Derrick Jensen’s newest book, Endgame, is a raucous, polemical, rambling, articulate, angry, relentless, radical, poetic, fearless and brilliantly-argued tirade against civilization, its excesses and its unsustainability. The first volume reiterates arguments from Jensen’s earlier work (notably A Language Older Than Words) why civilization cannot be reformed and must end, while the second volume presents a sort of blueprint for bringing it down.
Jensen is through talking and arguing, and the purpose of this book is to recruit those who are ready to fight civilization to its knees. In the process, he goes over all the arguments one more time, raising the arguments of deniers, apologists, “addictive copers”, pacifists and defeatists who say civilization is doing fine, doing its best, the only game in town and/or impossible to defeat in any case, and deconstructing these arguments. He argues that while civilization is toxic and irredeemable, humanity is not. He argues, taking a surprisingly catholic view, that we are too kind to abusers, from polluters to CEO fraud artists to factory farmers to rapists to strip miners to animal experimenters to clear-cutters to dam builders to psychopathic warmongers, that that kindness merely feeds these abusers’ sense of entitlement to continue their abuse, and that the only solution for them is to give them no other choice but to radically change their ways.
He calls upon each of us to exercise outrage, understanding and personal responsibility and join him:
I consider myself answerable to — responsible to — the humans who will come after, who will inherit the wreckage our generation is leaving to them…I can sometimes lie to myself…But to them, to all of those to whom I hold myself responsible — I could never lie. To them, and for them, I give my brightest, deepest truth.
So how do you know if you’re ready to join him? Jensen lays out 20 premises, which are well-defended at length in the book’s two volumes. If you buy these premises, without even having to read the book, you’re probably ready. If you think you could be convinced, buy the book(s) and find out. Here are the 20 premises:
Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.
Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resourcesógold, oil, and so onócan be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.
Premise Three: Our way of livingóindustrial civilizationóis based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.
Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they controlóin everyday language, to make moneyóby destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.
Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.
Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crashóor the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it downóthe messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.
Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
Another way to put premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) requires the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.
Premise Nine: Although there will clearly some day be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population could occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation). Some of these ways would be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence. Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, itís not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default. Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence required, and caused by, the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich, and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world. Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps longterm shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it activelyóif we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about itóthe violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.
Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
Premise Eleven: From the beginning, this cultureócivilizationóhas been a culture of occupation.
Premise Twelve: There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth somethingóor their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banksóand the poor may not. These ìrichî claim they own land, and the ìpoorî are often denied the right to make that same claim. A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.
Premise Thirteen: Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.
Premise Fourteen: From birth onóand probably from conception, but Iím not sure how Iíd make the caseówe are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homesóand our bodiesóto be poisoned.
Premise Fifteen: Love does not imply pacifism.
Premise Sixteen: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of Godís eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earthówhether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live hereóthe Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.
Premise Seventeen: It is a mistake (or more likely, denial) to base our decisions on whether actions arising from these will or wonít frighten fence-sitters, or the mass of Americans.
Premise Eighteen: Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.
Premise Nineteen: The cultureís problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.
Premise Twenty: Within this culture, economicsónot community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itselfódrives social decisions.
Re-modification of Premise Twenty: If you dig to the heart of itóif there were any heart leftóyou would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.
For those who are ready, but might think the task hopeless, the odds too overwhelming and the opposition too powerful, Jensen argues that doing something meaningful and effective to undo the damage of civilization is remarkably easy, because civilization is so power-concentrated and overextended that it’s brittle, fragile and hugely vulnerable, constantly fighting an endless battle against the very laws of nature and of thermodynamics. “There is no fighting force in the world that can survive the death by a thousand cuts of a dedicated partisan movement”, he quotes one expert in guerrilla warfare as saying.
Undoing dams, blocking deforestation, hacking systems, interrupting distribution and power generation systems, “breaking the people’s faith” in the reliability and viability of the entire economic and political system, undermining leveraged and overextended corporations, and wearing down imperialist, corporatist infrastructure by strategic and repeated industrial sabotage — all of these are activist tools to take down civilization, and the longer we wait to start this action in earnest, the more horrific the inevitable collapse of civilization will be. And these offensives together are just one of six simultaneous thrusts that we must undertake, in small, loosely knit, locally focused groups, to mitigate the terrible and unavoidable fallout of civilization’s collapse. The other five are:
So we have six roles to choose from, depending on our competencies and passions. And throughout the world, especially in some struggling nations, the resistance has already begun in earnest and its champions have a great deal to teach us about how to fight the dragons of civilization and win.
So where do I stand on all this? I admire Jensen’s bluntness, and his courage (he suffers from Crohn’s disease, the more sinister sister disease to my ulcerative colitis, so he’d have some easy excuses for staying on the sidelines of the war against civilization if he wanted to take them, and he doesn’t). I love his 20 premises and find their logic compelling, even unassailable.
Am I ready to join him? Depending on the role, yes and no. I am not yet ready to be a radical activist, to take what would be perceived as violent steps to counter the outrages of civilization. I am not sure why not. I would certainly rejoice to see the end of dams and factory farms and imperialist wars and megapolluters and corporatism and animal testing and other monstrous abuses of power and wealth. I would celebrate and support those who took offensive action to bring such ends, provided the violence was measured, not gratuitous, and not disproportionate to the violence it was countering. But I suspect that, at heart, and despite my outrage, I am no warrior myself. And I am not by nature an enforcer.
I am going through a huge self-change process right now, as regular readers are aware. I suspect it will leave me just as radical in my beliefs but more modest in my self-expectations, more focused on what I can do that will make a real difference now and for future generations within my own communities. I think it will leave me better able to coach others who are changing themselves to be ready for the struggle and collapse ahead, and to help develop models that will help future generations cope with the aftermath of that collapse.
Perhaps that means I won’t be on the front lines of Jensen’s war. But I wouldn’t count me out yet. We do what we must, and my guess would be that as the bankruptcy of our culture becomes more apparent to millions and then billions, and the army that is prepared to bring it down before it brings us all down swells, I won’t be able to resist being in the middle of things. My gift is imaging possibilities, and my purpose is provoking change. I’mgoing to be needed. So are you.
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Dying of Despair
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Post Collapse with Michael Dowd (video)
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May I Ask a Question?
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No Use to the World Broken
Living in Another World
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If I Only Had 37 Days
The Only Life We Know
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Healing From Ourselves
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Nothing Needs to Happen
Nothing to Say About This
What I Wanted to Believe
A Continuous Reassemblage of Meaning
No Choice But to Misbehave
What's Apparently Happening
A Different Kind of Animal
Did Early Humans Have Selves?
Nothing On Offer Here
Even Simpler and More Hopeless Than That
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We Have No Choice
Never Comfortable in the Skin of Self
Letting Go of the Story of Me
All There Is, Is This
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Your Self: An Owner's Manual (Satire)
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