Derrick Jensen, Endgame vol. II

I've been guilty in this blog of overstating things. I didn't mean to, I didn't know I had, but I've said or implied that a few of the books I've read over the last while have changed me.

And then I read Derrick Jensen's Endgame, Volume II: Resistance. ("Sounds like the title of a video game," said one friend.) And I realized that at bottom, I've never changed, and neither has anyone else, and we need to.

These two volumes can be relatively easily summarized, even though I've only read the second volume:
This civilization is unsustainable but cannot be changed. No civilization can be sustainable if it relies on the use of non-renewable resources. It is therefore doomed to collapse. It is already collapsing.

If we allow civilization to collapse gradually, those in power will destroy every element of the planet in their attempt to retain their privileges: fish and animals and birds, humans poorer and less powerful than themselves, the trees and the deserts and the mountains.

We can only avoid this total destruction if we take down civilization ourselves, before the momentum of collapse really gets going.

It's time.
And I don't know what to do.

Jensen is a persuasive, engaging writer. He's funny and kind and bright, but the book is crippling. As he says in some of his talks (which you can see on Google Video), none of us really believes that civilization is going to change voluntarily to become sane and sustainable, but we don't talk about this much, because "we're all so busy pretending we have hope." The only answer, he argues, is that all of us need to use our skills to take down global civilization in order to generate the possibility of true local community: destroy dams, knock out power generation systems, or cut oil supply lines; learn the local plants that we can use for food, medicine, clothing, and so on; that sort of thing.

So... how do we keep going?

Jensen spends a lot of energy arguing against pacifism. I'm not going to get into that here, because it's treated thoroughly in other places, but here's the outcome of his analysis:
"I have no interest in spiritual purity. I want to live in a world with wild salmon and old growth forests and oceans full of wild fish and mothers who do not have dioxin in their breast milk, and I will do whatever it takes to get there" (p. 718).
What's wrong with that?


Keith Talent said…
Looks like a pretty poor argument to me.

I think he needs (among many other things) to persuasively argue for ammoralism or moral egoism for the premises to lead to the valid conclusion that he *should* do whatever it takes to get there. Its far from clear why old growth forests are intrinsically a good thing. No doubt he attempts to make his case elsewhere. But I don't think one would need to be a rabid global-warming denier to find the arguments unpersuasive. If the summary of the book is as you present it it looks as if any arguments he does have are predicated on some fairly speculative premises, such as civilisation being unchangeable.
richard said…
Keith, I had to create a post for my reply, as it was getting out of hand. Hope that's OK!
richard said…
In view of recent news re Ward Churchill, and since I can't find my way to resolve our debate under the other Jensen post, let me say this:

Like Jensen, I too want to live in a world with wild salmon and old growth forests, oceans full of wild fish, and mothers whose breast milk isn't contaminated with dioxin.

Unlike Jensen, I have no thoroughgoing sense of how to get there.

I've always held onto a faith in other people, in community (especially local community), to find a way to do what's best in the face of others who oppose even what seems undeniably best. This faith has wavered in recent months, but Jensen's book kicked particularly hard at the feet underneath this faith.

I'm not at the "by any means necessary" point, and I may not get there. But I don't have an answer, and this week for some reason I've been feeling that like a physical pain.
Howard said…
Endgame really shook me up too, as I talk about in my latest post, The Challenges of Accepting Civilization as Unsustainable and Unhealthy. It made me aware of just how hard it is for me to fully accept unsustainability and also how hard it is still to know what to do. The only thing I do know is it's hard to do anything alone because community is exactly what we need in contrast to the individualism of this way of life.

Jensen surely doesn't claim to have a thoroughgoing sense of how to get where we need to go. I don't either. I think the first step though is we each need to find our support system to reinforce our strength and support each other.
richard said…
Howard, I'm impressed with how fully you can express yourself as rapidly as you seem to.

No, I've got no firm answers either - lots of provisional ones that seem like decent early steps, but not much more. I disagree with you about Jensen, though: he throws lots of "shucks, I don't know nuthin'" caveats, but don't you think that's just a schtick? As intense a guy as he is, Jensen thinks he has some answers.
Howard said…
Richard, thanks. Well I think Jensen has some clear ideas about what needs to happen in general as far as dismantling. I don't think he would dare tell any other particular person what they should specifically do though. And I don't think he has any clear idea of what would come after. I wouldn't trust anyone who claimed to since that is obviously going to be an emergent process that nobody could predict - creative chaos, if you will.
paul said…
well I think Jensen is right. I've been reading endgame and also his book of interviews. (on liberating the earth from civilization). I don't see any way to argue with the main themes he presents. civilization really is unsustainable and really is killing the planet.

anyway, my advice is to visit his many videos on youtube
richard said…
Well, I don't think he's wrong either - though as time goes on, I get further from accepting his approach. His YouTube videos are kind of like stand-up, though stand-up horror rather than comedy, and that's how he came across in person when I went to hear him talk. I felt like I'd seen this before, like there really wasn't anything else to say.

Civilization is unsustainable, yeah, but is the choice really just to destroy it or to let the collapse destroy us?

Popular Posts