- John Zerzan
name = John Zerzan
caption = Zerzan in
birth_date = 1943
Salem, Oregon, United States
occupation = Philosopher, author
John Zerzan (born
1943) is an American anarchist and primitivist philosopherand author. His works criticize agricultural civilizationas inherently oppressive, and advocate drawing upon the ways of life of prehistoric humans as an inspiration for what a free society should look like. Some of his criticism has extended as far as challenging domestication, language, symbolic thought (such as mathematicsand art) and the concept of time. His five major books are " Elements of Refusal" (1988), " Future Primitive and Other Essays" (1994), " Running on Emptiness" (2002), "" (2005) and " Twilight of the Machines" (2008).
Early life and education
Zerzan was born in Salem,
Oregonto immigrants of Bohemian heritage. He studied as an undergraduate at Stanford Universityand later received a Master's degreein History from San Francisco State University. He completed his coursework towards a Ph.D.at the University of Southern Californiabut dropped out before completing his dissertation.
Zerzan's theories draw on
Theodor Adorno's concept of negative dialectics to construct a theory of civilizationas the cumulative construction of alienation. According to Zerzan, original human societies in paleolithictimes, and similar societies today such as the !Kung, Bushmenand Mbuti, live a non-alienated and non-oppressive form of life based on primitive abundance and closeness to nature. Constructing such societies as a kind of political ideal, or at least an instructive comparison against which to denounce contemporary (especially industrial) societies, Zerzan uses anthropological studies from such societies as the basis for a wide-ranging critique of aspects of modern life. He portrays contemporary society as a world of misery built on the psychological production of a sense of scarcity and lack. [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/massmisery.htm John Zerzan - The Mass Psychology of Misery] ] The history of civilisation is the history of renunciation; what stands against this is not progress but rather the Utopiawhich arises from its negation. [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/whyprim.htm John Zerzan - Why Primitivism?] ]
Zerzan is an anarchist, and is broadly associated with the philosophies of
anarcho-primitivism, green anarchy, anti-civilisation, post-left anarchy, neo-luddism and embodiment, and in particular opposition to technology[http://www.guardian.co.uk/mayday/story/0,7369,475181,00.html John Zerzan] " The Guardian"] . He rejects not only the state, but all forms of hierarchical and authoritarian relations. "Most simply, anarchy means 'without rule.' This implies not only a rejection of government but of all other forms of domination and power as well." [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/whatisanarchism.htm John Zerzan - What is Anarchism?] ]
Zerzan's work relies heavily on a strong
dualismbetween the "primitive" — viewed as non-alienated, wild, non-hierarchical, ludic, and socially egalitarian — and the "civilised" — viewed as alienated, domesticated, hierarchically organised and socially discriminatory. Hence, "life before domestication/agriculture was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health." [http://www.primitivism.com/future-primitive.htm John Zerzan - Future Primitive] ]
Zerzan's claims about the status of primitive societies are based on a reading of the works of anthropologists such as
Marshall Sahlinsand Richard B. Lee. Crucially, the category of primitives is restricted to pure hunter-gatherer societies with no domesticated plants or animals. For instance, hierarchy among Northwest Coast Native Americans whose main activities were fishing and foraging is attributed to their having domesticated dogs and tobacco.
Zerzan calls for a "Future Primitive", a radical reconstruction of society based on a rejection of alienation and an embracing of the wild. "It may be that our only real hope is the recovery of a face-to-face social existence, a radical
decentralization, a dismantling of the devouring, estranging productionist, high-tech trajectory that is so impoverishing." The usual use of anthropological evidence is comparative and demonstrative - the necessity or naturality of aspects of modern western societies is challenged by pointing to counter-examples in hunter-gatherer societies. "Ever-growing documentation of human prehistory as a very long period of largely non-alienated life stands in sharp contrast to the increasingly stark failures of untenable modernity." It is unclear, however, whether this implies a re-establishment of the literal forms of hunter-gatherer societies or a broader kind of learning from their ways of life in order to construct non-alienated relations.
Zerzan's political project calls for the destruction of technology. He draws the same distinction as
Ivan Illich, between tools that stay under the control of the user, and technological systems that draw the user into their control. One difference is the division of labour, which Zerzan opposes. In Zerzan's philosophy, technology is possessed by an elitewhich automatically has power over other users; This power is one of the sources of alienation, along with domesticationand symbolic thought.
Zerzan's typical method is to take a particular construct of civilisation (a technology, belief, practice or institution) and construct an account of its historical origins, what he calls its destructive and alienating effects and its contrasts with hunter-gatherer experiences. In his essay on number, for example, Zerzan starts by contrasting the "civilized" emphasis on counting and measuring with a "primitive" emphasis on sharing, citing Dorothy Lee's work on the Trobriand Islanders in support, before constructing a narrative of the rise of number through cumulative stages of state domination, starting with the desire of
Egyptian kings to measure what they ruled. [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/number.htm John Zerzan - Number: Its Origin and Evolution] ] This approach is repeated in relation to time, [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/time.htm John Zerzan - Time and its Discontents] ] gender inequality, [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/patriarchy.htm John Zerzan - Patriarchy, Civilization, and the Origins of Gender] ] work, [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/organisedlabour.htm John Zerzan - Organized Labor versus "The Revolt Against Work"] ] technology, [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/technology.htm John Zerzan - Technology] ] art and ritual, [http://www.primitivism.com/emptiness.htm John Zerzan - Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought] ] agriculture [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/agriculture.htm John Zerzan - Agriculture] ] and globalization. [ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/globalization.htm John Zerzan - Globalization and its Apologists: An Abolitionist Perspective] ] Zerzan also writes more general texts on anarchist and primitivist theory. critiques of " postmodernism" and of perceived opponents such as Hakim Bey[ [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/pmanarchist.htm John Zerzan - "Hakim Bey," Postmodern Anarchist] ]
In 1966, Zerzan was arrested while performing
civil disobedienceat a Berkeley anti- Vietnam Warmarch and spent two weeks in the Contra Costa CountyJail. He vowed after his release never again to be willingly arrested. He attended events organized by Ken Keseyand the Merry Prankstersand was involved with the psychedelicdrug and music scene in San Francisco's Haight-Ashburyneighborhood.
In the late 1960s he worked as a
social workerfor the city of San Franciscowelfare department. He helped organize a social worker's union, the SSEU [ [http://www.shapingsf.org/ezine/labor/nopaid/main.html History of the union] ] , and was elected vice president in 1968, and president in 1969. The local Situationist group Contradiction denounced him as a " leftistbureaucrat [ [http://www.bopsecrets.org/PH/zerzan.htm "Open Letter to John Zerzan, anti-bureaucrat of the San Francisco Social Services Employees Union"] ] . He became progressively more radical as he dealt further with his and other unions. He was also a voracious reader of the Situationists, being particularly influenced by Guy Debord.
In 1974, Black and Red Press published "Unions Against Revolution" by Spanish
ultra-lefttheorist Grandizo Munisthat included an essay by Zerzan which previously appeared in the journal "Telos". Over the next 20 years, Zerzan became intimately involved with the "Fifth Estate", "", "Demolition Derby " and other anarchist periodicals. After reading the works of Fredy Perlman, David Watson and others, he slowly came to the conclusion that civilization itself was at the root of the problems of the world and that a hunter-gatherer form of society presented the most egalitarian model for human relations with themselves and the natural world.
Zerzan and the "Unabomber"
In the mid-1990s, Zerzan became a confidant to
Theodore Kaczynski, the "Unabomber", after he read "Industrial Society and Its Future", the so-called "Unabomber Manifesto." Zerzan sat through the Unabomber trial and often conversed with Kaczynski during the proceedings. It was after becoming known as a friend of the Unabomber that the mainstream media became interested in Zerzan and his ideas.
In Zerzan's essay "Whose Unabomber?" (1995), he signaled his support for the Kaczynski doctrine, but criticised the bombings:
:...the mailing of explosive devices intended for the agents who are engineering the present catastrophe is too random. Children, mail carriers, and others could easily be killed. Even if one granted the legitimacy of striking at the high-tech horror show by terrorizing its indispensable architects, collateral harm is not justifiable... [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/whoseunabomber.htm John Zerzan - Whose Unabomber?] ]
However, Zerzan in the same essay offered a qualified defense of the Unabomber's actions:
:The concept of justice should not be overlooked in considering the Unabomber phenomenon. In fact, except for his targets, when have the many
little Eichmanns who are preparing the Brave New Worldever been called to account?… Is it unethical to try to stop those whose contributions are bringing an unprecedented assault on life?
Two years later, in the 1997 essay "He Means It - Do You?," Zerzan altered his position:
:Enter the Unabomber and a new line is being drawn. This time the bohemian schiz-fluxers, Green
yuppies, hobbyist anarcho-journalists, condescending organizers of the poor, hip nihilo-aesthetes and all the other "anarchists" who thought their pretentious pastimes would go on unchallenged indefinitely - well, it's time to pick which side you're on. It may be that here also is a Rubicon from which there will be no turning back.
Zerzan and Pacific Northwest anarcho-primitivism
On May 7, 1995, a full-page interview with Zerzan was featured in "
The New York Times" [ NYTimes Article [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE3DD113FF934A35756C0A963958260&sec=&spon=&&scp=1&sq=zerzan&st=cse] ] . Another significant event that shot Zerzan to celebrity philosopher status was his association with members of the Eugene, Oregonanarchist scene that later were the driving force behind the use of black bloctactics at the 1999 anti- World Trade Organizationprotests in Seattle, Washington. Anarchists using black bloc tactics were thought to be chiefly responsible for the property destruction committed at numerous corporate storefronts and banks.
News media coverage started a firestorm of controversy after the riots, and Zerzan was one of those that they turned to in order to explain the actions that some had taken at the demonstrations. After gaining this public notoriety, Zerzan began accepting speaking engagements and giving interviews around the world explaining anarcho-primitivism and the more general "
Global Justice Movement". Recently Zerzan has been involved with the Post-left anarchist trend, which argues that anarchists should break with the political left.
Zerzan is currently one of the editors of "
Green Anarchy", a journal of anarcho-primitivist and insurrectionary anarchist thought. He is also the host of "Anarchy Radio" in Eugene on the University of Oregon's radio station [http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~kwva/ KWVA] which airs Tuesday nights 9 to 10 pm Pacific Standard Time (PST) as of March 11th 2008. He has also served as a contributing editor at " Anarchy Magazine" and has been published in magazines such as " AdBusters". He does extensive speaking tours around the world, and is married to an independent consultant to museums and other nonprofit organizations.
*"", a Swedish movie (atmo, 2003) which contains an interview with John Zerzan
* [http://www.johnzerzan.net John Zerzan's website]
* [http://www.greenanarchy.org Green Anarchy web site]
* [http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk Insurgent Desire] – John Zerzan writings and interviews can be read online
* [http://www.primitivism.com Primitivism.com] – Writings by Zerzan and other primitivist authors and essayists
* [http://www.creelcommission.com/interviews.php Creel Commission] – June 2006 conversation with John Zerzan and the UK band
* [http://www.zmag.org/debateprim.htm ZNet's Primitivism Debate] ,
Michael Albertvs John Zerzan, Eric Blair and the Green Anarchy Collective
* [http://nwda-db.wsulibs.wsu.edu/findaid/ark:/80444/xv81752 Guide to John Zerzan's papers at the University of Oregon]
* [http://layla.miltsov.org/introduction-to-z John Zerzan's conferences in Montreal, intro and videos (May '08)]
* [http://yabanil.net/?tag=john-zerzan John Zerzan's Turkish articles]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
Look at other dictionaries:
John Zerzan — à San Francisco en 2010 Naissance 1943 … Wikipédia en Français
John Zerzan — 2007 John Zerzan (* 1943 in Salem, Oregon) ist ein US amerikanischer Schriftsteller und Medienkünstler. In seinem Werk kritisiert er Zivilisation als inhärent unterdrückend und stellt ihr Lebensformen prähistorischer Populationen gegenüber, als… … Deutsch Wikipedia
John Zerzan — es un filósofo y autor anarquista y primitivista norteamericano. Sus trabajos critican la civilización como inherentemente opresiva, y defienden la vuelta a las formas de vida del cazador recolector prehistórico como inspiración para la forma que … Enciclopedia Universal
John Zerzan — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar … Wikipedia Español
Zerzan — John Zerzan John Zerzan Naissance 1943 Salem, Oregon (États Unis) Nationalité … Wikipédia en Français
Zerzan — John Zerzan 2007 John Zerzan (* 1943 in Salem, Oregon) ist ein US amerikanischer Schriftsteller und Medienkünstler. In seinem Werk kritisiert er Zivilisation als inhärent unterdrückend und stellt ihr Lebensformen prähistorischer Populationen… … Deutsch Wikipedia
Theodore John Kaczynski — Theodore Kaczynski Kaczynski entouré de policiers. Theodore Kaczynski, surnommé Unabomber (né le 22 mai 1942 à Evergreen Park dans l Illinois), est un mathématicien et terroriste américain. Il a fait l objet de la chasse à l homme la… … Wikipédia en Français
Anarcho-primitivism — is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of civilization. According to anarcho primitivism, the shift from hunter gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion, and alienation. Anarcho primitivists… … Wikipedia
Anarchism in the United States — Part of the Politics series on Anarchism … Wikipedia
Criticism of Noam Chomsky — Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author and lecturer. Chomsky is widely known for his critique of U.S. foreign policy, beginning with his critique of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Much … Wikipedia