zerzan elements of refusal

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!\cknowleJgcmcnts Many people provided valuable support or assistance for the publication of this book, including: Jean Heriot, Kirkpatrick Sale, Kathan Zerzan, Alice Parman, John Parman, Herb Weiner, John Roberts, Lawrence Jarach, Jean


Marie Apostolides, Kathryn Longstreth-Brown, Carolyn Wayland, Lorraine Perlman, Gary Rumor, Mary Roberts, Gary Brown, James Diggs, DrakeScott, Alex Troller and A. Hacker.7

Preface to the Second Ed it ion Introduction to the First Edition

PART ONE 15 Beginning of Time, End of Time Languagc: Origin and M eaning Num bc r: Its Origin and Evolution

2nd, Revised Edition Anti-copyright

@ 1999 John Zerzan

1st Edition originally published by Left Bank Books (Seattle, 1988 ) . This book may be freely pirated and quoted. The author and publisher would like to be informed at: C.A.L. PressIPaleo POB 1446 Columbia, MO 65205-1446 USAAAA

31 4563

The Case Ag a i nst ArtAgriculture


Columbia Alternative Library




Industrialism and Domestication Who Killed Ned Ludd? Axis Point of American Industrialism Thc Practical Marx Origins and Meaning of WWITaylorism and Unionism

POB 11331 Eugene, OR 9744 0 USA Printed in the United States of AmericaLibrary of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

113 133 145

Zerzan, John. Elements of Refusal/John Zerzan. Columbia, Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1-8 90532-01-0


: C.A.L. Press, 1999

165 171 185

. 1. Social History. 2. Social Problems.3 Prehistoric Peoples. 4. Labor. 5.Work Ethic. I. Title.

Unionization in America Organized Labor vs. "The Revolt Against Work"

301.09 10987654321

Elements of RefusalJohn Zerzan

collective. This publishing project is dedicated to bringing to the discerning public not also to keeping in print those "classics" which have lapsed into publishing oblivion. you have an idea, contact C.AL. P ress, POB 1446, Columbia, MO 65205-1446 at:us

on ly the newest and most devastating critiques of the awful mess we call society, but

Columbia Alternative Library signals yet another salvo from this new book publishing under the imprint of Paleo Editions by the We welcome proposals for further hooks or pamphlets. No manuscripts, please. [f

The publication of Elements


of Refusal



Jason McQuinn John Zerzan

l)aul Z. Simons

of the Columbia Alternative Library

Paleo EditionsAn imprint




1'1 l-r\lIN!.,>

Nl'W YUI k, Nl'W York

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The Refusal of Technology Anti-Work and the Struggle for Control

I'I{ I 'TACh TO T H E S ECOND E D ITIONIhis collection of offerings was published by Left Bank in 1 988, and

PART THREE 21 7 245 255 261 265 The Promise of the '80s The '80s So Far Present-Day Banalities Media, Irony and "Bob" Afterword Commentary on For m and Con ten t in Elements of Refusal Notes Author's Bibliography Index Appendix: Excerpts from Adventures in Subversion' . Flyers & Posters, 1981-85

w,'111 out of print fairly quickly.

IIi part because of a totality that keeps giving us new evidence, on every "h,dlcnges, created by such a depth of peril and falsity, is the strongestIi ightening reality.

I believe most of it holds up rather well,

li'vel, of its fundamental destructiveness. The magnitude of these

IIlIpetus behind efforts to question every component of our truly Unfortunately, stark reality has far more often brought the opposite

response, based on fear and denial. More and more we are immersed ina

273 297 301 310

routines and securities. How tempting, apparently, to avoid asking why,

feci the nothingness, the void, just beneath the surface of everydaythus elevating the superficial as the only appropriate, indeed the only

postmodern ethos of appearances, images, and veneers. Everyone can

possible response. The fragmentary, the cynical, and the partial define an extremely pervasive postmodcrn stance-if such a cowardly, shifting outlook even qualifies as a stance.

bereft features of the social order as a whole, rushes into this intellectual and moral vacuum with an increasing acceleration. I live in the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and where the final traces of the natural forests are being systematically eradicated. The vista of cloned humans looms, as we struggle to maintain some undamaged humanness in a blcak, artificialized panorama. The group suicide of techno-occultists at Rancho Santa Fe (March 1997) is too faithful a reflection of the desperation generated by engulfing emptiness. One of the would-be UFO voyagers spoke for so many others: "Maybe I'm crazy but I don't care. I've been here thirty-one years and there's nothing for me here." The first five essays in this volume, written during the mid-1 980s, arc the basis for more recent efforts such as "Future Primitive" (1992) and "Running on Emptiness" (1997). The question of the origins of our estrangement is refused by a reigning culture that recognizes neither origins nor estrangement. I feel that this question must be explored, in the facc of this stunning, still-unfolding enormity: the entire absence of

I! is hardly surprising that the high-tech juggernaut, embodying all the

mdations of alienatiun tu he t(lUnd in thcsc catl'gori es, or anywhere else. Certainly these five explorations , and the others that followed, have elicited so me very negative reactio ns. When they were published in Fifth Estate in th e '80s, FE never faile d to run accompanying commentaries rejecting their conclusions. This lin e of originary studie s has been called absolu tist, moralistic, religio us, paralyzing, even anti-pleasurc', among ot her things. To me they are none of the above, In trying to pu t forth the most cogent lines of thought, I m ay have written essays th at seem ed dcfinitively closed to other perspectives. If so , J regret it. "Industrialism and Dom estication" and "Who Killed Ned Ludd?" appear later in the book , but were written ea rlier. Discovering the intentional social contro l built into industrial te chnology and the factor y system was part of a qu estioning that led not on ly to a re-appraisal of technology itself, but al so to a search fo r the remote origins of Ou r present captivity, al l the way back at th e be gi nn n i gs of symbolic culture. Many of the remaining contributions deal with anti-work phenomena and other recent evidence of the erosion of belief in society's dominant values, These writings of ten implied that a colla pse of the transcendent order was all but immin ent. Here I was obviousl y a bit too sanguine. The onrushing impoverishmen t of daily life, not to neglect contracting economic pressures, has le d many to cling to any semblance of content or meaning, ev en when found in the context of work, Tbus trends of social and workplace al ienation that some of us sa w as promising bave yet to move to the stag e of significant resistan ce, even if the method of being attentive to barely -concealed indices of disa ffection remains valid, 1 hop e that aspects of F.l ements of Refusal may be usef ul to those who are appalled by tbe nigh tmare we face, and who are determined not to go along, This edition I dedicate to the Unabom ber. As Arleen Davila put it,