News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

On John Zerzan: At some point I'll have to devote a month to forensic study of some of the failed grand ideas, utopian visions, and lavender fancies that have been developed, perfected, and donated by socialist entrepreneurs to the benefit of our world. In the meantime, the primitivist John Zerzan who is distinguished for, amongst other things, his widely-known and even broadly-read works encouraging the abandonment of language and tools, not to mention his socio-political mentoring and friendship of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, will have to suffice for the moment. John, like many others on stringent budgets, has discovered that shopping is a form of violence. From his perspective, every new purchase is an offensive gesture, a declaration of class war. Needless to say, despite having a dog in this fight, he's a pacifist.

The solution to class differences? The oldest solution of all: end all classes. But unlike Marx who professed that he wanted the world returned to the chemically pure state of the Amish, while spending most of his time hitting up Engels for rent and spending money, John's research has revealed that hunter/gatherer societies achieved true gender parity, enjoyed the most lavish leisure time. Little violence. Even less shopping.

Like Chomsky he struggles valiantly to join words to meaning; sweats gallantly to thread meaning on to words. John's works have had a galvanizing influence on the anti-globalization crowd, which though initially just mum and pissed, and thus slow to act on its own initiative, now has someone else's initiative and become vocal and sloganized. He's the new anti-money Marx who's left an enviable career in blood donations to cash in on the university lecture circuit. But let that not distract us from the fact that he's given our generation a ready to wear ideology that sticks both to the ribs and the bandanas. It was he, spiritually speaking, who wowed us at the protests in Seattle and Italy.

Here's a treat: Q: Well, let's assume for the moment that a literal return to a primitive state is desirable. Your writings have gone so far as to critique art, numbers, even language. How would you visualize a world, say, without language?

A: Thinking of a world without language entails an enormous speculative leap. From where we are now it is extremely difficult to posit or fathom a life-world based on non-symbolic communication, though of course some of that exists even now. Freud guessed that a sort of telepathy held sway before language; lovers need no words, as the saying goes. These are hints in the direction of unmediated communication. I'm sure you can think of others!

Q: When did you yourself first see through the 'lures of technology?' Have you always felt in opposition to it at some level? Was there some event or field of study that first prompted you to develop such an all-encompassing critique?

A: In the 1970s it slowly began to dawn on me, among others, that the concept of 'revolution' was somehow very inadequate. This gnawed at me at a time when I was doing graduate work in social and labor history. The first 'breakthrough' for me was in terms of the Industrial Revolution in England. Namely, it became clear that the factory system was introduced in large part as a means of social control. The dispersed craftsmen were deprived of their autonomy and brought together in factories to be de-skilled and disciplined. This shows that technology was not at all 'neutral.' This discovery helped me begin to see how division of labor is basically disempowering and alienating. One needs to look at technology as a system which contains the deeper values of the social order it embodies. It is never simply a matter of 'tools' or devices.

When summing up someone of his imaginative gifts, contribution, and dedication to the movement, after rummaging hard through my lexicon for just the right word, I don't think I could settle for anything less than: clown. He came to my attention through a documentary called Surplus. Worth checking out. Nothing better than getting it from the horse's mouth to persuade you that even a superlatively dumb dude like John can get a Ph.D. from Stanford and succeed professionally as a comedian. (link)

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