“We – those of us who care about life – have a choice. At each and every second we have a choice. We can open up to life, in all its complexity and horror and joy and sorrow and death and messiness. Or we can try to deny this complexity, this messiness, this life, and we can try to reduce it. …And of course once having opened up to the complexity and beauty of life, we really have no choice but to fight to defend this complexity and beauty from all those who would destroy it.” — Derrick Jensen, Dreams (2011)
“Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?” – Billy Bragg
INTRODUCTION: There are books that stimulate your mind. And there are books that touch your heart. And then there are books that pry themselves inside your head and chest like a vine and squeeze like hell until you are forced to reconsider what it means to be alive. Derrick Jensen’s Dreams (2011) is in the latter category. Jensen’s considerable body of work asks us to do the following: (1) Notice that our industrial culture is killing the living earth, (2) admit that it will continue to kill the living earth until either this culture or its victim dies, and (3) use our minds and bodies to resist this attack. The Occupy movement is a start. But the stakes are rising. The earth is dying. The industrial economy, while coming apart at the seams, still rages on. …And what if the attacker DOESN’T die? What then? And what does that imply for resistance movements?
REFERENCES: If you are a thinking, feeling human being with any fondness for, ties to, or dependencies on the living earth, take a few days (or weeks?…months?…) to get acquainted with Derrick Jensen’s work:
What if it couldn’t stop?
What if the industrial death-urge wouldn’t die, even after collapse?
What if, when — finally, mercifully, blessedly — the hollowed-out edifice of our biocidal, industrial culture comes crashing down,
When the secret balance sheets of the murderous corporate puppeteers drift down from the shattered windows of the corner offices,
When we are found to have been running on cynical lies and deluded wishes for decades, for centuries,
When the digital mountains of long-hidden debts — finally exposed to the searing light – are revealed as having been laughably un-payable all along,
When the grease of credit drains away and the machinery of commerce freezes up like an old, abused car engine,
When the toxic rivers of ancient sunlight run dry,
When the gears of the great earth-masticating machines grind to a halt,
When the hypodermic syringes of poison are withdrawn form the earth or frozen in place,
When the toxins cease to gush from the wicked industrial orifices — the drain-pipes, tail-pipes, sewers, smokestacks, snapped-off risers, breached containment vessels, syringes, gun barrels, and mouths of economists and politicians,
When the great highways become as silent as the woods,
When the Second Law of Thermodynamics pulls up to our urban and suburban doorsteps, biophysical goons in tow, to claim what is rightfully His,
When the long-ignored wounds and physical debts to the finite, living planet finally manifest themselves – as we knew they must — in unimaginable spasms of human carnage and death,
When the oceans, lakes, rivers, forests, grasslands, and ice caps — as our species once knew them; as they had indeed existed for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years before our industrial culture violated them — enter perhaps the final stages of their death-spiral,
When the jig is finally up,
What if then — even THEN – the industrial mind (or wherever such darkness originates) still cannot stop imagining the consumption, the murder, of the still-living earth?
What if it just contracts?
What if it doesn’t just go away and die? — This grotesque, life-destroying, earth-consuming sickness; this disease that, for centuries, has afflicted the architects, technicians, patrons, and foot soldiers of the industrial apocalypse?
This growth-illness of kings, queens, merchants, explorers, and settlers; of presidents, prime ministers, secretaries, and diplomats; of CEOs, CFOs, MBAs, MDs, and PhDs; of Exxon-Mobils, Weyerhaeusers, Dow-Chemicals, NewsCorps, Monsantos, Koch Industries, and Archer-Daniels-Midlands; of shoppers, fans, viewers, consumers and vacationers; of scientists, economists, lawyers, agronomists, engineers, priests, generals, journalists, lobbyists, pornographers, politicians…
What if it doesn’t just wither away to dust?
What if the biocidal soul of our industrial culture persists even after collapse?
What if the dark spiritual essence of our culture — perhaps strengthened beyond scientific comprehension by centuries of dutiful and enthusiastic sacrifice; the sacrifice of species after species after species after species, of soil, of oceans, of forests, of rivers, of grasslands, of wetlands, of indigenous cultures, of mountains, of children, of women, of soldiers, of workers, of the poor — What if this abomination remains alive?
What if the industrial death-urge lives on?
What if the darkness lives on?
What if it merely contracts back to its core?
Like spores, like cysts – waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting for the appropriate physical conditions to re-emerge.
Like some injured, alien super-organism — abandoning the periphery, retracting its cold metallic hyphae, and retreating to its base of strength…dormant, but not dead.
Or perhaps like some dark entity retreating temporarily to an ‘other side.’
And what if it then regroups?
What if it just waits.
And grows stronger.
And begins to take stock of what remains of the living earth.
…Or rather, to use the cold, amoral, scientific, reductionist terminology of the damned, “catalogs available resources.”
And probes for weaknesses,
…for points of leverage,
…for ways in,
…for, as we say, “opportunities”,
…for cracks in the defenses of those communities – human and non-human, living and ‘non-living’ — trying like hell to refashion an existence amongst the unspeakable ruin and loss of the industrial catastrophe.
And what if it begins to re-arm?
And what if — in tragic-irony — the biocidal disease of “economic growth” returns to a growth-ruined earth – where only utter ruin has made growth again possible?
…The ideology of the cancer cell, reborn!
…1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32768, 65536, 131072, 262144, 524288, 1048576…ad mortem
New life, for the death-urge!
And what if it needs more victims to survive?
What if more sacrifices are required to satiate its insatiable gods of progress?
…And then more sacrifices after that?
…And then more after that?
What if it needs to finish the job?
What if that was what it was here for all along?
And what if our nascent community – such as it is; such as we (or our descendants) have managed to fashion it, the conditions, of course, being what they are – is attacked?
And what if it doesn’t even look like an attack, or feel like an attack?
What if the attack – channeled through an impressive proposal given by a very charming, handsome, eloquent, young man – sort of feels like…an “opportunity,”
As a way to create “jobs,”
As a way for us poor souls to rise above our miserable stone-age “poverty” and “develop our resources?”
As a way to “grow our economy.”
What if it sort of feels like we’re getting lucky here?
…That for ONCE, after all the adversity and pain, after all the miserable shit we’ve been through, after all the horror we’ve seen, things might finally be going our way.
What if this proposed business venture, this logging plan, or this dam, or this factory, or this mining operation, or this promising agricultural opportunity, or this little preventative military endeavor is to be our savior as a community?
What if, by “logically assessing our options,” by “soberly weighing-out all the pros and cons,” and ultimately, by “choosing to manage our human and natural resources in a prudent way,” we can maybe really make something of ourselves – something our fabled forefathers (Rulers of the skies, they were, godammit!) would have been proud of?
What if the salesman — now addressing a select gathering of community leaders — cocks his head jauntily, raises an eyebrow, winks knowingly, and then continues with a wry smile: “And to top it off, we’re NOT gonna make the same damn mistake as them! We’re gonna do it PROPERLY! Sus-tainably! With respect for the victims – errr…the resources!”
Environmental impact statement? Check. Agreed-upon buffers around environmentally-sensitive areas? Check. Mitigation plan for species impacted by the project? Check. Fund established for clean-up and remediation of the disturbed areas? Check. Re-location plan for those currently occupying the project area? Check.
And what if we were informed that this “forward-looking, sustainable, resource-development and job-creation plan” had “obtained all the necessary approvals at the appropriate levels,” and was “to be initiated without delay?”
And what if our community stood up and said no?
And what if we did this with full knowledge that we would be attacked?
And that, if we resisted, we would be attacked brutally and mercilessly?
And that we would be required to resist – to fight back?
And that we might not win?
But that, by making a stand, we would be risking everything we had on the off-chance that everything beautiful and precious that still existed might continue to exist?
And that if we DIDN’T resist, we were guaranteed (guaranteed!) that everything (everything!) beautiful and precious would eventually be destroyed?
…Because that’s what this disease IS. That’s what it DOES. That’s the ONLY thing it does. Everything else is a means to this ONE end.
And that if we made a stand, here and now, that this death-urge disease of cancer-growth industrialism might, just might, finally be stopped – at least here, at least now?
And that someday, maybe, this disease could be wiped off the face of the earth.
And maybe life again could live.
As it has wanted to do – as it has pleaded with us to do – all along.
And maybe our species could once again enter the ancient conversation of communities on this planet,
— A conversation that is both our birthright and our only path to true fulfillment and happiness,
— A conversation between human and human, between human and non-human, between living and non-living, between ‘this side’ and ‘the other sides’.
…Yea…what if we stood up and said no?
…And, come to think about it, why should we have to wait until after collapse to do it?
That’s a damn good question.