john zerzan - essays
Post on 12-May-2017
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Greasing the Rails to a Cyborg FutureBy John Zerzan
From Adbusters #35
When I sat down with the Adbusters Cyborg Manifesto at home in Eugene, Oregon, I read it as intended: as a hoax. Not a cruel prank on the unsuspecting reader, but a tool for drawing out our varying faiths in and sympathies for the ideological project of shifting human culture, with finality, from the real and concrete to the virtual and technological.
If many failed to see through the hoax or, more frighteningly, recognized it but still gave it conditional support, then the reason lies in the reigning cultural ethos of our times: postmodernism.
With its sharply narrowed ambitions concerning thought, its tendency to shade into the cynical, postmodernism has become a term both pervasive and faceless. But it does have a face. The theory of postmodernism began in large part as French reaction against the grand and total claims of Marxism. Emerging and spreading about 20 years ago, in a period of reaction with almost no social movements, postmodernism bears the imprint of conservatism and lowered expectations. It has also risen in lockstep with the unfolding logic of an increasingly technological "cyborg" society.
Postmodernism tells us that we cant grasp the whole, indeed that the desire for an overview of whats going on out there is unhealthy and suspect, even totalitarian. We have seen, after all, how grand systems "metanarratives," as they are fashionably referred to have proven oppressive. Having hit on this epiphany, the pomo troops were quick to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Skeptical about the claims and results of previous systems of thought, postmodernism has in fact jettisoned nearly all desire or hope of making sense of what we experience. It abandons the "arrogance" of trying to figure out the origins, logic, causality, or structure of the world we live in.
Instead, postmodernists focus on surfaces, fragments, margins. Reality is too shifting, complex, and indeterminate to decipher or judge. Too "messy," too "interesting" to allow for fixed conclusions, as Donna Haraway puts it in her own well-known "Cyborg Manifesto."
The postmodern style is notorious for its dense language and games of contradiction. In Haraways manifesto, for example, she concedes that "the main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism" but that in no way dims her enthusiasm for a part human, part machine, high-tech future!
In a technified society, we are increasingly "connected" from isolation, our experiences filtered through the Internet, television, and the spectacles of consumer culture. Shared and direct experience, which once helped us understand the meaning and texture of life, are two major casualties of this cyborg imperative. Things grow stark and menacing in every sphere, and still Haraway and the postmodern crowd insist that conclusions be avoided. Of course, once one renounces any attempt to comprehend the overall situation, its easy to embrace the endless complex of piecemeal "solutions" offered by technology and capital.
Postmodernism celebrates evanescent flows, a state of no boundaries, the transgressive. If this sounds familiar, it's because these values are shared by the most ardent architects of both consumerism and capitalist globalization. As the dimensions of personal sovereignty and community steadily erode, along with meaning and value, a consumer society in cyberspace becomes the uncontested next stage of human existence.
Division of labor, structures of control, the nature of technology not to mention less abstract factors like drudgery, toxicity, the steady destruction of nature are integral to the high-tech trajectory. They are also of no concern, evidently, to postmodernists, who continue to cling to the subtle, the tentative, the narrowly focused. Virtual reality mirrors the postmodern fascination with surfaces, explicitly rejoicing in its own depthlessness one obvious way in which the postmodernists are the accomplices of the Brave New World. As we reject any possibility of understanding shared or even personal experience, no challenge to that experience seems plausible. The political counterpart of postmodernism is pragmatism; we find ways of accommodating ourselves to the debased norm.
The decay of meaning, passion, and inner vibrancy has been going on for a while. Today it is a juggernaut, in the face of which postmodernism is the culture of no resistance. The good news is that there are signs of life, signs that folks in various places are beginning to suspect our cultures greatest hoax.
Rank-and-File Radicalism within the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920sIn the following article are presented some unusual features of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, the only period in which the KKK was a mass movement. In no way should this essay be interpreted as an endorsement of any aspect of this version of the Klan or of any other parts of Klan activity. Nonetheless, the loathsome nature of the KKK of today should not blind us to what took place within the Klan 70 years ago, in various places and against the wishes and ideology of the Klan itself. In the U.S. at least, racism is certainly one of the most crudely reified phenomena. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s is one of the two or three most important and most ignored social movements of 20th century America. These two data are the essential preface to this essay.
Writing at the beginning of 1924, Stanley Frost accurately surveyed the Klan at the crest of its power: The Ku Klux Klan has become the most vigorous, active and effective organization in American life outside business. Depending on ones choice of sources, KKK membership in 1924 can be estimated at anywhere between two and eight million.
And yet, the nature of this movement has been largely unexplored or misunderstood. In the fairly thin literature on the subject, the Klan phenomenon is usually described simply as nativism. A favorite in the lexicon of orthodox historians, the term refers to an irrationality, racism, and backwardness supposedly endemic to the poorer and less-educated classes, and tending to break out in episodic bouts of violently-expressed prejudice. Emerson Loucks The Ku Klux Klan in Pennsylvania: A Study of Nativism is a typical example. Its preface begins with, The revived KKK and its stormy career is but one chapter in the history of American nativism, the first chapter is entitled, Some Beginnings of Nativism, and in the books concluding paragraph we learn that Nativism has shown itself to be a perennial.
Kenneth Jackson, with his The Ku Klux Klan in the City, has been one of a very few commentators to go beyond the amorphous nativism thesis and also challenge several of the prevailing ste- reotypes of the Klan. He argues forcefully that the Invisible Empire of the 1920s was neither predominantly southern, nor rural, nor white supremacist, nor violent. Carl Deglers succinct comments corroborate the non-southern characterization quite ably: Significantly, the single piece of indisputable Klan legislation enacted anywhere was the school law in Oregon; the state most thoroughly controlled by the Klan was Indiana; and the largest Klan membership in any state was that in Ohio. On the other hand, several southern states
like Mississippi, Virginia, and South Carolina hardly saw the Klan or felt its influence. Jacksons statistics show clearly the Klans northern base, with only one southern state, Texas, among the eight states with the largest membership. It would be difficult to even begin to cite Jacksons evidence in favor of terming the Klan an urban phenomenon, inasmuch as his whole book testifies to this characterization. It may be interesting to note, however, the ten urban areas with the most Klansmen. Principally industrial and all but one of them outside the South, they are, in descending order: Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia-Camden, Detroit, Denver, Portland, Atlanta, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Youngstown-Warren, and Pittsburgh-Carnegie.
The notion of the KKK as an essentially racist organization is similarly challenged by Jackson. As Robert Moats Miller put it, in great areas of the country where the Klan was powerful the Negro population was insignificant, and in fact, it is probable that had not a single Negro lived in the United States, a Klan-type order would have emerged. And Robert Duffus, writing for the June 1923 Worlds Week, conceded: while the racial situation contributed to a state of mind favorable to Ku Kluxism, curiously it did not figure prominently in the Klans career. The Klan in fact tried to organize colored divisions in Indiana and other states, to the amazement of historian Kathleen Blee. Deg- ler, who wrongly considered vigilantism to be the core trait of the Klan, admitted that such violence as there was was directed against white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants rather than against the minorities.
Which brings us to the fourth and last point of Jacksons thesis, that the KKK was not predominantly violent. Again, his conclusions seem valid despite the widespread image of a lynch-mad, terroristic Klan. The post-war race riots of 1919 in Washington, Chicago, and East St. Louis, for example, occurred before there were any Klans