Is It Time to Bring Down Civilization?

Endgame: The Problem of Civilization

by Derrick Jensen

Seven Stories Press (2006)

Book Review

Although the writing style is quite informal, the basic structure of environmental activist Derrick Jensen’s two volume opus is that of a philosophical treatise. In Endgame, Jensen makes two highly controversial arguments:

1. The planet and the human species can only be saved by bringing down civilization.

2. This can only be accomplished by violent means.

Like a philosopher, Jensen builds his case on 20 basic premises listed at the beginning of both volumes (see below). By definition, a premise is mutually agreed assumption (as opposed to a statement of fact) that is used to rationally derive a set of conclusions. In other words, if someone rejects your premises, they will also disagree with conclusions based on these premises.

I myself agree with all but premise 9 and 12. Ten years ago, it was believed that the loss of fossil fuel based industrial agriculture would result in a big drop in population. However more recent research shows that permaculture and biointensive agriculture produce higher crop yields than factory farming. I also believe there is a vast difference between rich and poor people, both in terms of lived experience and power.

In Volume 1, Jensen traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of these resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, Jensen reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.

Volume 2, which is less structured and more informal, encapsulates many of Jensen’s experiences with the environmental movement and dogmatic “nonviolent” resistance advocates. Given the CIA’s heavy infiltration of both domestic and foreign non-violent resistance campaigns (see How the CIA Promotes Nonviolence), these chapters resonated strongly with my own experiences.

Other than general talk about blowing up dams and cellphone towers, Jensen is deliberately (and in my view wisely) vague about the exact form of violence he’s proposing.

Jensen’s (somewhat abbreviated) premises:

1. Civilization can never be sustainable, especially industrial civilization.
2. Traditional (ie indigenous) communities do not give up or sell their resources unless these communities are destroyed.
3. Industrial civilization would quickly collapse without its reliance on widespread violence.
4. Civilization is based on a clearly defined – violence by those at the top of the hierarchy against those at the bottom is often invisible.
5. The property of those at the top of the hierarchy is more valuable than that of those at the bottom.
6. Civilization isn’t redeemable – it will never voluntarily undergo sane transformation.
7. The longer we wait to bring down civilization, the messier the ultimate crash will be.
8. The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
9. Some day there will be far fewer human beings on the planet than there are today.
10. 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.
11. From the beginning this culture – civilization – has been a culture of occupation.
12. There are no rich people and no poor people. The rich delusionally believe they own all the land and the police enforce these delusions. The poor buy into these delusions almost as completely as the rich.
13. Those in power rise by force. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can decide how best to resist them.
14. From birth on, we’re acculturated to hate life, the natural world, women and children, to fear our bodies and to hate ourselves.
15. Love doesn’t imply passivism.
16. The material world is primary (to the spiritual world). Real world actions have real world consequences.
17. It’s a mistake (or more likely denial) to base our decisions on whether the actions stemming from them will or won’t frighten fence sitters or the mass of Americans.
18. Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.
19. This culture’s main problem is the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.
20. Within this culture economics – not community well being, not morals, not ethic, not justices, not life itself – drives social decisions.

The 2011 documentary EndCiv: Resist or Die is loosely based on Endgame.

Can We Stop Climate Change Without Dismantling Capitalism?

The Cross of the Moment

By Jacob Freydont-Attie (2015)

Film Review

Can climate change be addressed without dismantling capitalism? The current track record of world leaders suggests not – especially with the election of the world’s most prominent climate denier to the US presidency.

The Cross of the Moment is a documentary exploring the climate change dilemma and various options for limiting global warming and mitigating the effects of catastrophic climate change. It’s produced in a panel discussion format, with the filmmaker posing specific questions to prominent astrophysicists, climate scientists, political economists and climate activists (including Bill McKibben, Gary Snyder, Derrick Jensen, Peter D. Ward, Jill Stein, Bill Patzert, and Guy McPherson). I’m not normally a big fan of talking heads, but the optimism conveyed by this film – in stark contrast to the usual alarmist arguments – definitely held my attention.

I was especially impressed with Bill McKibbon’s elegant explanation of why changing light bulbs and other market-based behavioral changes aren’t going to end global warming. The climate activist lays out an elegant argument why systemic structural changes is needed to wean humanity off of fossil fuels and why fossil fuel companies aren’t going to allow this without a major global movement to counter their power and greed.

The other panelists present a range of views on the specific structural/systemic changes that are necessary to prevent climate changes from wiping out our ability to produce food. Most seem to agree that fossil fuels could be totally phased out – and replaced by renewable energy – by 2050. They estimate this could be done for a total capital cost of $15 trillion (which according to the IMF is less than we currently spend annually to subsidize the fossil fuel industry*).

The film offers a number of viewpoints on how to bring this about. One economist favors a carbon tax; another would totally ban wasteful industries such as packaging (the third largest global industry after energy and food) and junk mail (which produces 51 millions tons CO2 annually in the US alone). Two activists express the view that the political corruption exerted by the fossil fuel industry couldn’t be overcome without dismantling capitalism altogether.


* According to the IMF, fossil fuel companies benefit from $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies.

 

Forget Shorter Showers

Forget Shorter Showers

by Tom Shadyac (2011)

Film Review

Forget Shorter Showers is a documentary based on an essay by anarchist Derrick Jensen that challenges neoliberal dogma that makes each of us personally responsible for reversing the ongoing environmental destruction caused by industrial capitalism. Consumers who have joined the campaign to fly and use their cars less, change their light bulbs and take shorter showers are the victims of systemic misdirection by a pernicious PR industry. The latter continuously churns out propaganda that we can save the planet through market-based solutions such as shopping.

Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth is a classic example of this deliberate misdirection. Instead of calling for policy changes that hold corporate polluters to account, his film deliberately disguises the reality that industry is responsible for the vast majority of carbon emissions. In doing so, Gore incorrectly blames powerless individuals for the climate crisis, instead of the elites who hold real the real power.

Lifestyle Only Accounts for 22% of Emissions

If the entire global population adopted a low carbon footprint lifestyle, it would only decrease carbon emissions by 22%. Climate scientists tell us we need to decrease them by 70% to stave off catastrophic climate disruption.

In a similar vein, reducing individual water usage isn’t going to solve the freshwater shortage. Ninety percent of all freshwater is used by agriculture and industry. Five percent is used by municipalities, and 5% by individuals.

Industry is also responsible for the vast majority of energy consumption and waste production.

How We’re Conned into Taking Personal Responsibility

The filmmakers point out that we’re easily conned into taking personal responsibility for all these environmental issues because it’s less scary than acting decisively to stop the industrial capitalism from destroying the planet. Among other fears, people worry the grid might go down, causing us to lose access electricity, clean water and cellphone service – not because we need these perks to survive but because we’ve become addicted to them.

Fear of state violence is also a biggie. The documentary provides numerous historic examples of courageous activists who have overcome such fears.

Resist or Die

END:CIV Resist or Die

2011, directed by Franklin Lopez

Film Review

According to the promo, END:CIV “examines our culture’s systemic addiction to violence and environmental exploitation.”

The title is drawn from Pac Man, an arcade came that first came out in 1980. In one of the world’s first video games, the player guides Pac Man, a small faceless mouth, through a maze while he devours Pac Dots and tries to escape blob monsters. The first three minutes of END:CIV superimpose a Pac Man game over images of old growth clear cuts, belching smokestacks, factory hog farms, wild fires, hurricanes and the US military’s ruthless killing machine. The sequence ends as a gigantic “GAME OVER” flashes across the screen.

The film is based on the Endgame, the best selling two volume book Derrick Jensen published in 2006. In Endgame, Jensen argues that mankind urgently needs to bring down “civilization” before it destroys the planet. He bases his case on twenty basic premises he lists at the beginning of both volumes. The film END:CIV examines four of them.

Premise 1 – industrialized civilization has never been and will never be sustainable, mainly because it’s based on non-renewable resources.

The film, like Jensen’s book, traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of those resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are mindlessly and voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, the filmmaker reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.

Premise 2 – A major focus of industrialized civilization has been to destroy indigenous communities by force – because they don’t willingly allow the confiscation of their natural and mineral resources. A corollary of Premise 2 is that without its heavy reliance on violence, industrial civilization would collapse.

In an cameo from a public forum, Jensen explains that much of violence is invisible and a matter of conditioning. He gives the example of the cop who will pull a gun and drag you to jail if you don’t pay your rent or satisfy your hunger by eating off grocery shelves. Yet we are all indoctrinated to believe that people must pay for the right to exist on this planet.

The film goes on to criticize the main message put out by the nonprofit environmental movement: that people can remedy pervasive violence, resource theft and exploitation by making politically correct purchases.

In the view of Jensen and other activists featured in the film, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Forest Ethics and similar “eco-bureaucracies” have essentially sold out by making preservation of the global economy more important than saving the planet.

This section is also highly critical of the dogmatic opposition of the environmental movement towards violent resistance. Jensen does a great send up of the movie Star Wars. In his version, the rebels don’t destroy Darth Vader by blowing up the death star. Instead they promote eco-tours and Fair Trade products from endangered planets and send waves of compassion and loving kindness towards Darth Vader, while locking themselves down on his ship. They also vote to condemn and exclude the renegades who propose to blow up the death star – for allowing themselves to be contaminated by Darth Vader’s culture of violence.

Premise 3 – the culture (of industrialized society) as a whole and most of its inhabitants are insane.

The section points out that, contrary to popular belief, no combination of fossil or alternative fuels will allow us to continue our current “happy motoring” society. It focuses on Alberta’s insane tar sands project, the most environmentally destructive enterprise in history.

Premise 4 – from the beginning, the culture of civilization has been a culture of occupation.

The film ends with a brief overview of the resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the final scene, Jensen poses the provocative and disarming question:

“If your homeland was invaded by aliens who cut down the forests, poisoned the water and air and contaminated your food supply, at what point would you resist?”

Pacificism as Pathology

pacifism as pathology

(more of my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America

By Ward Churchill (2007 AK Press)

Book Review

Pacifism as Pathology is a collection of essays centered around Ward Churchill’s original 1985 essay “Pacifism as Pathology: Notes on an American Pseudopraxis.” The premise of the essay is that the militant nonviolent stance assumed by the US progressive movement is based on irrational psychological reasons rather than strategic reasons or moral principle.

Viewpoints from a Range of Activists

The 2007 edition contains a preface by Derrick Jensen, who lays out compelling reasons for the necessity of “violence” in bringing about genuine political change in his 2006 book Endgame. Jensen’s argument, as in Endgame, is primarily ecological. Humankind is being systematically killed off by the capitalist class, via their poisoning of the air, water and food chain, as well as their heedless imposition of catastrophic climate change. Jensen poses the very reasonable question: are we willing to retaliate violently to save our own lives and those of our children and grandchildren?

The next essay is Ed Mead’s preface to the 1998 edition of Pacifism as Pathology, immediately following an 18 year prison term as a result of armed actions (bombings of state and federal buildings in Washington State) conducted by the George Jackson Brigade. Based on his experiences, he arrives at the following conclusions: 1)  pacifism as a strategy of achieving social, political and economic change can only lead to dead end liberalism – the most vicious and violent ruling class in history won’t give up privilege without a physical fight; 2) because 99.9% of practitioners of political violence will eventually confront death or imprisonment, it’s imperative that political violence be carried out in a manner calculated to win; and 3) although the George Jackson Brigade applied the tool of revolutionary violence when its use wasn’t appropriate, he feels pride that they erred on the side of making revolution instead of the alternative.

The book also contains an afterwards by Canadian Activist Mike Ryan describing his frustration after 20 years of nonviolent resistance as part of the Canadian peace movement – and his conclusion that violent resistance must be allowed as a tactic for genuine political change to occur.

Churchill’s Infamous Assault Rifle Workshop

Churchill explains, in his 1998 introduction, that Pacificism as Pathology was originally written in 1985 as part of a four year debate over a workshop “Demystification of the Assault Rifle” that he gave at a 1981 Radical Therapy conference. He was invited to give the workshop owing to an admission by many activists that their fear of weapons was chiefly responsible for their rejection of violence as a political strategy. The reaction of some conference participants was to pass a resolution banning similar workshops in the future, as well as the presence of firearms (except those of the police or military) at any Radical Therapy conference. Churchill was invited to write an article on his views for the magazine Issues in Radical Therapy, which was subsequently Xeroxed and distributed widely throughout North America. While Churchill acknowledges the right of all activists to personally reject violent strategies and tactics, he challenges the right of nonviolent proponents to condemn activists willing to embrace property destruction and/or armed self-defense among a diversity of strategies. As he points out, activists willing to engage in violent resistance wouldn’t dream of trying to force their views on nonviolent activists.

Armed Jewish Uprisings Under Nazi Occupation

For me, the most valuable part of the book is the first section about Bruno Bettelheim and Jewish armed uprisings, in the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos and in numerous concentration camps during the second world war. This is an aspect of World War II history I was totally unaware if, as the work of Bettelheim and other scholars documenting armed Jewish resistance are carefully sanitized from the history textbooks served up to US high school and college students.

Bettelheim, who contrasts the Jews who resisted violently with the majority of Jews, who followed the Nazis passively to the camps and even to the gas chambers, makes a strong case for his belief that the persecution of the Jews was aggravated by the pervasive lack of fight back. He blames their failure to resist on strong psychological denial – a pathological need to cling to an illusion of “business as normal” – that ultimately overwhelmed their basic survival needs. The logical position would have been to accept the cold reality that their own lives were doomed and to use their deaths to save the life of other Jews by making the extermination more difficult. He points out that Jews had easy access to guns in 1930s and 1940s Germany, and there was no reason why every Jew that was arrested couldn’t take one or two SS officers with them.

Churchill describes how all the revolts inflicted significant damage on the Nazi machine. The revolt at Auschwitz killed 70 SS officers and destroyed the crematorium. Armed rebellions at Sorbibor and Reblinka were even more effective, and Sorbibor had to be closed following the uprising. There were also lesser insurrections at Kruszyna, Krychaw and Kopernik.

Militant Nonviolence: Racist, Deluded and Irrational

Churchill devotes the rest of the book to correcting historical distortions regarding Gandhi’s and Martin Luther Kings nonviolent resistance movements (which have been totally whitewashed by the ruling elite); a brief historical overview of the ineffectiveness of nonviolence in contrast to campaigns incorporating violent resistance; an analysis of the inherent racism implicit in the dogmatic nonviolence promoted by white upper middle class activists; and an outline of the irrational psychological motivations underlying militant nonviolence.

According to Churchill, the main reason white upper middle class activists reject violent resistance relates to intense ambivalence whether they really want to dismantle capitalism and give up their position of privilege.

Pacifism as Pathology can be downloaded free from Prison Legal News

Ward Churchill is a Native American author and American Indian Movement (AIM) activist. He was a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 to 2007. His best known book is the 1990 Cointelpro Papers.

***

Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351