AnthroTechne: An Interview with author Lance Miller

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Unbeknownst to most of the world, the US and Canadian Pacific Northwest is plausibly the world capital of anarcho-primitivism. While the movement is certainly present all over the industrialized world -notably in Europe and Japan- the Pacific Northwest is home to the widely influential and prolific John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen. Along with providing residence to the prime movers of the movement is a college campus where EarthFirst style eco-terrorism seems to be a core curriculum: The Evergreen State College.

Most of the staff of Dangerous:Movement:News  I spoke with were aware John Zerzan lived in Eugene Oregon, but it wasn't until an interview with author Lance Miller did I begin to connect the dots linking the Pacific Northwest as gravitational center to radical environmentalism.  While most are aware of EarthFirst/Greenpeace monkey-wrenching of industrial progress, most would do well to at least read this interview to get a more in depth perspective from a proponent of technology who was inside the anarcho-primitivist beast -Lance Miller actually attended Evergreen State College, and more significant than that, was once on an inner-circle mailing list of Derrick Jensen and had personal email exchanges with the anarchist thinker.  

Direct links to specific topical points in interview

  Axial Age   Machine Governance   Industrial Beauty   Ayn Rand   We Want the Future Lethal to the Past   John Zerzan   Derrick Jensen  

DMN:  So you've released AnthroTechne (the sequel to your previous work, Athena Techne) and we understand its basically not nice, it doesn't play well with the other kids on the political philosophy playground, we've even heard it's bullying a lot of indigenous people and nature lovers.

Lance Miller:  Well, it is nice to real indigenous people in that most of them are literate cellphone users. It is not nice to the idealized and revered illiterate savage many white people fight for, and since those kinds of savages largely don't exist, I'm not nice to the ideas and motivations of white people who have come to the conclusion that their industrialized, literate world is undesirable and they want to make up a foreign exotic people and place to escape to. 

So basically my book doesn't play well with white countercultural types, although if one was to read with precision it is not a friend of conservative movements either. In fact I would say a hippy that loves computers may be more receptive to my book than your average Republican Evangelical. The book, if read with precision, is an offense to a lot of standards and thus highly offensive to people who've invested in being a persona who defends or lives within that standard. And by being this offensive across more than one typical line of political demarcation, it is a real work of philosophy.

DMN:  You end Chapter One of AnthroTechne with a very provocative line: We want a future lethal to the past. Tell us a little more about that.

Lance Miller:   Progress means change in the physical world, change in the concrete reality. Yes, many times progress is via innovations of thought, such as peaceful conflict resolution methodologies presented in several religions. But I counter this "mental software" progress is often vaporware, it holds for a little bit here and there, but is largely crushed by meaner humans who see through the ruse and simply say "I don't play by those rules, I have a weapon better than your pacifist stance allows you to carry, I win". In game theory I think this is called defection, when one player steps outside the boundaries set for cooperative strategy. Wait, let me clarify one level further. Things like conflict resolution aren't a mental innovation, they are a social innovation.  And one society can social innovate all they want, its when different societies meet that we get a disparity, or more often and worse, a violent clash.  Sorry for this detour, but I just wanted to emphasize how human progress is most always a change in the material reality. 

And now this dovetails back to something in the original statement about my philosophy not playing well with certain types of people, mainly people in our past. In AnthroTechne I emphasize illiterate, oral societies are a dominant part of everyone's past. So my slander or meanness is not, say, towards Native Americans, but to all of our ancestors. And its not really slander or malevolence, because our ancestors are dead, we really aren't going to hurt them.  But we should try real hard! (laughs) No, really what I'm saying is let's make a world they couldn't have survived in, and feel good about that. When people support expanding literacy via compulsory education, they are doing this "we want a future lethal to the past"  thing in a subtle but complete way. The idea is, at its core, not that provocative.  It is only provocative due to a tension in contemporary public policy discourse in which we have many agents of change operating in government and non-profits who lust for a return to peasantry and/or primitivism. 

DMN:  These "agents of change", what do you mean, or who do you mean?

Lance Miller:   Ok, that sounds like conspiracy theory paranoia. I'm not saying there is a cohesive organized plot going up to the highest levels of power. I'm saying there is a disorganized popular set of values, what most journalists would call a "popular movement", that has matured past a few books and popular touring speakers to whole college campuses dedicated to the values being packed up into a degree program and spits out professionals dedicated to those memes. This isn''t something unique to radical countercultural hippies, radical Christians do the same with campuses like Liberty University.  

So I'm not saying anything more nefarious than plain old politics is going on, a group has emerged operating on a set of values and have infiltrated decision making positions in government. Politics is always sophisticated, and no one plays it without being sophisticated. For the unsophisticated, politics plays them.  

Back to these "agents of change", I lift that language right out of the graduate program I was enrolled in at Antioch University - Seattle.  The degree program was called "Whole Systems Design", and I was there because I wanted a rigorous immersion in "system theory". The school explicitly designs a curriculum for people who plan to go on to middle tier positions in large organizations. Not leaders in the front page making CEO or Mayoral order of magnitude, but people with a subtle leverage in the direction of the organization. 

(Lance stops and visibly considers something, and backtracks) Back to what I said about being "sophisticated". There is a place for unsophisticated, and that is in resolve after making a decision to go a certain direction. (We should always be open to empirical data coming in, to not be open to that is to be a robot dedicated to a mystical idea, which is the only kind of robot I consider pathological.) AnthroTechne is an instance of that unsophisticated resolve I speak of. And that resolve is propelled by knowing yourself, and in the case of everyone resonating with the AnthroTechne message, this means knowing you want a world of industrial infrastructure mixed in every ocean view, wide open desert plains view, and snow covered view. That interstate highways, electricity grids, ports full of ships, and airports provide visual and sound stimulation every bit as beautiful as a mountain or waterfall. Once people can rid themselves of the lie that nature is beautiful and feels good, and industrial is ugly and feels bad, they can rejoin the bulk of human history in which architecture, battleships and other man-made objects were correctly placed on an aesthetic pedestal.  

AnthroTechne is book that doesn't try to convince readers. And that may confuse people of this era of constant propaganda, they are so used to being taught, convinced....essentially populated with arguments and data...and only those things that try to convince are considered intellectual experience. What if something just said "this is what I pledge to do"?

DMN: That is an Ayn Rand rule -never trying to convince others of your viewpoint- basically prohibiting propaganda. 

Lance Miller: Yes, I recall that. I guess there are overlaps of my philosophy and hers. I have a love/hate relationship with that smart, mean old lady. I think absolute fanboys of her may be disappointed in my philosophy, much less my applied politics. AnthroTechne doesn't have any Romanticism in it, and I'm proud of that, whereas Ayn Rand admitted her works were clouded with Romanticism. I think my book says things that are more enduring, that are roadworthy for the next thousand or more years. I don't think Atlas Shrugged is remotely in that league. 

DMN: Yes, your claim AnthroTechne is a Neo Axial Age document. I reviewed the Axial Age entry in Wikipedia before our interview. Fairly lofty claim you have there, about as lofty as one can get when it comes to literature. How do you see this book as belonging to that league?

Lance Miller: It doesn't belong in that league because of great writing, it belongs in that league because there is an Axial Age, which means Pivotal Age, happening right now, and few documents have emerged giving proper operating instructions for this age. Its as if we are trying to fit the old clogs of the Austrian peasantry onto our modern Olympic athletes, and the results are either comedic or tragic. The first Axial Age was marked by the critical mass use of literacy, and the great works associated with that era were the new specie of mentality that comes with literate manipulation rather than the former solely oral tradition. Our current Axial Age in which literate objects, computer code, operate dynamically on other literate objects such as databases of text, is giving rise to a new specie of mentality. No one should deny the grandeur and merit of the great works of the first Axial Age, but eventually we are going to replace their reign over us with something more native to our current mentality. AnthroTechne is but one of what I hope becomes a well populated field of fresh perspectives for the emerging age we are in. 

DMN: Shifting dramatically here, you offer what you claim is a "Neo Axial Age" perspective, and for the good reader I want to warn you call for allowing machines to "govern, arrest or nullify problematic human beings".  Some people, no wait I should say almost all people, may not like machines as rulers, or deciding who is on death row. What kind of human beings do you want machines to go after -to incarcerate or terminate? 

Lance Miller: Many kinds of people, but for something more specific, I'll say people who are trying to monkey-wrench this Axial Age era. And that would be anarcho-primitivists, EarthFirst, ecoterrorists, Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan to name a just a few categories and their primary thinkers.  And I don't say this in the book, but maybe should have, in the first Axial Age literate humanity slowly developed a document driven government, court system, police and military to hold their enterprise together and move it forward incrementally. Civilization preserved itself, defended itself, and expanded itself by being document driven. Here is the main point: people were jailed based on having broke a written rule. Our age is one of globally networked computer processing, why shouldn't someone go to jail due to their breaking a computer-based rule just as in former times they broke a document-based rule?

DMN: Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan. I've heard of Zerzan only in simple reference to the anarchist Black Bloc, but tell me more about Jensen and Zerzan or at least why the machines should go after them.

Lance Miller: When I was a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington I was around a few of the Black Bloc. No wait, I was introduced to some of them the first morning of the anti-WTO protests in Seattle 1999. In Olympia, I first met some when I organized a protest at the Capital a week after the presidential election of 2000. After a few years being around them, I read one of Derrick Jensen's books, and was briefly a believer in his critique of the world. I wasn't active in the Black Bloc kind of way, but was a sympathizer somewhat. During that time I got on the mailing list of Jensen "followers" who wanted to discuss what to do next as a result of embracing his summation of the world. Jensen was a participant in the forum. Once, his home computer began to malfunction, and we had a few personal communications in which I offered to help. 

During my years sympathizing with Jensen's worldview I began my masters program at Antioch. Long story shortened, Antioch's adherence to primitivist dogma was a transformational opportunity for me, one in which I saw the primitivist worldview in a clear critical light and began to oppose it completely. During these exact years of my transformation, Jensen had grown even more of a following, he became the edgy, charismatic extremist that mainline environmental conferences invited as their token extremist speaker. The guy does have charisma as a speaker, he's handsome, edgy, sincere, has just enough flaws in his delivery which helps make him appear more genuine. 

Let me cut back to answering the question: because Jensen has advocated blowing up hydroelectric dams. I live in the US state that has the biggest and most of those. This is awesome renewable energy that isn't spewing carbon into the atmosphere. It provides a significant portion of Seattle's electricity needs, plus electrifying the rural parts of the state as well. Jensen would like to see that blown up! Yes, I would love it if our legal and policing protocols were empowered by machine decision making, and the machines went out and got Jensen and any who are engaged in activities he has advocated. 

It would be a beautiful irony. The hydroelectric dams along the Columbia River power a large Google server complex near The Dalles Oregon. Jensen would like to see that dam blown up. Wouldn't it be poetic if an artificial intelligence rose up from that Google server complex and legally nullified Derrick Jensen and anyone carrying out his ecoterrorist mission? 

In my program at Antioch they taught a postmodernist and somewhat solipsist-prone idea that we have a socially constructed reality.  I agree at least that our laws and social reprimands are socially constructed. I hope we as a society can be elastic enough to break from old constraints and realize the power and efficiency machine governance would allow. Right now, today, we cannot silence someone like Derrick Jensen. Social constructionism and our built in elasticity says tomorrow we could be comfortable seeing machines get him. AnthroTechne advocates for that tomorrow.