The Domestication of Humanity Under Capitalism

The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen (2002, Trade Paperback) book 9781893956285 | eBay

The Culture of Make Believe

Derrick Jensen

Chelsea Green (2002)

Book Review

This book is about self-delusion we all practice under capitalism to deaden our biological needs for the “higher” goal of production. As Jensen puts it, people have to be “domesticated” just like animals.

As he puts it,

For civilization to survive we can’t simply be who were are, but must tweaked, torn, our psyches twisted to conform to a social reality based on exploitation.

[…]

You domesticate people to the point they no longer perceive your control as unjust and attempt to join you in oppressing those who do.[1]

According to Jensen, he arrived at these conclusions through research into the psychological basis of hate crimes and genocide. He now believes entitlement is key to most atrocities. People whose privilege stems from exploiting an oppressed group commit hate crimes when threatened with losing it.[2] In fact, perpetrators of mass atrocities usually consider themselves the real victims (the Nazis perceived themselves as victims of the Jews, and early American settlers believed they were being victimized by indigenous Americans).

The book reports on numerous specific massacres he investigated. Among others, they include:

  • The deliberate massacre of millions of Native Americans by European settlers.
  • The Ku Klux Klan’s legally sanctioned lynching, extrajudicial murder and torture of African Americans after the Civil War, and to some extent Jews, Catholics and immigrants following their post-World War I revival.[3]
  • The massacre of one million Filipinos during the US military occupation of the Philippines (1899-1902).
  • The lynching, beatings and torture of thousands of Chinese immigrants who built, not only the US railroads, but the San Joachin Valley levees and the West Coast fishing industry.
  • The systematic massacre (with the support of the German population) of Jew, gypsies, political dissidents and the disabled in Nazi Germany.
  • The massacre of three million Vietnamese during the US war on Vietnam, with millions more killed by the deadly sanctions that followed (1975-1995).
  • The millions of Iraqi killed during the first Gulf War and the brutal sanctions that preceded the second Iraqi invasion in 2003.
  • The 500,000 Bhopal residents killed or permanent injured from Union Carbide’s release of 40 tons of deadly methylisocynate and the refusal of Union Carbide and the Indian government to allow survivors to treat survivors with the antidote sodium thiosulfate.
  • The systematic murder and torture (in which thousands of ordinary Americans enthusiastically participated) of thousands of members of International Workers of the World during World War I.

The part of the book I found most intriguing concerns statistics revealing that production itself, rather than profit, is the primary motive of capitalism. Thanks in part to major government subsidies to both direct and “external” costs, the majority of US corporations operate at a net loss.[4]

I also found the section on the essential role of slavery in all civilization building really valuable. I was previously unaware that roughly two-thirds of American settlers between 1609 and the early 1800s were forced to immigrate as slaves.[5]

I was genuinely horrified by Jensen’s detailed history of the 1917 Espionage Act (under which both Julian Assange and Edward Snowden face charges in the US).[6]


[1] The present government-inspired hatred of the unvaccinated is a good example.

[2] Jim Crow laws, passed after southern African Americans refused to submit to the oppression and exploitation of slavery, are the best example of this.

[3] By the early 1920s, the KKK was anything but a fringe white supremacist group. By the, it had more than one million members, including President Warren G Harding, 75 members of Congress, numerous governors and state representatives (especially in Indiana and Ohio) and 30,000 clergy.

[4] In 2000 annual US profit totaled roughly $500 billion, while the total operation costs (including the “externalized” costs of pollution cleanup and workplace injuries and disease) totaled $2.5 trillion. His analysis of the aluminum industry is especially enlightening. In the late 1990s, the US aluminum industry paid $2-5 for the electricity to produce 70 cents worth of aluminum.

[5] According to Jensen, the Wilson administration was forced to pass the Espionage Act owing to strong popular opposition to US entry into World War I.

[6] The majority of indentured servants were either kidnapped (especially children) or criminals incarcerated either for minor theft or dissident political views. At the request of the Virginia Company, a 1618 law permitted the capture of children 8 years and up to be transported as slaves to American. Legally the boys were supposed to be released after 16 years and the girls after 14, but this wasn’t rigorously enforced. Although England officially outlawed slavery in 1808, small boys continuedf to be enslaved (until 1875) to clean chimneys. Also see https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/dark-history-chimney-sweep-profession-dalton-hooker?trk=pulse-article_more-articles_related-content-card

[7] Under the 1917 Espionage Act, people were arrested and jailed for private comments (ie that they made to friends who daubed them in)

  • criticizing the Red Cross or YMCA
  • discouraging knitting
  • singing the third verse of The Star Spangled Banner
  • saying the government was for the profiteers (10 year sentence)
  • saying it was foolish to fight a war for Wall Street (5 years)
  • A filmmaker who made a film portraying British troops (who were now allies) unflattering during the Revolutionary War prior to US entry into World War I received a 15 year sentence.
  • A man who published a pamphlet criticizing congressmen who voted for conscription also received a 15-year sentence.

8 thoughts on “The Domestication of Humanity Under Capitalism

  1. Below is from Amazon Reviews:
    Reviewed in the United States πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ on July 21, 2011

    I’m about halfway through this book, and I just can’t put it down. It’s very compelling stuff, and in fact, if you do read it carefully and allow for a very loose style of “story building”, you’ll see that Jensen is doing just that – building his story, his case, and tightening it up chapter by chapter. It’s best not to skip over anything, you can miss important pieces of the fabric that he weaves.

    I read “A Language Older Than Words” a couple years ago, with similar anticipation toward a complex unity of purpose in Jensen’s reasoning, and I took my time slowly digesting its richness. I’m trying to do the same with this book. I am once again enthralled, but I also see major flaws in Jensen’s proposition.

    He provides a multitude of (verifiable) anecdotal/historical evidence of how Western civilization has grown even more destructive and inhumane over the course of its history. In Derrick Jensen’s view, nothing of moral or eco-value has come from Western civilization. In strong contrast, he posits that all indigenous cultures have been/are morally superior, as demonstrated by their lack of social/political/narcissistic/eco crimes, corruption and terror.

    Since Western civilization=bad and indigenous cultures=good, I’d like to know how Jensen would explain:
    1) how/why the Native American Pawnee (Plains tribe), prior to Western contact, developed the ritual of kidnapping young girls from other tribes to use as human sacrifices for ensuring the robustness of their agricultural crops?
    2) how/why the Japanese culture (non-western), independently developed into a “medieval” civilization from their own indigenous populations, becoming no less conquest-hungry or aggression-based than the West(and other Asian dynasties, as well);
    3)How even some of our closest primate relatives, e.g., chimpanzees, have been observed joining together in gangs to commit the premeditated ambush and murder of a single victim, for no apparent reason (threat to resources, dominance challenge, etc)?

    I think that the author’s scope of thinking is too limited, and in fact, the source of the problem lies with basic human nature (i.e., biology). Our species is flawed, and western culture has been and is far worse than others, but that’s not the ultimate problem. Our culture is a by-product of our biology and environment, so given enough time and change, humanity will still have the proclivity to burn down its’ own house.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for sharing the review, Leland. It seems to me like it’s the reviewer who has unnecessarily narrowed his scope of vision. Jensen, as usual is not maligning Western civilization. He’s maligning all civilization. To argue that these negative behaviors are part of human nature, you would need to go back and look at people’s behavior prior to the development of agriculture and slavery. All the archeological evidence suggests human beings lived quite harmoniously together between 250,000 and 10,0000 BC when the first evidence of agriculture appeared. As for the infanticide of chimpanzees, this is only done as a source of food when other protein is scarce

      Like

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