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Against Technology: A Talk
by John Zerzan (April 23,
The Anarchist Library
A humanities symposium called “Discourse@Networks 200” was held at Stanford University over the course of several months in 1997. The following talk on April 23 represents the only dissent to the prevailing high-tech orientation/appreciation.
Thanks for coming. I’ll be your Luddite this afternoon. The token Luddite, so it falls on me to uphold this unpopular or controversial banner. The emphasis will be on breadth rather than depth, and in rather reiﬁed terms, owing to time considerations. But I hope it won’t disable whatever cogency there might be to these somewhat general remarks.
It seems to me we’re in a barren, impoverished, technicized place and that these characteristics are interrelated. Technology claims that it extends the senses; but this extension, it seems, ends up blunting and atrophying the senses, instead of what this promise claims. Technology today is oﬀering solutions to everything in every sphere. You can hardly think of one for which it doesn’t come up with the answer. But it would like us to forget that in virtually every case, it has created the problem in the ﬁrst place that it comes round to say that it will transcend. Just a little more technology. That’s what it always says. And I think we see the results ever more clearly today. The computer cornucopia, as everything becomes wired into the computer throughout society, oﬀers variety, the riches of complete access, and yet, as Frederick Jameson said, we live in a society that is the most standardized in history. Let’s look at it as a “means and ends” proposition, as in, means and ends must be equally valid. Technology claims to be neutral, merely a tool, its value or meaning completely dependent on how it is used. In this way it hides its ends by cloaking its means. If there is no way to understand what it is in terms of an essence, inner logic, historical embeddedness or other dimension, then what we call technology escapes judgment. We generally recognize the ethical precept that you can’t achieve valid or good ends with deﬁcient or invalid means, but how do we gauge that unless we look at the means? If it’s something we’re not supposed to think about in terms of its essential being, its foundations, it’s impossible. I mean, you can repeat any kind of cliche. This is that kind of thing that one hopes is not a cliche because the means and ends thesis is a moral value that I think does have validity.
A number of people or cases could be brought up to further illuminate this. For example, Marx early on was concerned with what technology is, what production and the means of production are, and determined, as many, many people have, that it’s at base division of labor. And hence it is a vital question how stunting or how negative division of labor is. But Marx went on from that banality, which doesn’t get much examined, as we know, to very diﬀerent questions, such as which class owns and controls the technology and means of production, and how does the dispossessed class, the proletariat, seize that technology from the bourgeoisie. This was quite a diﬀerent emphasis from examining and evaluating technology, and represents an abandonment of his earlier interest. Of course, by that point, Marx certainly felt that technology is a positive good. Today the people who say that it’s merely a tool, a neutral thing, that it’s purely a matter of...
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