Note: We are strictly an aboveground movement. We will not answer questions regarding anyone’s personal desire to be in or form an underground. We do this for the security of all involved with Deep Green Resistance.
Q: Who speaks on behalf of Deep Green Resistance?
Deep Green Resistance is not monolithic. Those associated with it all have opinions which may differ from those of others within DGR. Thus anything said by, for example, Lierre Keith, Derrick Jensen, or Aric McBay should not be construed as official DGR policy unless these people are specifically speaking for DGR. DGR respects a diversity of opinion, expressed respectfully.
Q: Is Deep Green Resistance a feminist organization?
In the words of Andrea Dworkin, “Feminism is the political practice of fighting male supremacy in behalf of women as a class.”
Please check out the Radical Feminism FAQ for more elaboration on this question.
Q: What is Deep Green Resistance’s position on nonviolent and militant tactics?
DGR believes in the importance of the strategic use of both nonviolent and militant tactics. We are an aboveground movement, but we also support a theoretical belowground. For both to be safe, there needs to be a strong firewall between any aboveground and a belowground. For them to be effective, both aboveground and belowground must think and act strategically. In the book Deep Green Resistance, the authors put forward a number of scenarios for possible theoretical underground movements that engage in direct actions against critical infrastructure.
“I don’t have a problem with escalating tactics to some sort of militant resistance if it is appropriate morally, strategically and tactically. This is true if one is going to pick up a sign, a rock, or a gun.” -Derrick Jensen
Q: Why does industrial civilization need to be dismantled? Won’t we just reach a tipping point in public opinion?
Derrick Jensen: In 2004, George Bush received more than 62 million votes in the United States. Admittedly, the Democrats are just the good cop in a good cop/bad cop scenario, but that doesn’t alter the fact that 62 million people voted for George Bush. Now people are camping out overnight to get Sarah Palin’s signature. In the small county where I live there are a few issues that will get enough people excited to storm the board of supervisor’s office. One is that they want to maintain their ability to grow small amounts of marijuana. Another is that they want the right to drive ORVs anywhere they goddamn please.
People are not rioting over the unwillingness of this government to provide healthcare. People aren’t rioting over the toxification of the total environment and their loved ones dying of cancer. They’re not rioting over the United States spending billions of dollars-billions and billions of dollars-to kill people all over the world. And, in fact, one of the smartest political moves that any politician can make is to increase the military budget. That is tremendously popular.
This culture must be undone completely. That’s an absolute necessity. Humanity lived without industrialism for most of its existence. And industrialism is killing the planet. Humans cannot exist without the planet. The planet (and sustainable human existence) is more important than industrialism.
Of course, we would all rather have a voluntary transformation, a tipping point. But if this tipping point does not occur, we need a back-up plan.
Q: I believe in the hundredth monkey story, in which one monkey learned a new skill, and taught it to the others until a critical mass of monkeys (say, one hundred) had learned this skill, suddenly all the monkeys knew the skill, even on other islands. If enough minds are changed, won’t civilization transform itself into something sustainable?
Derrick Jensen – First, the hundredth monkey story is not true. It is a story made up by some New-Agers. It is stupid to base a strategy for saving the planet on a fictional story. If we’re going to base our strategy on the hundredth monkey, why don’t we just base it on Santa Claus bringing us a sustainable culture for Christmas?
And, no, civilization will not transform itself into something sustainable. That’s not physically possible. Civilization is functionally unsustainable. And the fact that ideas like the hundredth monkey are spoken of quite often in public discourse, lets us know the extreme distance that we have to go to make the sort of changes that are necessary. The fact that people are still talking about this level of detachment from real physical reality is evidence itself that there will not be a voluntary transformation.
No, the momentum is too fierce. What we need to do is stop this culture before it kills the planet. And I can’t speak for you, but I’m not going to rely on a fictional hundredth monkey to do the work for me when I can do the work myself.
Q: You can’t force people to change. What we really need is a paradigm shift.
Derrick Jensen: Proponents of a chiefly educational strategy often assert that persistent work at building public awareness will eventually result in a global “paradigm shift,” which will dramatically change the actions and opinions of the majority. The term paradigm shift comes from Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but it’s inapplicable to our situation for a number of reasons. Although the phrase gained usage in the 1990s as a marketing buzzword, Kuhn wrote explicitly that the idea only applied to those fields usually called the hard sciences (physics, biology, chemistry, and the like). A paradigm, he said, was a dominant system of explanation in one of these sciences, whereas “a student in the humanities has constantly before him [sic] a number of competing and incommensurable solutions to these problems, solutions that he must ultimately examine for himself.” Scientists trying to use equations to explain, say, orbital mechanics, can come to agreement on which theory is best because they are trying to develop the most accurate predictive equations. Social sciences and other fields do not have this luxury, because there is no agreement on which problems are most important, how to evaluate their answers, what kind of answer is the most important and how precise it should be, and what to do when answers are arrived at.
Because of these differences, Kuhn argued that the true scientific paradigm shifts always lead to better paradigms-paradigms that do a better job of explaining part of the world. But in society at large this is not true at all-dominant world views can be displaced by worldviews which are considerably worse at explaining the world or which are damaging to humans and the living world, a phenomenon which is distressingly common in history.
Furthermore, Kuhn argued that even when a much better paradigm is supported by strong evidence, the scientific community doesn’t necessarily switch quickly. Scientists who have been practicing the obsolete paradigm for their entire careers may not change their minds even in the presence of overwhelming evidence. Kuhn quotes Nobel laureate Max Planck, who said that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Even worse for us, Kuhn and Planck are assuming the people in question are genuinely and deliberately trying to find the best possible paradigm. Doing this is literally a full-time job. Do we really believe that the majority of people are spending their free waking hours trying to gain a deeper understanding of the world, trying to sift through the huge amounts of available information, trying to grasp history and ecology and economics? The very idea of a paradigm shift assumes that the majority of people are actively trying to find large scale solutions to our current predicament, instead of being willfully ignorant and deeply invested in a convenient economic and social system that rewards people for destroying the planet.
Indeed, part of the problem with “education” is that it’s not only leftists who do it, and it’s rarely unbiased. Studies have shown that on the right wing, more educated people are less likely to admit the existence of global warming. This is probably because they have more sophisticated rationales for their delusions.
But let’s pause for a moment and take the most optimistic (if somewhat mangled) interpretation of Kuhn’s concept and assume that a beneficial paradigm shift is going to happen, rather than a worsening shift in dominant politics and world views That shift would require abundant evidence that the dominant culture-civilization-is inherently destructive and doomed to destroy itself along with the living world. Since we can’t do multiple experimental run throughs of a global industrial civilization, for many people the only inescapable empirical demonstration of the dominant system’s fundamental unsustainability would be the collapse of that system. Only at that point would the majority of people be seriously and personally invested in learning how to live without destroying the planet. And even then, those people would likely continue to insist on their outdated worldview, until, as Max Planck observed, they die, resulting in a further decades-long delay beyond collapse before a beneficial paradigm was dominant. This means that even in the most optimistic and reasonable assessment, a “global paradigm shift” would be decades too late.
Q: I’m a fan of Daniel Quinn. He says we should just walk away. I know there is something wrong here. What do you think?
Derrick Jensen: There are two problems with this. With civilization having metastasized across the globe and bombing the moon, where are you supposed to walk to? Are you supposed to walk to the melting arctic? Are you supposed to walk to the middle of the ocean, where there’s forty-eight times as much plastic as there is phytoplankton? Where are you supposed to go? There is dioxin in every mother’s breast milk, so you can’t even drink breast milk without getting dioxin. There are carcinogens in every stream in the United States and, presumably, in the world.
Where are you supposed to go?
Some respond to this by saying, “Oh, no, it’s supposed to be a mental state. We’re supposed to walk away emotionally and withdraw.” But the real physical world is the basis for all life and you cannot withdraw from that.
Withdrawal in the face of moral complexity is no answer. Withdrawal in the face of atrocity is no answer. Two hundred species went extinct today. When faced with those committing atrocities, it is incumbent upon you to stop those atrocities using any means necessary. If you were being tortured to death in some basement, and I knew this, would you want me to walk away? Would you accept it if I said, “Oh, here’s an answer, I will walk away.” What would you call me if I did that? I’m guessing that “coward” would be the kindest word you would use.
Q: How do I know that civilization is not redeemable?
Derrick Jensen: Look around. Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Salmon are collapsing. Passenger pigeons are gone. Eskimo curlews are gone. Ninety-eight percent of native forests are gone, 99 percent of wetlands, 99 percent of native grasslands. What standards do you need?
What is the threshold at which you will finally acknowledge that it’s not redeemable?
In A Language Older Than Words I explained how we all are suffering from what Judith Herman would call “Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Judith Herman asks, “What happens if you are raised in captivity? What happens if you’re long-term held in captivity, as in a political prisoner, as in a survivor of domestic violence?” You come to believe that all relationships are based on power, that might makes right, that there is no such thing as fully mutual relationships. That, of course, describes this culture’s entire epistemology and this culture’s entire way of relating. Indigenous peoples have said that the fundamental difference between western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor as opposed to the way the world really works. So the world consists of resources to be exploited, as opposed to other beings to enter into relationship with. We have been so traumatized that we are incapable of perceiving that real relationships are possible. That is one reason that the culture is not redeemable.
Here is another answer. In Culture of Make Believe, I wrote about how this culture is irredeemable because the social reward systems of this culture lead inevitably to atrocity. This culture is based on competition as opposed to cooperation and, as such, will inevitably lead to wars over resources.
Ruth Benedict, the anthropologist, tried to figure out why some cultures are good (to use her word) and some cultures are not good. In a good culture, men treat women well, adults treat children well, people are generally happy, and there’s not a lot of competition. She found that the good cultures all have one thing in common. They figured out something very simple: they recognize that humans are both social creatures and selfish, and they merge selfishness and altruism by praising behaviors that benefit the group as a whole and disallowing behaviors that benefit the individual at the expense of the group. The bad cultures socially reward behavior that benefits the individual at the expense of the group. If you reward behavior that benefits the group, that’s the sort of behavior you will get. If you reward behavior that is selfish, acquisitive, that’s the behavior you will get. This is Behavior Mod. 101.
This culture rewards highly acquisitive, psychopathological behavior, and that is the behavior we see. It’s inevitable.
Need another answer? In Endgame I explained that a culture that imports resources cannot be sustainable. In order to be sustainable a culture must help the landbase, but importing resources means denuding the land of that particular resource. As the city grows, an ever larger area is denuded. That culture’s way of living can never be sustainable.
This way of life is always based on violence. If the culture requires the importation of resources, trade will never be sufficiently reliable. If the people next watershed over have a resource that culture needs, it will be taken. We could all become junior bodhisattvas and the US military would still have to be huge. Civilization is irredeemable on a functional level.
We can talk all we want about new technologies, but so long as they require copper wiring, they are going to require an industrial infrastructure, and they are going to require a mining infrastructure, and that is inherently unsustainable.
Right now the United States is spending 100 billion dollars a year to invade and occupy Afghanistan. That is $3,500.00 for every Afghan man, woman, and child, per year. At the same time, everybody from right wing pundits to the zombies on NPR ask the question, “Is it too expensive to stop global warming?” There is always money to kill people. There is never enough money for life-affirming ends.
I look around in every direction and I see no sign of redeemability in this culture. The real physical world is being murdered. The pattern is there. We need to recognize that pattern, and then we need to stop those who are killing the planet.
Q: How can I be sure my actions won’t hasten or cause the extinction of the very species I’m trying to save? How can I be sure my actions won’t result in hungry people killing every last wild animal in the area for food or cutting down every last tree for fuel?
Derrick Jensen: We can’t be absolutely certain of anything. The only thing we can be certain of is that if civilization continues, it will kill every last being on earth. But let’s take a reasonable worst case scenario for a cataclysmic event. Chernobyl was a horrible disaster. Yet it has had a spectacularly positive ecological outcome: humans have been kept out of the area and wildlife is returning. Do you know what that means? The day-to-day workings of civilization are worse than a nuclear catastrophe. It would be hard to do worse than Chernobyl.
Yes, be smart and attend to those questions. But if we fail to act there will be nothing left. What the world needs is to be left alone. What the world needs is to have this culture-that is continuously cutting it, torturing it, murdering it-stopped.
Q: How can I do something to help bring down civilization and not just throw away my life in a useless act?
Derrick Jensen: There are three answers. The philosophical answer is that we can’t know the future. We can never know whether some action will be useful. We should pick what we think are the most effective actions, but that still doesn’t guarantee any given act will succeed. What we can know is that if this culture continues in the direction it’s headed, it will get where it’s headed, which is the murder of the planet. There are already casualties, and they’re called the salmon. They’re called the sharks. They’re called the black terns. They’re called migratory songbirds. They’re called oceans, rivers. They’re called indigenous people. They’re called the poor. They’re called subsistence farmers. They’re called women.
The second, historical answer is about the way resistance movements work. You lose and you lose and you lose until you win. You get your head cracked, get your head cracked, get your head cracked, and then you win. You can’t know when you start how many times you have to get your head cracked before you win. But the struggle builds on struggle. It has to start somewhere and it has to gain momentum. That happens through organizing, it happens through actions. And it happens through victories. One of the best recruiting tools is some sort of victory. And you can’t have a victory unless you try.
And now the pragmatic: we are horribly outnumbered and we do not have the luxury to throw away our lives. How we can be most effective? We have to be smart. Choose targets carefully, both for strategic value and safety. And we have to organize. A lone person’s chance of sparking a larger movement is much lower than that of a group of organized people.
Whatever actions a person takes (and this is true in all areas of life) need to count. Many of the actions being taken right now are essentially acts of vandalism, as opposed to acts of active sabotage that will slow the movement of the machine. So choose. How can you make your actions (and your life) have the most significance in terms of stopping the perpetration of atrocity?
All those who begin to act against the powers of any repressive state need to recognize that their lives will change. They need to take that decision very seriously. Some of the people captured under the Green Scare knew what they were getting into, and some of them made the decision more lightly. The latter were the people who turned very quickly when they were arrested. One person turned within five seconds of getting into the police car. That person probably didn’t seriously consider the ramifications of his actions before he began. The Black Panthers knew when they started the struggle that they would either end up dead or in prison.
Finally, we have to always keep what we’re fighting for in sight. We are fighting for life on the planet. And the truth is, the planet’s life is worth more than you. It’s worth more than me. It is the source of all life. That doesn’t alter the fact that we should be smart. We need to be very strategic. We need to be tactical. And we need to act.
Did John Brown throw away his life? On one hand, you could say yes. His project ultimately failed. But, on the other hand, you could say that it set up much greater things. Did Nat Turner throw away his life? Did members of the revolt at Sobibor throw away their lives? On one hand, you could say yes. On the other hand, you could say that they did what was absolutely right and necessary. And something we must always remember is that those who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising had a higher rate of survival than those who went along. When the whole planet is being destroyed, your inaction will not save you. We must choose the larger life. We must choose to do what is right to protect the planet. It is our only home.
Q: Why should I take large-scale direct action against the system when almost nobody else, especially in the first world, is?
Derrick Jensen: Because the world is being murdered. And because members of the so-called “first world” are the primary beneficiaries. It is not up to the poor to be on the frontlines yet again. It is not up to the indigenous to be on the frontlines. It is not up to the non-humans to be on the frontlines. It is our responsibility as beneficiaries of this system to bring a halt to the system.
MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta) have been able to reduce oil industry output by up to 30 percent in Nigeria. They have done so because they love the land they live in and that land is being destroyed. We have much greater resources at our disposal. It’s our responsibility to use those resources and to use the privilege that we have to stop this culture from killing the planet.
Q: What might distinguish an anti-civilization resistance from other popular movements that those in power have successfully overpowered COINTELPRO-style? Do people have new strategies and tactics that can stand up to these new systems and technologies?
Derrick Jensen: Frankly, no. People now have a tremendous disadvantage over people in the past in that people now live inside a panopticon. The ability to surveil and to kill at a distance has greatly increased over what it was in times past. Contrast the powers of the state at present with those, say, in Nazi Germany. For the Nazis, fingerprint technology was still very new. They had nothing like the capacity to surveil that modern states have. They had only rudimentary computers. They didn’t have the ability to do voice-recognition software. They didn’t have any software. So those in power have a tremendous advantage over historical popular movements.
Indigenous and traditional resistance movements had villages where they could be safe. They had wild places where they could be safe. They had their own territory. People now don’t have that. They do, however, have a significant advantage over the indigenous resistance movements of the last 500 years in that they mix in. Tecumseh could not have walked into Philadelphia and not been recognized. People today have that advantage.
But the biggest advantage that people today have over people in times previous is that the age of exuberance is over. The age of cheap oil is over. The empires of today are on their way to collapse. It used to seem that as civilization dissolved, anyone who even remotely opposed it would be put up against a wall. But now it looks as though as civilization falls apart, its emperors may not even be able to deliver the mail, much less maintain the level of oppression that they have historically perpetrated on those who oppose empire. Think of the collapse of the Soviet Union; it just sort of fell apart instead of instigating purges or gulags. The Soviet Union didn’t have the resources.
Even the United States is falling apart. The US government can’t even maintain the water systems in this country and it can’t maintain the roads. State and federal governments can’t pay for colleges anymore. Those in power don’t have the money, and they don’t have the resources, and those resources will never come back.
If someone would have taken out some important piece of infrastructure in years past, those in power would have been able to replace it. But now the governments of the world don’t have the money. The more they spend on rebuilding, the less primary damage they can do.
Q: A resistance movement will be demonized and portrayed as eco-terrorists by the mainstream media. Is there an alternative media in place with a strategy to counter this?
Derrick Jensen: There is an alternative media in place, but will it counter this demonization? No. The alternative media is tepid and full of horizontal hostility. The larger question is, “Is there a media forum that is supporting serious resistance against this culture’s murder of the planet?” And the answer, sadly, is no. Even so-called nature magazines have tremendous resistance to promoting anything other than composting or riding bicycles. Or rather, I should say, a lot of the readers do. One purpose of this book is to help create that literature of resistance-an absolutely necessary literature of resistance-that will help to put in place a larger media of resistance. It takes all forms, from comics to films to books to graffiti to people having conversations on their back porches. We need to be discussing this and we need to be discussing it openly. One of the absolutely necessary precursors to a resistance is to talk about it. This has been true of every resistance movement in the past and it will be true as long as there are resistance movements. We must put all the options on the table and discuss them openly, honestly, earnestly.
Q: Is there a solidarity/support network in place to support someone who goes to prison for activism? Is there a support system in place to support someone’s family if an activist goes to prison and is the breadwinner?
Derrick Jensen: For the former, there is. For example, Anarchist Black Cross does political prisoner support and there are other organizations that do political prisoner support. But the truth is we need to build a much broader base of that. Prisoner support is actually pretty lacking. And it’s pretty easy to do the basic stuff. My mother, every year, writes to many political prisoners on their birthdays and around winter solstice. Many of these people have been in prison for thirty and forty years, and her letters may be one of two or three that they receive throughout the year. So there are organizations in place, but those organizations have to be much more robust. And so far as support for families, no, there isn’t. But there should be. These are things that can and should be done by those who are entirely aboveground. We have emphasized throughout this book that not everyone needs to take up serious illegal action. But we need a culture of resistance, and part of a culture of resistance is a robust prisoner support network for those who are on the front lines. We need a system where we support the troops, those who are actually fighting for the planet. That needs to be in place and so far it’s not.
Q: How can I accept the risks of being caught when that could mean never being able to see or help my family/lover/children in these difficult times?
Derrick Jensen: Nothing in this book is meant to exhort people to do things they don’t want to do. In fact, nothing in this book is meant to exhort people to do anything illegal (recognizing that innocence of actual criminal activity is no guarantee that one will not be punished by those in power). We’ve said numerous times that there are plenty of ways that a culture of resistance can manifest, any number of activities that you can participate in that are not as immediately risky as below-ground actions. If your primary concern is the risk of being caught, there are plenty of other things you can do.
But remember that when state repression gets really bad, being aboveground does not mean that the state won’t come for you. It’s often the public intellectuals, the organizers, and the writers who are thrown in jail. The people underground, without a public profile, are sometimes safer.
Perhaps, though, we should turn the question around. “Are you willing to risk not having fish in the oceans?” If things continue the way they are, by 2050 there will be no fish in the oceans. Amphibians are already dying. Migratory songbirds are already dying. The planet is dying. Are you willing to risk that?
None of this is theoretical. When the industrial system starts to collapse, I will be dead. I am reliant upon high-technology medicine for my life. But there is something larger and more important than my life.
Q: If we act effectively against those in power, won’t those in power just come down on us harder?
Derrick Jensen: They will, but that’s not a reason to submit. This is how authoritarian regimes and abusers work: they make their victims afraid to act. They reinforce the mentality, “If I try to leave him, my abusive husband, my pimp, may kill me.” And that is a very good reason to not resist.
This question explicitly articulates what we all know to be true: the foundation of this culture is force. And the primary reason we don’t resist is because we are afraid of that force. We know if we act decisively to protect the places and creatures we love or if we act decisively to stop corporate exploitation of the poor, that those in power will come down on us with the full power of the state. We can talk all we want about how we supposedly live in a democracy. And we can talk all we want about the consent of the governed. But what it really comes down to is if you effectively oppose the will of those in power, they will try to kill you. We need to make that explicit so we can face the situation that we’re in. And the situation that we’re in is those in power are killing the planet and they are exploiting the poor, they are murdering the poor, and we are not stopping them because we are afraid.
But there have to be some of us who are willing to act anyway. We should never underestimate the seriousness of attempting to stop those in power. And we also need to be very clear about the seriousness of what is happening to the world. If you’re reading this book, you probably understand how desperate things are.
What is the legacy that we want to leave for those who come after? How do you want to be seen by the generations that follow? Do you want to be seen as someone who knew what the right thing was and didn’t do it because you were afraid? Or do you want to be remembered as someone who was afraid and did the right things anyway? It’s okay to be afraid. Almost everyone I know is afraid at some time or another. But there is tremendous joy and exhilaration that comes, too, from doing what is right. The fact that those in power will use their power against resisters is not a reason to give up the fight before we even begin. It is a reason to be really, really smart.
Q: What has happened to those who have tried to use violence? Fred Hampton, Laura Whitehorn , and Susan Rosenberg are just a few of the many who have tried to use force and have ended up dead, framed, or in jail. You say we all have a role; how do you feel about proposing that others do what you will not do?
Derrick Jensen: It’s not a question of taking more or less risks by going aboveground or belowground. As repression becomes more open, it is the people who are aboveground who are often first targeted by those in power. Erich Mühsam was aboveground. So was Ken Saro-wiwa. Many writers have been. That is our role. Our role is to put big bull’s-eye targets on our chests so that we can help to form a culture of resistance. Our role is to be public. And, of course, if you are public, you cannot also be underground; there must be an absolute firewall between aboveground and belowground activities and organizations. This is basic security culture.
We are not asking anyone else to do things we aren’t willing to do. In fact, we aren’t asking anyone to do anything in specific. We all need to find our own roles, based on our personal assessment of what risks we can take and what our gifts are.
Those in power will come down on us if we resist. It doesn’t matter if that resistance is violent or nonviolent. It’s resistance that brings the risk and retaliation, and it’s resistance that our planet needs.
Q: If we dismantle civilization, won’t that kill millions of people in cities? What about them?
Derrick Jensen: No matter what you do, your hands will be blood red. If you participate in the global economy, your hands are blood red because the global economy is murdering humans and non-humans the planet over. A half million children die every year as a direct result of so-called “debt repayment” from non-industrialized nations to industrialized nations. Sixty thousand people die every day from pollution. And what about all the people who are being forced off their land? There are a lot of people dying already. Failing to act in the face of atrocity is no answer.
The grim reality is that both energy descent and biotic collapse will be ever more severe the more the dominant culture continues to destroy the basis for life on this planet. And yet some people will say that those who propose dismantling civilization are, in fact, suggesting genocide on a mass scale.
Polar bears and coho salmon would disagree. Traditional indigenous peoples would disagree. The humans who inherit what is left of this world when the dominant culture finally comes down would disagree.
My definition of dismantling civilization is depriving the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and depriving the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. Nobody but a capitalist or a sociopath (insofar as there is a difference) could disagree with that.
Years ago I asked Anuradha Mittal, former director of Food First, “Would the people of India be better off if the global economy disappeared tomorrow?” And she said, “Of course.” She said the poor the world over would be better off if the global economy collapsed. There are former granaries of India that now export dog food and tulips to Europe. The rural poor the world over are being exploited by this system. Would they be better off? What about the farmers in India who are being forced off their land so that Coca Cola can have their water? What about those who are committing suicide because of Monsanto? A significant portion of people in the world do not have access to electricity. Would they be worse off with grid crash? No, they’d be better off immediately. What about the indigenous peoples of Peru who are fighting to stop oil exploration by Hunt Oil on their land, allowed because of United States-Peruvian trade agreements?
When someone says, “A lot of people are going to die,” we’ve got to talk about which people. People all over the world are already enduring famines, but for the most part they are not dying of starvation; they’re dying of colonialism, because their land and their economies have been stolen. We hear all the time that the world is running out of water. There is still as much water as there ever was, but 90 percent of the water used by humans is being used for agriculture and industry. People are dying of thirst because the water is being stolen.
When I asked a member of the Peruvian rebel group MRTA, the Tupacameristas, “What do you want for the people of Peru?” his response was, “What we want is to be able to grow and distribute our own food. We already know how to do that. We merely need to be allowed to do so.” That’s the entire struggle right there.
It is true that the urban poor would be worse off at first, because the dominant culture, like any good abusive system, has made its victims dependent upon it for their lives. That’s what abusers do, whether they are domestic violence abusers, or whether they are larger scale perpetrators. That’s how slavers work: they make enslaved people dependent upon them for their lives. One of the brilliant things this culture has done has been to insert itself between us and our self-sufficiency, us and the source of all life. So we come to believe that the system provides our sustenance, not that the real world does. Yes, life would be much harder at first.
But in the long run, the urban poor would be better off. Most of the urban poor are people who live in third-world slums. That’s more than a billion people, and, if trends continue, that will double in two decades. Many of these are people who have been forced off their traditional land. The poor will be able to take back this land if the governments of the world are no longer capable of propping up colonial arrangements of exploitation.
I have another answer, too. As this culture collapses, much of the misery will be caused by the wealthy attempting to maintain their lifestyles. As this culture continues to collapse, those who are doing the exploiting will continue to do the exploiting. Don’t blame those who want to stop that exploitation. Instead, help to stop the exploitation that is killing people in the first place.
The authors of this book are not blithely asking who will die. In at least one of our cases, the answer is “I will.” I have Crohn’s disease, and I am reliant for my life on high tech medicines. Without these medicines, I will die. But my individual life is not what matters. The survival of the planet is more important than the life of any single human being, including my own.
Since industrial civilization is systematically dismantling the ecological infrastructure of the planet, the sooner civilization comes down, the more life will remain afterwards to support both humans and nonhumans. We can provide for the well-being of those humans who will be alive during and immediately after energy and ecological descent by preparing people for a localized future. We can rip up asphalt in vacant parking lots to convert them to neighborhood gardens, go teach people how to identify local edible plants, so that people won’t starve when they can no longer head off to the store for groceries. We can start setting up neighborhood councils to make decisions, settle conflicts, and provide mutual aid.
Q: Civilization is the only thing keeping violent criminals from raping/killing people like in those horrible places far away. Who will protect my family if we dismantle civilization?
Derrick Jensen: A couple of years ago, I got an email from a policeman in Chicago. He was reading Endgame and liking it except that he thought I came down too hard on cops. He said, “Our job is to protect people from sociopaths and that’s what I do every day. I protect people from sociopaths.” I wrote back, “I think that’s really great that you protect us from sociopaths. When my mom’s house got burgled, the first thing we did was call the cops. When my house got burgled, I turned it over to the cops. It’s great that you protect us from sociopaths. My problem is that you really only protect us from poor sociopaths, not the rich sociopaths.”
After Bhopal, Warren Anderson was tried and found guilty in absentia for the atrocities of running Union Carbide. He was sentenced to hang. And the United States refuses to extradite him. If it were up to me, all the people associated with the Gulf oil spill, which is murdering the Gulf, would be executed. That would be part of the function of a state. Instead, one of the primary functions of government is to protect the rich sociopaths from the outrage of the rest of us. Who is protecting the farmers in India from Monsanto? Who is protecting the farmers in the United States from Cargill and ADM?
I did a benefit for a group of Mexican-Americans who were attempting to stop yet another toxic waste dump from being placed in their neighborhood. The toxic waste was, of course, from somewhere far away. The conversation turned to what it would be like if police and prosecutors were not enforcing the dictates of distant corporations instead of the wishes of the local communities. What if they were enforcing cancer-free zones? Or clearcut-free zones? Or rape-free zones, for that matter? And then everyone laughed, because everyone knows it’s not going to happen. But what if we in our communities started to form community-defense groups [and militias] and said, “This is going to be a cancer-free zone. This will be a clearcut-free zone. This will be a rape-free zone. This will be a dam-free zone.” What would happen if we did that?
That’s exactly what we’re talking about in this book. We want to have our communities be cancer-free. We want them to be clearcut-free. We want them to be dam-free. We want them to be rape-free. And we need to stop the sociopaths who are hurting us.
As civic society collapses in a patriarchy, things can become much worse. Look at the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are organized mass rapes. What do we do about that? One of the things we need to do is to prepare now. That’s why we’ve emphasized in this book so often that the revolutionaries need to be of good character. A friend of mine says that he does the environmental work he does because as things become increasingly chaotic, he wants to make sure that some doors remain open. If the grizzly bears are gone in twenty years, they’ll be gone forever. But if they are there in twenty years, they may be able to be there forever. It’s the same for the bull trout, the same with the redwoods-if you cut this forest, it’s gone. But if it’s standing, who knows what will happen in the future? And it’s the same for people’s social attitudes; as things become increasingly chaotic, events become increasingly uncontrollable. We must make sure that certain ideas are in place before that happens. That’s why we have emphasized zero-tolerance for horizontal hostility, zero-tolerance for violence against women, zero-tolerance for racism. Because as civic society collapses-no matter the cause of this collapse-men will rape more, and the time to defend against that is not then, but now.
There are two approaches to the problem of men assaulting women. One of them is in a line by Andrea Dworkin, “My prayer for women of the twenty-first century: harden your hearts and learn to kill.” Women need to learn self-defense, and they need to form self-defense organizations, and they need to be feminists. And men must make their allegiance to women absolute. They must have a zero-tolerance policy for the abuse of women.
The same is true for race-based hate crimes. As the economic system collapses, those whose entitlement has put them at the top of the heap are going to start blaming everyone else (witness the Tea Party, for example). As Nietzsche wrote, “One does not hate what one can despise.” And so long as your entitlement is in place and so long as your entitlement isn’t threatened, you can despise those whom you’re exploiting. But as soon as that entitlement is threatened, that contempt turns over into outright hatred and violence. As civilization collapses, we will see an increase in male-pattern violence. We will see an increase in violence against those who resist. We will see an increase in violence against people of color. We are already seeing this.
My answer for people of color is, learn to defend yourself and form self-defense organizations. And the job of white allies is to make our allegiance to the victims of white oppression absolute.
There have been many resistance movements who have formed self-defense organizations and their own police forces. The IRA acted as neighborhood police, the Spanish Anarchists organized their own police force in some of the bigger cities, and we will talk about the Gulabi Gang in Chapter 13. We need something similar. We need to form self-defense organizations to defend those humans and non-humans who are assaulted and violated. Those assaults will continue to happen until we stop them.
To be clear, civilization is not the same as society. Civilization is a specific, hierarchical organization based on “power over.” Dismantling civilization, taking down that power structure, does not mean the end of all social order. It should ultimately mean more justice, more local control, more democracy, and more human rights, not less.
Q: Will civilization just reassemble itself?
Derrick Jensen: I have several answers to that. The first is that, no, this is a one-time blowout. The easily accessible reserves of oil are gone. There will never be another oil age. There will never be another natural gas age. There will never be another Iron Age or Bronze Age. Further, there will never be-or not for a very, very long time-an age of tall ships, for example, because the forests are gone. This culture has destroyed so much that there will not be the foundation upon which a similar civilization could be built. Topsoil is gone. No, there will never be another rise of a civilization like this. There might be-presuming humans survive-some small-scale civilizations, but there will never be another one like this.
Second, I don’t really think that’s the right question. It’s like waking up in the middle of the night and hearing the screams of your family as they’re tortured, and then you look up and you see an ax murderer standing over your bed. You turn to the person sleeping next to you and you say, “Darling, honeybunch, how can we make sure that ax murderers don’t break into our home tomorrow?” Right now, we have a crisis and we need to deal with that crisis. I wish we had the luxury to worry about whether civilization will rise again in the future, but we don’t have that luxury. Right now, we need to stop this culture from killing the planet and let the people who come after worry about whether it’s going to rise again.
This question reminds me of another I was once asked: “How much time do you think we have left?” I gestured toward the person next to her. “Pretend she is being tortured in that room over there. We can hear her screaming. How much time do you think she has left before we need to act? How much time should we allow the torturers to continue before we stop them?” There are injustices happening right now. Two hundred species went extinct today. And how much time did they have? None. The question for them is not, will civilization rise again? The question is what can we do to protect them right now. If we see these injustices, we need to stop them.