Dear Mr. Jensen:
I have read Endgame—as well as several other of your works directed at diagnosing our present environmental crisis and fomenting a revolution directed against, as you put it, “civilization.” I have also tried to engage you concerning some things that, to be quite honest, really trouble me about your claim that all of civilization must be brought to an end.
But engaging you turns out to be very difficult.
For example, while you invite participants to join you in your reading club devoted to drafts of your newest works, you explicitly forbid criticism of any kind:
“I want no criticism or editorial suggestions. I cannot stress enough how unhelpful I find criticism or editorial suggestions from people I don't know. I only accept criticism or editorial suggestions from my closest friends (and then only when I ask) and the book's editors. Praise is welcome. Also, if you happen to see an incorrect fact or a typo, I would appreciate learning of those. This latter is NOT an invitation for criticism” (www.derrickjensen.org/readingclub.html).
Moreover, a book club participant must actually pay for the privilege of offering you only praise: $10.00, one month, $35.00, six months, and a discounted rate of $60.00 for a year. I can only assume the content of this work is spectacular since, as you apparently believe, it cannot benefit from criticism, evaluation, alternatives, challenges, or questions AND one must pay for the privilege showering you with applause.
I’m afraid I would not be able to refrain from asking you questions, possibly even challenging some of your assumptions—so I opted not to join. I think I’m just not very good at being that kind of true-believer, but then again, I wasn’t a very good Christian either.
So I decided to try an alternative, and I signed up for the Derrick Jensen Forum (forum.derrickjensen.org/). There were conditions here too: “You agree, through your use of this forum, that you will not post any material which is false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, or harassing,” but these seemed quite doable in comparison with the conditions for the Derrick Jensen Book Club.
I had no interest in posting anything that was false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, or harassing.” So this seemed a go. What I wanted to do was offer some questions and—admittedly critical—observations about the 20 core “premises” you elaborate in Endgame. I have posted them below, along with my premise for premise questions and observations.
But I am mystified. Within less than an hour, I was banned from your forum for being “rude.” This was the specific category of banning. I was certainly querying and critical, but I was not “rude,” and “rude” was not actually a category for which a poster could be banned. “Rude” is not defamatory, inaccurate, etc. So, I would like to be reinstated—not that I expect to be.
I am endeavoring, then, to reach you here—not that I expect this venture to be successful either. But it is enough for others—your would-be readers—to have the opportunity you in fact refuse to offer them: A chance to read your premises for the end of civilization, think about them, and actually offer commentary—including criticism. My commentary follows:
Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.
Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.
Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.
Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.
Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.
Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crash—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.
Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
Another way to put premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) requires the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.
Premise Nine: Although there will clearly some day be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population could occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation). Some of these ways would be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence. Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, it’s not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default. Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence required, and caused by, the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich, and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world. Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps longterm shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it actively—if we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about it—the violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.
Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
Premise Eleven: From the beginning, this culture—civilization—has been a culture of occupation.
Premise Twelve: There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth something—or their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banks—and the poor may not. These “rich” claim they own land, and the “poor” are often denied the right to make that same claim. A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.
Premise Thirteen: Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.
Premise Fourteen: From birth on—and probably from conception, but I’m not sure how I’d make the case—we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes—and our bodies—to be poisoned.
Premise Fifteen: Love does not imply pacifism.
Premise Sixteen: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earth—whether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.
Premise Seventeen: It is a mistake (or more likely, denial) to base our decisions on whether actions arising from these will or won’t frighten fence-sitters, or the mass of Americans.
Premise Eighteen: Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.
Premise Nineteen: The culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.
Premise Twenty: Within this culture, economics—not community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itself—drives social decisions.
Modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the monetary fortunes of the decision-makers and those they serve.
Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the power of the decision-makers and those they serve.
Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are founded primarily (and often exclusively) on the almost entirely unexamined belief that the decision-makers and those they serve are entitled to magnify their power and/or financial fortunes at the expense of those below.
Re-modification of Premise Twenty: If you dig to the heart of it—if there were any heart left—you would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.
Endgame vol. 1, pages IX-XII
Here then is what I posted to your Forum, Mr. Jensen—for which I was banned. Readers can determine for themselves whether my comments meet the criteria for “banning,” and they can let me know (and they can find what Jensen means by toxic mimic here: www.endgamethebook.org/Excerpts/8-%20Abuse%20pt2.htm, and here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7ONYP0CaZs.)
Dear Derrick Jensen Forum participants,
My name is Wendy Lynne Lee, and having read a fair lot of Jensen's work--most importantly both volumes of Endgame, as well as Jensen's premises posted here. I am a committed environmentalist, feminist activist, animal welfare activist, and social/economic justice advocate.
My question has to do with the notion of a "toxic mimic." Jensen claims that "Rape is a toxic mimic of sex. War is a toxic mimic of play. The bond between slave owner and slave is a toxic mimic of marriage." I gather what he means by this is that a toxic mimic is an oppressive and likely violent substitution for a relationship that does not have these features. But if my understanding is correct, then this forum--given its premises and conditions of participation--is itself an example (and a deeply troubling one) of a toxic mimic.
1. The requirement that--as a condition of participation--I must accept any of the 20 premises, and that such participation counts as a community is a toxic mimic of a real community. A real community embraces the examination--even debate--of its premises. Unless we are prepared to jettison the idea that this particular community moves forward via democratic interaction, it cannot constitute a community at all. In the scientific community, for example, what actually bonds participants to one another is not prescribed agreement, but honest interaction--agreement or disagreement--and even on fundamental principles. Indeed, as the philosopher Thomas Kuhn argued in 1963's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, there is no genuine progress in coming to understand the natural world without the refinement of ideas that can come only through interaction that risks disagreement. Debate, moreover, is not inherently violent. In fact, what makes this pretense to community truly toxic is that it excludes the possibility of debate at the outset. THIS, I'd argue is truly oppressive--and because it seeks to censor and cauterize alternative, competing, dissenting points of view--it is also inherently violent--despite the disclaimer to the contrary. Perhaps I will be automatically banned for daring to air such a view here (though this is precisely where it needs to be aired)--but if I am, it will prove my claim beyond doubt. So, my question: How can a forum devoted to meaningful discourse about how to address our current environmental catastrophe possibly move toward accomplishing this goal while simultaneously excluding those voices with which it disagrees? How can such a forum promote itself as liberating--all the while restricting what can be expressed within its borders?
2. There is another--perhaps even more disturbing--sense in which the premises of this forum constitute a toxic mimic, namely, that in delimiting discourse to that which adheres to the 20 premises, it in fact mimics some of the most oppressive and egregious abuses of the authoritarian far right. Advocates for the Tea Party, for example, actively seek to limit free speech rights--and I'll bet most here find this appalling, and rightly so. But what differentiates this forum from the exclusionary practices of the Tea Party? The practice of exclusion is not consistent with ANY movement's struggle for justice. The feminist movement lost considerable credibility for a time when it endeavored to exclude lesbians from its activist ranks. The environmental movement faces a similar danger right here. In excluding voices that do not adhere to the 20 premises, you act in a fashion that can only be described as oppressive in the same way that the feminist movement behaved oppressively when it sought (and failed) to exclude lesbians. So why would you set up the conditions in this fashion?
3. There is a third way in which the premises and conditions of this forum are a toxic mimic: The forum--perhaps unwittingly--mimics Jensen's website book group in that he expressly excludes all criticism--though he solicits praise. This strikes me as profoundly toxic (as well as narcissistic) in that if it's true that good ideas and arguments grow from being examined and challenged, then--entertaining no criticism--how can Jensen possibly know which of his ideas are good? How in this forum can we come to be able to distinguish good ideas from bad, rational from irrational without the possibility of critique, debate? Why doesn't it count as monumentally oppressive that these quarters offer no way to distinguish good from bad claims? Are we to simply concede that ANY claim that coheres with Jensen's 20 premises is good? Why? Why shouldn't I simply call that fascism?
4. With respect to the premises:
Premise one: What does Jensen mean exactly by "civilization"? Does this include art? Music? Architecture? All science? How about medicine? Does the end of civilization include the end of medicine? Are adherents to the premise that civilization must end prepared to commit themselves to foregoing chemotherapy in case of cancer? Antibiotics in case of serious staff infection? Insulin in case of Type 1 diabetes? How about surgery for a ruptured spleen? It strikes me as easy to say we want to see the end on civilization, but a far harder thing to contemplate its implications. If what Jensen is advocating really is a return to anarcho-primitivism, are we prepared to witness the deaths of the millions of human and nonhuman animals that this return would absolutely require? Are we prepared to participate in this genocide? I recognize that the response is that we are already participating in a kind of genocide--indeed. But the notion that there are NO alternatives to either genocide via corporate capitalism or via radical environmental revolution has to be shown on argument and evidence--the possibility of which is excluded here.
Premise two: This claim is factually false. Ancient human cultures contributed significantly to their own demise or necessity to migrate by destroying their land bases. This is not speculation; this is well-established fact. To romanticize native cultures as if they were not environmentally destructive will not help us formulate a genuinely effective environmental strategy.
Premise three: Yes--this certainly contains a great deal of truth--but industrial civilization does not encompass ALL civilization even if industrialization consists as an element in every enterprise. To throw out civilization per se is throwing out the baby with the bathwater--or if it's not, it's a claim that needs an argument not provided in Endgame--and it cannot be provided here without violating the conditions of posting.
Premise four: This is also largely true--but the implication that such oppressive hierarchies exist deliberately--as if by design or conspiracy--so grossly oversimplifies the diversity of culture, tradition, and local practice that to accept it is to accept the oppressive premise that no practices/traditions are able to be salvaged--even those that, say, an indigenous people might want to maintain. What confers on Jensen--or any of us--the authority to claim that all hierarchies involve oppression and fetishizing? Jensen, indeed, does not say "all." But he offers us no way to distinguish between "good" and "bad" hierarchies--hence we are left--given the context--to conclude that all are bad.
Premise five: Jensen mistakes capitalist production for all production. The criticism of capitalist production is also well-established by others whom he does not adequately credit--Marx, for example, or Bakunin, among others. This, moreover, is a gross oversimplification of the notion justice--even in our current incarnation of "civilization." I understand that Jensen's claim is there there is a system which is broken, and a system that therefore must be overthrown. Fine. But this system is not identical with "civilization," and if it is, again, destroying it will require the commission of immense violence--including homicide.
Premise six: What does Jensen mean by a sane and sustainable way of living? It cannot be a return to our ancient past. Or if it is, what will compel us--other than the threat of violence--to stay there? What WILL we do with inventors? What WILL we do with discoverers? Execute them? Why shouldn't I read these premises as a manifesto for a kind of new age Inquisition of all those deemed guilty of environmental wrong-doing?
Premise seven: If we can no longer wait for civilization to crash, what is Jensen actually advocating we do? Blow up dams? OK--why isn't Jensen himself leading this specific action?
Premise eight: Why exactly are the needs of the natural world greater than the needs of the economic system? I am the first one to agree that global capitalism is massively destructive of both human and nonhuman life and welfare, but what do we say to the poor whose dependence on the economic system--however vile it is--is their only guarantee against death--today? The poor would be the very first to die in the environmental revolution Jensen seems to promote. Why should they--especially as so many are women, children, and indigenous peoples--regard this as liberating? As good? Why shouldn't I regard this claim as sexist and racist?
Premise nine: Why would a poor woman accept a "softer" version of population reduction when her old-age depends on the compassion of her children? Gas chambers are painless. But none of us regards this as a remotely acceptable form of population reduction. How does premise nine rule out gas chambers?
Premise ten: What authorizes anyone to make this claim? What authorizes Jensen? That Jensen refuses to brook criticism does NOT solidify his authority, and a quasi-Freudian interpretation of "insane" and the Death Drive" need to be shown. Jensen does draw such comparisons over and over in his writing--but repetition is not an argument. Moreover, if the culture is driven by a death urge--if WE are by NATURE so driven, then there simply is no saving us. We will repeat the "sin" of civilization over and over--a more apt comparison in this dismal case may be Nietzsche's eternal return.
With the posting of just these ten observations, I was banned. But I would like to complete my observations of Jensen’s 20 Premises:
Premise eleven: What is a “culture of occupation”? Do you mean via cultural imperialism? Industrial appropriation? Please clarify, and give examples that show that such a culture is as all-encompassing as you appear to assume, and that this is a justification for ending it in toto.
Premise twelve: OK—so there are actually no rich and no poor, but indeed there are those empowered and those who are not. Why would the “end of civilization” put an end to the deeply ingrained beliefs of people that they are among the rich and the poor? In other words, if this amounts to nothing more than belief, what do the concrete facts of civilization have to do with it?
Premise thirteen: OK—those in power rule by force. But this does indeed involve fire power like guns and tanks, nuclear bombs, and the like. You insist over and over that you oppose violence, but how do you propose the resistance then proceed against those who rule by force? Is all rule bad? Is this like all hierarchies?
Premise fourteen:This, I’m sorry to say, is just a specious argument. What is the evidence that we are all “enculturated” to hate the world and everything in it, including ourselves? Why does this translate into “If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes”? We don’t allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. Many of us act quite conscientiously against such destruction; many of us could not survive at all did we not participate in some destruction. Do you really think the woman gathering wood for a cooking fire in the Sudan has been taught to hate everything? If this premise is true, perhaps we should simply commit mass suicide. Would you be comfortable with that?
Premise fifteen: You bet: Love does not imply pacifism. Who says it does? What is your point?
Premise sixteen: The notion that there exist such things as “spirits” is a gigantic claim in need of an equally gigantic argument replete with evidence. There is a long historical and philosophical tradition relevant to this claim—but you make no mention of it. In any case, without such an argument, why should I accept this claim? After all, there are far more compelling arguments for the other side—that the material world is what there is, that science reveals it to us, and that when we die, we die. History also has it that folks who hold onto notion like that they have a spirit are actually less likely to take the material world seriously—as you advise us to do. Many Chirstians, for example, see this world merely as a kind of trial-run to see whether they have the mettle required for the afterlife. But it’s the afterlife that matters. So if you really think it’s the spirit and its world that matters, why get so worked up about the destruction of this one?
Premise seventeen: OK—so who cares about the “fence-sitters”? But, honestly, who are they? The folks who don’t agree with you?
Premise eighteen: What is “our current sense of self”? Is this one-size-fits-all? How do you know what, say, my “sense of self” is? Please clarify how you come to this insight.
Premise nineteen: I understand, I think, what you mean when you saythat “controlling and abusing the natural world is not justifiable.” But it strikes me as pretty arrogant to think we DO have such control. We have created LOTS of destruction, but this is manifestly NOT control. If we continue on our current climate-changing path we and lots of other species of creature will suffer and die. True. But the natural world will certainly recover—because we do not control it. Indeed, that WE will suffer and die as a consequence of our actions makes it quite clear what’s in “control.” Moreover, you can only abuse something that can experience pain. The world qua world is no such thing. The earth is not a conscious being; it is not our “mother” other than figuratively. We can destroy conditions for our own survival—and very well may, but we cannot ultimately injure something that cannot experience.
Premise 20: There is a great deal to be said about global capitalism, and many worthwhile critiques of which you could avail yourself—beginning with Karl Marx. You have a good point here—but capitalism is still not the same thing as civilization. Hence you have still not made out the case for ending civilization.
I will look forward to your response, Mr. Jensen. And in the meantime, I hope others will avail themselves of your forum (though not your book club—I just don’t think we should have to pay to say only nice things to you); I hope they will respond to either you or even to me right here.
Wendy Lynne Lee