There’s no doubt modern society is ecologically destructive and unsustainable. Can the technology that defines it be blamed for social oppression, too? The primitivist philosopher John Zerzan thinks so.
Zerzan argues that agriculture is inherently oppressive because it requires the control and domination of nature. Zerzan says it is the root cause of other forms of oppression in human society, too.
Basing his view on a study of anthropological literature, Zerzan writes in books like “Future Primitive” that “life before domestication/agriculture was in fact largely one of leisure, intimacy with nature, sensual wisdom, sexual equality, and health. This was our human nature, for a couple of million years, prior to enslavement by priests, kings, and bosses.”
The only trouble is, while many hunter-gatherer societies are and were essentially egalitarian, there are some glaring exceptions. The aboriginal people of the Pacific Northwest, for example, had slaves. (They took captives in warfare). You can read more about that here.) I asked Zerzan how he reconciles that with primitivism.
“There are nuances, but the dividing line is domestication,” Zerzan said. “The Northwest coast people had domestication. They were sedentary, they had tobacco and dogs. Even a little bit of domestication really poisons the well. The domination of nature turns all the other stuff in motion.”
Zerzan said he considers the nomadic model to be the most egalitarian. “Agriculture was the worst mistake in human history,” he said.