Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Open Letter to Radical Environmental Writer, Derrick Jensen, best-selling author of Endgame.

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.

Here's why:

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
wlee@bloomu.edu

37 comments:

Melinda said...

It doesn't seem you actually read Jensen's books. He answers and/or refutes most of your questions, and some of the criticisms of his premises rely on strawman claims. I'm not going to go through them one by one, since it would be a waste of my time to simply repeat what he writes in the books (and I honestly don't have the time right now), but specifically the question "What is civilization?" really suggests to me that you haven't read his books, since he offers a very specific and in-depth explanation of his definition, which is really hard to miss. If you did skip those sections of the book, you can even just Google 'derrick jensen "what is civilization"' and relevant links should pop up. In fact, here's a relevant passage in the book.

Another theme he spends a lot of time discussing across his works is the people who DO believe that love implies pacifism, and who get angry at him to even considering tactics outside nonviolence. I'd be surprised you also missed this in the books if you read them.

The information about the reading club was interesting, although it sounds more like a preview of unpublished works than a peer editing or debate session, so I would recommend actually sending your comments to Jensen directly. His e-mail address is listed on his website (as is his P.O. box), and I haven't seen any requirement that communication only be praise. Good luck! However, I do recommending (re)reading Endgame and/or his other work first.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Melinda,

Thank you for your correspondence, and my apologies for getting back in so tardy a fashion. I did not realize I had a comment. I indeed have read Jensen--carefully and extensively. I would be interested to know exactly which claims you regard as straw. You can't make this criticism stick without at least an example of what you mean--this is merely groundless accusation.

Jensen's view of civilization is repetitive--but it is certainly not deep. His understanding of history is narrow and excludes a great deal of what we call civilization--art, medicine, music--just to name a few. I think Jensen's right in many ways about the destructiveness of some human practices--but to denounce all of civilization as conspiring toward our current environmental dilemma is not only false, it is absurd. I agree with Jensen too that love does not imply pacificm--but the straw argument is all his. Virtually no one in environmental philosophy makes any such claim, and if Jensen had done his homework actually reading what serious environmental thinkers argue--he'd know better. But such folks don't make his bibliographies--and I think that this is because he doesn't want to grapple with any real arguments from real thinkers.

The information about the reading club reveals a serious problem with Jensen--his utter refusal to deal with criticism. He remains insular, accessible only to his followers, and that way can better build his self-image as a martyr and a savior. And this IS what he's after.

I have corresponded with Jensen--directly. Jensen does not wish to deal with any questions whose answers do not confirm his worldview. If you introduce criticism such as "Does this view implicitly condone some acts of violence, say, blowing up dams, for the sake of saving, say, Salmon--and what is the moral justification for that given the human lives potentially lost?"--an eminently reasonable question--he'll shut you down. Try it. Try it on the Derrick Jensen fan website. See how long it takes for you to be cut off.

For what it's worth, I don't think Jensen's ultimate motives are about the environment--I think their about Jensen--who has a virtual monopoly on his publisher, PM Press, and whose allies--Lierre Keith, for example--help to insure his insularity from criticism.

Wendy Lynne Lee

corneilius said...

"Why exactly are the needs of the natural world greater than the needs of the economic system? "


1. The Natural World births us, we are expressions of it. That's a biological fact. We need it more thna it needs us.

2. An Economic System: A system in this sense of the word is a CONSTRUCT: to whit Western Industrial or Euramerican Dominant Culture; it is artificial, rapacious, and it is one which by design and action concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, encourages poverty for a majority, and encourages manufacturing activities that do not return nutrients to the natural world, but does instead return toxins.

Jensen defines 'civilisation' quite clearly, as a system of relationships and actions centered around organisms (people) living in high density whose needs are met by taking 'resources' which actually, are the needs of other life forms, often people, from other places, most often by coercion.

Such a system can not be changed, for it's fundamental premise is false : that the world exists as a 'resource' for Industry. And that some few ought hoard the bulk of the wealth of Society, whilst others starve as a direct result of that hoarding.

That is abuse.

Your rebuttal of Jensen is really quite mild, littered with opinion, rather than evidence.

Your portrayal of Aboriginal Cultures, of their various ways of life, many of which improved the habitat for all life, is fundamentally incorrect. Neurotypical. Imperious. Empire logic.

The vast data now being revealed regarding the 350 million Aboriginal Peoples still extant, and the 400 years of first contact reports, observations shows just how ill-informed your thinking is on this matter.

All Cultures make art, music, oral histories and stories. The Euramericans have traditionly associated Art with Power. The 'masters' all worked as propagandists for Power.

Aboriginal Art emerges out of a grass roots culture, and is an archive of lived experience, that is the real meaning of peoples lives. It is as colourful, as diverse, as creative and intelligent as any.

corneilius said...

Why exactly are the needs of the natural world greater than the needs of the economic system?

Do you really need to ask?

We humans have emerged as an expression of the natural world. Nature births us, and provides all we truly need.

Industrial Dominant Culture is an artifice. One that is degrading the overall fecundity of the Natural World for what? Profits.

And who RUNS the Economic System? Whose got the most power? Are THEY going to make a voluntary change?

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Hi Cornelius,

1. You're right that we need the natural world more than it needs us. In fact, it doesn't need us at all. Although the natural world includes some conscious entities, it's not conscious. It can certainly be destroyed, not harmed. That we need it, however, has no particular implications about what environmentalism we should adopt or for what ends.

2. You confuse one economic system, capitalism, with all economic systems, and you falsely characterize it as if it were a conspiracy to dominate the poor. I'm no fan of capitalism. But you can't sensibly identify all of Western (or for that matter any) culture with capitalist economy. THIS throws the baby out with the bath water in that much of art, music--CULTURE--offers criticism of capitalism, and isn't the product of it. This reading of culture is reductionistic and self-defeating for any environmental movement that stands a chance of succeeding.

Ditto for Jensen's definition of civilization. This may be clear enough for the true-believer, but it leaves the vast majority of civilization--good and bad--out in favor of a "civilization" tailor made for Jensen's calls to blow up dams. That "the world exists as a 'resource' for Industry" is NOT a premise of civilization. it is a premise of capitalism--and this difference is crucial FOR articulating an environmental movement that stands a chance. I agree that global capitalism ought to be overthrown. But Jensen's identifying this with the overthrow of all civilization is too easily translated into a justification for genocide. THAT is no defense of the poor and oppressed since they would be the first to die.

My rebuttal of Jensen is a direct demonstration of the faultiness of his logic. And your comment is simply hypocritical--since you offer no evidence that any of my specific claims or arguments are fallacious, yours is mere opinion. What specific claims or arguments are poorly evidenced? What specific fallacies impugn my reasoning? What DOES justify Jensen's refusal to address criticism? What is YOUR defense of this?

My portrayal of aboriginal cultures is based upon the scientific and anthropological literature--without the romanticized veneer Jensen and the anarcho-primitivists would lay over it. WHAT "data" are you referring to? Send me the links/references, or drop this line of attack.

What on earth does "Neurotypical. Imperious. Empire logic" even mean other that : "I think your claims are stinky because they don't agree with me"? Is whomever disagrees with the Jensen worldview wrong?

"The Euramericans have traditionly associated Art with Power." That is simply ridiculous. There is much in EuroAmerican art and culture that is associated with power. But not all of it. Do you read, say, the feminists? The Marxists? The cultural critics? To paint with so broad a brush over all of Western culture IS precisely what the Tea Party does--and in service of an ideology equally rife with the potential for immense violence. Perhaps neither you nor Jensen think that you'd be the victims of this violence--and that could be true. But it would not be just any more than the Koch Brothers or Dick Armey think they'd be so vulnerable.

Aboriginal art is, as you rightly note, part of culture--and this puts the lie to your original claims about civilization--especially if you think that it would survive the end of a Jensen-style revolution. It would not. And that it's intelligent and richly diverse does NOT matter to Jensen.

I gather you think that folks who make claims--especially critical ones--are responsible to respond to criticism of those claims--as I have done here. You'd not post your remarks did you not believe this. But while you think I am responsible to respond to your criticism, you don't think, I gather, that Jensen is responsible to respond to his. Why?

Gabriel said...

Good luck Wendy. The Jensen cult is a savage and ignorant beast.

Veggie g said...

Professor Lee,
I have to wonder at the development of your own (self-described) environmentalism. You wrote, "...the natural world more than it needs us. ...It can certainly be destroyed... That we need it, however, has no particular implications about what environmentalism we should adopt or for what ends."
Oh no?

Derrick Jensen seems to say that any means necessary are fair to defend the planet all Life requires for existence. So let me pontificate on your individual need of breathable air, and your child's personal requirement for drinkable water; can we apply your dismissal of Any Means Necessary mentality to these essentials, if you and yours were deprived of them? If I smugly and academically agree that "Water and Air are more important to us than we are to them, but this says nothing of how we should pursue maintaining clean air & water," what do you respond? My own answer is to not waste time imagining my reaction to someone destroying the necessary requirements for my loved ones' lives or my own life, to not waste time debating the best reaction - I would react immediately, with at least as much is needed to end the threat. And isn't that only rational, and isn't it fair and justified? What kind of environmentalism did the Navajo have, or the Sioux, the Seminole, the Maya? An environmentalism which regarded the landbase as sacred, as kin, as worth killing and dying for.

"Does this view condone some acts of violence, say, blowing up dams, for the sake of saving, say, Salmon--and what is the moral justification for that given the human lives potentially lost?"
You reference Mikhail Bakunin, so I ask if we need police to keep murders from happening? Of course murders happen with and without the existence of police. Humans will die with AND without dams killing rivers and salmon. Given that humans lived for MANY years without creating dams as we now have them, I think humans will survive without dams - in fact, humans came into existence without dams. It's not that we NEED dams; on the contrary, we need THE END of the dams.

Veggie g said...

One of the points I have repeatedly taken from Jensen's writings, and especially his speeches/Q&As is that Civilization is killing our planet and the human population is being built up at the expense of every other population of plant and animal, and aftera certain point the human population won't have the means to sustain itself and will come crashing down. Consequently, THE LONGER WE WAIT TO END CIVILIZATION, THE MORE HUMANS THERE WILL BE AND THE LESS THERE WILL BE OF ANY OTHER NON-HUMAN POPULATION UNDECIMATED BY CIVILIZATION, AND SO THE HARDER SURVIVAL WILL BE. I don't know how you could read Endgame and miss this point, I think it essential - it's also Premise Seven.

Stunningly, your response to the seventh premise is to ask what Jensen advocates. Well, I believe it's quite grand, but includes a removal of dams and highways and factories and ending the production of food and electricity. (If you think these things will happen by decree from legislators, or that any movement of people will be large enough to make such drastic changes in a reasonable timeframe as the ecology requires, then I would like to know on what evidence you base this notion.)

Furthermore, given that dams are diverting and blocking age-old waterways and re-routing the animals who traffic these waterways, thus killing them off *in their entireity as species*, it seems self-evident that humans will benefit from the absence of dams. Now, how to eliminate these problematic dams? Well, taking ALL the options available, then removing ones too ideal to be practically implemented (e.g., people send a petition to Congressmen and the damn dam is quickly removed with no bother to anyone/anything), then I can grant you that some people may be hurt or killed in removal of the dams. Are you suggesting that the dams remain, continuing to extinguish non-human life forms in the present and future for the benefit (which is largely comfort/luxury, not survival) of humans presently (and *perhaps* into the very short-term future)? And what is the moral justification for that given the human (and non-human) lives potentially lost?

There is good reason for Jensen not to undertake such as he would like to see. Primarily - and aside from whether or not he would be successful - he would be a prime suspect and likely would be easily and quickly apprehended. This would be discouraging to others, and would eliminate one more proponent of making seriously radical changes to allow humanity (and other species of Life) a chance at a future on Earth. Those who may be willing to go forth with such acts as they deem necessary need to - for as long as it remains legal - have advocates (especially any articulate and impassioned and inspiring people) providing defenses and justifications and making the case to the public at-large for why this person acted this way and why it has to be done by others. For examples of this, see...nearly every resistance movement EVER, which had warriors and nurses, people to inspire and people to infiltrate and people to assassinate and people to sabotage and people to strategize. It is not hypocrisy, as you intimate, for Jensen write polemics which persuade others that more must be done.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Greetings Veggie G.,

Thank you for writing. I can really only offer a couple of observations to your posts since, to be honest, are just not especially coherent.

1. To appeal to my child's (or yours) personal welfare commits the fallacy of anecdotal evidence as well as emotional manipulation. None want their children to suffer, and none want their children to face the bleak future of environmental deterioration. having said this much, however, it is apparent that you think you (and presumably your children) will be exempt from the consequences of Jensen's advocacy of, say, blowing up dams. Here's the fact of the matter: the world post-dam (etc.) destruction will not be able to support anything remotely like the human population that this world currently can. People will die--lots of them. And most of these will be poor; more of them will be brown and female and developing world people. THAT it is also true that the present world will not be able to support a growing human population in the future given the environmental destruction SOME human beings have already wrought is also true. But this in no way supports what amounts to the GENOCIDE required to get us to the post-dam-destruction world. Jensen is not merely willing to have people die "for the sake of the Earth," he clearly holds that he won't be among them. Well and good--but absolutely NOTHING justifies this privilege--especially since Jensen is himself unwilling to be the bomber. He gets to live--and leave the dirty work to others. This is disingenuous and cowardly. To say that we should be willing to defend the earth by any means necessary includes genocide. That he should not be willing to undertake the first shot--and that you should defend him on the hypocritical grounds that he'd be apprehended--is also just excuse-mongering.

2. I have no idea at all what you mean by "smugly and academically" other than that you're willing to resort to ad hominem attacks. But these are not arguments at all and deserve no response. That you'd "react immediately" to end a threat, that is, that you think yourself justified in reacting without thinking is simply frightening and more akin to the claims of folks on the far right than on the environmental Left. Moreover, the sort of analogy you seem to be tracking here doesn't hold an once of water. YOU are not the earth, and YOU are not being attacked. And the EARTH is not being deliberately attacked for the sake of killing it. I agree wholeheartedly that serious action needs to be undertaken to address the environmental dilemma that some human beings have produced for virtually all other human beings and many (though clearly not all) life on the planet. But we begin badly when we resort to simplistic analogies like this one to explain a very VERY complicated set of issues.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

3. "CIvilization" is NOT any single monolithic thing, and it therefore is not "killing the planet." This is another example of woefully simplistic thinking on Jensen's part--catchy and recruiting to be sure--but the popularity of a claim is not tantamount to defensibility of a claim.

4. Romanticizing Native American culture not only misrepresents many varied and complex human societies, it's useless. We are NOT going back to any such primitivist way of life. neither you nor I are going to want to live in a world without the Internet. And part of what tires me is the hypocrisy of folks who argue for "blowing up dams" ON THE INTERNET without getting in the least how thoroughly hypocritical this is.

Jensen damn well knows what his books accomplish: They make faux-radicals feel righteous about their clamoring about what OTHER people should do. And they make him and his vanity press money. Such has far more in common with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity than it does with any realistic environmentalism.

Lastly, I see that you have posted anonymously, and have chosen to make your blog identity inaccessible. Well and good. But if you expect to correspond with me, you'll have to identify yourself. I am not interested in any discussion with folks who want to hurl criticism behind the safe mantle of anonymity.

Veggie g said...

"...your posts ...are just not especially coherent."
SERIOUSLY?!?

"To appeal to my child's (or yours) personal welfare commits the fallacy of anecdotal evidence as well as emotional manipulation."
So you're saying "Of course I don't want my children to suffer. It's other children or species or the planet itself that I don't care about."

"...it is apparent that you think you (and presumably your children) will be exempt from the consequences of Jensen's advocacy of, say, blowing up dams."
Wrong. I think that myself and everyone I care about will die one day, inevitably. I also think that civilization's comforts are not worth a sacrifice of a future existence

for other species or our own; and I think it unjust that Civilization should decide to provide these short-term benefits to its own at the expense of other species (and unCivilized peoples, where they remain).

"Here's the fact of the matter: the world post-dam (etc.) destruction will not be able to support anything remotely like the human population that this world currently can. People will die--lots of them."
Do you believe that the currently world population of approximately SEVEN BILLION people can be sustained after the world's oil supplies are depleted? Do you believe that there will be less than seven billion next year, or in year 2014, or by 2018, or in 2025? Do you believe that the population will not predictably rise, that perhaps it will level-off and stabilize? If so, what gives you this idea? Won't a lowered population see people die - lots of them?
And if you don't expect the seven billion now existing to stop breeding, how do you foresee that humans - lots of them - will not die when there isn't adequate food, water, land for them to live upon?

A fundamental belief of MOST environmentalists, regardless of their approach to the problems, is a basic understanding that the world is over-populated with people. Any sustainable future is going to require less people, and not just those 80-90 years old (a minority of the world's population); do you know what analysts figure is the world's carrying capacity for human beings? BILLIONS of people will have to die if ANY humans are going to survive. Every day, more humans are birthed. So you tell me how we are going to go on for even another year making more humans, and evade the messy other side of it, that all the world's people are too many for the world to sustain. Obviously, the more plentiful the population, the more people will have to die to reduce our population to a sustainable level. Burying one's head in the sand and pretending that there needn't be the natural reaction to over-population does no good; the people you label genocidal see less harm and suffering being perpetrated the sooner this happens. (I thought it all very clear when I read it a first time, I'm surprised that I find myself drawing it out.)

I don't exmpt myself or my loved ones from the population reduction; indeed, contrary to your idea that the poorest will suffer most, I think that my middle-class family/friends will be least equipped to survive without supermarkets and electricity. But I also don't think that my loved ones are more important than redwoods or bears or blue fin tuna or glaciers or the Appalachians or coral reefs or ANYTHING else evolution has produced on this Earth.

Veggie g said...

You write that "CIvilization is NOT any single monolithic thing, and it therefore is not killing the planet."
Anyone who cares about the planet's ability to sustain Life knows that species eradications have continued and escalated since the development of industry - such results are obvious, and I don't feel I need to write all the evidences and proofs available for the assertion the Civilization is killing the planet. More ancient evidence and perhaps obscure bits are the VASTLY diminshed forests of the Middle East or North America or South America or Africa or China or Europe, the fact that platics clutter waterways polluted by carcinogens, and billions of barrels-worth of oil have been extracted and dumped into the oceans, and mountains have been turned inside out for their underground contents, and cities give smog warnings and cancer and asthma rates (among other ailments) are sky-rocketing...well, suffice it to say, again: I don't feel like anyone needs make a case that Civilization is quite apparently andwithout question killing the planet. You can dismiss the call to present the case for how Civilization is a wrongly-blamed culprit, which I'm sure will save you time, but I think that burden is fairly yours.
(This is the result of Civilization, and it is not a one-off: http://boingboing.net/2009/10/19/photos-of-remote-bir.html)

"YOU are not the earth, and YOU are not being attacked."
This is the problem. This is why the French fought the Nazis, but accept their own people destroying their future. As do we Americans accept our industrial barons pillaging from the one planet we need, in contrast to how the continent's natives fought the invaders trying to isplace them. This is what Jensen means with seeing the culture as one of occupation - one that has taken hold of our region and is exploiting it and us, one that is not our friend but and enemy. Though it appears alike us, it has a vastly different interest, serving only a few.

"And the EARTH is not being deliberately attacked for the sake of killing it."
That's debatable. As far-fetched as it this concept is, it makes more sense that the people destroying this planet are secretly aliens changing Earth's environs to suit their own needs, rather than that they are humans who simply want more money. I mean, acquiring money at the expense of your means for survival is insane - nobody starving would sell their last bit of food/water, not even for a fortune.

Veggie g said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veggie g said...

Your questions of what constitutes Civilization contrast with your claim that you read Endgame. Art & music are not deforesting. Art & music are not converting a vast biodiversity of innumerable plant and animal species around the world into human beings. Art & music are not putting dioxin in rivers, or establishing a gyre of plastic in the Pacific Ocean. These are precisely the things that the forum does not want or appreciate having to address. As quoted in Endgame (which you read), Stanley Diamond says that "Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home." To Jensen, Civilization is "...a culture — that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts — that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities...so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on — as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life. Thus a Tolowa village five hundred years ago...would not have been a city, since the Tolowa ate native salmon, clams, deer, huckleberries, and so on, and had no need to bring in food from outside. Thus, under my definition, the Tolowa...would not have been civilized. On the other hand, the Aztecs were. Their social structure led inevitably to great city-states [e.g., Tenochtitlán, was]...far larger than any city in Europe, with a population five times that of London or Seville. ...Tenochtitlán required, as do all cities, the (often forced) importation of food and other resources. The story of any civilization is...the funneling of resources toward these centers (in order to sustain them and cause them to grow), which means it is the story of an increasing region of unsustainability surrounded by an increasingly exploited countryside." (Quoted from Endgame, which you read.) Is that what you take for an attempt "To romanticize native cultures as if they were not environmentally destructive..."?

I recommend reading Daniel Quinn's Ishmael for a broad basis of what constitutes Civilzation, and follow that with The Story of B by the same author. Better than Endgame, I think, is What We Leave Behind, by Jensen with Aric McBay. It is more flatly indisputable due to greater concision and presentation, and the alternating authorship lends a refreshing approach in style. And the recent blockbuster film "Avatar" is also suggested as a metaphor illustrating what is a sane and rational and appropriate response to the destruction of one's landbase and population by and outside invader that cannot be reasoned with.

Veggie g said...

"...that you think yourself justified in reacting without thinking is simply frightening and more akin to the claims of folks on the far right than on the environmental Left."
Somehow I don't think you'd appreciate my deliberations rather than "far Right" immediate assistance as you struggled to fend off an axe-weilding murderer. I know my that if I stopped any violence against my mother - and I would do this without hesitation - she wouldn't call me "far Right", and would forgive me being out of your view of the "environmental Left". And I'm sure my father and and her siblings would be beyond grateful. (I can live without your "environmental Left" approval, and I'll ask you to consider the effectiveness of that group in the face of the increased degradation our Earth has suffered.)

If this is the current state of the environmental Left, debating amongst itself when not colluding with the Earth-plunderers and cooperating with their government, then I've really lost nothing by the dis-association.

"Romanticizing Native American culture not only misrepresents many varied and complex human societies, it's useless."
Agreed. Did I say otherwise? My post above showed that Jensen does no such romanticizing.

"We are NOT going back to any such primitivist way of life. neither you nor I are going to want to live in a world without the Internet."
We're not going back, VOLUNTARILY. When the oil runs out, will you want power plants to run on coal, as polluting as it is? Will you want uranium to be mined and transported and processed into fuel for reactors? Is the Internet really worth that? Or do you fantasize that windmills and solar panels will power all the electrical gadgets we don't need? It's not a question of WANT TO, it's a question of HAVE TO. And one of values: I would rather give up the Internet and movies and air conditioning and indoor plumbing (with its resultant sewage-treatment plants) if it means that children (yours and a tiger's and a lizard's and a sparrow's and a whale's) will have a viable planet to call home. Delightful as it is engaging your blog, I'd rather abandon Internet than see more habitat destruction and species extermination.

"Jensen is not merely willing to have people die "for the sake of the Earth," he clearly holds that he won't be among them."
Quite a charge leveled there; some proof, please?

"And part of what tires me is the hypocrisy of folks who argue for "blowing up dams" ON THE INTERNET without getting in the least how thoroughly hypocritical this is."
Is it also hypocritical to advocate that soldiers disobey orders without being a soldier who refuses an order? Or to suggest that automechanics be more honest when diagnosing car problems and charging for repairs, if you yourself are not an automechanic?

"Lastly, I see that you have posted anonymously..."
I have used as much a name as "cornelius", "Melinda", or "Gabriel", and (I presume) I am just as reachable as they are. Your blog specifically states "This blog does not allow anonymous comments." and so required me to sign in to my Gmail account. I don't know what are you talking about.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Dear Veggie G,

1. This is the last time I will respond to you if you persist in your anonymity. This is cowardice. I don't have to put p with it.

2. Indeed, your remarks continue to be incoherent. I am, for example, clearly not saying that I do not care about the children of others. In fact, it's precisely because I DOP so care that I strongly object to the genocidal strain in Jensen's rhetoric.

3. That each of us will die one day inevitably is entirely beside the point. That day should not be decided by the true-believers who follow anarchist/primitivists like Jensen. When you refer to "civilization's comforts" I can only imagine you mean your own. The vast majority of human beings enjoy few comforts and many hardships. And they suffer them for your and my comforts. But Jensen offers NO articulate and sustained critique of capitalism--preferring instead the simplistic reference to "civilization."

4."Civilization" doesn't decide anything--again, simplistic and thereby incoherent. "Civilization" is not an entity; it is not itself conscious.

5. Do you really think ALL other species have a right to co-exist with human beings? Well and good. You'll therefore stop using antibiotics.

6. Read my comments about world population again. You have missed the point. Entirely. Who are you ready to appoint to the task of determining WHO gets to have children? who are YOU ready to subject to forced sterilization? Who are you ready to imprison for not following the population laws? It's one thing to decry human population growth--you're right--none of us disagree that human population is a serious issue. But it's another altogether to articulate what should be done about it. The Jensen path is implicit in his work but nonetheless clear. "Ending civilization" includes the commission of genocide. Are you OK with that?

7. It's also easy to say that you don't think your loved ones are more important than bluefin tuna--and indeed, that's true from the point of view of the universe who care not a tinker's damn about any living thing (and CAN'T). But this is rank hypocrisy. Unless you're prepared to leave your children in a burning house to burn to death just because the gerbil cage is closer to the door, you say this--but can't mean a word of it.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

8. I have read the works you mention.

9. Of COURSE, SOME human beings are clearly responsible for species extinctions, and of COURSE this deserves harsh moral condemnation. But "civilization" is not responsible for this. HUMAN BEINGS are. To condemn all of civilization for this consigns the responsibility for these losses to all of us at all times everywhere. THAT is ridiculous.

10. "Life" is also not an entity. You persistently confuse attributes with entities. This is called fallacy of hyposthatization.

11. Not all cultures are "cultures of occupation." Not all of civilization is about consumption. Again, without the sustained critique of global capitalism, this is all just claim-making without argument or evidence.

12. You persistently characterize me as if I were the representative of crass exploitation. THAT is laughable. I recommend you google me before you press this line. I am as committed an environmentalist as you are ever going to find...just not Jensen's true-believer.

13. Again, your claim that we should treat environmental destruction in the same way we'd attack an axe-murderer is just silly. Neither "civilization" nor "life" nor "destruction" are conscious entities that act on their own volition, and it does not get us to any defensible activism to treat them as such. But it IS consistent with your claim about the possibility that "we" are "killing the earth" intentionally, namely, you are now entertaining the paranoid.

14 You ARE cooperating with the "earth government," Veggie--you're on-line. I'll bet you pay taxes too, and buy groceries, and use heat.

15. Jensen refers to himself as a neo-primitivist--and describes this in terms of Native American traditions--that he thoroughly romanticizes as what we should go back to. But there IS no going back, and we would not want to even if we could. They died of smallpox. We don't.

16. Absolutely. If a soldier is going to advocate disobeying orders, he/she should be willing to go first. So should Jensen. So should you. This is called moral consistency.

17. No, Melinda, Gabriel, and Cornelius all had at the time I was corresponding with them blog sites that were accessible and that provided some description of them as persons. You do not.

Veggie g said...

"This is the last time I will respond to you if you persist in your anonymity. This is cowardice. I don't have to put p with it."
If it makes you feel better, I know only what you claimed on the left sidebar, and you may imagine whatever you like about me.

"Melinda, Gabriel, and Cornelius all had ...blog sites that were accessible and that provided some description of them as persons. You do not."
What did you learn of Melinda, Gabriel, or cornelius (presuming it's believeable) and why do you care to know our self-descriptions?
And if you'd make that a condition of posting, you wouldn't have to label me a coward.
I may or may not be, but creating a blog profile certainly doesn't attest to my bravery, or lack thereof when I don't create the profile.

"That each of us will die one day inevitably is entirely beside the point. That day should not be decided by the true-believers who follow anarchist/primitivists like Jensen."
No, it is decided by the people who decimate our planet. For their own benefit, in the short term. Relentless, and with exponential increases. And nobody will say they want that, but neither will anyone really do anything about it. Not since Geronimo was defeated.

""Civilization" doesn't decide anything--again, simplistic and thereby incoherent. "Civilization" is not an entity; it is not itself conscious."
Maybe you've heard of memes? You've read Quinn's books, so you may recall how he explained that the New World was conquered by swords, but the memes of Civilization (primarily the memes of expansion into "unused" and "improving" the "savage-populated" new areas) were what motivated and justified the invaders.

"Do you really think ALL other species have a right to co-exist with human beings?"
Yes. Unquestionably. Do you think you can preside over billions of years of evolution and decide that entire species do not have a place on Earth?
I think all lifeforms have the chance and also the requirement to fight for their space and place and means to exist. I will use antibiotics for the same reason I will use an orange for nutrition or a tree for shelter or a cow skin for protection or fight/flee a tiger: because I have the desire and the burden ("the right") to fight for my place in a world rife with a wide variety of lifeforms competing and struggling to exist. I don't have to give myself over to anthrax bacteria any more than I should sacrifice myself to a shark. But I don't want every threat to human life to be eradicated. Do you?

"Who are you ready to appoint to the task of determining WHO gets to have children? who are YOU ready to subject to forced sterilization? Who are you ready to imprison for not following the population laws?"
I didn't advocate these things. If everyone - or even simply all males OR all females - could be sterilized, at least it would be fairly administered. And though it would be a human-rights infringement, it's also a Band-Aid on overpopulation.

"Not all cultures are "cultures of occupation." Not all of civilization is about consumption."
Why do you misrepresent what I've put before you in writing? I wrote no such thing about all cultures. I wrote that Civilization specifically is a culture of occupation (over the wild, unsubjugated world). Which you must have also read in Endgame. Does that need elaboration?
And have you any bit of evidence at all where Civilization is not about consumption?

Veggie g said...

""Ending civilization" includes the commission of genocide. Are you OK with that?"
I am not okay with targetting people for elimination. If you believe Jensen or primitivists want some new Hitler, you're wrong.
I am okay with letting people try to survive in a world which nurtured us (as a species) through our evolution from our predecessors, a world which nurtures people where they live with it (the few unCivilized tribes that remain scattered around the world), and even nurtured us humans through to our decision to enact Civilization in an attempt to escape the limitations of the world. Nurturing does not mean allowing us to live forever, or without suffering - this world plays no favorites with its inhabitants. We were cold and overheated and went hungry and were mauled and infected and died at birth and in childbirth. Part of our planet's nurturing includes returning our bodies to feed the soil, which produces the plants which feed the animals. We are such an animal, fit to live - and to die - here, on Earth.

To turn your question on its head, and not merely rhetorically, but with a sincere desire for an answer: Not ending Civilization continues the commission of a holocaust. Are you okay with that? Why are you more willing to accept the continued genocide of non-humans (trees, ferns, fungi, reptiles, mammals, birds, insects, on and on and on) than of Civilized humans?

The end of Civilization will not effect the U'wa, Ogoni, Bushmen, Alawi, Gebusi, or the plethora of other unCivilized (tribal) peoples who remain living in the real world, it will only impact those of use who depend upon Civilized living. Allowing Civilization to continue, on the other hand, severely impacts non-Civilized lives. Doesn't this outrage your sense of justice? Like un-affiliated bystander victims shot as the result of a dispute over gang territory; shouldn't it only affect those who choose to be involved?

If we agree that this world is over-populated, and not just by a handful, then there's no argument that billions will die. If you don't/can't enact prohibitions against breeding (and their accompanying punishments for violations), then the population will rise. Exponentially. The current numbers will grow by billions more. And we may never commit genocide - but billions will eventually die. Maybe all of us, maybe just the few billion least equipped to survive in the decimated world we leave in Civilization's wake.

You think that the poorest people will be least able to survive, that the rich will be insulated. This is a big question. I certainly don't want it to be, which may influence my logical thinking that it won't be so.
The rich can't eat their bank accounts. And I don't think their funds will be appealing to anyone struggling to survive, so I don't see them hiring many protectors or workers willing to sacrifice their own needs for money.

Veggie g said...

"Neither "civilization" nor "life" nor "destruction" are conscious entities that act on their own volition..."
Ahh! Civilization is comprised of people, each filled with similar memes; Life escapes my ability to define it, and destruction is a thing done by people or weather.
The State (or the USMC or the Army or the Navy or La Cosa Nostra or Al-Qaeda) is not a conscious entity, neither are the MS-13 or Crips street gangs, nor is a lynch mob (or a S.W.A.T. team) something which acts of its own volition. So clearly none of these groups can do anything. Fair point you made there.

"Of COURSE, SOME human beings are clearly responsible for species extinctions, and of COURSE this deserves harsh moral condemnation. But "civilization" is not responsible for this. HUMAN BEINGS are."
So you read in Ishmael where Quinn goes to lengthy explanation to distinguish humanity, which is ancient, from Civilization, a development about 10,000 years old. And he explains how 'Mother Culture' (his term for the meme of Civilization) tells us that human beings are just flawed, invariably defective by some error in our makeup - but that this is untrue, because humans lived forever without overpopulating, without expanding, without decimating their habitat. And some humans continue to do so today, where Civilization has not overtaken or annihilated them. And yet you suggest here that human beings (seemingly, the whole of the human species, all of whom are not Civilized) are responsible for the destruction, but not Civilization, a product of some humans.
As if human beings create Civilization and they remain up to criticism/condemnation, but the human-created Civilization is somehow immune or beyond consideration. Human beings are the problem, you say, not the nuclear weapons that some have created. Human beings are the problem, not the slaughterhouses they have created. Seems ridiculous to me.

"To condemn all of civilization for this consigns the responsibility for these losses to all of us at all times everywhere. THAT is ridiculous."
How so? We are letting it happen. By me typing here, by you arguing with me, by Jensen writing books, by people watching the SuperBowl today - we're all letting a few people get away with hastening the end of living on Earth. And I'm not being emotionally manipulative, I'm just saying it differentiates our priorities and illustrates our disconnection from the raw, wild, dirty, dangerous ecosystems of our planet. For we would react immediately and passionately to attacks upon our houses and families, but we just talk and discuss attacks upon our Home and other non-human families.

"Again, without the sustained critique of global capitalism..."
I don't have an ounce of love for "global capitalism" - or continental capitalism, or intra-national capitalism - but I don't think communism or socialism would commit less destruction of the planet. And I don't think it hypocritical of you to decry "global capitalism" and yet still have a computer and cell phone and car made from outside of the USA. Nothing would be different if you made the small-scale consumer choice to not buy them, or to buy something else.

"Again, your claim that we should treat environmental destruction in the same way we'd attack an axe-murderer is just silly."
Granted, it is silly; an axe-weilding psychopath can obviously only harm/kill one person at a time, and only in a small area. Nuclear power and weapons, industrial chemicals, genetic manipulation, pollution and deforestation - well, these all effect vast amounts of people (if not everyone), to say nothing of non-humans, for decades (or longer).

Veggie g said...

"It's also easy to say that you don't think your loved ones are more important than bluefin tuna--and indeed, that's true from the point of view of the universe who care not a tinker's damn about any living thing (and CAN'T). But this is rank hypocrisy. Unless you're prepared to leave your children in a burning house to burn to death just because the gerbil cage is closer to the door, you say this--but can't mean a word of it."
It's presumable that I would fight harder & more for those I know personally, and those I care for. A gerbil or family dog is not my brother or mother. Right? Is that fair?

However, I don't want deforestation so that my mother or brother can have a home built. I don't want ships fishing to extinction so that they can eat. I don't want landscapes flattened and ecosystems damaged so that a firestation or hospital or police station or power plant or farm can be built to provide them with safety from elements or others. It isn't worth it. When the antibiotics cannot be produced, nobody will use them, including myself and my loved ones.

"...you are now entertaining the paranoid."
If you're referring to the sci-fi scenario I mentioned, I again am floored by your misrepresentation. I couldn't be any more clearly not "entertaining" that notion when I dismissively wrote that it was a far-fetched concept. The point is that it's insane to be so greedy as to trade sustainability for money, and even crazy, outlandish explanations are actually more rational (if implausible); greed and power are not reasonable motivations for suicide over the long-term.

You ARE cooperating with the "earth government," Veggie--you're on-line. I'll bet you pay taxes too, and buy groceries, and use heat."
Certainly I know what I'm doing, so I presume that you mention it because you see this as my hypocrisy. Let me ask you what good it would do the world if I were to go off to some wooded area and cut firewood and pay no taxes and stay offline? How would that help stop ecological destruction? Earth is no better off for me doing as I do now, but how do you imagine that lil' ol' me independently 'dropping out' of Civilization would effect it at all? If I'm the only pillar supporting the ecological holocaust, I'll collapse immediately.

"Jensen refers to himself as a neo-primitivist--and describes this in terms of Native American traditions--that he thoroughly romanticizes as what we should go back to. But there IS no going back, and we would not want to even if we could.
You haven't presented any evidence for this repeated claim of fetishization of natives; I doubt you can muster a defense of it, but please do.
And there is no going back because...? Because you say so?

Would you like to describe what world we'll have when oil is unavailable? And when coal is unavailable, or unused because of how it fouls the air to burn, the water and land to extract? You seem to think that we can have the world we want (Internet and all), and if we don't want to be "primitive" we can just stop deforestation and species extinctions and stabilize the human population and we'll have the world you/we want. Wouldn't that be dreamy!

Veggie g said...

"If a soldier is going to advocate disobeying orders, he/she should be willing to go first. So should Jensen. So should you. This is called moral consistency."
I did not mention a solider advocating refusal of orders; why do you misrepresent me and others so frequently? Are you being deliberate? Please spend just a little more time reading and considering the comments you receive and respond with, rather than firing off an immediate response that addresses things I did not bring up. Talk about strawman arguments...

I am not a soldier, yet I advocate that soldiers do not follow their commanders. This seems to fit under your maleable definition of hypocrisy, which is just weird.
Here's a bit about me (sans blog profile): there are many things I can't do, due to my physical and mental limitations. Will I only avoid your label of hypocrisy if I somehow manage to do these and not just advocate them? Here's something I know about you (without seeing your blog profile): there are many things you can't do, like 'bring the troops home now' or 'Free Tibet' or 'stop nukes'. If you're "as committed an environmentalist" as you imagine yourself, you want these things but cannot do them - and you want to lecture on "moral consistency"? Who would take Jensen's role of advocate if he was to make an ineffective strike against a dam and be imprisoned (or killed)?

Again, you should know that everyone in every resistance movement has a role, and those roles are not Do Everything, and everyone is not cut out to do just any task. Some are writers, some are assassins, some are saboteurs, some are strategists, some are negotiators, some are spokespersons, some are moles, etc. This is not a terribly muddled concept, I don't believe.

"I am as committed an environmentalist as you are ever going to find..."
To me, this clashes with the previous statement (which you wrongly attributed to me), that "...neither you nor I are going to want to live in a world without the Internet."
Again, it's a question of values.
I'm a morally inconsistent anonymous genocidal hypocrite who doesn't want to lose the Amazon; you're a committed environmentalist who doesn't want to lose Amazon.com.

I'm sorry for the incoherence of my writing; I don't think I can be any more clear, so I'll just call it a failure on my end, and end.
Have you considered that perhaps Jensen is correct when he wrote "if your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your water comes from the tap, you’ll defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on it. If, on the other hand, your food comes from a landbase and your water comes from a river, then you’ll defend to the death that landbase and that river, because your life depends on them. Like any good abusive system, this system has made us dependent upon it."???

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Veggie g.,

You have taken a good deal of time to compose so lengthy a response. I DO appreciate the time you have taken for this--though I am curious as to why. I would like to take up some of your claims/arguments. But I will not until I have a clearer idea who you are. I am entirely accessible and transparent. You know my full name, and can google me. If you did that, you'd find out just how committed I am to a number of environmental, animal welfare, social justice, feminist, and educational issues and causes. I also, as you can certainly appreciate once you read some of my blog posts and their responses, am the target of some hate mail--some of it threatening. Hence, my insistence on some greater transparency.

I'd be happy to continue this discussion, but only under these conditions. It IS odd: You have nothing whatever to fear from me in any fashion under virtually any conditions.

Chris Fjell said...

Thank you, Dr Lee, for taking the time to write this open letter and respond to commenters.

Can you recommend alternative books for those that found their way to Jensen's books that deals with these issues well?

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

HI Chris, and very nice to "meet" you. Environmental Philosophy includes a long and varied selection of works in which you might be interested. Here are just a few (I am also currently under review at Rowman and LIttlefield for a full-length manuscript that takes up this issues in a more philosophically sustained way--including a discussion of moral, political, and economic implications):

Bender, Frederic L. 2003. The Culture of Extinction. New York: Humanity Books.

Cuomo, Christine J. 1994. “Ecofeminism, Deep Ecology, and Human Population.” In Ecological Feminism, ed. Karen J. Warren, 88-105. New York: Routledge.

Fox, Warwick. 1995. “The DeepEcology-Ecofeminism Debate and Its Parallels.” In Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions, 269–289. London: Sham- bala, 1995.

Lee-Lampshire, Wendy. 1996. “Anthropomorphism without Anthropocentrism: A Wittgensteinian Ecofeminist Alternative to Deep Ecology.” Ethics and the Environment 1(2): 91–102.

Lee, Wendy Lynne. 2008. “Environmental Pragmatism Revisited: Human-Cen- teredness, Language, and the Future of Aesthetic Experience,” Environmental Philosophy 5(1): 9–22.

Sessions, George. 1995. “Ecocentrism and the Anthropocentric Detour.” In Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, ed. George Sessions, 156–183. London: Shambala.

Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Random House.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962 (and 1994).

Diamond, Irene. 1994. Fertile Ground: Women, Earth, and the Limits of Control. Boston: Beacon Press.

Eisenstein, Zillah. 1998. Global Obscenities: patriarchy, Capitalism, and the Lure of Cyberfantasy. New York: NYU Press.

Glendinning, Chellis. 1995. “Recovery from Western Civilization.” In George Sessions, (ed.), Deep Ecology for the 21st Century: Readings on the Philosophy and Practice of the New Environmentalism, p. 37-40.

Heinberg, Richard. 2003. The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies. New Society Publishers.

Lee, Wendy. 2010. Contemporary Feminist Theory and Activism: Six Global Issues. Broadview.

Morrison, Roy. 1995. Ecological Democracy. South End Press.

Shiva, Vandana. 1993. Monocultures of the Mind: Perspectives on Biodiversity and Biotechnology. London: Zed Books.

Shiva, Vandana. 2000. Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. South End P.

Kirkman, Robert. 2002. Skeptical Environmentalism: The Limits of Philosophy and Science. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Norton, Bryan. 1991. Toward Unity Among Environmentalists. New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press.

Pretty Ink Wink said...

I haven't read most of the comments. I have personal experience with the reading club and this "soft" cult and I have read all of Derrick Jensen's books and I can tell you that Wendy's objections and thoughts are indeed extremely important and well articulated and if anyone tries to deny this they are really showing the true nature of what this cult has turned out to represent. I do not agree with everything that Wendy says and I don't have to. There was a time when I would have believed she was bad and I was good, that was when I was on the Derrick Jensen "community." However, now I know things are infinitely more complicated and Jensen himself could not say that every question and argument Wendy brings up is actually critical for him to answer to himself. Give or take the spirit, and what Wendy wrote about Earth not experiencing, which truthfully Derrick Jensen does discuss in great depth and points to other books on his website that also goes into these questions, everything she has said demands attention from Derrick Jensen now, or he should admit he got in over his head and there is something going on that is not quite right, and Derrick's voice has indeed become what Susan Faludi would call "internal backlash" which is counter productive and dangerous. Thank you Wendy for an extremely excellent critique.

Pretty Ink Wink said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pretty Ink Wink said...

I haven't read most of the comments. I have personal experience with the reading club and this "soft" cult and I have read all of Derrick Jensen's books and I can tell you that Wendy's objections and thoughts are indeed extremely important and well articulated and if anyone tries to deny this they are really showing the true nature of what this cult has turned out to represent. I do not agree with everything that Wendy says and I don't have to. There was a time when I would have believed she was bad and I was good, that was when I was on the Derrick Jensen "community." However, now I know things are infinitely more complicated and Jensen himself could not say that every question and argument Wendy brings up is actually critical for him to answer to himself. Give or take the spirit, and what Wendy wrote about Earth not experiencing, which truthfully Derrick Jensen does discuss in great depth and points to other books on his website that also goes into these questions, everything she has said demands attention from Derrick Jensen now, or he should admit he got in over his head and there is something going on that is not quite right, and Derrick's voice has indeed become what Susan Faludi would call "internal backlash" which is counter productive and dangerous. Thank you Wendy for an extremely excellent critique.

Pretty Ink Wink said...

Also, anyone can pick on thing that Wendy writes about and use that as a reason to deflect their attention to the more pressing and stronger arguments. I feel that anyone who wants to take on what she has written should do so in total because she has done nothing less. She is addressing someone who is influential and demands adherence to a TOTAL sum of enumerated beliefs, and to attack one here or there is not addressing the whole.

Pretty Ink Wink said...

Veggie wrote

"Wrong. I think that myself and everyone I care about will die one day, inevitably. I also think that civilization's comforts are not worth a sacrifice of a future existence"

How can you explain to me that you clearly understand this implication when you are a part of a culture you believe to be completely insane including yourself and that was raised to hate yourself and others? I think this needs to be addressed. How are you able to have the sensitivity to even entertain such an event if you believe that premise which I am sure you do. Please explain.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

HI Pretty Ink Wink--and a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for your response. I think that Jensen's refusal to brook criticism--much less respond to it--indicates a kind of brittleness with respect to how seriously he takes his own position. The rule of thumb among philosophers (I'm a philosophy professor) is that an argument that's worth holding on to will only be strengthened via the critique to which is responds--and can respond. Arguments that cannot withstand this process are not worth hanging onto. Jensen has yet to respond to my analysis above--and, of course, perhaps he could. And he and I have corresponded--but only to that point where my questions (put to him generously and very politely) indicated that at the bottom of his call to dismantle "civilization" was lurking an impulse very VERY violent, and not really about the environment at all. At bottom too I think Jensen a hypocrite--advocating things like blowing up damn, but wholly unwilling to do any of the dangerous work himself. I take FAR greater risks in my own environmental activism (see: http://www.ragingchickenpress.org/author/wlee/http://www.ragingchickenpress.org/author/wlee/).

If there's any particular point of my analysis you'd like to discuss, I'm more than happy to pursue it. These are important issues. :)

w

mkd said...
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mkd said...

I am coming into this conversation late, only recently being introduced to Derrick Jensen and quickly becoming alarmed.

If this is the future of environmentalism ... Well, what future is there? After they have selected their targets for bombing and assassination, the entire group will perish in maximum security prison while the "environmental movement" is set back hundreds of years.

Racism and classism covered in poetry: Yes. Whatever "culture" and "civilization" are, they are purely western constructs. And after these white westerners have dismantled civilization and culture ... Wait, is this sounding familiar?

I don't have any knowledge of the group's internal operation, but from its writing alone--most recently I discovered DRG wants to universally "dismantle" something called "gender"--yes, this sounds like the formation of a cult.

But parts of their own "culture" are eerily similar to other leftist environments I've been in. Why is there is such a strong strain of anti-intellecutualism and a vague lust for violence in "radical" groups? Is this common, or only in certain parts of the country? Is this a new phenomenon or feeding on something else?

I am genuinely curious, while knowing these questions are large and at best vague. As a young feminist (and dare I use the word: academic) I am finding it genuinely difficult to find a place for myself on the left (that is, outside of theory, but in actual group formation.)

Zoe said...

Ms. Lee,
A friend recently introduced me to Jensen's "Endgame" and "What we Leave Behind." I found his writing both racist and delusional. I went to his home page and like you, found it fully censored, only comments supporting Jensen and his "work" are permitted.

In an old joke, the Lone Ranger and his man-servant, Tonto, are facing grave danger. Lone Ranger tells Tonto to go out and determine, "how we can escape those 'injuns," to which Tonto replies,
"What's this 'we'stuff white man?"

Your open letter is well so well articulated, and adds much to an open discussion. Thanks much for posting; I was getting worried few were seeing the cultish nature of his writing.
And if some Jensen devotee goes out and toppels a communication tower or blows up a dam because it is something Jensen says "we" must do, will he take his fair share of responsibilty and repercussions? I think not.

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Thank you mkd and Zoe for your thoughtful comments. I have recently had reason to return to thinking about environmental cultism--indeed, I have been confronted by a truly disturbing strain of it combined with a Jensen-like willingness to deploy a "by whatever means necessary" form of manipulation, name-calling, fear-mongering, misrepresentation, and exploitation in the name of the anti-fracking movement--but to ends far more self-interested and prosaic.

While it's certainly true that we sometimes DO appeal to the ends to justify the means, and while there are good questions to be asked about WHAT ends justify WHAT means--the committed cultist appears to assume that the ends of preserving the entitlement presumed to accrue to the cult/group/ideology justifies whatever means are necessary to achieve that end.

The trouble is that it does not--especially when the means involve the violation of values we'd all agree were worth preserving--honesty, forthrightness, humility, compassion, courage, thrift...

These are issues that return me to philosophy--not that I've never left--but with some renewed interest in that fraught connection between thinking and action, ideals and activism.

I have also been thinking a good deal about language. A new word--"purist"--seems to have recently entered the anti-fracking activist vocabulary, and it is used to disparage those of us who take a resolute stand that we must be unified on message--even if varied in strategy.

It is not purist, but rather simply coherent, to claim that the claim that fracking must be banned is inconsistent with the claim that it can be regulated and/or mitigated. Fracking cannot both be banned and regulated. Regulated fracking is FRACKING--hence not banned. Indeed, the concession to regulation and/or mitigation undermines every effort we make to realize that ban. That is not a "purist" position. It is simply true.

More of all this soon.

And I understand if many find these musings a distraction. But our movement is straining to find a solid footing, and I'd argue that this is because we have failed to be resolute about that single message--preferring instead some truly incoherent and harmful notion of "tolerance," and that absurd metaphor of the rainbow that allows everyone to feel themselves part of a movement. A MOVEMENT must be FOR something. The end of tracking is like the end of apartheid or concentration camps or sex-traficking. It is not purist to insist that there is no compromise; it is the only position that has moral credibility.

Not even these ends justify any means--but only those that history will record as honorable.

And that leads me back to the environmental cultists.

Anonymous said...

You're so awesome! I don't think I've read through anything like that before.
So wonderful to find somebody with a few original thoughts on this topic.
Really.. thanks for starting this up. This website is one thing that is
needed on the web, someone with a little originality!