A New Leaf

In issue #24 of Green Anarchy (Spring/Summer 2007, p. 9), there's a short text called "A New Leaf" and attributed to John Zerzan. In it, one is offered a reassuringly simple opposition between what's bad ("what the dominant culture is trying to sell us," "an ever more insistently estranging, oppressive reality") and what's good ("visions that take on mass society and domesticated non-life," "something different, challenging the very nature of what we're stuck in and offering liberatory perspectives on all that should no longer be taken for granted").

I must say that I was quite amused to see -- listed among the various dire and depressing indications that "the Left has no answers to what is overtaking us, inspires pretty much no one" and that "we are going through a transition period in which something is dying out" -- an event that I organized. Zerzan refers to it as "a curious non-event last spring in New York" and says that the indications just mentioned "very possibly" explains it. The event was a screening of Guy Debord's six films, which a few months previously had been released on DVD. It was held on 5 March 2006, that is to say, the 22d anniversary of the assassination of Gerard Lebovici, who had been Debord's publisher, film producer and friend. To quote Zerzan again, "hundreds were expected" and yet "to this much-publicized occasion five people showed up."

Yes, it was a disaster: I lost hundreds of dollars. But Zerzan is quite wrong about what went wrong on that night, which also happened to be the night of the live telecast of the Academy Awards, hosted by Jon Stewart.

I bring this up -- not because I want to argue the obvious (Guy Debord was certainly not a "Leftist," nor a part of "the dominant culture") -- but because it neatly highlights a real problem with Zerzan's entire paradigm: what does one do with the millions and millions of people who simply do not care that "ecocide plunges forward throughout the world" or that "the other side of the coin of the enveloping crisis, the social and personal, seems to be equally threatening"? That is to say, what does one do with all those people who do not respond to Zerzan's brand of moralism (this is good, that is bad, people should do this, people should not do that)?

These questions do not concern the (quantity of) publicity that is given to such moral condemnations of "civilization." The publication of more issues of Green Anarchy or more books like Steve Jones' Against Technology, Victor Li's The Neo-Primitivist Turn and Kirkpatrick Sales's After Eden -- all mentioned and praised by Zerzan in this short text -- are not likely to affect the people who prefer tee-vee to films and the Academy Awards to The Society of the Spectacle. Nor will they be affected by the intensification of the moralizing extremism (or the extreme moralizing) of the green anarchist movement. These people are obviously making the conscious decision not to listen to this movement (and others like it) or they are so deeply conditioned by this society that they cannot hear what this movement is saying. Either way, yelling at them louder and/or using more violent rhetoric ("we are not only against capitalism, we are against civilization") is not going to work. What will work? This is where the "new leaf" must be turned over.

-- 10 December 2007

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