If the Future Isn't Somehow Primitive, There Won't Be a Future

Interview with Brian Whitney for Disinfo, January 22, 2016

John Zerzan isn’t on a list. John Zerzan is the list. He is perhaps the most preeminent philosopher and author out there who is not only against modern technology, but isn’t a fan of the whole civilization thing you are so into either. If this is not enough to freak out the government watchdogs, he is an anarchist. Oh, and then there was his friendship with the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynkski.

But those aren’t the main reasons Zerzan would be on a government watch list. He would be on one mostly because he makes a lot of sense. He answered some questions for me concerningwhat he believes about how we are all living our lives, and about his new book Why Hope published by the consistently awesome Feral House.

You have been called an anarcho-primitivist, and a eco-anarchist. For the uninitiated, can you give us an idea of your world view?

In sum, anarcho-primitivism is the conclusion that if the future isn’t somehow primitive, there won’t be a future. Every past civilization has failed and this one, the only one left, is rapidly on the road to self-destruction. The key force or ethos of civilization is domestication, starting with animals and plants and always going forward. It is control, ever deepening and extending, including nanotechnology and total surveillance. Free life disappears along with the health of the biosphere itself. This or that reform which does not tackle the nature of civ, which is domestication, is superficial and futile.

In 1994 you wrote in your book Future Primitive and Other Essays you said “Never before have people been so infantalized, made so dependent on the machine for everything; as the earth rapidly approaches its extinction due to technology, our souls are shrunk and flattened by its pervasive rule.” How do you feel things have gone in the 20 years since then?

That quote is even more obviously valid now than it was in 1994. In fact the pace of the thing has increased. Extinction of species, empty lives, the whole pathological totality worsens. Now we have rampage shootings as an everyday phenomenon, rising chronic illnesses and suicide rates and a more and more poisoned physical environment, to mention just a bit of it. Hollow lives staring at screens, the sense of no future, the direction could not be more stark. Avoidance, denial are understandable given how bad it’s getting but facing up to reality must happen.

What do you consider the most positive aspects of a hunter-gatherer society as opposed to a modern one.

I think the main plus is that hunter-gatherer life was face-to-face. In band society people were accountable, had to take responsibility. Whereas in mass society we have the opposite. Today, because of not despite technology.we are more and more isolated. Community, the fundamental aspect of non-domesticated and non-industrial life, is gone. Full stop. Hence the shootings, by unmoored individuals, belonging to nothing. Less work, too. Civilization means always more work, not to mention chronic war and the objectification of women.

I know you are probably a bit tired, or really tired, of talking about it, but can you touch on your relationship with Ted Kacynski?

Kevin Tucker and I found Kacynski making dishonest use of sources in his critique of anarcho-primitivism. That cannot be tolerated. One may think that anarcho-primitivism bases itself on faulty grounding but we try very hard to be scrupulous about the evidence, e.g. anthropological evidence. Bad faith blocks discourse about disagreements. Dialog is essential but some things prevent it.

You said in an recent interview your book Why Hope that your book was addressing the “nihilism and retreat within the anarchist movement”. Why should we care what happens to us, or the world at this point?

For those who don’t care about themselves or the world, all ideas are irrelevant, eh? Our work is not for cynics or others who prefer surrender.