Talk with John Zerzan



Here is the full text from our call with John Zerzan last night...

hello

hi john can you hear us
its ed here from creel commission, sorry for calling you late... how are you doing

good

we've got a few of us here, John who you met the other day, Jamie my brother here also... sorry we didn't get a chance to talk when you were over here...

yep that day in oxford

how was your trip to leicester

yep good, and the gathering near Barcelona, that was really cool, there were about 100 people there, an anti-civilisation meeting, and i found out about another one coming up in a week in Valencia, so gee i guess things are popping over there

we get the sense that there is a bit of a wave growing regarding these views - would you agree with that?

i sure hope so, there are some signs of growing interest, its not a groundswell yet, it seems to me there is a deepening of interest - these ideas have always been interesting and met with curiosity like wow that's a crazy way to look at it.. which is fine, but what i've seen lately is its become a lot more relevant, and that maybe its going to be breaking through a bit more into the public arena

how do you monitor that? Cos you edit green anarchy magazine dont you?

yes , i'm one of the editors

do you find that the sales of green anarchy and the listeners on your radio programme fluctuate depending on the kind of current affairs going on at the time?

i dont know, that's a good question, these are not very good times, that was one of the things that came out in London when we met over there... you know things were kind of looking rosy a few years ago with Seattle, things were taking off, but now things are looking a bit more grim and harder than we thought... people in England were saying things have slowed down, having got to talk to various people there at the Rampart arts base there... maybe we can't be too rosy or over optimistic...

i felt that after 911 there was a big hush came across that whole movement, but i've been finding in the last year or so there are a lot more people speaking out, especially on the BBC, there's a lot more general critique of Iraq going on, and people like Neil Young, the singer in America who's just released the 'Living with War' album, which is very very anti establishment, so you know there seems to be a lot more voice in the media at the moment...

yeah, well you know, i do my radio show, and i think you are very right, because i try to programme a lot of news in it, and you see militancy all over the globe, people aren't just accepting the status quo, its not like there;s no energy... you can hardly find a country where there's not real militant stuff going on ... but its a question of where it goes....

Its quite often what i find is that so called opposition to the establishment, or the system , is quite often single issue based, or focused on one aspect of the environment, poverty or trade, but what's interesting about someone like you is that your views essentially sit on the extreme of those - you are embracing holistically the idea that the whole system is screwed, maybe you could expand on that...

well i think that's quite so, what sometimes happens is that these things jump out of their single issues, but i think it appears to people that these things are very interrelated and i've known people who have been very dedicated to one part of the picture and then they begin to see the connections, there are some real good examples of that.. i'm in touch with Marco Camenisch who is in prison in Switzerland.. he started out as an anti-Nukes guy, and then he started thinking about the whole question of energy and industrialism, and he's very much anti-civ or green anarchy, or whatever you cal it these days, and he does all kinds of translations and writing even though he's in prison...

what's he in prison for?

well he was convicted of taking down some kind of power pylon, and given a hefty sentence, but he broke out and ended up underground for some time, but then they caught him and he was convicted of shooting a guard at a border of italy or germany or wherever it was, but i don't know the particulars, but he's now back in prison, but as you say, people have these particular issues or demands but maybe there's a greater likelihood that they can see that these things are all tied together

what are your views on the use of violence, it's obviously a hot question, obviously you have the history of conversing with Kacynski the Unabomber and i wondered what your views were on the use of violence against the system?

my hope is that there could be a shift that wouldn't use so much violence, and i may have mentioned that in london that when Katrina hit New Orleans last Fall, there were a considerable percentage of cops who didn't show up to work, so the other side isnt necessarily completely reliable for the status quo... but i think its important for me to make the distinction between property damage and violence against life, i have no hesitation to do damage on that level of property destruction , but doing damage against people i really hope that can be avoided...

i noticed reading Green Anarchy, that a lot of the prisoners you were talking about there... there's 3 people in the midwest who were given extremely long prison sentences just for conspiracy to damage property, fair enough if they were trying to kill people but they weren't, and it seems to me that the establishment comes down extremely hard on any type of machine breaking, luddite dissent, or damage of property when it has an anarchist overtone to it...

well that's very true, they'll really go to town on that, just gigantic draconian sentences when noone is in danger but there's been property damage...

well its outrageous here... we've got hosepipe bans where people can't even water their carrots, but carwashing services are still aloud to use as much water as they like... its ridiculous and totally outrageous...
just going on about the draconian sentences... did you experience a worsening of perspective towards you as a writer or philosopher after 9/11

well no as a matter of fact Jamie, i've never been much harrassed, i get a little bit more trouble travelling, when i came back from Madrid earlier this year, i got pulled aside and questioned, but it was no big deal... but i havent really been messed with at all... although we're worried in the States, my lawyer is worried that as editors of Green Anarchy we may be next in line for prosecution...

well we've probably got GCHQ tapping into the line here right now...so..
i was actually surprised that you didn't experience anything personally, as criticism of the president was considered unpatriotic - i thought you might have had a tough time...

no i havent although my friend, the native american, Ward Churchill, he's a professor at the University of Colorado, he spoke out about 9/11 and talked about the people in the trade towers of new york having a lot to do with the oppression of people and then they strike back... he called them 'little Eichmann's'... well he's being fired, and that's what its about, they are trying to say he did plagiarising as a scholar which i think is nonsense... i'm not saying people get away with it, they do harrass people, but i can't be fired because i don't have a job like that...

i have an observation that to the mainstream media you are portrayed as being on the lunatic fringe, i wondered that if your ideas gain greater currency you will probably get more harrassment....

maybe although my strategy has been to hide in the open, and i think that maybe you get more protection if you are more well known to more people than if you're not, i could be quite wrong about that...we'll see

absolutely if your thoughts are more available, then they can't, i totally agree with that...

it could make it harder, because there is more awareness and possibly more opposition, if they say that 'you know that guys a writer' why are they doing that, whereas someone who's not well known, they can pick him off and noone will know about it...

well its supposed to be a liberal and democratic system, so they can't start book burning...

absolutely if they go too far, they will risk revealing the real stuff behind their ideology, then more and more people start to see the facade, the machine rolls on , they have these phrases and constant appeals to liberty and so on , but what kind of liberty is that where there's 2.1 million people in prison in this country, and it starts to occur to people 'what kind of society is this', there's all this talk about freedom, but where the hell is it?

we are all talking here as though its us and them, implying as though there may be a secret New World Order that runs things... personally i think its more human nature , if we talk about the flaws of civilisation its not a conspiracy of the few to defraud although there's no doubt that the rich take their pickings, its more that human nature is selfish and that makes me feel more pessimistic.. what is society but a manifestation of our individual greed?





you could also say though that as things get worse and the natural world gets more and more destroyed and the young go out and at night do something illegal, some arson or something, and that scares them, and they have to strike back pretty hard so that this doesnt happen on a bigger scale... they are getting scared that the nice legal protest and voting hasnt achieved anything, and what happens when more people take up some kind of other approach...

i think john was pointing out that the problems are so ingrained in our nature, and that we are all complicit and that there isnt perhaps a 'they' who is overlooking or who can be confronted... although there is as well...

you could put it in different ways...you could say people are being so conditioned, and going back to 9/11 we are seeing more police state stuff here, look we're being attacked, it will happen again unless we are able to look at people's phones and bank records as we're being attacked by terrorists...its an appeal to fear and you know people say well want to be secure and gee we don't like it but we got to let them do something to protect us... i don't agree with it at all but that's the general propaganda...

yeah well... along those lines when you think about the internet it seems to be a very free medium but because it's all data transactions, its probably the most heavily recorded and policed medium that there is... the fact that corporations have so much data on individuals behaviour...

i've heard its less secure than talking on the phone

well its crazy on the internet you have adverts directed at you and things popping up that you're interested in , some people like that but in other ways its worse.. britain is a particularly bad place for surveillance, its the most heavily CCTVed space in the world, and by the end of 2006 every single car journey wil be monitored... another thing i heard was the biometric chipping that's going on... the entire cattle herd of America is going to be microchipped by the end of 2007 - and that's like a million cows or something, and they'll have GPS positioning on every head of cow! its insane...

well technology marches on, this is the brave new world...

what are your thoughts on the projection of this...Huxley visions of the future, you get these techno-utopians and some people are advocates of some technological human hybrid that has been satirised in films like the Matrix and so on, what are your views on the future...

i like to think people are still horrified by this, even thought there are enough people saying that 'its going to be ok, people will be cyborgs, but that will just mean that technology will take care of disease and our parts will wear out we'll just have new stuff' - i feel that you can look at the promises and check them out.... are they true, has it paid off, are we healthier? look at the disease thing unfolding everywhere...unleashing AIDS SARS, avian flu - what happened to the technological promises that this was all going to be taken care of? what are we getting out of this?

But do people ever notice? Arent people just so entranced by the media blob that they never notice?

well where is the politics that questions this, where is the political will? Lets talk about this? They manage to keep this so out of the public discourse... when you think about it its quite insane, so obvious and becoming more paramount every day....but they are not even talked about it

john, lets talk about DOOM as its our favourite subject...we were talking about this at the London Anarchist forum, technological benefits are intrinsically linked with cheap energy and cheap exploitation of resources, and we all know that that is going to end, its going to fall apart around us anyway isnt it?

well it sure looks that way and yeah, we've got to keep that in mind, its not going to last forever, it just simply can't continue, its already showing the cracks and vulnerabilities - but that's what makes it far more insane that it doesnt become an issue and that these things arent on the table - only in the most superficial sense of how are we going to replace these energy inputs with other energy inputs to keep the whole damn thing going - its remarkable, but soon this is going to really crack through and then we'll have a really public airing of the things we are worried about here... if you keep it out of public discourse then its really not surprising that there isn't much articulated oppposition as where does it exist and where is it promoted...

we also interviewed James Lovelock, and asked him what he thought would happen in the near future...in terms of mans destruction of the rainforests, seas and natural habitats, that he predicted that within a couple of years he thought issues such as climate change would become everyday knowledge, certainly since we met him we've noticed rising in these issues, but he thought that within 20 years there would be such a disparity between the amount of oil and energy needed to run our system that there would be some kind of meltdown, and that out of 6 billion human beings, there were 5 billion too many and there would be a big redressing of the balance... i wondered what you thought would happen to our species over the next 50 or 100 years?

well that's a big one! I was talking to someone from Brighton who heard Lovelock talk, and he said that Lovelock was very pessimistic, that could well be but i think there is a chance to take a conscious role in this and not just accept the inevitability of anything but the possibility of stepping up, that we don't have to be passive here, we can do something about this and dismantle these things that are destroying everything... lets put a stop to this!

from our point of view it is good to hear that, obviously as musicians trying to play our small part in being involved in this dialogue its encouraging to hear people like yourself say that you still think its important that people play an engaged and participatory role in this..

its at least a possibility and there can be all kinds of excuses - there are too many people, but lets tackle it...

but don't you think that people have a great inertia to change, i'm no historian but if you look at empires such as Rome, at the fringes when it all falls apart, but at the center they get on with their daily lives, partying and living like they always did, and therefore a central conscious awareness of what's going wrong and starting to dismantle things is highly unlikely to happen... more succinctly - Lovelocks point is that are we collectively as 6 billion of us capable of addressing the problem?

well its getting harder and harder to just have good time- you know there's actually a lot of attention to the ground level stuff, in terms of anxiety depression and stress and whether techno-culture is making people happy or giving them a life that they can't actually endure - its not actually talked of much , but people aren't enjoying it as much as is made out... and people who have kids are thinking what is going to be left in a year from now or more - will there be a future, what will be left?

can i ask you a personal question?

go ahead

with what you can see in society about people reverting to panic attacks, drugs etc, and i read that you had a hard time with drink in the 70s and wondered if that was related to the alienation you are talking about ... and if on a wider scale if there are any key personal experiences that have affected your thought and led you to the stance you have?

well, the drinking was a lot to do with the collapse of the movement of the 60's... and a lot of people had a rough time, a certain amount of anger, despair and impotence, that was a problem i had in the late 70s and early 80s and i don't have that problem any more... but one thing that strikes me is you read about anxiety and panic attacks... you see the mass magazines, their covers, and TV and its very obvious how much there is.. and i notice in my personal life that i feel a lot more anxious than i used to feel...when i used to write with a certain amount of distance and now the distance has gone, we're all in this together and are feeling the effects of it, it doesnt matter what your ideas are really we are still in this kind of condition of a mass of alienation and feel it on a visceral level - its not a reaction to ideas, its a reaction to life... i can gauge it in my own psyche... i'm having a good time, writing, exploring my ideas, i get to travel and meet folk like you, i'm not complaining, but at the same time, when i wake in the morning i feel anxious about things like so many other millions of people...

i can absolutely relate to what you say, all of us have chosen this path as a result of this, as the greater you feel and know this stuff, the less you can ignore it... you have to create a path through it...i think you can see in the amount of breakdowns, midlife crises who have felt it through there life, it reaches boiling point but don't know where it comes from...

and that could be the most bottom line thing of all, cos that's the place where all this comes to rest.. .there could be this horrible situation of all where the whole biosphere is going down the drain and people are just consuming and are happy and everything but i don't think they are...

do you think we are more anxious than prehistoric man, i personally think we are, but in your work have you come across evidence or writers who discuss that kind of thing...?

well that's a tough question i mean you don't find evidence of artefacts that shows people were worried about certain questions that now haunt us very much...

what about Bushmen or comparison with Tribal peoples?

its easier in some respects, but surviving hunter gatherers that are fewer and fewer every day, they are besieged now, and if they are not then its hard to get a line on that, if they are contact with our world then they are beginning to be anxious, they feel the tensions and so on. Anthropologists know that, and its hard to tell....

its just cos often people take the romantic, Rousseauesque perspective on the past and of the noble savage...

well i know that's a stock in trade thing.. But what anthropology has to say in recent decades is pretty much the noble savage kind of thing... they did have a pretty good deal, when you look at these guys, such as RB Lee or Marshall Sahlins, or people who wrote in recent decades, it sounds pretty good, they had solutions that didn't involve war, destroying the environment and class society...its a generalisation but it got my attention... i started reading in earnest...

its quite interesting, i recently did some work for the charity Survival... which raises money to try and protect native peoples, and basically we ran a stall at a Baka Beyond Gig in Oxford, it was some Celtic musicians who had brought over some pygmy African musicians, they were doing a tour of this fusion of music, and there was a whole demographic there to see their authentic African pygmy musicians , but actually when you confronted them on the stall with all this real world stuff and asking them to give some money, they were very reluctant to part with their loose change, but were very very skeptical about the whole thing... you see people like the show, but like to think that they are seeing, but they don't like to participate....
i read that you were a big fan of Guy Debord and the situationists... what led you to them

I met one or two of them but never Debord... it was way back in the 70's and was looking around for anti authoritarian sources of politics, and unfortunately those ideas didn't get out to the west coast of the US until it was over, so it didn't play much of a role for us... too bad, but i don't think they fully split with the left, they were still talking about workers councils and running production rather than questioning production... so they didn't quite go far enough... i was more interested in Vaneigem ' the revolution of everyday life'... he was more interesting than Debord who was more interested in Marx and so on...

its fascinating... to get back to an earlier point... briefly, mainstream politics, the dual party system that is prevalent across the democratic world... how do you see the kind of political field going forward, the far right has gained some momentum in Europe which is quite frightening , but as in having a political alternative,most people are scrapping around... the greens get a few votes.. there is very little dialogue and very little criticism...do you see any change there?

well you talk to different people, and they'd say you're making a good point but its just not realistic...lets get back to this thing of realism, this is all we can get and so on, there's a poverty to the system... a lot of people will concede that, but they will fall back on the other part - its the only way you can get anything, if you bring up the bigger questions, then you get nothing... but what are you getting now? its not exactly paying off... at what point do you say that it's maybe time to rethink the whole thing...? But they fall back on the bottom line and say that its just not realistic - but where is the realism... well you know it isnt working so time for something else...

it seems that that point of view which is very prevalent it seems to mirror the thing that died in the 60's, you said that after the movement collapsed you were very depressed, but would you say that there's more momentum now...

well we didnt think about ecology back then.. i didnt.. it wasn't until the 70s that that even began... and now it's so stark and so obvious at a faster and faster rate, noone can ignore it now, you could say that domination is deeper now, we are more in thrall to technology, though we can more clearly see the nature of things and the direction of things than the 60s... we had a big illusion that it wouldnt take much, that things were swinging in the right way, that things would be fine, and then when that stopped it was depressing but it also gave people time to rethink it all, like what did we do wrong, what were we not even thinking about... ?

so in that way the 60's didnt fail, there were so many ideas that crept into their boxes, and came out reborn, science, Lovelock, ecology, you could see the seeds back in the 60's... we feel that and certainly still feed from a lot of those ideas, so thankyou and all your generation for that part!

well thanks, that's a nice way to look at it...

we met the guy who signed the doors, Jac Holzmann, it was kind of amazing that he was still going, although he was pretty curt when we said we were doing this other stuff...and just said "stick to the music" - well he read some of it... and said "Jim would have liked this but would have been more 'what the hell' about it"

Morrison was a pretty visionary guy... i was amazed at how much jim Morison graffiti there was in Athens you'd see on the walls a year ago!

isnt it funny that there is this archetype that everyone is constantly fascinated of ... the rock suicide in their late '20s... maybe there is some kind of tribal thing there.. like some kind of warrior...

he was trying to get to a deeper level

we are probably going to have to wrap it up here, its been so interesting talking with you, we'll keep you posted...

its been a treat talking to you all

apart from writing songs, we are going to hand out these interviews at gigs, and your books, and we'll be playing our part...
if we are ever out your way we'll give you a buzz...

oh, man , that would be great.... Take care....


Interview added 27-06-2006