John Zerzan


Hope Mountain

Brief Bio

URL Resources John Zerzan

I have introduced John Zerzan to this expanding circle of voices because he is an extreme green-anarchist. He exist here as a significant rhetorical voice in some of the most deepest questions possibly now needed to be asked about the direction and purpose of civisilation. He thoroughly understands that the success of agriculture could not have been accomplished without a hierarchy of class and the domination of Nature. I will push this back even further and say that this social hierarchy, along with the gender split, had arrived even earlyer through "professional hunting". The hominid anthropology of this beginning is uncertain (1M-200k?), but I think there is agreement that by 50-30,000 BC, it is well established and had peaked, and is ready to systemically reshape itself into agriculture. We had the most massive slaughter and loss of mega-fauna by this time that I believe is the angst that transition's itself into the economy of agriculture. It carried the hierarchal artifact necessary for the success of the hunt into agriculture and remains systemically today in capitalism.

I found John Zerzan provocative, and the best voice within the green-anarchist critique of civilization. I think his essays are comprehensive and succinct and a good introduction to himself and green-anarchy. I owe John Zerzan much. He has given me new conceptual categories to think from and the exposure to the many voices within them.

I believe green-anarchy is the most natural social arrangement when the human community is fully actualized through natural epigenetic stages with nature (Paul Shepard: Nature and Madness; Nancy Morrison/Sally Severino:The Biology of Morality). His essays are free to read and can be easily found on the Internet. I will hotlink some below.

•  Language: Origin and Meaning
•  Number: Its Origin and Evolution
•  Running on Emptiness: The Failure of Symbolic Thought
•  The Mass Psychology Of Misery
•  Time and its Discontents


...the inner logic of civilization, which is, at bottom, division of labor. This division of labor, or specialization, works to dissolve moral accountability...Zerzan

Considered as the paradigm of ideology, language must also be recognized as the determinant organizer of congnition...To use language is to limit oneself to the modes of perception already inherent in that language.  The fact that language is only form and yet molds everything goes to the core of what ideology is.-Zerzan 

"But like division of labor, which stands behind and sets in motion time and technology, it is, after all, a socially learned phenomenon. Humans, and the rest of the world, are synchronized to time and its technical embodiment, rather than the reverse. Central to this dimension--as it is to alienation per se--is the feeling of being a helpless spectator. Every rebel, it follows, also rebels against time and its relentlessness. Redemption must involve, in a very fundamental sense, redemption from time".-Zerzan

"The beginning of humankind's separation from and conquest of the world is thus located in the naming of the world".-Zerzan

" soon as a human spoke, he or she was separated.  This rupture is the moment of dissolution of the original unity between humanity and nature;"-Zerzan

In dominated life freedom does not exist outside art, however, and so even a tiny, deformed fraction of the riches of being is welcomed. "I create in order not to cry," revealed Klee.- Zerzan

Malraux offered another tribute to the conservative office of art when he wrote that without art civilization would crumble "within fifty years" ... becoming "enslaved to instincts and to elementary dreams."-Zerzan

"We seem to have experienced a fall into representation, whose depths and consequences are only now being fully plumbed. In a fundamental sort of falsification, symbols at first mediated reality and then replaced it. At present we live within symbols to a greater degree than we do within our bodily selves or directly with each other. The more involved this internal representational system is, the more distanced we are from the reality around us. Other connections, other cognitive perspectives are inhibited, to say the least, as symbolic communication and its myriad representational devices have accomplished an alienation from and betrayal of reality".-John Zerzan

"We couldn't live in the world without language and that is just how profoundly we must transform the world"-John Zerzan

Being alive in nature, before our abstraction from it, must have involved a perception and contact that we can scarcely comprehend from our levels of anguish and alienation. The communication with all of existence must have been an exquisite play of all the senses, reflecting the numberless, nameless varieties of pleasure and emotion once accessible within us. -John Zerzan   [Cognitive fluidity]

Now we can see that life before domestication/agriculture was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health. This was our human nature, for a couple of million years, prior to enslavement by priests, kings, and bosses.-John Zerzan

The emergence of symbolic culture, with its inherent will to manipulate and control, soon opened the door to domestication of nature. After two million years of human life within the bounds of nature, in balance with other wild species, agriculture changed our lifestyle, our way of adapting, in an unprecedented way. Never before has such a radical change occurred in a species so utterly and so swiftly (Pfeiffer 1977). Self-domestication through language, ritual, and art inspired the taming of plants and animals that followed. Appearing only 10,000 years ago, farming quickly triumphed; for control, by its very nature, invites intensification. Once the will to production broke through, it became more productive the more efficiently it was exercised, and hence more ascendant and adaptive.       -John Zerzan

Agriculture enables greatly increased division of labor, establishes the material foundations of social hierarchy, and initiates environmental destruction. Priests, kings, drudgery, sexual inequality, warfare are a few of its fairly immediate specific consequences (Ehrenberg 1986b, Wymer 1981, Festinger 1983). Whereas Paleolithic peoples enjoyed a highly varied diet, using several thousand species of plants for food, with farming these sources were vastly reduced (White 1959, Gouldie 1986).-John Zerzan   

It is noteworthy that the much freer and sensuous hunter-gatherer cultures gave way to the Neolithic imposition of civilization, work and property at the same time that verbs declined to approximately half of all words of a language; in modern English, verbs account for less than 10% of words. -John Zerzan

The carving up of nature, its reduction into concepts and equivalences, occurs along lines laid down by the patterns of language. And the more the machinery of language, again paralleling ideology, subjects existence to itself, the more blind its role in reproducing a society of subjugation.   -Zerzan

The world must be mediated by art (and human communication by language, and being by time) due to division of labor, as seen in the nature of ritual. The real object, its particularity, does not appear in ritual; instead, an abstract one is used, so that the terms of ceremonial expression are open to substitution...The agent, again, is the shaman-artist, enroute to priesthood, leader by reason of mastering his own immediate desires via the symbol. All that is spontaneous, organic and instinctive is to be neutered by art and myth- Zerzan

The primary function of art is to objectify feeling, by which one's own motivations and identity are transformed into symbol and metaphor. All art, as symbolization, is rooted in the creation of substitutes, surrogates for something else; by its very nature therefore, it is falsification. Under the guise of "enriching the quality of human experience," we accept vicarious, symbolic descriptions of how we should feel, trained to need such public images of sentiment that ritual art and myth provide for our psychic security. -Zerzan

Why then would one respond positively to art? As compensation and palliative, because our relationship to nature and life is so deficient and disallows an authentic one. As Motherlant put it, "One gives to one's art what one has not been capable of giving to one's own existence."{ones sheering and estrangement from an organic identity   It is true for artist and audience alike; art, like religion, arises from unsatisfied desire. -Zerzan


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     ©            Updated: January 3, 2016 10:17 AM