A Reflection on John Zerzan’s “The Crisis of Civilization and What To Do About It”
Cory Allan Rusch
I would like to take this opportunity to comment on the presentation: "The Crisis of Civilization and What To Do About It" delivered at UWSP on April 16th, 2012, by John Zerzan. Because the presentation was quite difficult to follow, I will have difficulty summarizing it here, but must make an attempt nonetheless. The presentation seemed to be about a lifestyle called "primitivism". John Zerzan purported primitivism as an alternative way of living that does not depend on technology and/or agriculture. Technology, according to Zerzan, is bad, and was portrayed as the root problem of environmental degradation. He spoke of cellphones, email, and factories. There were comments made about how anti-email people really do not have a choice anymore because the institutions that they want to contact do all their business through email. Zerzan claimed to support a type of ‘green-related anarchy’ but failed in explaining what that entailed.
I could feel the tension in the room beginning to peak after about forty-five minutes of Zerzan’s rambling. There were many students around me with empty notebooks; they were trying to take notes, but were having extreme difficulties. The speaker stated in the beginning of his lecture that he wanted to get to discussion as soon as possible. This comment, coupled with the whispered conversations of confusion taking place in the audience, prompted me after careful deliberation, to raise my hand. We, as an audience, were completely confused; I felt that I had to raise my hand.
I asked Zerzan what he meant by ‘primitivism’. He said something about domestication and agriculture, but did not make it clear. I was genuinely and sincerely confused. Did he mean that primitivism was an un-domestication of humanity? Was he proposing that humans should not farm? Even a hunter uses a spear, so where does technology fit? Does technology mean tool? He did not explain anything. I listened to him speak for a while and then raised my hand again. What does an undomesticated humanity look like—if that is indeed what is meant by primitivism? But he did not let me speak. I got no more than a couple of words out before he interrupted me and drifted off into incomprehensible rationalization. I listened again. Nothing was clear. I raised my hand, but he was done calling on me. At best I spoke twenty words, and according to philosopher Zerzan, that was enough.
After my arm got sore I switched it out with the other, but when that one got sore, I gave up. What kind of speaker was this? Zerzan then called on someone else, but they asked the same question I did because he did not give me an answer. I did not want to be rude—something that one should not have to worry about with an anarchist—so I listened. He began to rant again. When Zerzan said that he supported the people in Mexico who were burning down McDonalds, the audience applauded. But what he did not realize is that many were applauding so as to queue the conclusion of the presentation; they just wanted it to end. Many people got up and left on that note, including me.
In closing I want to say that I am very disappointed in this presentation. I spent today discussing it with others who were there, and a large majority agrees with my evaluation. Three people from different classes asked me if it was possible that Zerzan was intoxicated in some way. I do not think that UWSP should support this kind of presentation. This man was totally unorganized, unqualified, and supported the violent destruction of private property. He was not interested in anyone’s confusion or view other than his own, and proved so by not allowing me to properly ask questions. If Zerzan is genuine and sincere in his position, then why was he not bothered by my and everyone else’s confusion? I cannot imagine a leader/ teacher proper that would go about their business in this way. While I do believe that everyone should have the chance to speak, I do not think that the university should support— and by support I mean pay for—the thoughtless vomiting of unsupported opinions, especially ones of a radical and violent nature.