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Zerzan and Nihilism
Yeah, I listened to that episode last night. It was kind of amusing. A comment that I posted on the archived version of the July 4th episode [] was then responded to on July 11th [], where you can also read my follow-up. On the July 11th episode, John's co-host, Kathan, effectively conceded that ITS represents one particular version of "nihilism" rather than exhausting its possible interpretations. Last night's episode was also interesting in that John himself basically admitted the same point. Props to "Dave from California" for helping to hammer this point home.
How has Zerzan been using 'nihilism' pejoratively?

Really dug your blog post. Definitely on the same page with you regarding the critique of activism. While I suspect most self-professed "activists" would probably bristle at the suggestion that they have anything in common with the likes of Nechayev (his talk of "merciless destruction" definitely runs counter to their sensibilities), they cannot deny that their tendency toward ascetic self-sacrifice and single-minded devotion to "the Cause" of revolution/social change is at least one glaring commonality.


Just scan through the archives of Anarchy Radio. It's chock-full of examples of Zerzan using the word "nihilism" in a pejorative manner. Here's one notable example where he insinuated that Jeremy Joseph Christian was a nihilist, who was the white supremacist guy who stabbed three people (two of whom died) on a light rail train in Portland back on May 26 when they intervened in an effort to stop him from verbally accosting two Muslim women:

And that's just one of many instances from his radio show over the past couple years. Check it out for yourself.
I think JZ just referred to him as a nihilist because Christian himself frequently called himself a nihilist. JZ often points out that he doesn't even know what nihilism means, because everyone's a nihilist these days.
I suppose it's at least possible that I misread JZ's intentions with those comments. When he referenced Christian's "I am a nihilist. This is my safe place" chant, I took it more as a bad attempt at irony that went over JZ's head rather than as Christian making a serious declaration of his ideological allegiance. Maybe I'm off-base with that, but it was my initial impression. Besides, for someone who readily admits that he doesn't know what nihilism is, Zerzan has until recently spent an awful lot of time speaking as though "it" is a unitary ideology rather than a multitude of historical conditions, however nebulous "its" particulars might be to him.
Christian has repeatedly said he's a nihilist, in many contexts, as far as I know (I'm not very invested in the case). JZ's taking the piss, poking fun at how meaningless the term is, but at the same time he does think that most nihilists seem to be suffering from what he calls surrenderism, "oh life is meaningless, what's the point of doing anything to fix things," which I think is not entirely off the mark, but it's still wrong, because he's doing a disservice to the nihilists who aren't like that. It's like liberals talking about "anarchy."

My guess: he's just doing it to get people talking and thinking. He's definitely not trying to be mean or anything — the man's a sweetheart.
What is JZ's stance on life support and such things?

I'm sure JZ is a decent enough guy. I'm not about to pass negative character judgments on someone I've never even met (unless you're Donald Trump, in which case you're just an irredeemable fucknut ;) ). I give JZ kudos for his recent admission that nihilism isn't a monolith and even agree with a lot of what he has to say about ITS. That said, his discussion of "nihilism" has, until recently, been overly ham-handed and lacking in nuance. I haven't really heard him poke fun at the meaninglessness of the term (which I would tend to agree that it is) so much as simply demand explanations for what it actually means.

For my part, I don't identify as "a Nihilist" but do consider the "nihilistic age" in which we currently live as offering up certain tools of social critique that were not available during the height of modernity. I guess you could say that I view nihilism more as symptom of postmodernity (not to be confused with postmodernism) than I do as a cohesive ideology. One doesn't have to "like" the fact that these historical conditions have emerged in order to make use of the critical tools that they have made available. It is entirely possible to critically engage with so-called "Postmodern" concepts without either endorsing or rejecting them outright. It is ultimately a question of adapting theory and practise to the conditions in which we find ourselves rather than refusing to acknowledge that these conditions exist merely because they don't fit with the outdated explanatory frameworks we've set up.

As for Jeremy Christian, I, like you, am not invested enough in the case to be up on all of the multiple instances when he may have referred to himself as a "nihilist." Even if he was being serious, the term itself is sufficiently ambiguous that there's no reason to assume that he even has the first clue what he's talking about. However, if merely claiming (ironically?) to be a nihilist is enough to be taken seriously by John Zerzan, then perhaps he should extend the same courtesy to Eric Andre of Adult Swim, who made the same claim while pranking Alex Jones at a rally outside the RNC last year. It's worth checking out, if only for a few cheap laughs:

Maybe we should ask him what nihilism is rather than automatically defaulting to the knife-wielding maniac. ;)
(Fri, 28 Jul 2017 20:46:52 +0000, 08:46 PM)Zhachev Wrote: That may be true, although I've heard from a number of older heads with some fame and credibility themselves that he can be a bit of an ass. Can't we all though? And just to be clear, I've never even spoken to the guy.

I think that you can't deny he's engaging in some gaslighting on the subject. He's called everyone from the @news collective, to the the terrible ITS, to ISIS, "nihilists". And then when this guy Dave called in from last week and hammered some counterpoints home, as Matt I think said, suddenly John is able to recall years old reflection pieces on nihilism like he recalls jazz standards for the music breaks.

I've been listening and following JZ somewhat closely for some time now, and it may be true he is a real 'sweetheart' when you know 'em -- but compared with a personality like John Holloway (who I don't endorse politically, and find to be whiny as hell sometimes) he seems to lack a bit of compassion.

Like for example on the issue of anti-tech and people with disabilities who rely on machines to stay alive, when asked of these questions, John gives non-answers. He's more or less been on repeat since the `80s, and that really blows, cause things are always moving, shifting, and useful perspectives are useful.

I deny JZ is "gaslighting". Even if your claim that JZ called all those groups of people nihilists were true (he hasn't), the term gaslighting wouldn't apply. Gaslighting means you are denying the validity of someone's experience in order to manipulate them into questioning their own sanity or reality. That has nothing to do with calling someone a nihilist.

JZ has been quite unequivocal about a primitivist stance on the disabled. Many disabled people became that way through technology. So, get rid of the structure of technology and you can prevent a certain amount of disability. People who are on life support machines will not be turned off (he's said this numerous times). People in wheelchairs likewise will keep their wheelchairs. Primitivists are also not going to go around to hospitals and unplug people from dialysis machines, regardless of what you might have heard or read.

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