Why Hope? | Book Review

Author John Zerzan has been the voice of the Primitivist movement for quite some time, having questioned technology in writing since the early 1980’s  – His book “Why Hope?” printed in 2015 is a continuation on this body of work. Will it rally us to take a stand against civilization?

john zerzan why hope

“We are the top of the food chain, which makes us the only animal nobody needs” – John Zerzan

I like books that can reshape my thinking, in some shape or form.  Radical political and sociological thinking, especially in the school of thought that John Zerzan teaches in through literature, is always a fascinating read and I went to this book hoping to get a little bite out of the ‘new ideas apple’.

The first part of the book is a walkthrough of history, from the ancient times to the current age, stopping only to pick up critical facts on how civilization has bent the shape of human life. The author has very critical glasses on when he describes how we went from hunter-gatherer society (something he likes) to a more agricultural, hierarchical society (something he dislikes), and is very quick to point out the bad parts of our species ‘domestication’, as he calls it.

“A sense of decline had long been underway, along with a lurking fearfulness. A basic part of the background for this, basic to civilization, is the erosion of community and the separation of the individual from communal bonds. The most primary driver of this process, and most primary to civilization, is division of labor” – John Zerzan

Very knowledgeable in history, John Zerzan shares with us his storage of information and present it on his Green Anarchy platter in a very unorthodox way: Every other sentence is a quote from another author or thinker and it makes the first part of the book very choppy, the flow gets broken constantly by introduction of a concept and ending with a thought from somebody else.

I can appreciate the thought behind this, but I prefer the later writings of the book more, where John Zerzan is writing in his own voice uninterrupted by quotations. I would probably like the first part of the book better if it would go deeper on some of the subjects presented,  because “Why Hope?” is shining the brightest when Zerzan allows himself to delve deeper in analytical thinking and philosophying on a particular subject more.

“When a city, dependent on its surroundings as every city is, has imposed its control over a region, it is thereby a ‘state’. A city must guarantee the inputs required for its survival, must police its trade arteries, and this is the near-universal process in state formation (and war).” – John Zerzan

Mr. Zerzan’s idea of us people living in civilization being domesticated is making me nod in agreement and the basis for this argument is well-laid in the book and the message is impossible to not take to heart for me as a reader – How we voluntarily allowed ourselves into the office space, chained to a clock, dependant on mechanical means of survival and as John Zerzan put its: “In a fragmented, isolated techno-scape, many cling to their phones as to life rafts, but the devices mostly connect nowhere to nowhere“.

The dystopian in me loves these kinds of sentences, I’d eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I could.

“The digital age is pre-eminently the ultimate reign of Number. The time of Big Data, computers that can process thirty quadrillion transactions per seconds, algorithms that increasingly predict – and control – what happens in society. Standardized testing is another example of the reductive disease of quantification” – John Zerzan

“Why Hope?” is a perfect read if you want to water your ideological plant with a little green dissent for civilization and even though the first chapter of the book is a little rough to read there is plenty of fine ideas to pick out from the book that its flaws are forgivable.

john zerzan why hope

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  1. I wrote wrote a blog (kimbroadie.com) on Terence McKenna’s Archaic Revival, another paean to the Paleolithic, albeit laced with magic mushrooms. My pint: we can’t go home again. our symbiosis with technology cannot be undone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting, is the blog article still online? A casual googling didnt give me any results, sounds like something I *need* to read 😀

      Collectively, we can’t go home, thats a lost cause in itself to hope for – But, I think we can be much, much more “ecological”, but that requires some degree of effort. I have a plan myself to make something similar to a permacultural farm whenever I have saved enough money to do so.


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