John Zerzan Interview (2/2)
- 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
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
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
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
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?