16 January 2014
From Anarcho-primitivism to Sandy Hook?
The New York Daily News has brought global attention to a piece of intellectual detective work by a blogger who, for what it's worth, has identified the perpetrator of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre as a caller (under the pseudonym "Greg") to a radio talk show conducted by John Zerzan, a leading thinker in the anarcho-primitivist movement. The blogger identified the shooter by tracing his comments on another forum under a known pseudonym, in one of which he comments on the call he made to Zerzan. In the call, made in late 2011, "Greg" equates the notorious face-ripping rampage of a trained chimpanzee to the amoklaufs (to use my own term) of alienated youths whose ranks "Greg" would soon join. "Greg" shows the apparent influence of primitivist thinking when he objects to accounts of the chimp rampage that blame the incident on a foolhardy attempt to tame a wild animal. The way "Greg" (if not Zerzan) saw it, a chimp rampage and a school shooting are essentially the same phenomenon, since civilization (as primitivists understand it) is as antithetical to humanity as it is to other primates. To an extent, Zerzan supports this view, though the transcript shows him a passive listener to "Greg;" in other writings, he attributes mass shootings (if not chimp rampages) to a degree of alienation for which civilization itself is to blame. People are now likely to ask whether Adam Lanza's interest in primitivism contributed to his obsession with mass murder or served to justify his own amoklauf. It would not be the first time primitivists have faced such scrutiny; some in the movement felt upon reading the Unambomber's manifesto, without endorsing his attacks, that he had some valid points about industrial society. While idealizing a prelapsarian state of unalienated communion, intimacy and solidarity, primitivism arguably counts as an anti-humanist movement to the extent that adherents concede the necessity of a mass die-off of humanity before the survivors can resume the good old ways. Few primitivists, I assume, are interested in hurrying such a process along by killing people themselves, expecting instead that civilization will destroy itself, or that nature will do the job in some way. For the sake of argument, I'll also assume that primtivists are also moved by a greater compassion toward all those suffering in civilization than Lanza, in his various identities, ever showed. To him, I suspect, all that mattered was that his life was miserable, and in a kind of megalomania he held all of civilization to blame for that. Anarcho-primitivism may encourage such beliefs, but to my knowledge it doesn't recommend the sort of response we saw at Sandy Hook. But since it has no real faith in progress, the scruples of individual adherents probably have little restraining influence on those who conclude that most of humanity is better off dead. Lanza was less an anarcho-primitivist himself -- I don't really care to explore the subject much further -- but someone who may have found in it a rationalization of his own deranged feelings and a justification for expressing them. Depending on your impulses, you might find such rationalization or justification anywhere, from political ideology to religious faith. A link between anarcho-primitivism and the Sandy Hook amoklauf is definitely interesting, but it isn't as simple as 1+1=death. Anarcho-primitivism itself may only be a reflection of what's really wrong with our society and culture, and it almost certainly isn't the solution to the problem.