Future Primitive and Other Essays

by John Zerzan (1994)


Zerzan has got good ideas, but not a very captivating manner of presenting them. Most of the stuff he says here was said more elegantly or with better supporting data by Derrick Jensen, Pierre Clastres, Marshal Sahlins, and even guys like Edward Abbey and Aldo Leopold.

Either way, we are treated to the now-predictable argument that progress and civilization are corrupting our human spirit (actually, a short essay on “Technology” at the end of the book is one of the highlights as he briefly discusses the insidious harm that the inevitable march of computers and robotics perpetrates). What is unfortunately missing is any sort of solution.

Perhaps the most interesting essay, “Tonality and Totality” is little more than an indulgent aside, where Zerzan discusses the subtle control that all Western music exerts over us. According to him, the major/minor key dichotomy with its eight notes actually conditions our brains to accept our culture’s paradigm of domination and subjugation. Just as minor or atonal notes must be subjugated to the majors for the sake of the melody, just as every “off-note” must resolve itself toward the harmony or key, we must sacrifice our individual autonomy for the sake of society. Whether or not you agree, this is by far the most provocative position Zerzan endorses in the entire book.

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