Derrick Jensen, again
OK, I went and bought me a ticket to see Derrick Jensen. (I picked it up at a swell joint called the Camas Collective Books and Infoshop, which even has a farmer's market on Saturdays.) I managed not to buy an armload of books, but I'm not going to be that lucky every time.
More importantly, this ticket has made it more important that I try to figure out what it is about Jensen that alternately engages me and puts me off. I'm fine with his passion, and I share his concern about the future, but there's something that -- not to bother nuancing my way through -- really annoys me about his writing.
It's not the hyper-confidence, because I'm used to that from Brian Fawcett (whose Virtual Clearcut is on my shortlist of essential reading, and who I think is always worth reading, except maybe Gender Wars, but that's another issue). It's not the connections he draws between his personal life and larger issues, or I'd never read any nonfiction at all.
I think -- though I'm still working this out -- that I don't buy the insanity argument. And this matters a great deal, because he starts from the premise that humanity as a species is insane. In one formulation early in A Language Older Than Words, he talks about monkeys raised in laboratories by scientists working to figure out just how mad they can be driven by (among other things) complete isolation, random violence, and frequent electrical shocks. Not unpredictably, these monkeys are then completely incapable of caring for infant monkeys. So far, so horrible.
But Jensen takes one more step, and it's here that I don't walk with him. He argues that the horrifying statistics about child physical and sexual abuse among humans indicates that humanity as a species is no more sane, and no more capable of being healed, than is an individual monkey tortured from birth onward. I don't buy the totalizing impulse of this; it's sylllogistic, a failed analogy.
The damnable thing is that because this is Jensen's underpinning, I'm having a hard time pursuing his ideas about strategy, response, activism, and so on. Statues made of matchsticks crumble into one another, etc.
And I wish the best of luck to the BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education, who are hosting Derrick Jensen this Friday in Surrey as their keynote speaker. They may not have noticed how supportive he is of direct action, and how confrontational he can be with those who promote peace rather than resistance....