Monday, April 16, 2012

Green Consumer Choices

Can’t Buy Me Change

By Derrick Jensen

Derrick Jensen is the author of A Language Older than Words and Deep Green Resistance, among other books. He was named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.”

The fact that the question – can we promote ecological sustainability through buying better things? – is taken seriously points to the absurdity of so much environmental discourse. We need to be clear: An industrial economy, no matter how green it declares itself, is inherently unsustainable. It is based on the use of nonrenewable resources and the hyperexploitation of renewable resources. In short, it’s based on drawdown. It’s a bit late in the murder of the planet to have to be saying this to environmentalists.

There has never been a sustainable civilization, and industrial civilization has been especially disastrous. Industrial civilization is also inherently unjust, as it is based on the importation of resources – a less kind word is theft – from colonies to the center of empire. In order for these resources to be stolen, Indigenous People must be driven from the land and forced into the global cash economy. The fact that people of good heart can ignore this reveals the degree to which they have internalized the logic of capitalism.

Let me put this another way. Would “buying better things” have stopped the Nazis? Would it have stopped apartheid? Would it have stopped slavery in the US? Of course not. In the latter two cases it was tried and it failed. Why? Because it completely ignored the role of power in causing injustice.

Before you blanch at my comparison of capitalism to the Nazis, look at this from the perspective of the 200 species driven extinct today, the 200 species driven extinct tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, in a holocaust of unimaginable proportions. Look at this from the perspective of the millions of children killed each year as a result of so-called debt repayment from the colonies to the center of empire. Look at this from the perspective of Indigenous humans forced off their lands. “Buying good stuff” does absolutely nothing to address these problems.

The concept of “buying good things” is a false story that personal choices can lead to social change. That isn’t how social change works. I keep thinking of the line by Dom Helder Camara: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a Communist.” Buying from the poor is nice, but it does nothing to address their impoverishment.

The fundamental precept of markets is that sellers try to maximize and buyers try to minimize prices. It’s all well and good to talk about Green EcoMarts for fair trade, recycled, and salvaged goods. But there are reasons Walmart and Home Depot are able to drive local stores out of business. Economies of scale guarantee that Walmart will be able to undercut small businesses. The local computer store owner in my town had to find work as a prison guard because Walmart can sell computers cheaper than he can buy them wholesale. The only way I can support the local store is if I have the extra money to burn. The same is true for fair trade tea, coffee, t-shirts, what have you. Capitalism guarantees that fair trade will remain a luxury niche that can never affect large-scale social change.

The global economy is essentially a command economy, one based on force. Let’s pretend that some community is able to establish a green economy that is 100 percent sustainable. Let’s presume further that the people in this community are content with their lifestyle, and don’t want it to change. Let’s give them a name. Let’s call them “Tolowa” or “Yurok” or “Dakota.” Or let’s say they are the Kayopo, living on the Xingu River. And now let’s say that those in power decide they want the landbase on which (or rather with whom) this community lives. What happens next? Does anyone really believe that those in power won’t destroy the community and steal the resources? This genocide isn’t a thing of the past: The Kayopo are being driven from their land right now, to make way for the Belo Monte dam.

Kevin Danaher asks, “If two of us go into a low-income part of the world, and you have the best critique of capitalism ever uttered, and I am offering green jobs at decent pay, who will get more allies?” This question is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it accepts industrial global capitalism and the wage economy as givens. Second, and more disturbing, it ignores the fact that sustainability is not determined by who has the most friends. Sustainability is determined by what is physically possible. Something is sustainable if it helps the planet become more viable. Whether someone is your friend is irrelevant.

Why don’t we ask instead: “If we go into a low-income part of the world, and I have the best critique of capitalism ever uttered, and I provide tangible solidarity with people’s organized efforts to take back their land, and you are offering green jobs at decent pay, who will get more friends?” The answer will be: Those who are providing tangible solidarity. This is not theoretical. Adivasis – Indigenous Peoples in India – are joining the Maoist Naxalite insurgency in droves, not because the Adivasis are Maoist, but because the Maoists are resisting.

Danaher also states, “People need jobs and income, not radical rhetoric from us privileged intellectuals.” Well, actually, no – they don’t need jobs and income. What they need is food, clothing, and shelter. What they need is access to land. With access to land, they need neither jobs nor income. This is not radical rhetoric from privileged intellectuals. This is what Indigenous Peoples have been saying ever since the dominant culture began dispossessing them.

Years ago I asked a member of the Tupacamaristas what they wanted for the people of Peru. I was told: “We want to be able to grow and distribute our own food. We already know how to do that. We merely need to be allowed to do so.” There was no mention of green jobs.

What people in the colonies want is not to get jobs servicing the global elite. What they want is to be left alone, and what they want from those of us who profess to be revolutionaries is for us to force the empires to withdraw from their territory. We need not perpetuate the old White Man’s Burden of using our privilege to lift up our less fortunate brothers and sisters into something approximating our own lives. Here is the new morally and ecologically responsible and real burden of being a white man: to undo the damage done by the dominant culture and to destroy the ability of the rich to steal from the poor in the first place.

Original article here:

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Deep Green Resistance - Quotes from Chapter 4 "A Culture of Resistance"

"Resistance is a simple concept:  power, unjust and immoral, is confronted and dismantled.  The powerful are denied their right to hurt the less powerful.  Domination is replaced by equity in a shift or substitute of institutions.  That shift eventually forms new human relationships, both personally
Most of the population is never going to join an actual resistance,  We’re social creatures: by definition, it’s hard to stand against the herd.  Add to that how successful systems of oppression are at disabling the human capacity for resistance.  As Andrea Dworkin said, “Feminism requires precisely what misogyny destroys in women:  unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power.”  The pool of potential resisters is going to be small.  Conformity brings rewards and privileges: fighting back brings punishment and alienation  Most people are not psychologically suited to the requirements of resistance.  The sooner we accept that that, the better.
Personally, we can stop wasting time on conversations that will never produce anything but frustration.  Politically, we can make better strategic decisions based on a more realistic assessment of our potential recruits.  We all need to make our choices aobut personal risk.  And there’s a role for everyone.  There are people who agree with the goals of a cause but for a variety of legitimate reasons can’t undertake frontline or underground actionsl  Therefore, most recruits, by circumstance and by character, will be part of a culture of resistance.”
~Lierre Keith, Deep Green Resistance page 167-168

Art copywrite DesertDreamer

"For those of us who can't be active on the front lines - and this will be most of us - our job is to create a culture that will encourage and promote political resistance.  The main tasks will be loyalty and material support."

~Lierre Keith, Deep Green Resistance page 170

Art copywrite DesertDreamer

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Power of Words

I found the following article inspirational.  It gives an answer to the question "Where does writing fit in?" 

Every word we write if we choose to be writers, every picture we take if we choose to be photographers, every piece of art we create if we are artists, every poem we write if we are poets, and every song we sing if we are musicians should have political meaning and should be part of our fight against industrial civilization, against the violence of civilization. 

I have decided to take this one step further and choose to make every word I read, every video I watch, every song I listen to, have a theme that encourages resistance in some way.

I want everything I do to have meaning.  I don't want to waste any more seconds of my life with meaningless entertainment.  The world needs us. 

I look around and I see mountains destroyed for copper and other metals, animals killed because they are in the way of civilization, hundreds of acres of land plowed under for more "developments", less frogs every year (oh how I miss the singing of the Toad in the summer monsoons, last year I only heard two voices...), less bees, less butterflies, less rivers, less of everything that is natural and beautiful in this world.   If I could stop the destruction by sacrificing my life, I would do so in a second.  The very least I can do is dedicate my life to resistance, in whatever way I can.

Derrick can say it better than I can. 


Loaded Words

Writing as a combat discipline

by Derrick Jensen

Published in the March/April 2012 issue of Orion magazine

RECENTLY, I’VE BEEN THINKING about something I wrote fourteen years ago, which has become one of my most quoted passages: “Every morning when I wake up I ask myself whether I should write, or blow up a dam.” Despite having faith in my work as a writer, I knew that it wasn’t a lack of words that was killing salmon in the Northwest. It was the presence of dams.

Since that time, things have gotten much worse for salmon, and for almost everything on the earth. By now we all know the numbers, or we should. Two hundred species per day driven extinct, 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans extirpated, more than 98 percent of native forests destroyed, 99 percent of prairies, and on and on. Virtually every biological indicator is pointing the wrong direction. Native communities—human and nonhuman—are under assault. Where I live, frog populations have collapsed, as have newt populations, butterfly populations, crane fly populations, dragonfly populations, banana slug populations, songbird populations. Crow populations have collapsed. Bat populations. Woolly bear populations. Moth populations. Bumblebee and solitary bee populations. And these are just some of the absences I’ve noticed. Salmon of course have continued to collapse. At this point I give salmon fifteen years. If we can bring down industrialized civilization in the next fifteen years, I think salmon, in time, will be fine. Much longer and they will not survive.

So where does writing fit in? Far too many of us have forgotten, or never knew, that words can be used as weapons in service of our communities. Far too many of us have forgotten, or never knew, that words should be used as weapons in service of our communities. For far too long, too many critics and teachers have told us that literature should be apolitical (as though this were possible), and that even nonfiction and journalism should be “neutral” or “objective” (as though this, too, were possible). If you want to send a message, they told us, use Western Union. I once spoke with a nature writer who refused to lend his name to a campaign to protect a species about whom he had written, giving as his reason, “I’m a writer. I have to remain neutral.”

When the world is being murdered, such a position is inexcusable. It is immoral. And it reveals a great ignorance for what it means to be a writer. Have these people never heard of Steinbeck, Dickens, Crane, Hugo? Charlotte Perkins Gilman? Rachel Carson? Frederick Douglass? Harriet Beecher Stowe? Alexandra Kollontai? George Eliot? Katharine Burdekin? Zora Neale Hurston? Andrea Dworkin? B. Traven? Upton Sinclair? A little Tolstoy, anyone?

I would not be who I am and I would not write what I write without having learned from some of my elders who refused to believe that writers should or can be apolitical or neutral or objective. The truth is most important, they said. It is more important than money. It is more important than fame. It is more important than your career. It’s more important than your preconceptions. Follow the truth—follow the words and ideas—wherever they lead. Words matter, they said. Art matters. Literature matters. Words and art and literature can change lives, and can change history. Make sure that your words and your art and your literature move people individually and collectively in the direction of justice and sustainability. They said literature that supports capitalism is immoral. A literature that supports patriarchy is immoral. A literature that does not resist oppression is immoral. But you can help to create a literature of morality and resistance, as each new generation must create this literature, with the help of all those generations who came before, holding their hands for support, just as those who come after will need to hold yours.

I was also taught that art can be and is and, to be moral, must be a combat discipline.
Recognizing that art can be a combat discipline is part of a process necessary for social change, but it’s not all of it. If too few of us remember that words can be weapons, even fewer of us remember that, as weapons, words cannot fight alone. Words themselves do not topple dictators, they do not stop capitalism, they do not stop oppression, they do not halt species extinction, they do not stop global warming, they do not remove dams. At some point someone actually has to do something. At some point someone needs to physically dismantle the infrastructures that allow capitalism to metastasize, oppression to continue, species extinction and global warming to accelerate, dictators and dams to stand.

That job is up to all of us.

A friend and mentor once asked me, “What are the largest, most pressing problems you can help to solve using the gifts that are unique to you in all the universe?” That question shows precisely where I have succeeded as a writer and human being, and precisely where I have failed.

There are many ways my writing life could so far be considered a success far beyond anything I daydreamed about when I was younger. I have twenty books out. People seem to enjoy reading them and coming to my talks, both of which honor me beyond belief. Despite the truth of the old cliché about writing, that it is a terrible way to make a living and a great way to make a life, for at least the last few years I’ve been able to financially support myself through writing. More important than all of these, however, is that I have been true to my muse, and have at least attempted to tell the truth as I have come to understand it. And I have sometimes succeeded in articulating some of those things I know in my heart to be true, and in so doing have, I hope, helped some others to articulate some of those things they may know in their hearts to be true.

This is all to the good. But the fact remains that if we judge my work, or anyone’s work, by the most important standard of all, and in fact the only standard that really matters, which is the health of the planet, my work (and everyone else’s) is a complete failure. Because my work hasn’t stopped the murder of the planet. Nor has anyone else’s. We haven’t even slowed it down. It’s embarrassing to have to explain why this is the only standard that really matters, but at this point embarrassment is the least of our problems. The health of the planet is the only standard that really matters because without a living planet nothing else is important, because nothing else exists. Compared to this, the number of books one has published doesn’t matter. How beautifully or poorly they are written doesn’t matter. Financially supporting oneself doesn’t matter. Life itself is more important than what we create.

These days when I wake up, I’m even less certain that my decision to write is the right one. I know that a culture of resistance needs every form of action, from writing to legal work to mass protests in the streets to physically dismantling destructive infrastructures. And that too few people are calling for actions that are commensurate with the threats to the planet. And so, for better or worse, most mornings, articulating the truth and defending it and rallying others to defend it in whatever ways they know how is the method of combat I choose.

The time for waiting is long gone. It is time to stop this culture from destroying life on earth. So take my hand. Take the hands of all those who came before us. But keep your other hand free, to make a fist or to pick up a pen. The health of the oceans, the forests, the rivers, the salmon, the sturgeon, the migratory songbirds, are all more important than you or I individually, and they are more important than your or my accomplishments. Their health will be the measure of our success.