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John Zerzan Interview (2/2)

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  • Dan Clore
    John Zerzan Interview (2/2) Redden: Yeah, I ve seen some of that in what people are writing about Y2K. Not much, it s real marginal, but there s that feeling
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2000
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      John Zerzan Interview (2/2)

      Redden: Yeah, I've seen some of that in what people are
      writing about Y2K. Not much, it's real marginal, but
      there's that feeling out there. But obviously, one of these
      major issues that's come out of what happened in Seattle
      that's related to the anarchists is the violence that
      occurred and the appropriate role of violence and the
      fact that some of the other protesters were appalled by
      the violence and things of this nature. What was the role
      of violence in Seattle, and what is the appropriate role of
      violence in this kind of a struggle.

      Zerzan: Well first, just to quibble about the word, I don't
      think property damage is violence. I think there's an
      important distinction. You can't be violent against a
      window, in my opinion. I understand the general sense, I
      don't want to make a great big semantic deal out of it, but
      I don't think it's violence per say.

      Redden: Violence is something you do to a living thing, not
      a piece of property?

      Zerzan: Exactly, that's worth posing or proposing as a
      distinction. But aside from that, it seems pretty unmistakable -
      and it's certainly sad, it's certainly unfortunate, it's too
      bad it works this way - but that's the kind of thing that seems
      to be necessary to pierce through the general dominant stuff.
      You know, when the regular media people bring this up, and I
      guess it's often with the usual kind of knee-jerk deal about
      how they're thinking - and sometimes they're saying it, like
      when I've done some call-in radio shows, you know, violence
      never accomplishes anything, blah, blah, blah. And I always
      say the same thing: Well, I'm not necessarily speaking in
      favor of violence, but we wouldn't be having this show without
      it. And you can't get around it. I hope we get past this stage
      of violence, to use the term loosely. It seems to be, sadly or
      otherwise, effective in terms of putting the issues on the table.
      Or another way to put it is, all the good ideas and all the
      rational, polite conversations and all the peaceful parades
      don't achieve that. If they did, I think society would have
      been changed a long time ago. And I'm not putting down the
      people who would doing other things than damaging stuff. I
      don't mean it that way. I just mean that, well, for example, the
      most spectacular instance, I guess, is in the Unabomber case. No
      one would have heard of that manifesto without the bombings. And
      of course that doesn't mean that anybody I know is bombing anyone
      or injuring or threating people or anything like that, any kind
      of personal violence whatsoever. But I think that, you do seize
      the issue or make some noticeable statement if you're willing to
      go to that level of going past the rules that the system lays
      down, the protest as usual, the protest by the numbers stuff.
      That I think will only take you so far. Unless somehow magically
      everybody has access to some free play of ideas, but the system
      just doesn't work that way.

      Redden: As I understand it, you've actually visited Ted Kaczynski
      and corresponded with him.

      Zerzan: Right. yeah, I visited him three or four times in the
      Sacramento County jail in the almost two years between his arrest
      and sentencing.

      Redden: Now, clearly the public perception of him is the classic
      mad bomber, completely nuts. What is your impression, having
      actually met and talked with him?

      Zerzan: I have found Ted Kaczynski to be completely sane. His
      liberal death penalty lawyers decided that the only chance to
      avoid his execution was to portray him as insane, contrary to
      his wishes. And so they worked overtime to give out that message.
      And I'll tell you, any experience that I had with him in person
      or in correspondence or even a couple of phone calls in there,
      as a matter of fact, towards the end of the whole business of
      trying to change lawyers, I was always on guard for that because
      I'm not, I certainly, I would have been open to, "Well, maybe
      he's crazy." I don't go into it upholding some abstract notion
      of him even though our ideas are similar, what's the point of
      that? But I'm just saying, I never saw the slightest sign that
      he wasn't in touch with stuff. I found him to be a very
      intelligent, very direct, very tuned-in person with a sense of
      humor and just quite appropriate, just very normal. In fact, in
      terms of the diagnosis they kept putting out, and by the way
      the judge, Judge Morrell, he had quite a number of dealings in
      chambers, conversations with him - this is in the record, too -
      he told his lawyers he didn't see anything nuts about him
      whatsoever. He said that once or twice towards the very end of
      it. And he was really kind of smelling a rat, but it wasn't up
      to him, but he said that, he said I don't see any reason at all
      for some kind of diminished capacity [defense], Mr. Kaczynski
      seems completely capable.

      Redden: I'll admit I've not read the Unabomber Manifesto, but I
      get the sense you think it's a fairly significant, what's the
      word to describe it, serious?

      Zerzan: First of all, it's not a manifesto, because that's a
      declaration of opinions. What it is, is a treatise. In fact
      it's a very modest, carefully argued treatise or argument which
      essentially says, in a nutshell, that technological society
      rules out freedom and fulfillment. He just basically makes that -
      it's so, you just can't around it. Of course, I have to totally
      grant that I already believe that [laughs], so it's not for me
      to disagree, but just the way it is developed, it's just
      unmistakable. You get the kind of feeling of, well, this guy was
      supposedly a brilliant mathematician, it's just so logical. You
      end up with no way to find any fault with it. It's just, there
      it is, there's no getting around it. Anyway, I kind of skipped
      over the thing about Kaczynski's sanity. Paranoid schizophrenic
      was the diagnosis, but you can find shrinks to tell you anything
      you want. That's well known. It just depends on which one you
      hire, basically. Anyway, the thing about the paranoia strikes me
      as really ironic because what I saw of him that struck me as a
      little funny, not funny, but how trusting he is, how trusting.
      Of course, that's just the opposite of someone who paranoid. And
      that's how they kept the wool over his eyes for so long. They
      kept telling him, "Ted, this is not an insanity defense, we're
      not doing that." And that exactly what they were doing, but he
      believed them. You know, afterwords, I'll tell you one of the
      most touching things I ever read in my lifetime was a letter I
      got from him after it was all over, towards the very end, when
      he finally did figure it out that they were not telling him the
      truth, he tried to first change his lawyers to get Tony Serra, a
      political lawyer in San Francisco, and the judge wouldn't allow
      him to do that, and then he wanted to defend himself and the
      judge ruled against that, saying it's too late to do that, but
      anyway, he wrote to me afterwards and he said, and this is just
      kind of amazing to me, impressive in my reading anyway, he said,
      "I hope you won't be too hard on my lawyers. They don't think
      like you and I do, but they did what they thought they should do.
      They're liberals and that was their deal, according to their
      ethics." And that just brought me to tears, frankly. I thought,
      Jesus Christ, here's a guy who'd rather die than be thought of
      as crazy. In fact, he's filing to have a new trial, and I
      understand there's some chance of it. A reporter I talked to in
      Denver told me he thought it could happen, but I don't think so
      for political reasons. But he's willing to put his life on the
      line to back up his thinking, to explain it and not to be
      thought of as nuts. But he's telling me - you know, I might find
      that contemptible that people don't think, this is so much like
      liberals, I guess it's like the stereotype, they know what's best
      for people and the individual doesn't get to choose, it seems
      like a right-wing stereotype - but here he's telling me, "Don't
      be too hard on my lawyers." I just thought, here's a guy with
      some healthy depth that's capable of that kind of perspective.
      Instead of saying, "You filthy pigs, you lied to me for almost
      two years, you lied to me every day and then you got what you
      wanted, but what about me, what about my desires," which was
      exactly true.

      Redden: The media is blaming the "anarchists from Eugene" for
      causing all the trouble in Seattle. What's going on down there?

      Zerzan: Well, there's been stuff brewing here for a year or two,
      and some of it has to do, in terms of reputation or whatever,
      with property damage. I mean, it was accepted as a tactic
      beginning in the early summer of '98 and it caused quite a stir.
      People began to say, "Well, this is what you've got to do. You
      can pretend. You can pretend with voting and going to hearings
      or whatever else. But you know it doesn't do anything, we know
      it doesn't do anything, so we're going to take the next step."
      In fact, there was an L.A. Times piece that came out in August
      and focused on the Eugene deal and the gentrification issue in
      particular. Here's a thing that's really grabbed me. It's just
      anecdotal and doesn't prove that much, but there's a quarterly
      conservation journal that comes out of Vermont called Food and
      Water. It's been in the same family for a couple of generations
      at least. It's an old guard, kind of write-your-congressperson
      kind of deal, nothing too exciting. There are number of deals
      like this pointing out different issues and different horrible
      things going on in the environment and everything. Well, in the
      spring issue, Spring '99, they put out an editorial called
      objectifying violence and it's quite interesting in itself. It
      starts out talking about the Unabomber and it says, "We're not
      advocating Unabomber methods" - as if anybody on earth, as if
      anybody thought they were! It was quite wild when I first heard
      about this and then I actually saw it. Anyway, the last sentence
      is, "Go forth and sabotage." Isn't that something? I think it's
      the old cliche, one swallow does not make a summer, and you can
      only guess at the readers' responses in the next issue, they
      thought the editor had totally lost his mind. But here was
      somebody with the courage of his convictions. I don't remember
      exactly what he said, I don't have it right in front of me, but,
      you know, we can keep on playing at it like we're getting
      somewhere, but just look at what's going on. It's getting worse
      faster. And we can just keep on with this smug sort of deal,
      "Well, I wrote a very angry letter to the head of this
      corporation," you know, some crap like that, but this guy had
      the guts to say, "Are we real or not?" And there were a few
      people who said, "Wow, that was heavy and you're courageous and
      that was right," and any number of liberals who said he's insane,
      dangerous, you can imagine. I've mentioned this in a talk or two
      I've given, and I think this is a pretty interesting development,
      in my opinion.

      Redden: Is there are term that's more appropriate, other than
      violence, that you would use?

      Zerzan: Well, "property damage" or "sabotage" or "property
      destruction" or "targeted vandalism." I mean, I think they're
      all more valid than just violence, which to you and I both that
      mean some living being or others, somebody who can feel a
      violation. A piece of wall can't feel it's been violated.

      Redden: Here in Portland, the civic leaders launch regular
      crusades against graffiti, and they will talk about it as
      "damaging" buildings. I just keep thinking, how does a
      microscopic layer of spray paint actually damage a brick? But
      they'll talk about it as the "damage caused by graffiti."

      Zerzan: Yeah, the use of words. Orwell talked about it. In
      Seattle, it was the source of a lot of bitter humor actually.
      Some of these peace Nazi's, these peace police, who would push
      and shove people to protect Nordstom's or Starbuck's or
      something, and they're the pacifists. I saw that, some really
      crazy stuff. A friend of mine was arguing with some of them
      about whether more militancy isn't appropriate, and even the
      more ethical thing to do, instead of these charades which some
      of them were only interested in and this woman was berating him
      for "verbal violence." And he wasn't even shouting. It wasn't
      like he was screaming at people. For one thing, I think if
      you've got something to say you, you never need to be screaming
      at people, but what made it even worse, like the final punch line
      of this story, is she just started shrieking at him, "You fucking
      asshole!" at the top of her lungs. And we just kind of looked at
      each other and thought, you were saying about verbal violence? And
      she was just going, just amok and frothing at the mouth. She was
      dangerous. And she looked at us like we were the people who wanted
      to kill her baby. They were more violent than us, in terms of
      people, actually, frankly, than the people I knew. At one point,
      on Monday I think it was, we wanted to go up on the freeway. We
      were close to the freeway, like a block away. And that street
      wasn't even blocked off. But instead they just wanted to mill
      around and sit and there was no tactical deal, they just wanted
      to sit, I guess. And some people did want to go and some people
      didn't, and it was that kind of encounter. And these peace police,
      you know, they were closer to violence than we were.

      Redden: Do you see another event in the future that could become
      another significant protest, or landmark event, or anything like

      Zerzan: I don't think I know of any. I think the anarchists here
      are just trying to return to the everyday work of trying to put
      out literature and speaking to groups and tabling, you know, the
      different projects. Food Not Bombs and other projects they do as
      less spectacular deals, things that go on every day like Cafe
      Anarchista here in the neighborhood which is free coffee in the
      morning for street people and dopers and anybody else that's
      hanging around.

      Redden: Clearly the police screwed up in Seattle, but one of their
      excuses is, we didn't anticipate what was going to happen, our
      intelligence wasn't very good, blah, blah, blah. But I'm going to
      assume that there have been attempts to infiltrate you guys in
      Eugene and gather intelligence over the past few months.

      Zerzan: I don't know. It's conceivable. Some of the times it seems
      like the arrogance of power, well, maybe that's changed forever.
      After Seattle they won't make that mistake again. But I think a
      lot of people, including myself, didn't think it was going to be
      that big of a deal. So maybe that's the explanation, I don't
      really know. But on the other hand, it's not like, we didn't know
      either, so even if they had infiltrated they wouldn't have picked
      up anything down here as far as I know. My general reading is,
      people were just going to go there are see what happened, play it
      by ear and see what's interesting and what's going to happen. I
      don't think there was any concerted plan, any orchestrated deal
      by any group to go and plot out, "Well, we're going to do such
      and such on this day and this location," I don't think it was like
      that at all. I wouldn't be able to totally prove that or anything,
      but that's my impression.

      Redden: When I lived in Eugene in the '70s, I worked on an
      underground newspaper called The Augur.

      Zerzan: I've heard of that.

      Redden: And it was run by a cooperative that held open meetings
      anyone could attend. And some straight-looking guy would show up
      at every meeting and just sit there and not say anything and never
      come back again, but there would always be a new straight-looking
      guy at the next meeting.

      Zerzan: Right now, in the aftermath of this stuff, I've been told
      by many people that for several days in a row some of these local
      places like Keystone Cafe and Out of the Fog, you know, these are
      coffee houses, the straightest looking, fed looking people would
      come in, look at everybody, practically like with a neon sign
      going, "We're not from here, we're just here to scope it out."
      Nobody went up and asked them, and they probably wouldn't have
      got a straight answer from them anyway, but there was a whole
      bunch of that. And now one explanation is simply, they want
      people to know, they want to scare people, they want to make
      people clam up and be less willing to have public meetings and
      all the rest. That serves a function to. Either that or these
      are the tactics of the people they have, their level of skill.
      I don't know which it is.

      Redden: Do you worry about a federal grand jury trying to indict
      people on incitement charges or things of that nature, because
      what happened?

      Zerzan: Well, I've heard that. I've heard that floating around
      and references to Janet Reno saying something in passing about
      a possible federal grand jury. I mean, I'm worried about it. I
      don't put any particular stock in it, as if I know something, as
      if I know anything, but, yeah, that's a possibility. It's worrisome.
      I don't know what that would be, or how that would play out. It
      doesn't fill me with joy. But what are you going to do?
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