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A humanities symposium called “Discourse@Networks 200” was held at Stanford University over the course of several months in 1997. The following talk on April 23 represents the only dissent to the prevailing high-tech orientation/appreciation. ***** Thanks for coming. I’ll be your Luddite this afternoon. The token Luddite, so it falls on me to uphold this unpopular or controversial banner. The emphasis will be on breadth rather than depth, and in rather reified terms, owing to time considerations. But I hope it won’t disable whatever cogency there might be to these somewhat general remarks. It seems to me we’re in a barren, impoverished, technicized place and that these characteristics are interrelated. T... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
A pervasive sense of loss and unease envelops us, a cultural sadness that can justly be compared to the individual who suffers a personal bereavement. A hyper-technologized late capitalism is steadily effacing the living texture of existence, as the world’s biggest die-off in 50 million years proceeds apace: 50,000 plant and animal species disappear each year (World Wildlife Fund, 1996). Our grieving takes the form of postmodern exhaustion, with its wasting diet of an anxious, ever-shifting relativism, and that attachment to surface that fears connecting with the fact of staggering loss. The fatal emptiness of ironized consumerism is marked by a loss of energy, difficulty in concentrating, feelings of apathy, social withdrawal; prec... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Agriculture, the indispensable basis of civilization, was originally encountered as time, language, number and art won out. As the materialization of alienation, agriculture is the triumph of estrangement and the definite divide between culture and nature and humans from each other. Agriculture is the birth of production, complete with its essential features and deformation of life and consciousness. The land itself becomes an instrument of production and the planet’s species its objects. Wild or tame, weeds or crops speak of that duality that cripples the soul of our being, ushering in, relatively quickly, the despotism, war and impoverishment of high civilization over the great length of that earlier oneness with nature. The forced... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The proportion of humanity living in cities has been growing exponentially, along with industrialization. The megalopolis is the latest form of urban “habitat”, increasingly interposing itself between human life and the biosphere. The city is also a barrier between its inmates, a world of strangers. In fact, all cities in world history were founded by strangers and outsiders, settled together in unique, previously unfamiliar environments. It is the dominant culture at its center, its height, its most dominant. Joseph Grange is, sadly, basically correct in saying that it is “par excellence, the place where human values come to their most concrete expression.” [1] (If one pardons the pun, also sadly apt.) Of course, t... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Every day it is clearer that the global cancer of capital and technology devours more of life in every sphere. More species, cultures, and ecosystems are under attack, at every level. The cancer of the megamachine is always at work, consuming its host. And if it ever stops expanding, economic alarm bells go off worldwide. This relentless colonization/globalization has ignited resistance everywhere. In this painful twilight struggle, as the crisis deepens, some of this opposition has taken the desperate form of religious fundamentalism. From this desperation arises the ultimate gesture of suicidal violence, hopeless and indefensible on any level. Novelist V.S. Naipal reminds us that “The world is getting more and more out of reach of... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
This is the age of disembodiment, when our sense of separateness from the earth grows and we are meant to forget our animality. But we are animals and we co-evolved, like all animals, in rapport with other bodily forms and aspects of the world. Minds as well as senses arise from embodiment, just as other animals conveyed meaning—until modernity, that is. We are the top of the food chain, which makes us the only animal nobody needs. Hamlet was very much off the mark in calling humans “the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.” Mark Twain was much closer: “the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”[1] The life form that is arguably least well adapted to reality, that has weaker chances for survival among ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Art is always about “something hidden.” But does it help us connect with that hidden something? I think it moves us away from it. During the first million or so years as reflective beings humans seem to have created no art. As Jameson put it, art had no place in that “unfallen social reality” because there was no need for it. Though tools were fashioned with an astonishing economy of effort and perfection of form, the old cliche about the esthetic impulse as one of the irreducible components of the human mind is invalid. The oldest enduring works of art are hand-prints, produced by pressure or blown pigment — a dramatic token of direct impress on nature. Later in the Upper Paleolithic era, about 30,000 years ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Madonna, “Are We Having Fun Yet?”, supermarket tabloids, Milli Vanilli, virtual reality, “shop ‘till you drop,” PeeWee’s Big Adventure, New Age/computer ‘empowerment’, mega-malls, Talking Heads, comic-strip movies, ‘green’ consumption. A buildup of the resolutely superficial and cynical. Toyota commercial: “New values: saving, caring — all that stuff;” Details magazine: “Style Matters;” “Why Ask Why? Try Bud Dry;” watching television endlessly while mocking it. Incoherence, fragmentation, relativism — up to and including the dismantling of the very notion of meaning (because the record of rationality has been so poor?); embrace of the... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
A Dialogue on Primitivism: Lawrence Jarach interviews John Zerzan There are many prejudiced caricatures and objections concerning primitivism; for example that its proponents want to go “back to the Stone Age,” or that any move away from industrial capitalism would result in an immediate mass die-off of thousands — if not millions — of humans. These dismissals showcase a lack of seriousness on the part of anti-primitivists, and their refusal to engage in any kind of substantial dialogue around the issues of the origins of capitalism and the various mechanisms of social control and domination. While understandable coming from non-anarchists (who are engaged in promoting one or another form of domination and exploit... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Division of labor, which has had so much to do with bringing us to the present global crisis, works daily to prevent our understanding the origins of this horrendous present. Mary Lecron Foster (1990) surely errs on the side of understatement in allowing that anthropology is today “in danger of serious and damaging fragmentation.” Shanks and Tilley (1987b) voice a rare, related challenge: “The point of archaeology is not merely to interpret the past but to change the manner in which the past is interpreted in the service of social reconstruction in the present.” Of course, the social sciences themselves work against the breadth and depth of vision necessary to such a reconstruction. In terms of human origins and deve... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Guy Debord-Revolutionary by Len Bracken (Feral House, 2532 Lincoln Blvd., Suite 359, Venice CA 90021, 1997) 267 pp. $14.95 paper In the mid-90s Len Bracken edited and published Extraphile, a very lively and very Debordian magazine. When I heard of his biography of Debord, "the first in any language," I frankly wondered whether it would merit the additional claim, that of being a critical biography. It was my pleasure to discover that Bracken has indeed managed some critical distance from his subject, and has produced a most substantial intellectual biography. It is, it should be noted right off, a treatment of Debord's political/philosophical project, not the story of his personal life. There is very little of the latter; his heavy drinki... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Is happiness really possible in a time of ruin? Can we somehow flourish, have complete lives? Is joy any longer compatible with the life of today? A deep sense of well-being has become an endangered species. How often does one hear “It is good to be here”? (Matthew 17:4, Luke 9:5, Luke 9:33) or Wordsworth’s reference to “the pleasure which there is in life itself”? [1] Much of the prevailing condition and the dilemma it poses is expressed by Adorno’s observation: “A wrong life cannot be lived rightly.”[2] In this age happiness, if not obsolete, is a test, an opportunity. “To be happy is to be able to become aware of oneself without being frightened.”[3] We seem to be desperate fo... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Recent developments make an all-encompassing crisis plain to see. Society could scarcely be more bizarrely unhealthy, but is getting even more so all the time. With two million people behind bars, kids as young as two are on behavior control drugs like Ritalin. Sunset magazine carries pages of ads for “boot camps.” “Got an angry child?” “Defiant teen?” A recent national study disclosed that emotional disorders among children have more than doubled in the past 20 years. Homicidal outbursts at school, as deeply shocking as they are, correspond to murderous rampages at work or at Burger King. Meanwhile, the trend toward year-round schooling feeds into the current prospect of a lifetime of more and more hour... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Nearly two hundred years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley gave us a classic warning about the hubris of technology’s combat against nature. Her late Gothic novel, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus (1818), depicts the revenge nature takes upon the presumption of engineering life from the dead. Victor Frankenstein and his creation perish, of course; his “Adam” is as doomed as he is. If this monster cannot be saved by his father/creator, however, today’s cyborg/robot/Artificial Intelligence products do expect to be saved. For those at the forefront of technological innovation today, there will be no return to a previous, monster-free state. From our hyper-tech world we can look back to Mary Shelley’s time an... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Civilization is control and very largely a process of the extension of control. This dynamic exists on multiple levels and has produced a few key transition points of fundamental importance. The Neolithic Revolution of domestication, which established civilization, involved a reorientation of the human mentality. Jacques Cauvin called this level of the initiation of social control "a sort of revolution of symbolism."[1] But this victory of domination proved to be incomplete, its foundations in need of some further shoring up and restructuring. The first major civilizations and empires, in Egypt, China, and Mesopotamia, remained grounded in the consciousness of tribal cultures. Domestication had certainly prevailed – without it, no ci... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Fairly recent anthropology (e.g. Sahlins, R.B. Lee) has virtually obliterated the long-dominant conception which defined prehistoric humanity in terms of scarcity and brutalization. As if the implications of this are already becoming widely understood, there seems to be a growing sense of that vast epoch as one of wholeness and grace. Our time on earth, characterized by the very opposite of those qualities, is in the deepest need of a reversal of the dialectic that stripped that wholeness from our life as a species. 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 bee... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
It isn’t that there’s no energy afoot in the world. On any given day on any continent, one can see anti-government riots; direct actions in support of animal liberation or to protect the earth; concerted efforts to resist the building of dams, superhighways, industrial installations; prison uprisings; spontaneous outbreaks of targeted vandalism by the fed-up and pissed-off; wildcat strikes; and the energy of countless infoshops, zines, primitive skills camps, schools, and gatherings; radical reading groups, Food Not Bombs, etc. The list of oppositional acts and alternative projects is very considerable. What isn’t happening is the Left. Historically, it has failed monumentally. What war, depression or ecocide did it ever ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Alas, still around to some degree, going through the motions and in some cases finding new ways to repackage the same old shit. The eternally superficial liberal-left “progressives” are as transparently averse to liberation as are the few surviving leninoids. The Social Forum, in its “Global” as well as more local forms, is a recent catch-all for leftists, including communists looking for a home in the post-Soviet Union era. At anti-G8 Genoa in 2001, Genoa Social Forum partisans did their best to deliver anarchists to the police and worked hard afterwards to spread lies about the Black Bloc effort in Genoa. At last year’s Global Social Forum in Porto Alegre these statists — or those in charge, anyway &m... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Simple, supremely commonplace. Ever present, this light that is nowhere else and everywhere else. Life-giving, living. It is the aura of each winding day and also a dimension of, a key to our place in nature. No accident that a yearned-for revelation/state/ destination seems always depicted with dramatic light. Present at the origin of life and omnipresent within it. In the 9th century Duns Scotus Erigena declared, “All that is, is light.”[1] Co-extensive with the air we breathe, and yet nothing in our experience is less banal or neutral. We are in it, and it evades our attempts to grasp it. Light is mad. It gathers and scatters and arrives in all guises, according to time, place, and countless other conditions. Light pervades... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Quite a while ago, just before the upheavals of the ’60s-shifts that have not ceased, but have been forced in less direct, less public directions — Marcuse in his One-Dimensional Man, described a populace characterized by flattened personality, satisfied and content. With the pervasive anguish of today, who could be so described? Therein lies a deep, if inchoate critique. Much theorizing has announced the erosion of individuality’s last remnants; but if this were so, if society now consists of the thoroughly homogenized and domesticated, how can there remain the enduring tension which must account for such levels of pain and loss? More and more people I have known have cracked up. It’s going on to a staggering degre... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
There now exists only one civilization, a single global domestication machine. Modernity’s continuing efforts to disenchant and instrumentalize the non-cultural, natural world have produced a reality in which there is virtually nothing left outside the system. This trajectory was already visible by the time of the first urbanites. Since those Neolithic times we have moved ever closer to the complete de-realization of nature, culminating in a state of world emergency today. Approaching ruin is the commonplace vista, our obvious non-future. It’s hardly necessary to point out that none of the claims of modernity/Enlightenment (regarding freedom, reason, the individual) are valid. Modernity is inherently globalizing, massifying, st... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
“Amid All the Camaraderie is Much Looting this Time.” “Seeing the City Disappear”, Wall Street Journal headline, 15 July 1977 The Journal went on to quote a cop on what he saw, as the great Bastille Day break-out unfolded: “People are going wild in the borough of Brooklyn. They are looting stores by the carload.” Another cop added later: “Stores were ripped open. Others have been leveled. After they looted, they burned.” At about 9:00 p.m. on July 13 the power went out in New York for 24 hours. During that period the complete impotence if the state in our most ‘advanced’ urban space could hardly have been made more transparent. As soon as the lights went out, cheers and sho... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Technology Tech-nol-o-gy n. According to Webster’s: industrial or applied science. In reality: the ensemble of division of labor/production/industrialism and its impact on us and on nature. Technology is the sum of mediations between us and the natural world and the sum of those separations mediating us from each other. it is all the drudgery and toxicity required to produce and reproduce the stage of hyper-alienation we live in. It is the texture and the form of domination at any given stage of hierarchy and commodification. Those who still say that technology is “neutral,” “merely a tool,” have not yet begun to consider what is involved. Junger, Adorno and Horkheimer, Ellul and a few others over the past ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Agriculture ended a vast period of human existence largely characterized by freedom from work, non-exploitation of nature, considerable gender autonomy and equality, and the absence of organized violence. It takes more from the earth than it puts back and is the foundation of private property. Agriculture encloses, controls, exploits, establishes hierarchy and resentment. Chellis Glendinning (1994) described agriculture as the “original trauma” that has devastated the human psyche, social life, and the biosphere. But agriculture/domestication didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere, 10,000 years ago. Quite possibly, it was the culmination of a very slow acceptance of division of labor or specialization that began in earnest... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The digital age is preeminently the ultimate reign of Number. The time of Big Data, computers (e.g. China’s, world’s fastest) that can process 30 quadrillion transactions per second, algorithms that increasingly predict—and control—what happens in society. Standardized testing is another example of the reductive disease of quantification. Number surpasses all other ideas for its combination of impact and implication. Counting means imposing a definition and a control, assigning a number value. It is the foundation for a world in which whatever can be domesticated and controlled can also be commodified. Number is the key to mastery: everything must be measured, quantified. It is not what we can do with number, but wh... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The wrenching and demoralizing character of the crisis we find ourselves in, above all, the growing emptiness of spirit and artificiality of matter, lead us more and to question the most commonplace of “givens.” Time and language begin to arouse suspicions; number, too, no longer seems “neutral.” The glare of alienation in technological civilization is too painfully bright to hide its essence now, and mathematics is the schema of technology. It is also the language of science—how deep we must go, how far back to reveal the “reason” for damaged life? The tangled skein of unnecessary suffering, the strands of domination, are unavoidably being unreeled, by the pressure of an unrelenting present. When... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
“Yeah, the critique is impressive and everything, but just how might we actually get from this ghastly world to some healed, whole existence?” I think we should not doubt that such a journey is possible, nor that the explosion necessary to begin it may be approaching. The thought of the dominant culture has, of course, always told us that alienated life is inescapable. In fact, culture or civilization itself expresses this essential dogma: the civilizing process, as Freud noted, is the forcible trading of a free, natural life for one of unceasing repression. Today culture is in a dispirited, used-up state wherever one looks. More important than the entropy afflicting the logic of culture, however, is what seems to be the acti... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Serious commentators on the labor upheavals of the Depression years seem to agree that disturbances of all kinds, including the wave of sit-down strikes of 1936 and 1937, were caused by the ‘speed-up’ above all. Dissatisfaction among production workers with their new CIO unions set in early, however, mainly because the unions made no efforts to challenge management’s right to establish whatever kind of work methods and working conditions they saw fit. The 1945 Trends in Collective Bargaining study noted that “by around 1940” the labor leader had joined the business leader as an object of “widespread cynicism” to the American employee. Later in the 1940s C. Wright Mills, in his The New Men of Power: ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
David Watson: Introduction to the Origins of Primitivism Set (2010) One thing I would say and may have already said in my books Beyond Bookchin and Against the Megamachine and my essay “Swamp Fever, Primitivism and the ‘Ideological Vortex’: Farewell to All That” is that I am not opposed at all to some kind of reasoned primitivism. I just distrust all “isms,” and in the case of much of self-proclaimed anarcho-primitivism, the insights of a primitivist view (for example, to be found in Stanley Diamond’s In Search of the Primitive, The Old Ways, much anthropological literature, and the writings and testimonies of native peoples) has become a simplistic, dogmatic, and sometimes fascistic response to ... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
With the Neolithic Age we entered the force field of domestication, leaving—not without a struggle—the free, face-to-face world of band society/community. Ever-larger settlements, more work, the emergence of warfare and the objectification of women were among the hallmarks of the new order, starting about 10,000 years ago. But the new era was unstable, domination far from perfected. Sedentary, agriculture-based life posed unforeseen challenges in social, economic, ideological/political, and spiritual spheres. The move from personalized Paleolithic reciprocity to bulk Neolithic resource acquisition, production and distribution was far from smooth. New modes were needed for domestication to become civilization. The transition fr... (From: TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)

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