John Zerzan—a legendary (and/or notorious) primitivist and anarchist—spoke to a standing-room-only crowd crammed into Laughing Horse Books on 10th Avenue last Friday about what he calls the “frightening pathologies of everyday life.” Zerzan read an essay that will appear in Green Anarchy
(of which he is an editor) before launching into a lengthy question and answer session.
Zerzan, 63, has been called a green anarchist, an anarcho-primitivist and a neo-primitivist. He essentially believes that our technologically saturated, modern culture is poisoning the earth and all its inhabitants. Over the years, Zerzan has found himself at odds with lauded linguist and writer Noam Chomsky. And though he disapproves of Ted Kaczynski's methods, Zerzan has established some common ground with the Unabomber's famous Manifesto.
Zerzan, lives in Eugene with his partner, Alice, whose computer he uses regularly. The couple are also part of a car-share and they have both a TV and a domesticated pet (a dog). Zerzan says living a primitivist lifestyle is impossible under current conditions, though this doesn't stop him from writing and speaking about his Luddite ideals. His new book, Twilight of the Machines,
is due out in 2007 from Feral House.
Between his speaking engagement and a bus ride back to Eugene, Zerzan found some time to speak with Hot Action about anarchy, cooperation and property damage.
WW: I came here in a car. I checked the time on my cell phone as I was waiting for you and I'm recording you with a digital recorder. Are you judging me?
John Zerzan: No, no. We're all stuck in this thing. We didn't choose this. I didn't choose it. You didn't choose it, but here we are. I don't think we should beat each other up over it. I mean, this is it. I was on Art Bell [host of the Coast to Coast AM Radio show] and he was kind of joking, but he said, ‘Well, why don't you go to a cave then? Or join some indigenous people?' And I said, well, you know, that isn't too available anymore. It might have been an option, but it's not an option now, really, is it? That would be nice, but I can't do that, can I? So, we're stuck for the moment and it's not our fault, but we can try to do something about it.
WW: Would you rather have dinner with Ted Kaczynski or Noam Chomsky?
Well, I'm just not on good terms with either one of them. That's for darn sure. You know, I'd probably have more to say with Kaczynski even though I just am really upset with some of his attitudes. [Chomsky] is so bright, but I don't know. He goes around saying nasty things about me, too. It'd be a tough choice, but I guess I would say Ted over Noam.
WW: Eugene has been called a “hot-bed of anarchism.” Is it?
It was. It was rockin'. I'm telling you, it really was, but it's much, much quieter now. I was right involved with all of it, so I would say, mid-1998 to the end of 2000 were some very serious years. It was awesome. And that led to one of the most interesting things about [the 1999 WTO protest in] Seattle and I'm talking about property damage. We were not going to just stand around with signs and then we'll get a chance to explain, as we did on 60 Minutes
. That's kind of over for now. Just the same as the summit demonstrations [against] the WTO anywhere else—the surprise is over. They've got 50,000 cops there. You come out with your black bloc and then you think twice because they're going to break your head and put you in prison. So, for now, that's over.
WW: Do you think that property damage is an acceptable form of violence?
Definitely. Well, I don't consider it violence. I know people disagree with that, but I don't think you can violate something that's inanimate. This chair doesn't feel pain if I decide to break it up and recycle it or something. And I think it's the same with anything else—a bank window or burning down a Starbucks. I don't think that's violence.
WW: What do you think individual people can do to bring about change?
Well, just start being public about these things. We need to just start standing up and speaking out and I think we'll find a resonance. People know this stuff already and they're waiting for people to say the same thing. And jointly, maybe we can figure it out. Nobody has the answers. I feel embarrassed standing up here like I've got the answers to dispense. I've got some opinions. I've thought about these things for a while, but I'm no authority. We've got to work it out together.
WW: You're saying dialogue is the way to move forward, but at what point are you just talking in circles?
I think there's a great prospect for the dialogue being a practical thing, not just a ‘oh let's just make a lot of hot air for a while and then go have a beer.' It's more serious and it's getting more serious every day.
WW: But didn't you just give a talk and aren't you about to go have a beer?
Well, yeah. But I mean, I think we're still in the early stages of this stuff and you have to have a little patience. I mean, I'd like to go out and go to Microsoft and burn it down or something, but I don't want to go to prison, so I'm not going to do that. JULIE SABATIER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every Tuesday.
UPCOMING HOT ACTION EVENTS:
Tuesday, January 9
Reading: Jerry Mander
Best-selling author and cultural critic Jerry Mander is the editor of Paradigm Wars: Indigenous Peoples' Resistance to Globalization.
Mander's books challenge dominant, cultural mind-sets and his most recent work with Victoria Tauli-Corpuz addresses the struggle between the world's surviving indigenous people and Western-dominated globalization. 7:30 at Powell's City of Books, W Burnside at 10th Ave. Free.
Friday, January 12
Speaker: Tim Wise
Anti-racist writer and activist Tim Wise will speak about “The Many Challenges and Accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr.” 7-9pm at the Bush School, 3400 E. Harrison St. Call 206-326-7731 to RSVP.
Saturday, January 13 and Sunday, January 14
Screening: The Empire in Africa
This film claims to tell the truth that the recent mainstream movie, Blood Diamond
won't tell, namely of Western complicity in African humanitarian disasters. The film chronicles the civil war in Sierra Leone 15 years ago, looking at the United Nations' questionable involvement in the conflict. 1:45pm and 5:10 showings at Hollywood Theater 4122 NE Sandy Blvd. $6.
Monday, January 15
The World Arts Foundation presents the 22nd annual "Keep Alive the Dream" tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
11am – 6pm at the Highland Christian Center, 7600 NE Glisan. $3 donation or 3 cans of non-parishable food.