your views that there?s an ?us and a them? when it comes to power. In my opinion, human nature leads inevitably to the formation of elites, largely based around power and wealth. But at the same time, this is no conspiracy. The faults that we see around us and inherent in our society we all bear responsibility for, and I?d argue that society?s faults are by and large a manifestation of our ape-like ingenuity crossed with our largely selfish genetic impulses. So my question is aren?t we all to blame?
I'm not at all sure that "human nature" really exists. To me it is more plausible to look for reasons for phenomena in the real, existent world. To put it another way, when people are treated badly they exhibit bad behaviors; when their world is more benign, they do not. It is fairly easy to see that "human nature" is a concept that has been used to justify domination: people are inherently bad, therefore there must be cops, law, rulers, etc. What if that's not true?
Do you think that violence is an inevitable consequence of the scale of change needed, or can you see a peaceful solution to our problems.
Moreover you make an important distinction between violence against machines and violence against fellow men ? however won?t the lines get blurred in the heat of the moment?
Sure, damaging property may lead to violence against living creatures, but it doesn't have to. Respect for property means very little to me if it stands in the way of challenging domination.
Do you think that human beings have any real perspective on time beyond the scale of their own lifetimes, or even beyond a very limited (say a fouryear election) cycle?
I think that the extremity of our situation today gives a unique historical perspective. There are unprecedented developments that are speaking to us, suggesting the deep roots of a crisis that is becoming all-enveloping. This may be, in fact, our strongest tool in figuring out how much must change in order to avert disaster at every level. Denial must give way, it seems to me, to pressing reality, to what it is so urgently telling us. And I don't mean just global warming but also the pathological changes on the personal and social planes.
We were thinking of starting up a Doomsday Fund ?the motto would be Profit from Doom ? would you like to sit on our board of advisors?!
Hey, thanks for the invitation to sit on the Doomsday Fund board! But as an anarchist, who will collect the Profit from Doom? Won't that require government?
Interview added 05-09-2006