This is something of intuitive speculation, given that I have limited experience, and hence knowledge, with the subject matter — though I usually find I am rarely wrong when it comes to intuition. At any rate, a very influential thinker in primitivist circles, John Zerzan, recently took a jab during his podcast (May 29, 2018): “Space: The Final Socialist Frontier?” ) at a relatively late branch of anarchist thought known as “ontological anarchy.” If you have never heard of it, you have done well for yourself and it is quite natural, given that I, and I imagine most people, never heard of it and would never have heard of it until they happened to twist their ankle in a dark little internet rabbit hole while jaunting about on the fantasyscape of social media. Or if alternatively — and the gods have mercy on them — they spend much time at “anarchist bookfaires.” It by and large speaks towards its irrelevance, that you cannot and will not hear of it in any other way, which is, in general, what Zerzan criticised it for. Just as a disclaimer, I am not a fan of Zerzan; he, and I suppose unjustly so, takes some of my displeasure insofar as there are too many people in the primitivist arena who refer to him as if he were a prophet to avoid thinking for themselves, and of what I have read from him, I wasn’t too impressed on philosophical grounds. He at least seems to be a thinking person, more or less committed to what he believes in, though, and it can at least be said that there are “primitivists” who do practice what they preach, if in no more than going out and learning how to build a fire.
Moving on — this would be where I am short on knowledge, as I have never read or know much about some of the evidently foundational or influential thinkers of ontological anarchy, such as Hakim Bey. I read a little of one of his pieces (“Ontological Anarchy in a Nutshell”), and I know as much as that he entertains fantasies of or idolises child molestation — something immediately rancourous to me. But as far as I gathered from that piece and those who refer to him often, or identify as an ontological anarchist, it boils down to one of the more marked sorts of philosophical nihilism, impotency, and intellectual dishonesty I have come across. I cannot go into any sort of nuanced analysis pinpointing where exactly, what work from which authors would most be spawning such a characteristic — it may, and it is likely a part, just be that it is attractive to certain kinds of people, those already “prepared” for that kind of thinking. The end result, though, is plain to see, if you deign to look — a small cabal of internet (and I suppose bookfaire) rejects who tenuously call themselves “anarchists,” whose guiding/central principle is the psychotic notion that philosophy — “ontology” in particular — will somehow result in any sort of significant political change, or change to the world in general. I have noted and criticised such a thing a number of times before, and how, when it affects any change, it is only to contaminate and spawn more impotent, snarling, arrogant hand-sitters or keyboard warriors; though I hadn’t really known precisely that “ontological anarchy” had much to do with it. Some, I have noted, don’t even really seem to believe that philosophy and its shaky relationship to reality, in and of itself, is praxis — some are outright contemptuous of any and all notions or signs of trying to get anything done, whatever those movers’ political affiliations, and it is motivated in part by a nihilistic fatalism in the powerlessness of anyone and/or a general meaningless to the world. If nothing really matters all that much on any grounds, it gives one the licence to have no responsibility towards anything — except, of course, to their all-important selves, and most will readily indulge in that. Zerzan noted similarly in his podcast — that the only thing they really seem to do is write and publish their literary cancer, make a bit of money, in “anarchist” outlets, whether on websites/anthologies run by their clique of friends or at the bookfaires.
He was also keen on criticising such philosophical “””praxis””” on the grounds that philosophy and its profession, on its own, does not do much in the way of creating change in the world. It returns to a point I made in a previous blog entry (“Know Thyself“), that words are capable of only dealing with semantic truths, and with semantics being “falsifiable,” unlike the concrete reality, they can be used to endlessly deceive oneself and others, even to the nihilistic, post-modern point of declaring there is no truth — everything is nothing but “endless subjectivities,” as I lately saw one of the self-proclaimed ontologists comment amongst some other somewhat-schizophrenic gibberish. Ontological anarchy, in effect, or more properly, its adherents as a conglomerate, are a living caricature of everything typefied as undesirable about post-modernism and its deconstructionism — or maybe, plain destruction — of language and thought. They are so high on the illusive ether of words and semantic truths that one would not be at all out of line to question whether most of them were not mentally-ill and of the schizoid variety — itself postulated to be a “disease of civilisation,” particularly of the advanced and particularly abstractionist variety that some of their sort ironically condemn — with their magical thinking (words, ontology alone, intimately relating to and effecting reality) and their often-illogical play with language to deflect all criticism. It is not surprising, given that other cherished thinkers (not of ontological anarchy but philosophies that seemed to have contributed to it) mentioned by their sort — Foucault, Deleuze, and co. — are the definitive post-modernists.
This, then, was where I had wondered, prior to listening to the podcast but having read mention of what it was about, that whether or not Zerzan wasn’t criticising ontological anarchy so much as “ontological anthropology.” The latter I am more familiar with, and the fact that his criticisms sounded like those same criticisms levelled at ontological anthropology strikes me as no mere coincidence. You can find an article at the end of the essay in the Links section  which does a neat summary on what ontological anthropology is, written by two renowned anthropologists, Bessire and Bond. I can add, though, that ontological anthropology, as it seems with ontological anarchy, refers much to the same post-modernists, whether in analysing their work or explaining its relevancy to its own proposed goals. Like your typical post-modernist, however, those goals, when understandable, often have no feasible plan to accomplish them, with there seeming to be an explicit optimism that merely thinking about it/imagining it will allow it to happen eventually — in the same way “ontology” somehow defines the ontological anarchist’s do-nothingnes … er, I mean, “praxis.” I would refer you to read another, longer paper by Bessire and Bond further fleshing out the criticisms mentioned in “The Ontological Spin,” known as “Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique.”  And what do you know — as the name of the article implies, ontological anthropology, like its “anarchic” relative, is also known to be well-rehearsed in deflecting criticism with various semantic ploys, apologia, or the outright annihilation of anything resembling intelligible communication.
To sum it up, in drawing from both of these muddied sources, both ontological anthropology and anarchy seem to both merit the descriptor from Bessire and Bond of “speculative futurism,” chasing visions of the future — or “becoming” — that only exist in words and its thought at the expense of the present (and any realistic future). Nay, not even chasing, because chasing would imply you are actually doing something to get there — rather, just thinking about it, speculating. Sometimes not even doing that much —who cares about the future, when you are little else but a wart on the backside of modern civilisation, wanting nothing more or less immediately gratifying than selling your book and being derisive of anyone and anything that points you out on your parasitic con? Everything is left purposefully ambiguous and semantically obscure, to cloak that they have no plan, and even at times no real purpose (something that prompted Zerzan, in his talk, to chalk up the latest issue of an ontological anarchist publication, Black Seed, as very likely post-modernist, without having read it all yet, due to it emphasising in some opening salvo “ambiguity”).
If I seem harsh in my judgement, I would refer to one of my few cherished philosophers, Nietzsche — who was also, pleasantly-surprised, briefly mentioned by Zerzan in the podcast, on a similar point, and who also, oddly, seems to be a favourite of some of the ontological anarchists. I would say odd, because while Nietzsche may have likewise — but far more comprehensibly — pointed out the subjectivities and shortcomings of language, he was fully-cognisant of the fact that it was language he was criticising, not a semantic abstraction mistaken for/imposed onto reality (which he himself readily criticised in many ways). “Confusion of language of good and evil; this sign I give unto you as the sign of the state. Verily, the will to death, indicateth this sign! Verily, it beckoneth unto the preachers of death!” Spake Zarathustra/Nietzsche — that is, the confusion of language and hence its ability to accurately reflect on reality, typical of various abstractionists, is the sign of the enemies of truth, of life, of competency and strength, they who are the “preachers of death,” the intellectual lifeblood and champions of the State.
Nietzsche’s ire was particularly directed at Judaeo-Christianity and its modern, progressivist descendents — of which, we can readily place ontological anarchy and similar “post-modernisms” as its latest and most extreme incarnation. The knee-jerk reaction to such an assertion — the commonality of Judaeo-Christianity and ontological anarchy — might be incredulity, given that many ontological anarchists will quite readily rail against “Christian morality,” if they are fired up enough to write/speak of such (generally, it takes a bit of “egoist anarchism” in their philosophical flavour to get them to commit to that much). However, as the quote from Nietzsche implies, ontological anarchy and similar strains is very much of the kind of defeatist sickness that emerges in any “advanced” civilisation — State societies — one which encourages an acceptance of one’s present enslavement or denigrating circumstances. In my opinion, though, ontological anarchy is much more hopeless/pessimistic than its predecessors, proportionate to the modern civilisation’s exceptional degree of social poison, authoritarianism, and ravaging of all that is human and natural. To elaborate further with a non-western example of such “defeatism:” the philosophy of Buddhism — which seems another beloved of such ontologists — arguably emerged from the pressures and miseries of a world saturated by suffering caused by civilisation, similar to Christianity. Rather than trying to improve the world, though (except as an afterthought, or what eventually clearly took the backseat), they name the world/existence nothing but suffering, or evil, and the road to salvation, escaping it, is entirely personal — you can save yourself, maybe help a few others towards it, but it is still ultimately your own, something you cannot give nor should you attempt to give to the world (as expressed by the late Daniel Quinn). Nirvana is yours alone, your Temporary Autonomous Zone within an unsalvageable world. There is probably something to say, that such ideologies/philosophies became dominant tools of various states eventually, even if they were initially persecuted — what better way to ensure perpetual control and enslavement (true damnation, hell on earth) than to have everyone believe it is just so, and they will never, nor should they, be able to change that by any effort? In advocating for nothing at all — or outright advocating for philosophy/ontology to “save” yourself — ontological anarchy clearly wears the mantle of salvationism, just as its counterpart, ontological anthropology, likewise bears the poison of this new religion of impotency, uplifting speculation, to the halls of the liberal arts in Academia.
Many people undoubtedly find solace in such “salvation” — it gives closure, it is a path of least-resistance. No resistance, as the case may be. Call it the pagan in me, though, but I find that abhorred, this curling up into one self and abandoning all faith in everything, be it an idea, a people, the world itself. If you don’t like the state of things, you should stop at nothing to change it. And evidently, unlike whatever such ontologists profess with some of them referencing vague concepts of sacredness in nature, I actually do believe the world is sacred — for if you think something is sacred, you do what you can to not disturb it nor allow it to be disturbed (though these self-same hand-sitters usually throw something or other in there to imply it has something to do with the self, I guess pardoning themselves once again from any real action or belief and love of anything or anyone but their “unique” selves). Even if the odds seem slim or hopeless, you strive against them all the same, as I am accountable to others in that, but I also respect myself enough that I also hold myself accountable. It returns to my point of “believing in nothing,” freeing them from ever having to do anything for anyone, all bonds and commitment, and I would add they don’t even really respect themselves and their own dignity, in holding themselves to such abysmally low standards.
With anarchists supposedly being anti-state, and against all of its devices, it then begs the question of how such “ontologists” qualify themselves as “anarchists” in any capacity. They are devoted to individualistic, temporary — though more often, illusory — pockets of easier subjugation, personal salvation, that all States similar to the modern mould have needed to add a variety of “flavours” to its homogenising subjugation, just to spice up life enough for its pets to endure, while otherwise discouraging actual threats to its power or pretensions towards freedom. Ontological “anarchy” fetishises and enhances the state’s linguistic tools — the confusion of language of good and evil — and their non-existent praxis, their refusal to lower themselves into doing something other than mental masturbation, is a sign of their submission to the Arch, the “rule,” of the State. They are the truest distillation/expression of their time and the culture they supposedly so hate via lip service — they who believe in nothing, who hate the mere thought of meaning and action beyond their small and petty selves, and who serve the state in their advocacy of submission. It is a pity they have purloined the name of “anarchy/anarchism,” infiltrating it with the dirtiness of their nihilistic post-modernism, and by doing so, repelling those with actual insurrectionary aspirations. Both anarchy and anthropology would do well — and it may be the only way to remain at all viable and true to their roots — by purging such from their midst.
I will say, finally (and as an aside) — thank the gods for human behavioural ecology. Without that, anthropology would be a total joke today, for all that the sociocultural side has been waylaid in recent decades by such garbage masquerading as scholasticism.
1. John Zerzan’s podcast in question, “Space: The Final Socialist Frontier?”:
2. Short summary and critique of ontological anthropology by Bessire and Bond, “The Ontological Spin:”
3. A free PDF version of Bessire and Bond’s “Ontological Anthropology and the Deferral of Critique:”