Ironically, it is the plumbing of that capitalist system that we are using as we flush the future of life on Earth down the toilet. We can 'elect' a charismatic, intelligent man from a brutally oppressed minority to be our president to purge our collective guilt, mouth 'feel good' platitudes, celebrate the triumph of 'democracy,' and delude ourselves into believing we are preparing to warp back to a fictitious golden era when America was a benevolent guardian of humanity and the Earth, but that doesn't change the fact that industrial capitalism is rendering this planet uninhabitable. And just two days after the 'election,' we learned that our newly minted 'savior,' for whom we were desperate after eight years of 'anomalous' malevolence under the Bush administration, is making the viability of our violent, irrational, unstable, exploitative, unjust, and unsustainable socioeconomic paradigm 'priority number one.'
'Top priorities may not be any of those five. It may be continuing to stabilize the financial system. We don't know yet what's going to happen in January. And none of this can be accomplished if we continue to see a potential meltdown in the banking system or the financial system. So that's priority number one, making sure that the plumbing works in our capitalist system.'
- President-Elect Barack Obama
Obama has sold his soul to capitalism, a way of being premised on greed, selfishness, materialism, alienation, and infinite growth — a recipe for ecocide. Perhaps the best 'change' for which we can 'hope' is that more people will awaken and fall into a despair that spurs them to do something about the rapidly deteriorating state of our environment, frighteningly large increases in the number of extinct species, rising scarcity of potable water, ecological overshoot, and a host of other symptoms of the terminal disease Obama blithely calls the 'capitalist system.' Let's glean some insight from Derrick Jensen, an anarcho-primitivist, author, lecturer, philosopher, and tireless fighter for a beleaguered, dying planet. Here is a back and forth he had with radical activist, Melissa Gragg, and Cyrano's Journal Online's associate editor, Jason Miller, on 4/15/08:
Melissa: Okay, let's start off with you kind of, I've seen a couple interviews, and I guess you have to answer some of the same questions over and over.
Melissa: But do you want to explain to people who haven't read your writing why you think civilization needs to be brought down?
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Derrick: Well it's killing the planet. Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. There's six to ten times as much phytoplankton in the oceans as — I'm sorry, six to ten times as much plastic as there is phytoplankton, and that's the equivalent of, in temperate forests, of there being Styrofoam ninety feet thick through all the forests, and...
Jason: Wow, that's a pretty horrifying metaphor.
Derrick: No, it's not a metaphor. That's an analogy I guess it would be, but it's, I mean it's, that's what it is in the, in the real physical ocean.
Derrick: There's a myth with this culture. I mean they say that one sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns, and I'm going to lay out a pattern here, and let's see if we can see it in less than six thousand years.
Derrick: But when you think of the plains and hillsides of Iraq, is the first thing that you think of is cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touches the ground. That's how it was prior to the beginnings of culture. One of the first written myths of this culture is Gilgamesh deforesting the plains and hillsides of Iraq to make cities, and the Arabian peninsula was Oak savannah, and the near east was heavily forested, Greece was heavily forested, Italy was heavily forested, north Africa was heavily forested. Those forests were cut for, to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. You know this culture destroys land bases wherever it goes. It destroys, it destroys the natural order. It's built on, it's not based on living in one place forever. The Tolowa, on whose land I now live, lived here for at least 12,500 years if you believe the myths of science, and this culture's lived here for 180 years, and the place is hammered. I mean there was, there was salmon runs so thick that people were afraid to put their boats in the water for fear they would capsize, and the salmon are, are almost gone, and you're, you're southeastern Kansas, right?
Derrick: Yeah, I mean, there were Eskimo Curlews in that area that would come through, and they would be in flocks of, so large they would darken the sky for days at a time, and they were eradicated.
Derrick: So yeah, it's, it's, I mean, also it's really obvious. I mean any way of life that's based on the use of non-renewable resources won't last, pretty, pretty clear, and I mean, so this way of life has never been sustainable, and it never will be. Any way of life also, that's based on the hyper-exploitation of renewable resources won't last. The only way you can live sustainably is by actually improving your habitat. That's how all creatures that survive in the long run, survive in the long run, and this was a really stupid blow out, and it's killing the planet.
Jason: I think the readers would like to know this. What's your opinion of radical direct action groups like the Earth Liberation Front and the ALF?
Derrick: I think that they are in their infancy and will make a lot of mistakes as they grow up and will, and they will grow up. I think that there's a lot to commend them for their, many of the people for their courage, and there is, there's some huge problems, and there's a huge snitch problem, and I have to question the seriousness of some of the people — not all of them. Some of them are very, very serious, and I need to say this, because it's just so, the whole federal response to it is just so stupid. The Feds, since they're — they labeled them as the largest domestic terrorist threat on one level, and it's, and then at the same time, and they're saying, you know, we're catching all these terrorists, eco-terrorists, who are doing this. At the same time you hear George Bush all the time say there hasn't been a successful terrorist attack since 911.
Jason: [laughter] That's a good point. I hadn't thought of that.
Derrick: Yeah, it's huh? I guess you kind of, kind of have it both ways.
Derrick: Also the notion of terrorism in this case is really stupid, because it's, I mean, nobody's been injured, nobody's been particularly scared, nobody's been terrorized, you know. They've been startled maybe.
Derrick: You know, but you would think that for it to actually be a terrorist organization they'd actually have to, like, hurt somebody or to seriously threaten their lives.
Jason: Those internet pictures where they're wearing ski masks and cuddling puppies, those are pretty scary.
Derrick: Oh, yeah, there's actually an organization called Hugs for Puppies that's been declared a terrorist organization.
Jason: Are you serious?
Derrick: Yeah, I'm absolutely serious.
Derrick: It's, it's really, it's really just absurd, and of course the real thing that they're doing is they're impeding commerce, which is what must never happen in this culture.
Derrick: So on that level it, it's terrorism pure and simple, because interference with corporate profits is, that scares the hell out of the power.
Derrick: I mean, but of course, I mean it's all just really silly. I mean they call them a terrorist organization, and yet the, some of the primary snitches are walking around without having anything happen to them, and you know, I think that any sort of real terrorist organization would just be laughing their heads off, like, I'm sorry, you've got snitches, they're walking around, and what you do is you don't allow them to play guitar on your community radio station?
Derrick: So it's just, it's just, [inaudible] the whole thing is, is you know, sort of...
Jason: It's farcical?
Derrick: Yeah it's, on that level, it's really farcical, but I, I don't, if you, and it's fine if you use the word farcical, but if you do use it, then also, I mean, the sentence is imposed upon–the people are not...
Derrick: I mean they're very real, and there, there are some very serious, very dedicated people who are spending a long time in prison.
Jason: Oh, I agree. I wouldn't make light of that at all.
Derrick: Yeah, yeah. So, so I mean, there are some parts that are just absurd about it, but there are other parts that are — and part of the problem is that we don't have an entire culture of resistance, and there's not the sort of support within the, not even necessarily the larger community, but even among themselves. I mean more than half of them who've been caught have turned snitch, and that's a pretty dismal percentage in terms of having any sort of culture resistance.
Jason: Well it kind of reminds me, kind of brings to mind several thoughts. One of my questions for you was how do we raise the level of consciousness within enough people to build resistance to where direct action like that really makes sense to the point to where it's not just premature, ineffective self-sacrifice where there are just a few people out there doing it and it's, they're easily written off as terrorists or cranks? I mean how, how do we get enough people, how do we mobilize enough people?
Derrick: Well I write books and do talks, and you do articles and, I mean, it's like I was watching the movie Battle of Algiers with a friend of mine. Have you seen it?
Melissa: I, I read about what you had to say about it, but go ahead.
Derrick: Oh, well, if you've already read it, I won't — do you want me to tell you anyway, or?
Melissa: Because Jason hasn't.
Jason: I haven't, no.
Derrick: Okay. It's a great movie. It's, it's about the Algerian insurgency against the French. I'm watching it with a friend of mine, and I say, so, where do you think I'd be in this movie [inaudible] giving me some strokes, and the friend says, oh, you'd be dead.
Derrick: Thank you very much, and then my friend said, no, actually you'd be dead for thirty years, because, and your books are on the shelves of the leader of the insurgency.
Jason: Oh, yeah.
Derrick: So the point is that you have to go through a pre-revolutionary phase before you can have a revolutionary phase, and you've got to, there has to be this, this assembling of, I mean, it's like, it's like as the current system collapses, I'm going to be, I'm dead, and two reasons. One is because as, as the system collapses, those in power will increasingly lash out, and they'll kill anybody who opposes them.
Jason: Right. Right.
Derrick: It's like John Stockwell, CIA agent, who outed the agency. He was asked at one of his talks, you know, if what you say is true, why are you still alive? He said, because they're winning, and...
Jason: Good point.
Derrick: As soon as they start to lose, you know, I'm dead. Anybody, really, who opposes them is dead, but even if not, there are high tech medicines that are keeping me alive, and so in the crash I'm dead, because of Crohn's disease, but in a sense — I mean of course I don't particularly want to, you know, go down tomorrow or anything, but, but in a sense it doesn't really matter, because at that point my work's done, because the work of writing is, is really sort of a slow process, because I finish a book; it takes a year for it to get published, and then it takes another, you know, year for it to get out, you know, to start circulating, and then it takes three years or you know, however long for it to really have an effect on consciousness, or I'm making up a number, three years. But, you know, it takes time for that to have an effect.
Jason: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Right.
Derrick: I don't actually know. I mean, do you know what year Uncle Tom's Cabin was published?
Jason: No, I don't.
Derrick: Okay, I don't either, but I do know that Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said to her, you know, here's the little lady who, who wrote the book that started the big war, and you know, I'm, I'm wondering, you know, I guessing that it wasn't published in 1860, you know.
Derrick: It had to be published before to have an effect on even small scale public consciousness. So that my point is that there's lots — here's another thing that's actually kind of funny is I read somewhere — I mean I don't know, have you seen any of my talks on You Tube or anything?
Melissa: Yeah I just had the good fortune to today.
Derrick: Okay, thanks for saying it that way. I mean sometimes I will go out of my way to make just sort of, actually, I don't often make scatological [typist's spelling] references to the president, but I do once in a while, and when I do, I do it on purpose, because I read this thing years ago that, that was this analysis of how there are, there are certain pre-revolutionary times when, when it's sort of in the order of things to make scatological references to those in power, and so like if the French Revolution is 1789, then you know, they weren't making scatological references — I'm making up the numbers — but they weren't making them in 1760, but they were in 1782.
Jason: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Derrick: Then, so what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to go, okay, I'll start it, you know. Let's, let's start this phase, and I guess, I mean, it's all kind of silly that I'm saying that, but the real point is that the way we build this is by raising these issues and by — it's like, you know Ward Churchill, right, or know his work?
Derrick: Okay, so when he started getting in trouble at the University of Colorado, I immediately wrote to him and said, you know, where do you need support, how can I support you?
Derrick: His answer was great, the best way you can support me is by continuing to speak the truth as honestly and as forcefully as you can, and that's what we need to do. That's one of the big things we need to do, and I'm saying we specifically, the three of us, is to continue to speak the truth forcefully and honestly. So other people would have different roles such as organizing, you know.
Jason: Uh-huh. Right.
Derrick: I'm not an organizer, and so there are other things other people could do, but what, what those of us who, whose primary weapon is discourse, what we can do is continue to speak the truth as forcefully and honestly as we can.
Jason: Right. Right. That's an excellent answer, and that actually kind of ties in with the other questions I had. Well what struck me as someone who's doing what you're doing on a smaller scale — I've never had a book published–I've been publishing and editing a website and writing for about four years now.
Jason: You tend to be a lot broader in your attacks. I mean, for instance, you're, you're gunning for all of civilization, and I may be kind of evolving that direction.
Derrick: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Jason: I'm more focused on capitalism right now.
Derrick: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
Jason: But a lot of the rabid libertarians and, and some of the really pro-capitalist staunch right wing people will come to our site, Cyrano's Journal, or my section, Thomas Paine's Corner, and comment on articles. And one of the ways that they try to undermine our message–whether it come from me or anybody I happen to publish, Adam Engel, for instance, one of our writers who you know–is to diminish, you know, to come out with the, the argument, well, 'Why don't you, why don't you actually go out and do something instead of just sitting there behind the keyboard and just writing?'
Jason: But what struck me in the Culture of Make Believe you wrote about how, how tremendous the impact is as far as the apparatus of propaganda and how, how important it is to win hearts and minds.
Derrick: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. [inaudible] the right ones.
Jason: Yeah, right. Well it was important enough, and even the establishment, the, in the form of the United States, the allied victors of the Nuremberg Tribunal thought it was significant enough that they actually hanged Julius Streicher for the crime of running a newspaper, so what we're doing, obviously, is very important.
Derrick: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Absolutely. [coughs] Excuse me. Yeah, absolutely, and there's a couple other things about that, too. One is that even at its, at its peak, the IRA only had about 3% of the people armed.
Derrick: Any army, even like the, you know, U.S. military, what is it — I'm making up the numbers — the 3% is a real number, but the other ones I'm making up. I've heard it's like only 10% or less of any military ever fire their weapon ever. I mean ever fired in, inside a [inaudible] shooting range.
Jason: Yeah. You got me there.
Derrick: So the point is that, you know, the U.S. military needs typists, and, I mean, Harriet Beecher Stowe carried, or Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman carried a gun, but you know, she, she required all of these people, she required quilters, I mean you know about the quilt language for the Underground Railroad, right?
Derrick: Okay, I mean, so there had to be, I mean, those fucking quilters in the Underground Railroad. That's what they do. That was their support, and there were people who would provide meals. You need, you need all this stuff, and it's, it's absurd, the whole thing about, you know, if you're, and besides it's not only a red herring, but it's really stupid to say that you're supposed to write about it and do it, too, because for one thing, this is where my gifts lie, and this is what, this is what I get off on, and it's like I was hanging out with this wetlands specialist a couple years ago, and he was, he would, he dug up some dirt, and he was rubbing it between his fingers and comparing the color of the soil to this, this chart and it was helping determine whether they were wetlands, and he's doing this, and I just, I just looked at him, and I said, 'So you get off on doing this?' And he starts laughing and says, 'Yeah, it's my second favorite thing to do in the world besides, I mean, after playing with my dogs,' and I, I just started laughing. I said this is, this is, this would be kind of hell, and for me, I mean, I get off on trying to figure out the relationship between perceived entitlement, atrocity and exploitation, and you know, pretty much condemn myself to a life of homework, and, and you know, a lot of people would consider that hell. And by the same token I know people who totally get off on explosives just for the hell of it. I mean not even talking about, you know, blowing up anything. They just, they get an explosives recipe, and they make it in their, in their kitchen, and I'm not exaggerating.
Jason: [laughter] I believe it.
Derrick: They do it because they get off on it, and apart from which my only D in college was in a quantitative analysis chemistry lab, so you know, you do not want me messing with explosives.
Jason: Uh-huh. [laughter]
Derrick: There's another part of this, too, which is that there has to be an absolute firewall between above ground, below ground activities; otherwise, we may as well just go down to the police station for recreational mug shots.
Derrick: It's just absurd for them to say you need to be doing, you know, you need to be doing the revolution as opposed to writing about it, because as I was talking to Ward about this, and he said, you know, sometimes I get the same criticism, and Ward said do you realize how incredibly stupid that is? Do realize how stupid any organization would have to be to, to want you to join it, Derrick?
Derrick: I mean we might as well all drive around in a clown car or something.
Derrick: Because, I mean, I've got huge red flags all over me.
Derrick: There was, there was, in the Eric McDavid trial in Sacramento, I was the person who was mentioned second most after Eric McDavid, and the prosecuting attorneys were, they were saying that having an interview of me in his possession was enough to say that he had a predisposition to quote, be an eco-terrorist, end quote.
Derrick: Simply having, and this is crazy, because, I mean, I have a Book of Mormon at home that a friend of mine gave me thirty years ago or twenty years ago, and I mean, does that mean I'm predisposed to be a Mormon?
Jason: Or maybe a polygamist?
Derrick: There we go, exactly.
Derrick: Or I have, I also have a book on meth. Does that mean I'm predisposed to, to take meth, and I have a book on raising homestead hogs, you know. It's like I have a book on the civil war. Does that mean I'm predisposed to go lead a bunch of cavalry? It's like, it's insane.
Derrick: But that's the level of thought crime that they're talking about, and my point is that, that the above ground work is absolutely necessary, and the below ground work is absolutely necessary, and the important thing is to leverage our power, and the longest lever that I can find right now is writing, and that doesn't alter the fact that every time I cross the Klamath I don't feel like a failure, because the Klamath River salmon are still getting hammered for many reasons including the dams.
Derrick: So, I mean, there's another question. Is my work sufficient? No. I mean I can always do more, and I mean, shit, I just finished a book. I mailed it off, emailed it, last Monday to my publisher, and so I was going to take a break, but now I'm already starting the next book. It's like I haven't taken a break in eight years, and I need to take a break. I mean, I'm, I'm falling apart physically and mentally and everything else, and at the same time, it's like the world's being killed, and you know, I can take a break when, when the collapse comes or when I'm dead, one or the other.
Derrick: It's like I go back and forth on that, but I mean, I, I think my work is, is really good and really important, but those, it's not good enough, and that there's not, I mean, the world's still getting killed, and it's incredibly frustrating, and, and it's not like, it's not like, you know, it's not, it's not like, oh, I'm just not, you know, making enough money or something. It's, it's the real physical world is getting murdered, and, and you know, whether I am personally or that my health or my, you know, emotional state or anything else is falling apart, there's, is really irrelevant compared to that. It's like, you know, when the world's being killed, you know, the problems, your problems, my problems, whatever don't amount to a hill of beans.
Jason: Right. You–go ahead.
Melissa: I was going to say right, but in order to be productive and for your brain to be working coherently, you need to take care of yourself every day and try to work on your health issues, and I'm sure you approach your health issues with natural medicine and pharmaceutical medicine in the best combination possible, so.
Derrick: Oh, absolutely, absolutely, and that doesn't alter the fact that also I need to take some time off. It's pretty interesting. I don't know if this happens to you, but I'm sort of getting better now that I'm done with the book, but my memory was going all to hell. My memory goes to hell when I'm on tour, but, but it was going to hell at home just horribly. Well this whole thing with the six o'clock, nine o'clock thing is just a great example of it, but it's just entirely falling apart, and I remember, actually, this happens with every book I do, and it's not merely that I need to rest, which I do, but it's also that I've realized that as I write a book, I carry the whole book around inside of me, and it–okay, I'm going to use a computer metaphor, but that's only because I can't come up with a better one. I hate, I hate it when people say their brains are like computers, but I'm going to do it anyway which is that, you know, it's like the book takes up more and more memory until everything else starts to fall apart, and then when the whole thing's done, I can sort of download it, you know, get rid of it, and I don't have to think about that book anymore.
Jason: Right. Uh-huh.
Derrick: And not think is the wrong word, because, because you know, I don't have to carry it around with me, and so it's pretty interesting, because even the past week my memory has started to get better, and it's so funny. I mean every book I forget that I did this on all the other books, and I think that I must be, you know, that my memory's actually going to hell for real and that I'm, you know, I'm getting older, you know. You know I've got some sort of organic brain problem, and then I finish the book and say, oh, yeah, that's right.
Melissa: Do you think that our planet is going to be free of oil and gas based technology, electricity, etc. within the next, make up a number, twenty years, fifty years? I mean...
Derrick: Fifty years, absolutely. Twenty years, almost undoubtedly.
Melissa: Do you know how scary that is even for people like me who are completely, you know, dedicated to that being the best thing? That that's just a terrifDerrick Jensen is the author of The Culture of Make Believe, A Language Older than Words, Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Eros, a USA Today Critics Choice for one of the best nature books of 1995, and Railroads and Clearcuts. He writes for The New York Times Magazine, Audubon, and The Sun Magazine, among many others.
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