The Politics of Vermin: Anarchism and Relinquishment

There’s a very interesting discussion of the merits of Marxism and an Anarchist-Green politics set out in John Zerzan’s book Twilight of the Machines (which I’ll admit to downloading, not reading!) over at the (Dis)loyal Opposition to Modernity. As I understand from the gloss in the DOM post, Zerzan views technology as inherently alienating and destructive and proposes its relinquishment in the interest of human autonomy and the planet (this gloss may need nuancing, obviously!).

Unlike some technophilic left-liberals, I treat relinquishment as a serious moral response to the incompatibility of technical modernity and political transparency. This is because modern technological systems are post-geographic and post-cultural – that is, any invention or device can be replicated in multiple contexts with inherently unpredictable results on the rest of the system (think, for example, of the global impact of Tim Berners Lee’s invention of hypertext for cabal of physicists at CERN). If modern technological systems are inherently unpredictable, then they are inherently uncontrollable. So even if we replace capitalist forms of ownership with a more rational way of allocating resources we’ll still be “living on this thing like fleas on a cat” (to quote Dr Gaius Baltar,)

The only options to verminous status I can conceive are relinquishment or a kind of anti-technological theocracy that artificially restricts the dynamism of self-augmenting technological systems (SATS). Both solutions are arguably based on a self-defeating ideal of sovereignty or autonomy. As Martin Hägglund argues via Derrida, there is no decision without the spacing between now and then – meaning that we can’t live without chancing the worst. The Anarcho-Green is thus a wrong-headed, philosophically naïve death-obsessive but, as fantasies of self-immolation go, his a relatively intelligible one.




2 thoughts on “The Politics of Vermin: Anarchism and Relinquishment

  1. What you mean when you say that modern technology is post-geographic is that these technologies aren’t contained within local political/economies and the same holds when you say that these technologies are post-cultural. As to modern technology being inherently unpredictable, so is the solar system, so is the ocean.

    Put it another way. If we were to abandon “technology” then the earth would go into ecological crisis right away. We’ve got radioactive materials stored all over the place and we’ve got to stay in a tech world if we’re going to contain it.

    So relinquishment is no answer. Slowing down our ability to build and think and change the world is no answer either. We need more technology, not less, but what kind of technology? Technology aimed at what end?

  2. I don’t think that we disagree significantly here, Douglas. I oppose relinquishment for instrumental reasons such as those you mention and on philosophical grounds – there is no pure human origin that would not already be technically mediated. However, I think there is something in the idea that the reach of modern technology introduces a new layer of complexity. The unpredictability of technical systems is an effect of our agency, which is not the case with the solar system or the ocean.

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