I’ve been thinking a lot about this war we’re in. No, I’m not talking about Afghanistan or Iraq. I’m not talking about North Korea or Iran. I’m not talking about the war on drugs or the war or poverty. I’m not even talking about the war against Christmas. I’m talking about the war that’s been going on for 8-10,000 years or so.
I’m talking about the war of civilization against the natural world. I’m talking about the war of belongings against belonging… the war of hierarchy against community… the war of industry against the land base. I’m talking about the war of linear logic (and spirituality) against the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. This is the war of power and control against life.
If you’re still not sure what war I’m talking about, you really need to get yourself up to speed. The belligerent aggressor is civilization itself. We, the “civilized,” have been waging a war as we’ve done our darnedest to live outside the laws of nature. We’ve invented gods and religions to enable us to think we’re somehow special. Not only are we supposedly distinct and superior to non-human animals, we’ve been commanded by the gods themselves to take over the natural world. And you thought “go forth and multiply” was just a cute little phrase in the Bible while it is clearly a declaration of war. The land is ours, screw the spiders, salmon and sequoias. As the human population has grown exponentially, we’re in the midst of a period of mass extinction not seen since the fall of the dinosaurs and we’re (we the civilized, not we humans. The Yanomami, Bushmen and Ayoreo are not only innocent in this, but also victims of this) the ones who have been causing it. We’ve been undermining the ecosystem to the point where a few species failures could very well cause the whole ecosystem to collapse. (Seriously, if diversity is good for your stock portfolio, wouldn’t biodiversity be that much more important for the ecosystem? It is infinitely more important.)
The object of this post isn’t to explain why civilization is bad. If it isn’t already evident to you, there are a number of books and authors I can direct you to. There are plenty of people who not only realize we’re at war, but have engaged on the side of the land and of nature. I’m one of those people.
I have almost finished reading Derrick Jensen’s Endgame, Vol. 2. One of the central topics of the book is to what extent are we justified in our actions to do what is necessary to take down civilization. In particular, Jensen exposes the pacifism preached by many environmentalists and activists as foolishness and folly. I didn’t need convincing.
The purpose of this post is mostly for me to record my reaction to Jensen’s argument. I feel he missed a few important points that only help his argument. I haven’t quite finished reading the book so maybe I’m the one who has missed something.
The first thing is that not only is self-defense justified, I don’t even see it as being violence. If a man tries to rape a woman and she kills him defending herself, that isn’t violence as far as I’m concerned. If you could go back in time to 1938 and kill Hitler, would you do it? Would that be violence? If you would go back and kill Hitler, why haven’t you already killed Tom Albanese, Gary Jackson, or Hugh Grant? (I’m not suggesting anyone should go kill these people.)
Actually, now that I’m writing this down, I’m wondering if Jensen doesn’t want us all to accept it would be violence to kill in self-defense so that these corporations don’t get to use the same self-defense argument to explain away their violence. I could justify using violence to kill Hitler. Maybe those CEOs could not justify the violence they use against indigenous people (or non-humans) if they were forced to considering what they do violence. (And it is violence.)
The second point I’d like to make is on the nature of war. Some form of militancy – of violence – is expected in warfare. Obviously the focus of grand strategy should be to win, but what does winning look like? B.H. Liddell Hart said that the object of war is to secure a better peace. I think this makes for an excellent watermark for us to determine our strategies and tactics. If the actions we perform help secure a better peace, then we are fighting the war strategically. If we are engaging our violent fantasies or our predilection for explosions, we are not fighting strategically. CEOs can be replaced easily enough. (See? I really wasn’t suggesting anyone kill those people.) “Critical” infrastructure on the other hand… Also, liberating rivers from dams would surely be a better peace.
The last point is also related to the object of war. Civilization doesn’t have a standing army whose defeat in the field would result in our victory. ( Not that that’s how most conventional wars are necessarily won either.) Storming Monsanto corporate headquarters won’t bring down civilization any more than the storming of the Bastille brought down hierarchy. That’s not to say these events were not (or wouldn’t be) considered victories but they were not (and will not be) the end.
As much as the physical acts of violence against the environment must stop, so too must the intellectual and emotional. There are some fundamental errors in the premises of civilization that have to be replaced. As much as rivers need to be liberated from dams, which will require explosives, we won’t see victory until those premises have been replaced. We are no more special than spiders, salmon or sequoias. The land does not belong to us, we belong to the land. This is where pies can be more effective than RPGs. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they are covered in whipped cream. It’s hard to fear someone you’re laughing at. These kinds of tactics can be useful expressions of resistance. “No, Mr Grant, I don’t even recognize your authority, let alone respect it.” Guns are probably always a challenge to authority. Sometimes that might be called for. Sometimes we probably want to project our rejection of authority.
If the object of war is to secure a better peace, we have to have some idea of what a better peace is to look like. Yes, there will be no dams so they will have to come down. But when it comes down to the epidemiology of abuse, we’ll have to treat the causes rather than the symptoms. This war will be fought with all the tools at our disposal from memes to mines.