Any World (That I'm Welcome to): JZ in Transit
by John Zerzan
Since last fall (2004) I’ve had the good fortune to have traveled rather widely, speaking and discussing anti-civilization perspectives. Here are some impressions and tentative conclusions.
September involved about ten days in Italy, sponsored by the independent publisher Stampa Alternativa; stops in two south Tuscan villages, Siena, Bologna, and Rome. I’d done a slightly more extensive tour in 2002, and see an interesting contrast between the two swings. The first go-round consisted of anarchist settings, the latter less so. This time, the people I encountered were more likely to be small farmers, anthropology students, or curious ex-leftists, rather than more strictly political types. And what I kept sensing was a greater interest and openness than I’d met with two years earlier.
In late October/early November I was in Turkey for 2+ weeks. The excellent anarchists of Izmir and Istanbul are fairly few in a country of 70 million; but according to folks I talked with, they exert an influence that greatly exceeds their numbers. Anarchism is only about 20 years old in Turkey. One very intriguing highlight, along with meeting some superb primitivo individuals and enjoying legendary Turkish/Kurdish hospitality, was an evening with three Islamic anti-civilizationists. Islam includes some shamanistic, pantheistic elements (sometimes Sufi-oriented) and the folks who wanted to meet are among such unorthodox Muslims. It was very clear that their outlook went far beyond a simple anti-Western position to very actively engage with green anarchy ideas, but I don’t know what this really means or how far it goes. A woman and two men of this persuasion virtually demanded— in the friendliest terms—that KAOS, Istanbul anarchists publishers who were present at the meeting, bring out more anarcho-primitivist works. “We need them!” they emphasized.
I spent a week in Frankfurt and Berlin in January 2005, in conjunction with the opening of Lutz Dammbeck’s fine anti-technology film Das Netz (The Net). The Left in Germany managed for a long time to actively suppress the questioning of mass society (aka modernity, technoculture, etc.) and civilization, but it appears that this film has finally kicked that closed door open. The film has been something of a sensation in terms of this (long overdue) discussion, and it felt good to witness this shift, and even play a tiny part. New anti-civ projects are now emerging in Germany, such as Die Eule 2 in Chemnitz.
In early April I spoke at the University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, and University of South Florida, meeting sharp and friendly people and hearing about new anti-civ efforts and awareness. It’s not like the old days—just a couple of years ago—when the primitivist orientation was often viewed as something almost secret, esoteric.
Two and a half weeks in Croatia and Serbia (April/May) offered a wonderful opportunity. Once again some beautiful folks expended a lot of time and energy to make the visit happen. In the Balkans neither communism nor war is an abstraction, or even a distant memory. Another very educational sojourn for me. Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, Pula in Croatia; Novi Sad and Belgrade in Serbia: serious interest, lots of protracted discussions, and biggerthan- expected turnouts across the board.
A leftist at the talk in Belgrade proclaimed it a “scandal” that I would be offering such exotic approaches in a country faced with a “lowered standard of living,” etc. But it made me feel a bit less of an arrogant American to see that he was the only one present who saw things that way, given the negative reactions he received. In Belgrade and Zagreb, the large number of women discussion participants was very noticeable; women were the majority in the post-talk Q-and-A sessions.
With apologies for leaving out important cultural, economic, and political differences among countries, here are a few common threads that seemed evident to me:
There is an extremely widespread understanding that something different is needed. Matters worsen in every regard, and though we clearly need forward momentum, it feels like we’re stuck. It’s well known that the left is dying or irrelevant, an enormous failure. I have been struck by the willingness to grapple with an orientation that really aims to change this world in fundamental ways, rather than to slightly rearrange the same old massified reality under new management.
The invitations I’ve received are just one small sign of growing interest, as is the fact that virtually every single presentation/discussion exceeded attendance expectations.
Something new is in the air, with roots that are humankind’s very oldest. Quite a few see this “something” as a spiritual development, an effort to restore wholeness and reconnect with the earth and one another. I think we should be very open to this, especially given the limitations of a political sphere that is increasingly understood as shallow, limited, and grounded in power relationships (including the power relationship of “representation”). This spiritual tendency intrigues me a lot and may prove to be decisive, in profound and unforeseen ways. –John Zerzan
Originally published in GA issue #20 - Summer 2005