Pick Your Battle: green anarchy Hegel john zerzan Marxism primitivism reification
This month both C Derick Varn and Nicholas Pell are missing and instead there is a special guest. John Zerzan is an American anarchist and primitivist philosopher and author. He’s fairly well known, especially in the Pacific Northwest where I am, and his books about Green Anarchism have been influential. But we don’t really talk about the environment, agriculture, or civilization, but rather I try to explain what I think is Zerzan’s conceptual or philosophical mistake.
For Zerzan civilized life is a mediated or alienated life that isn’t worth living and his solution is to return to directly lived experience. What I try to point out in my conversation with him is that his solution is a part of the problem. That is, while he wants to overcome the problem of reification his solution doesn’t manage to avoid that mistake.
The word reification means to mistake an abstraction for a physical or empirical object. A reification is not when we see an example of an abstraction in the world, it’s not when we take a rubber ball and think of it as an example of roundness, but rather when we take an abstraction to be its own example. That is, when we think that an abstraction can exist on its own without an example.
There are many ideas that are founded on this mistake. God, for instance, is the kind of idea that is a good example of a reification. Nature is, similarly, the same kind of idea.
Again, my conversation with John Zerzan wasn’t about prehistory or hunters and gatherers or the current ecological problems that are facing us, but was aimed at his concepts. It was aimed at his idea that we might be able to escape concepts, which I think is his fundamental mistake.