Interview by Lore Axe, published in issues 6 & 7 of The A Word
Lore Axe: What do you believe are the origins of hate and oppression in our culture?
Derrick Jensen: We can take that from a number of different directions. One direction I took in A Language Older than Words was that we have an entire culture suffering from, what Judith Herman would call, complex post traumatic stress disorder. In a nutshell the entire culture has been traumatized through the violence that manifests through its child rearing and educational practices, as well as through killing the planet. We are so traumatized that we are too terrified to enter relationships.
I examined another level of what could be an origin in The Culture of Make Believe, which is if a culture is based on competition, it will lead inevitably to hatred and atrocity. If you believe you need to out compete everyone, that the natural world is red in tooth and claw, and basically the meanest survive, then you are going to be mean.
Another level, which will be in a book I am going to write, takes a different direction, one informed by Jack Forbes’ book Columbus and Other Cannibals. He believes that the nature of the problem is a spiritual illness with a physical vector. It’s not a metaphor. It’s a real thing where, if I get the flu and I cough, the little aerosols go through the air and you inspire them, then you could end up with the symptoms of the flu: cough, fever, upset stomach, and chills. If I have the cannibal sickness when I cough and you inspire it, you could end up needing to consume the souls of others and become a capitalist. It’s a very contagious disease and I’m going to explore that possibility in a book down the road.
The problems of our culture originate in civilization. In a book I’m currently working on, I realized I’ve been bashing civilization for many years, and finally decided I better define it. The short definition is the one Stanley Diamond gave, which is that “civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” I define civilization as a way of life characterized by the growth of cities. I define a city as a collective of people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. This means the people who lived in Tu’nes, the Tolowa name for the place I live which is now called Crescent City California, were not civilized. They didn’t live in a city; they lived in villages or camps and they didn’t require the importation of resources. They lived on the salmon, deer, elk, huckleberries, clams, salal, salmon, lampreys, salmon and salmon.
Two things happen when you require the importation of resources. One is that your way of living is not and can never be sustainable. Because you require the importation of resources you are using more resources than the place has. That means you have denuded that area and as your city grows you will denude a larger and larger area and for obvious reasons that can never be sustainable.
Although in this culture it’s not so obvious and we can’t take this for granted. We are made so stupid by our denial and enculturation that we believe the stupid notion that natural selection — presuming it exists — is based on competition and the way to survive is to out compete all your neighbors. The reason we can show that’s bullshit is in two sentences. Those creatures that survive in the long run, survive in the long run. You don’t survive in the long run by hyper-exploiting or damaging your surroundings; you survive in the long run by actually improving your surroundings. So if you take more than you give back, then it doesn’t take a rocket scientist — it takes anybody but a rocket scientist — to figure out that way of living won’t be sustainable. The only way of living that can be sustainable is by giving back to your surroundings at least as much as you take.
The need to import resources also means the culture is based on violence, because if you require the importation of resources trade will never be sufficiently reliable. If I require fish from the next watershed over and the local people there don’t want to give me those fish, I’m going to take them if my collection of people requires that we have them. We could all become junior Bodhisatvas at this point and it wouldn’t really matter because the U.S. government would still need to important resources and would still need a huge military.
I don’t know what the original source of it was, but what is the thing that needs to be unmade right now? Civilization. At the very least we should be honest with ourselves and recognize this way of living is not and can never be sustainable and recycling or a little bit of legislation is not going to make it so.
LA: Do you believe civilization will collapse on its own or must it be actively fought against?
DJ: It seems clear to me that civilization can’t continue. The oil age is almost over and there are those — Ted Kaczynski among them — who believe that civilization can limp on for hundreds of more years. I pray that’s not the case. It needs to be actively fought against, but I don’t think that we can bring it down. What we can do is assist the natural world to bring it down. I think we can help. The natural world is way stronger than we are or could ever be.
In some ways it doesn’t really matter whether or not civilization comes down through ecological collapse or through our efforts. It doesn’t matter to whether we make the effort because what is happening now is wrong. It’s wrong to drive salmon extinct. That’s grotesquely immoral, I can think of few things that are more immoral. The next reason deals with selfishness. The longer civilization goes on, the worse things will be for the people who come after us. If civilization had come down — whatever that means — a hundred years ago there would still be passenger pigeons and Eskimo curlews for people in the Midwest to eat. There will be people twenty or fifty years from now, when civilization comes down, who will sit next to the Columbia River and say “god damn you! I’m hungry. There are no salmon here because you wanted cheap electricity to smelt aluminum to make beer cans.” More to the point, it’s because you didn’t stop those who did.
At the same time it does make a great deal of difference what you believe. Whether you believe it is going to come down on it’s own or not makes a great deal of difference to your tactics. If civilization is going to come down in ten years your tactics will be one thing and if civilization comes down in five hundred years your tactics are going to be something else. Most of the environmentalists I know are basically just hanging on by our fingernails hoping and praying that grizzly bears, salmon and whomever else we love survive until civilization comes down.
Basically it’s all really simple. People say, “what should we do?” My answer to this is that we need to dismantle everything around us and we need to do it now.
LA: What are the obstacles keeping us from doing that?
DJ: Our biggest obstacle is that we identify more closely with the culture than we do with our own bodies and our own land-bases. I had a conversation with a guy a couple weeks ago at the post office. It’s very warm where I live and he said, “the interesting thing about global warming …” and I said, “yeah 14,000 or 19,000 died from the heat and the damn newspapers don’t even mention global warming.” He nods and says; “did you see those pictures of the glaciers melting in Europe?” “The climate is changing,” I say “and those in power won’t do anything about it.” “The culture has too much momentum,” he says, “those in power have too much power and money to stop them.” “That’s why my next book is how to take down civilization,” I say. He looks at me for a moment; “you can write about it but you can’t make it happen.” “I can push in the right direction at the right times and I think that can make a difference.” “It’ll come down all right” he says, “and pretty soon, but it won’t be your doing. It will be the system collapsing in on itself.” “I can hurry it up,” I say. “It’s going to be nasty,” he says. “It’s already nasty,” I say. “The nastiness is why I bought a gun, a .38,” he says. I’m about to say that’s why I bought a gun a few years ago but he carries my packages to the big bins in the back. When he comes back he says, “it’s for myself.” I don’t know what he means. He says, “I don’t want to live like that.” I say, “I don’t want to live like this.” He says, “I don’t want to live like an animal.” I say, “I got news for you Jim you already are an animal.” He says, “I need my electricity, I can’t live without it.” I don’t say anything, I think; is it worth it to you? He looks me straight in the eye and says, “I’m going to retire in January, don’t do this right now. Give me a few years to enjoy my retirement.”
He identifies more closely with his need for electricity than he does with his need for a livable planet. I think that is really common. People more closely identify with all this machine culture. We are living inside a machine. Look around right now, how many machines are within ten feet of us? How many wild animals are within a hundred yards of us? How often do you interact with machines on a daily basis, or on a minute by minute basis? How often do you interact with wild animals? How many wild animals do you know? How many know you?
What will it take for people to fight back? I’ve asked people at talks before, “how many people have loved someone who’s died from cancer?” Virtually everybody raised their hands. Why is it when cancer, a disease of civilization, is killing people they love, they don’t fight back? Part of it is that they identify more closely with the culture. They want the culture to survive more than they want their loved ones to survive, and even — with dioxins in their own bodies — more than they want their own selves to survive. They identify more closely with the “survival” of the machine than they do with their own survival. That’s part of the problem.
One of the things I try and get across in my talks is that the dominant culture is a culture of occupation and the government is a government of occupation. Just last night I was driving and talking with my mom; she said, “so how long do you think we’re going to be in Iraq?” I said, “I’m not in Iraq, are you in Iraq?” She said, “ok, how long are the sol-diers of the U.S. government going to be over in Iraq?” Later she said, “did we have any casualties today?” I say, “I didn’t have any casualties, did you?” I do that all the time.
People get so jazzed about 9–11; you know we were attacked. Well, I wasn’t attacked. I’m attacked on a daily basis from carcinogens. Would we react differently if instead of our government — to which we pledged allegiance — doing this to us, it was space aliens putting dioxin in every mother’s breast milk? What would we do? We’d fight like hell, and we’d kill the motherfuckers. The reason we don’t do that is because we identify with them, because we are members of the oppressors. We believe in law and order, we believe that the strictures of those in power carry moral weight. We believe that because it’s a law, we should follow it. Stealing is bad.
I wouldn’t take this tape recorder from you; but then again, I have a relationship with you. But I can’t see why I shouldn’t take food from a grocery store. It’s crazy; a guy at one of my talks said, “I don’t think I’m particularly violent. Where is the violence in my life?” The first thing I said was “where was your shirt made?” He said, “Bangladesh.” So that’s obvious. The next thing I said was “why do you pay rent?” He said, “because I don’t own.” I said, “what happens if you don’t pay rent?” He said, “I get evicted.” I said, “by whom?” He said, “by a sheriff.” I said, “What happens to you if when the sheriff comes to your home to evict you, you say, ‘come on in for dinner’ and after dinner you say, ‘I’m getting kind of tired, you should go now, I need to go to bed.’ The sheriff says ‘no you have to leave’ and you say, ‘no this is my home, I live here.’ What would happen?” He says, “the sheriff would take a gun and forcibly evict me.” I say, “so the reason you pay rent, is because if you don’t, someone with a gun will kick you out. What would happen if you went to a grocery store and you’re hungry so you start to eat?” “People with guns would come and take me away.”
It’s really strange that we actually have to pay to exist on this planet. We have to pay to sleep somewhere and we have to pay to eat. I can understand — if you are going to have a cash economy — paying for a luxury. I have no problem with someone paying for something. But it’s really extraordinarily strange to make someone pay to simply exist. My point is, I’ve got no problem with people paying rent, if that is what they want to do that’s fine — I pay rent for crying out loud — but at least let’s be honest. Let’s work our way through it, and don’t just pay rent because that’s what we do. Instead let’s examine the premises underlying it.
Another reason we don’t fight back is because we’re addicted. It’s all the logic of addiction. I asked some of my students when they get out of prison would they use again? Most of them said yes even though they were in for drugs. I said why? They said it’s hard to break the physical addiction, harder to break the emotional identification, and harder still that your whole support system, all of your friends, are part of it. One guy said, “my courtship with my wife is all bound up in drugs because we took drugs together. So if I change that, and she doesn’t change? I have to leave her.” Let’s think about this and not talk about drugs but talk about capitalism and civilization. Where will your support system be if decide you don’t want to be a member of the wage economy, and that you don’t think it’s appropriate to pay rent? That you instead think it’s appropriate to fight against the system? You’ve got to find a new support system.
Then there’s the question of those in power having tanks, guns and airplanes and show no hesitation to use them. There are members of the Black Panthers still in solitary confinement since the early 1970’s. Jeff “Free” Luers in Eugene, Oregon torched four SUVs and got twenty-two and a half years in prison.
LA: Leonard Peltier was just up for parole and denied yet again.
DJ: Even though everybody, even the parole officers, said the case was bogus. Which is another reason why we participate, why we don’t fight back: because we believe in law and order. I’ll say this again, we believe that laws carry moral weight. I want to be clear. I’m not talking some kind of moral relativism where anything goes. I think that it is often immoral to kill people. I would include in that through the toxification of their total environment. I think there are many things that are immoral to do circumstantially. I will say that morality is not relative. It is always circumstantial, because there are circumstances in which it’s absolutely moral to kill someone. I can think of very few acts that are never moral to do. Rape being one, I can’t conceptualize a circumstance that would make it moral. My point is that just because something is a law doesn’t make it moral. We all know that in our heads, but we don’t know it in our guts. It’s much easier to deal with not resisting because we’re afraid of cops, than not acting because we perceive the cops as good guys.
LA: If we’re a culture of traumatized individuals, addicted to the system, who only see relationships being based on power or competition, how can we break the cycle?
DJ: I ask people all over the country if they believe we are going to undergo a voluntary transformation into a sane and sustainable way of living. Almost nobody ever says yes. The next question to ask is what that means for our strategy and tactics? The answer is, we don’t know because we don’t talk about it.
I’ve worked like hell to recover from the effects of my childhood and my coercive upbringing. I think I’m reasonably sane at this point. I know a lot of people who have not been able to make that transition and who are really fucked up. I don’t think there’s hope for most of them and I don’t think most people are reachable. A lot of people say if we just get the information out there about environmental problems then people will change and that’s bullshit. One reason we can know it’s bullshit is because one out of four women in this culture are raped in their lifetime and another one out of five have to fend off attempts and all the women I know say those figures are very low. That’s only if you include criminal definitions of rape, it doesn’t include routine objectification and abuse of women. No matter what’s in the newspapers, the truth is most of the men committing those rapes are fathers, brothers, uncles, lovers, friends, those who say they love those women. 565,000 American children are killed or injured by their parents or guardians each year. My point in bringing that up is that if men are raping the women they purport to love, if they’re raping and beating their sons and daughters, there is no hope for the salmon.
It’s not just the culture as a whole — whatever that means — that’s crazy. Most of the people in this culture are crazy. Once again if it’s 565,000 American children who are killed or injured, that’s a hell of a lot of parents that are abusing their kids. With all those women getting raped, it’s not one guy. A good portion of men are active rapists.
If we talk about addiction the statistics are so burning on relapse. Relapse is a part of the process of recovery and most addicts don’t make it to get clean. The statistics on domestic violence are even more burning. England quit giving money to programs for domestic violence perpetrators because their recidivism was so high. There was maybe only one person who had ever benefited from those projects. Instead they give the money to battered women’s shelters. They’ve given up on trying to fix the men who are like that. Those men aren’t reachable. I think what needs to happen is women need to stay away from them. I’m not going to blame women for that.
Those of us who really care about salmon or grizzlies don’t need to appeal to fence sitters or to the culture at large. We need to act to defend the salmon. What would salmon do if they could take on human manifestation? What would children three generations into the future do if they could take on human manifestation now? Would they try to convince a senator who is never going to be convinced?
Your question has to do with healing. Part of that has to do with finding a community. I don’t have many friends who don’t want to bring down the system. Everytime I open my mouth I don’t want to repeat civilization is bad 101. I don’t want to have to recover that ground. What I want are people I can talk to, cry with, and fight with against the system. I want people who have my back covered emotionally. I can’t emphasize too much the role of supporting and loving communities for healing.
LA: Since civilization is all around us so many people consider themselves culpable to the damage being done, and because the system is so complex, how do we know who the enemy is? Certain individuals and institutions are obvious …
DJ: That’s a good place start.
LA: Do you think there will be a polarization as things get worse?
DJ: There already is a polarization. People say, “Derrick your rhetoric is so divisive and militaristic.” Shit, the war is going on already, and has been for a long time. I’m just acknowledging it. It’s funny, when I give talks about violence the response by the audience is really predictable. Mainstream environmentalists and peace and social justice activists will put up what I’ve taken to calling a Ghandi shield and mutter “Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama” repeatedly to keep evil thoughts out. Grass roots environmentalists will do the same thing, but then come up to me afterward and whisper in my ear, “thank you for bringing this up.” Prisoners, family farmers, victims of domestic violence, American Indians, and radical environmentalists all have similar responses to each other which is “yeah, so tell us something we don’t know. Let’s go bro.” The difference for all those latter groups is that violence is not some theoretical question to be dealt with abstractly. It’s instead a part of daily life that you respond to. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be violent, but that you respond to it viscerally. You deal with it. You don’t put it out here and say I’m not even going deal with this question.
One of the beauties of the whole machine system is that we’re all cogs in it. It’s real easy to just go “oh nobody has any responsibility”. Adolf Eichman just ran trains, but he got hanged. Goering said he was “following orders.” He got sentenced to hang. Kaltenbruner was “following orders.” It’s a pathetic response.
I’ve written a novel that doesn’t work yet about some teenagers who kidnap a CEO and put him on trial for poisoning the area. I’ll rewrite the book in a couple years. There is a part where the CEO says, “It’s not my fault, it’s the system. If I didn’t act in the financial best interests of this corporation I would get fired and somebody else would do it.” One of the kids says to him “So what your saying is ‘if you didn’t do it, somebody else would.’ You know my mom wouldn’t let me get by with that when I was seven. So why should I let you get by with it now?” The fact that “somebody else will do it,” or that somebody is “following orders” or not questioning assumptions, is no excuse.
That said, I think we need to not get lost in the kind of solipsistic pretension that lifestyle change equals social change. I’ve known some people who get so tied up in knots because “oh my god, I use toilet paper, which means I’m just as culpable as the CEO of Weyerhaeuser.” That’s just silly. Just because I drive a car, I’m responsible for global warming? That’s bullshit. If I die tomorrow global warming will proceed apace.
I use domestic violence as a lens to look at the larger violence of the culture. One of the things abused children often do is take on responsibility for things that they have no control over. They say, “If only I would’ve washed the dishes better I wouldn’t have been beaten … if only I would have parked the car differently … if only I would have not made any noise … if only I had done this or that.” It’s incredibly important for those children to take on that responsibility because they’re powerless and they need to take on power. If they recognize how utterly powerless they are they would go more insane than they already do. But, when you are no longer powerless it’s really absurd to do that.
Our culture specializes in toxic mimics. That’s when you take the form of something and change the content. Rape is a toxic mimic of sex. It takes the form of sex and perverts the content entirely. People who say, “I am just as responsible for all of the destruction — as much as anyone else is — because I participate in the system” are creating a toxic mimic of our real responsibility. It’s an acknowledgement of powerlessness because it’s still falling into that childhood trap where if I’m just perfect enough, pure enough, then the system will stop. It’s magical thinking; it’s the same magical thinking as that child. It’s a mask, a toxic mimic of the real culpability. Yes, I am culpable for deforestation, not because I use toilet paper, but because I don’t stop Weyerhaeuser from deforesting. That’s my real responsibility. I need to shut them down.
What should people do? I think they should first stop identifying themselves as a cog in the machine. This is a classic trick of abusers; it’s known by pimps and CIA torturers everywhere. It says in the CIA handbook on torture that it’s more effective to force someone to stand against a wall for days at a time than it is to beat them, because you force them to torture themselves. If you can get them to take on responsibility then you’ve won essentially. It’s the same with the idea that I’m supposed to feel guilty or responsible because I went to Albertson’s or to Safeway. You have forced me off land, systematically destroyed stocks of wild foodstuffs, and now I’m supposed to feel responsible for that? Bullshit, I refuse to take responsibility for that, because I didn’t do it. What I can do, is attempt to take responsibility for my own actions and I can further, attempt to shut down the system that is doing this.
LA: How do you feel about the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) actions? Are they symbolic? How can they be more effective?
DJ: As you know, I’ve done a number of benefits for Earth Liberation prisoners, so I strongly support those kinds of actions. I would never criticize their actions. It would be like someone criticizing me because I don’t write something else besides what I write. I’m good friends with the former tree-sitter Remedy and she would get notes from people saying; why are you sitting in that tree as opposed to some other tree? The only person who could criticize Remedy or her choice of trees at all would be another tree-sitter and they wouldn’t. The only people who can criticize what I write about would be other people doing that work and once again they wouldn’t.
I have no criticism of the ELF or ALF. That said, I would like to see further actions that move up the infrastructure, because they are doing what I would call endpoint sabotage. I see a difference between symbolic and non-symbolic actions; and certainly symbolic actions can be also be non-symbolic, and vice versa. When the ALF liberates some cats from a lab, sure there is the symbolism of sending out the press release, but primarily what they’re doing is those particular cats are liberated. I would not call that a primarily symbolic action. When you burn four SUVs — and this is not pejorative at all, I want that explicit — that’s a symbolic action, because four SUVs doesn’t make that much difference. Of course you could say ten cats doesn’t make that much difference. Of course it matters to those cats.
I’ve got that line: “every morning I wake up and ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam.” A few people have written to me and said: “that’s not the best way to get your message out.” I always respond to that if I were to take out a dam it would not be to send a message; if I want to send a message, I’m going to write a book. Taking out a dam would be to help a river liberate itself and to help the salmon. That would be a non-symbolic action. We, in the environmental movement, are far too fond of symbolic action. That’s all we do. Recently I read about the big environmental organizations’ response to the Healthy Forest Initiative, which was to take chainsaws and cut up pumpkins on Halloween, with the slogan “carve pumpkins not the forests.” It’s pretty fucking stupid. The symbolism is even stupid when you consider loggers often call big trees “pumpkins.” Do some fucking research for something.
Symbolic action still is based on the notion of sending a message. It’s based on the notion that people are reachable. I’m not saying that people aren’t reachable, but who’s your audience? If you are burning some SUVs in order to attract other people to burn SUVs, that’s one thing. If you’re burning SUVs in an attempt to send a message to the manufacturers of SUVs it’s a waste of time, I think.
When I say it’s a government of occupation and a culture of occupation, I’m not speaking metaphorically. What did Russian partisans in World War II do? What did members of the Dutch underground do to try and undermine the Nazi Army? Did they hold up banners? What did they do? How did they do it?
Why do I write? I’m a recruiter for the revolution. I think all the ELF actions are great for that because you get “oh my god, somebody else did this. It’s a great idea.” It encourages other people to do it too. This kind of stuff happens all the time, we just don’t hear about it very much.
I asked some hackers, maybe a year and a half ago, do you think that people could cause major damage to corporations through hacking? The woman looked at me and said, “you’re presuming people aren’t already doing that.” The corporations don’t want people to know how easy it is, so it never gets publicized.
How would we act if we really wanted to shut down the economy? How would we act if we really wanted to save salmon? I get so tired of the environmental movement because basically what we want is to feel good about ourselves for having fought the good fight; but we have not made any effective difference. The bottom line is it’s a complete failure. Not only do we not slow deforestation, we don’t even slow the rate of acceleration of deforestation.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be fighting like hell. I think palliative work is really important. I know so many people who do it and I have done so much myself. We’re just giving everything we’ve got to attempt to save some piece of ground. The thing we need to remember is the line by Red Cloud who said of the dominant culture: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they never kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.”
That’s part of the problem too, we don’t know what we want. The timber industry knows what they want; they want every fucking tree. The mining industry knows what they want. The dominant culture knows what it wants; it wants to destroy life on the planet. It wants to convert everything into cash, which is dead. What do we want? Do we want smaller or fewer clear-cuts? Do we want sixteen salmon that come from hatcheries? Do we want animals in zoos? Do we want a few less women raped? What do we want? I think that is one of our barriers to action too. We don’t know what we want.
Many people don’t know what they want, but I know what I want. I want civilization brought down and I want it brought down now. People say that’s a negative vision. Well, frankly we live in a pretty fucking negative situation. You want me to put that positively? I want to live in a world where every year there are more wild salmon than there were the year before. I want to live in world where there are more migratory songbirds, more ancient forests, more prairie dogs, more wild tigers, and less dioxins every year than the year before. Is that positive enough for you? So how do you want to get there, how is that going to happen? I don’t see any way of that happening other than civilization coming down.
This brings up something else. I don’t believe that people in general are reachable. I don’t believe that the culture is going to have a voluntary transformation. I think that fathers are going to continue to rape daughters for a long time into the future. I have reduced what I want to do at this point to stopping their reach. So that you can have some abusive person and I don’t know how to stop them, it’s not my job to try and stop him from beating his children. There are people who work on domestic violence issues and I’ve done a lot of work on domestic violence. I care about that; but, what I’m working on right now is trying to figure out a way to at least make sanctuaries and refuges. So if those in power want to destroy the center of the ocean, they have to go out in a masted ship like they did once before. I want to shorten their reach so there are at least some places that survive.
LA: How do you define revolution and how do you see one unfolding?
DJ: One mistake many revolutions of the past made was attempting to seize the means of production. Which is exactly why the mass of people ended up meeting the new boss, who was of course the same as the old boss, because resources have to flow toward the producers. It doesn’t matter whether they are horny-handed workers, Maoists, capitalists, or Bill Gates, it’s meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Production within our culture really is the conversion of living to the dead. I want to shut down production. I would like to see people go after the electrical infrastructure, the oil infrastructure and all the means of production, finding the bottlenecks, the weaknesses and shutting them down. Which is what I think Ward Churchill meant when he said we need to make the system unworkable. Attack the system; make it unstable.
I’ve asked third world activists, if the US economy disappeared tomorrow would the people of India be better off? They laugh and say “of course.” One of the reasons given — in this example it’s the European not US economy — is there are former granaries in India that now export dog food and tulips to Europe. People are starving in India because they export those goods, because of the rules of global trade. The government of India wanted to dump almost sixty million tons of grain into the ocean because they were no longer allowed, due to international trade regulations, to sell that food at subsidized prices to the poor. Somebody sued the government over that and the Indian Supreme Court said they couldn’t dump the food into the ocean. So they’ve left all those tons of grain in warehouses to rot and be eaten by rats. People are dying right now because of international trade.
We need to be smart about bringing down civilization. There are things people can hit that would have no moral consequences whatsoever. You can’t make a moral argument for leaving a cell phone tower up. You aren’t going to kill people by taking them out. On the other hand cell towers kill between five and fifty million migratory songbirds every year. I think somebody blowing up a hospital is really fucked up. Whether that’s done by an anarcho-primitivist or the U.S. military. I’m not talking about senseless destruction. One can be smart and moral. That’s one of the problems with our culture. If someone mentions the “V” word people freak out. If some guy bursts in right now and is going to chop us into little bits with a machete, I think it would not be unreasonable for us to grab a chair and bop him on the head.
That said, there are some groups of people that would be better off if the U.S. economy disappeared tomorrow. The rural poor, all over the world, would be instantly better off. The urban poor would be really fucked; they’re already fucked, and would be even more fucked. The urban rich are probably fucked, but I don’t care about them, because they are the problem anyway.
I don’t mean to blithely say we need to bring down civilization. There are some premises and if we agree with them, we’re going to go a certain direction. First off, civilization is not sustainable — someday it will crash; second, this crash will be messy and lots of people will die; third, the longer civilization continues, the messier this crash will be, because there will be less of the natural world to support us. If you agree with those three things and if your main concern is the survival and comfort of the humans who live during and after that crash, but don’t want to mess up your own conscience or spiritual purity with actually taking it down, then what you — or whomever — need to do is to stop complaining because I’m simply stating the obvious. Instead, work like hell to make things as survivable as possible for the people that live through the crash. Instead of railing at me for taking things down — since your acknowledging they’re going to be nasty — start pulling up asphalt and putting in community gardens. Start teaching people to identify local edible plants, and what insects they can eat. Start working to save habitat so when things do get nastier there will be some calories for people. Salmon deserve to live for their own purposes, but people are going to want those calories. We can all work together. Those people who want to take out dams have a responsibility to support the people working to learn about local medicinal herbs. The people learning about medicinal herbs to increase survivability during the crash have a responsibility to support people who want to take out dams. It has to go both ways.
That is frankly the problem I have with pacifists. I don’t have a problem with pacifism, if somebody wants to devote their life to that. The problem I have is they need to give us the same respect and support that we’re supposed to give them.
LA: I’d like to hear more about the situation of the urban poor. Especially because this often includes people of color and I’ve heard the Green-Anarchist/Primitivist movement has been criticized for being predominantly white.
DJ: I don’t think that’s true. I’d say the best anarcho-primitivists in the world are all the indigenous peoples still living. I think that’s actually crap and really racist to say that most of them are white. Among the civilized, sure it’s probably true. But that’s just the same silencing of the indigenous anyway. For an anarcho-primitivist to silence the indigenous is even more ridiculous than ever.
I think we — whoever we are — need to reach out and make alliances in ways we don’t. I was corresponding with a former member of the Dutch resistance in World War II and what he said blew me away; “of course the resistance was made up mainly of prostitutes, murderers and thieves.” I was like “shit that’s not the way it was in Casablanca. I always thought it was upper class British officers.” It never occurred to me.
Many of my students at the prison were among the most politicized people I had ever met. A lot of them don’t suffer from the belief in the system like we do, or are squeamish about laws. Obviously, or they wouldn’t have ended up there. They don’t believe the system has any more validity than what comes out of the point of a gun. I think a lot of the revolution is going to come out of the so-called criminal class. I’ve met family farmers who understand way the hell more about these issues than a lot of environmentalists. Of course a lot of Native Americans, victims of domestic violence, and others understand as well. Yes, some are as stupid as we are, but some of them aren’t. There are all sorts of reaching out that need to be done.
At a talk I gave recently I said a lot of the revolution is going to come out of the so-called criminal class. A guy in the audience said “I’m a public defender and I don’t agree with you, because most of my clients simply want to get off and when they get off they want a tiny bit bigger piece of the pie.” I was talking with someone else who pointed out that we’re actually both right and we’re seeing these people at different stages of the process; but I see them after they’ve been run through the system. The big difference is the students that I had at the prison realized they don’t have anything left to lose.
You want to know why we don’t rebel? We still think we have something to lose. That’s what’s stopping us. As soon as we realize we have nothing left to lose we’ll be dangerous. Until we get there and reach out to other people who are too, the Green Anarchist movement is going to be nothing but theoretical and sporadic action.
At what point do we resist? That is the point I try to make with dioxin. Every mother’s breast milk in the world is contaminated with dioxin. My grandfather died from pancreatic cancer. I have Crohn’s disease, a disease of civilization. How close does it have to get before we realize we don’t have anything left to lose? When the salmon are gone? Ok, well that’s fine, but they can’t take the redwoods. Well, ok, they can’t take clean air. We draw a line in the sand and say they can’t cross it. Well, ok you can’t cross this one and ok now you can’t cross that one. Well, ok you can have all my clothes. Well, you can rape me but you can’t make me say I like it. Ok, I’ll say I like it but you can’t cut off my foot. Ok, just don’t cut off my other foot. “They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they never kept but one. They promised to take our land and they took it.” [Red Cloud]
Somebody asked me at one of the talks I gave recently, “at what point do you think we’ll reach the point where people should use any means necessary?” The first thing I thought of was we should probably start to fight back when the last passenger pigeon is killed. The point I tried to make was the point has passed. I realized it was a really bad answer. Maybe we should’ve fought back when the last indigenous person, living traditionally, was forced off their land in Massachusetts? Why not Germany? Why not Italy? The real answer is we should fight back when we realize the other tactics aren’t working.
Back to the urban poor. We need to reach out. That doesn’t mean reaching out blindly. There are plenty of family farmers who get it, and there are probably family farmers who are anti-environmental assholes. There are prisoners that I talk to who are really politicized and really get it and there are ones who I would never turn my back on because they’re psychopaths or sociopaths that I don’t trust. I didn’t care if some students walked behind me, but there were a few students I’d watch if they walked behind me. I’m not saying we need to talk to every prisoner or talk to every family farmer, or every poor person of color in the city, but talk to some of them.
LA: What kind of foundation is necessary to make the struggle effective? Do you think actions by individuals and small cells are going to be enough or do we need something more? What kind of foundation is necessary to prepare for post-revolutionary situations?
DJ: I got in a big disagreement with some young anarchists not very long ago, who said they couldn’t see the need for a larger, more hierarchical organization system than the leaderless cell. I disagreed. Part of the problem with our notion of authority in this culture is the assumption that all authority is oppressive. That’s a toxic mimic of real authority. You can have authority and leadership that are fluid and based on effectiveness. You can do small-scale actions with leaderless cells, but you can’t do a large-scale one. You can’t do actions spread out all over the country and the world with leaderless cells. You have to have people who are making decisions like those.
They also said there shouldn’t be any coercion at all. I agree that no one should be coerced into joining. Nonetheless, if five of us are committed to do some action (to the feds who are reading this: my role in this is to write and that’s what I’m doing right now) and at the last minute one of them decides they don’t want to do it — just for the hell of it — and that endangers the rest of us? That’s not acceptable behavior. Say their choice to bail out kills my best friend? That’s not a way to have an effective resistance movement.
Concerning after the revolution — whatever that means — no, I wouldn’t want a large-scale organization. People ask me what kind of culture do you want? I say, I don’t want a culture. I want a hundred thousand cultures based on the needs of each particular land-base. I don’t want to establish something large and I would fight against that.
We’re in a hell of a corner and it’s going to be nasty no matter what happens for the next five hundred to a thousand years at least. I once said to an indigenous friend of mine, “you obviously live on the same land your people have lived on for ten thousand years or more, so I can understand how you’re indigenous. But what about somebody who lives in Colorado, whose people are originally from what is now the Carolinas, his people have a reservation in Oklahoma, and he grew up in LA? How is he that much more indigenous than me?” She said she considered them half-indigenous. Also she would say that many hill people of the Ozarks and Appalachians are half-indigenous, because they’ve lived in place for two hundred years. What will come afterwards won’t be indigenous. A lot of my indigenous friends say they will help us learn how to live once civilization goes away and the land itself will teach us how to live, if we are willing to listen. Yes, there will be a period of upheaval, but eventually there will be people living in place again. Simply recognizing that if you eat more salmon than is sustainable you won’t have the salmon and won’t survive. People recognizing that reentering face to face economics, relationships with the natural world and even with enemies are necessary. I’m not saying people are going to be happy and agreeing with everything all the time.
So I would not want higher level structures. Once again, indigenous peoples have an entirely different relationship with authority. It doesn’t mean that there is no authority. It’s different because there aren’t what we consider bosses. I don’t want to speak for all indigenous peoples, because there are as many kinds of authority relationships as there are indigenous peoples. Some of which are pretty nasty.
LA: So, you use the word authority to refer to someone who is an authority on a subject reflecting that they have some kind of experience in a particular area being different from arbitrary authority, or power over someone?
DJ: Well, it’s generally fluid, and that is an important feature too. I’m a terrible hunter and the two guys I used to go hunting with are really good. They would tell me what to do and I would do it. Then when we were done hunting, they wouldn’t tell me what to do, and if they did, I would tell them to fuck off. The very first time one of them took me out to shoot target practice, he showed me how to not cross someone with a gun. He said “if you ever once cross me with a gun I will never go with you again.” That is an example of a really good authority figure, very straightforward.
LA: Do you consider yourself a Primitivist?
DJ: Sure, if somebody wants to put me in a box I don’t care; but I don’t identify myself as one. If somebody says, are you a writer? Ok, sure. Are you an Anarcho-Primitivist? Sure. In a review I once read someone said I wasn’t enough of an anarchist.
LA: That’s pretty common among anarchists.
DJ: Yeah, there’s a joke one of my students at the prison told me: “if you go to a party how do you recognize the anarchists? They’re the ones wearing the same uniform.” I don’t have any patience for that.
I don’t care; you want to call me an anarchist? You want to not call me an anarchist? You want to call me not enough of an anarchist? I don’t care about any of that shit. I’m just doing the work. What I care about is living in a world that has salmon in it. Living in a world that has not been dismembered. I care about living in a world where women are not being raped, children are not being beaten, and indigenous peoples aren’t being forced off their land.
If that makes me an anarchist, great, if that makes me not an anarchist, great, I don’t care. Besides which, I’ve been called an eco-terrorist, an environmental extremist, an enviro-technie — whatever that means — and a green weenie. It doesn’t matter. What is important is what is happening on the ground.
LA: You’ve called John Zerzan “the most important philosopher of our time.” How do you feel about his analysis of language, art and symbolic thought?
DJ: Actually, I don’t understand it. When many of John’s ideas were first presented to me they didn’t make a lot of sense. It was only after a lot of thought that they started to come together. Numbers and time are good examples of that.
I’m still not there with language. I see how language can be used to deceive and used to distance us from our experience. Language is not experience, but I don’t know if language necessarily has to separate us from our experience. I don’t know if that is the point he is making, but if it is, then I don’t think I agree. I used to think that way and then one day I was driving off an interstate; as I came off it, suddenly there was a stop sign and I realized that the stop sign is not supposed to actually stop your car. Language is not supposed to be experience, but instead is supposed to point us towards, incorporate and make sense of our experience. So, in its proper role I have no problem with it. Similarly, I have no problem with counting, so long as one recognizes that counting inherently objectifies. So long as you realize that words aren’t experience, I wouldn’t have a problem with them.
I think it’s the same with art; but a few years ago I was watching aborigines dance in the movie Baraka and I suddenly understood a question that has bothering me for a long time. Some people will tell you since humans are natural that everything humans create is natural, like atomic bombs. That never made any sense to me. I finally got it when I saw that scene in the movie. Unless that particular dance was a dance for the movie camera — which is entirely possible — I can guarantee what it was about. It was about helping them to understand their place and imbeddedness in the natural world. I realized any technology is natural to the degree it reinforces our understanding of our imbeddedness in the natural world and it’s unnatural to the degree that it separates us. So if a piece of art or language can remind us of our place in the natural world then I would say that it’s natural and if not then its unnatural. So I don’t know exactly what John is saying but I may disagree with him slightly on that, or I might not, I don’t know.
As far as symbolic thought, I don’t know if I can comment on that, because I’m not really sure what he means.
LA: You mentioned earlier the need to take advantage of civilization’s bottlenecks or weak points. What are some of these — physical and otherwise — that can be used to bring civilization down? You’ve already mentioned the electrical and oil infrastructures, but can you expand on those or talk about others?
DJ: I think that there are weaknesses on every level. On the personal level the weak point is people’s fundamental dissatisfaction with their exploitation. Talking to people about how much they hate their jobs and helping them to understand that the system isn’t serving them well is one way the contradictions of the system can be used to our advantage.
One of the great weaknesses of the system is that it requires raw materials from around the world to make the thing function. I don’t know if it’s true for you, but something that’s really frustrated me for as long as I can remember is that it takes a thousand years for some tree to grow into an elder, and some moron can go cut it down in six minutes. In some ways it’s much easier to destroy than to not destroy. But that’s all wrong and I realized this a couple days ago. The truth is, cutting down a tree is an incredibly intricate and complicated act requiring assistance from all over the world. What I mean by that is you’ve got to get the oil, refine the oil, get the materials for the chainsaw, manufacture the chainsaw — or axe whatever — it requires this from all over the world. Go try cutting down a redwood tree by yourself, with no assistance from the global economy. Good luck.
So, it made me realize that all this destruction is actually really difficult. We can use that to our advantage. Something to remember and think about in terms of stopping raw materials.
Years ago I asked George Draffan if you could change one thing about the culture, without getting rid of civilization, what would it be? He said he would stop international trade, because that is a huge engine for the destruction of the planet. So that’s something else we can think about, how can we effectively disrupt international trade?
Another thing I’ve thought about lately is most people aren’t ready for this discussion because they still identify with the system. The truth is the technical questions for the most part are really easy. I write and talk a lot about how much I care for the salmon; but the truth is if I really care about the salmon in the Klamath River it would be really easy to stop their extirpation. What would you have to do? You have to remove the dams, stop logging, and stop industrial fishing. Which actually is not a difficult technical task. Even if you had a fair number of people to do it. All of those are imminently doable tasks. The same is true if you love prairie dogs: you find out what the threats are and you remove the threats. The problem is that we don’t do it. One of the reasons we don’t is because those in power will kill us if they catch us. Fear is stopping us, but what else? We identify more with the system than we do with our landbase. I had a conversation ten minutes ago with someone who was saying that “violence is bullshit; nothing good ever comes from violence.” I said, you know what? We’re all in the midst of violence; it’s not that simple.
Transportation is another big ones weak points. I was stuck on Interstate 5 several years ago when four lanes of the highway were closed off where two hazardous trucks had flipped over. It took probably three or four hours to go about five miles around that, cause everybody had to pull off and get on two lane roads. That made me think (I’m not going to take out bridges or anything) what would happen if the 520 or I-90 floating bridges in Seattle — or east to Snoqualmie pass — came down, whether through earthquake (like the one in San Francisco), or through hazardous trucks blowing up on them?
I interviewed someone who said he’s been studying the movement of raw materials for years and the thing that amazes him is how fragile the system actually is and how it hasn’t collapsed already. He pointed out that the U.S. economy almost ground to a halt a couple years ago within two or three days of a dock workers’ strike on the west coast, because all these manufacturing plants couldn’t get their raw materials. What happens if GM shuts down their assembly lines? It costs them millions of dollars a minute. That is why the strike had to be brought to an end. It was dock workers not environmentalists or anyone else.
The whole system is really fragile on every level. One of the heads of security in the South African regime under apartheid, said the thing that most scared him about the ANC was not the sabotage or the violence but the knowledge that if they could get the mass of people to no longer believe in law and order no security force in the world could deal with them. They can’t catch all of us. If you are really in love you do what is necessary to protect your beloved. We are policing ourselves. The biggest chink in the whole armor of the system is the reliance on us to believe that their laws carry moral weight and that there is something immoral about acting outside of the desires of those in power.
LA: How do you envision bringing down civilization? Do you think it will be a single event, a short series of events, or perhaps in a way that is less visible in the short term, like the fall of Rome?
DJ: The bad news is that the way I honestly see that playing out is: nobody wins. Because I think if those in power find their power threatened enough they’ll blow up the world. Nukes really scare me. Even if we totally stayed in line and no environmentalist or anarchist does anything, those in power will still use nukes because their power will start slipping. Wes Jackson said years ago that “Wal-Mart is keeping people from rebelling in this country; so long as people can get cheap disposable diapers they’re not going to rebel.” You want to start a revolution? Pop the price of gas up to ten dollars and watch the fun begin. If people who go to Wal-Mart to get their disposable diapers — not environmentalists — started to rebel those in power would have no problem using nukes. They’ve used nukes on the United States already; can you say Nevada? Can you say the Shoshone? Or all the experiments done on U.S. soldiers or U.S. civilians anyway?
A few years ago, I talked with some really good hackers and asked, “could you stop that possibility?” They said, “no there are too many. We could probably hack our way into maybe a half dozen sites and stop a half dozen missiles from launching, but there is no way we can counter thousands. No matter how many of us there are.” I don’t know what to do with that information.
Setting that possibility aside, I don’t see it as one big act. One of the things those of us who really want to bring it down need to be aware of is we need to have staying power. I asked the hackers, “would a number of hackers be able to bring down civilization?” They said, “yes” and that if you are going to take the electrical grid or whatever through hacking — and I need to say by the way that I know nothing about hacking, and I’m not just saying that for the feds. I know even less about hacking then I do about explosives. Computers give me the heebie jeebies — they would need to be “the last one standing.” What they meant was if you are going to take out the grid using computers you need to have your own electrical site so you can keep hitting it and hitting it.
I think a lot about Wee Willy Keeler who was a baseball player early last century who, when somebody asked him how he got so many hits, he said “hit them where they ain’t.” I think also about what Nathan Bedford Forrest the confederate general — who was a horrible racist by the way but an excellent general — said when someone asked him how do you win so many battles, he said “you get there first with the most.” That means you need to find where you can get local superiority in forces.
A complaint I have of black block type actions is that those have usually taken place where the cops have already massed anyway because of some other protest. I understand the point of them breaking windows is not to break windows but to send a message. If you’re really interested in doing some sort of damage you “hit them where they ain’t.” That’s another huge weakness that we can find our way into. There is a sense in which defenders have an advantage in any sort of battle. I’m using military language intentionally because war is what we are talking about. Those in power have never had any illusions about that. It’s only those of us who are pretending to resist who ever question that language or that reality. Being the defender has the advantage to just sit and wait for the other person to act; but there’s a big disadvantage too: if you are attempting to cover and defend a lot of ground they’ll be able to find places where you’re not, because you can’t protect everywhere. There is a tremendous cost associated with protecting every bit of the infrastructure, especially all around the globe, especially with people who aren’t happy with what you are doing to them. That is a huge advantage we have if we don’t police ourselves.
LA: Assuming Civilization comes down, what’s to stop it from “rising” up again?
DJ: I wish that we had the luxury of trying to figure out how to keep it from coming up again. I would say this is analogous to you are lying in bed at night at home and somebody bursting in with a gun and trying to shoot you, while you’re thinking hmm how can we make sure nobody breaks in again? That’s a question that future generations find answers to, it’s not my job. That won’t be the job of any one particular person, it will be the job of everyone, because one of the things we want to do is decentralize. It will be the job of all the local people to fight and make sure that the power structures don’t start to rebuild themselves. I’m sure that they will. Presuming nukes don’t happen, I think that Mad Max is probably reasonably accurate at least until for a while until the gasoline decomposes, which is I think is pretty fast, maybe a year or two. There will be just as much rape and domestic violence, just as many local assholes trying to kill the last of the salmon but you’ve reduced their reach. One of the things I’m hoping for with the collapse of civilization is that there will at least be sanctuaries where those in power can’t reach.
I was at a talk where somebody gave me a photograph of salmon in Alaska. A week before that I’d seen about fifteen salmon spawning where I was again just yesterday and it’s totally covered with silt from the logging up stream, and god knows if any of those salmon eggs will survive. I’ve read about how the salmon used to be so thick that horses were afraid to get in and that you could walk across on their backs, but I’d never seen it. The picture shows a river full of fish, it’s no hyperbole to say it’s full of fish. You could not step into this water without stepping on a fish. I showed the picture to my mom, and she said “we’ve got about ten years to take down civilization, because that’s not going to last. It’ll be gone in ten to fifteen years.” If civilization comes down those salmon can make their way back and it would probably only take four or five hundred years for them to re-inhabit. It will take that long for the streams to clean themselves out, and be ready to welcome the salmon.
After civilization comes down there will still be people who don’t know what they hell they’re doing but it will take them a thousand years, or fifteen hundred, or two thousand years to figure out how to live on that land and be indigenous to that landscape. But, at least this way there will still be reserves. There will still be the center of the ocean where fish can survive. There will still be forests recovering and there will still be streams that can recover with the salmon and their neighbors. That’s one thing that I hope for with the collapse, that there will be those sanctuaries in place.
Civilization rising up again is not our primary concern. On the big scale, it won’t rise up because the easily accessible reserves of iron are gone. There will never be another Iron Age. There will never be another Bronze Age. There will never be another Oil Age; that’s for sure.
Recently on the derrickjensen-discussion list someone said that he would hope that people could make it so people are too ashamed to restart civilization. That makes a lot of sense to me. Will we have learned our lesson? Some will and some won’t. The people in this watershed might end up being pretty bad — not as bad as this culture because they won’t have the technology — but the next watershed over they might not. One of the lessons I hope people will learn is that if the people in this watershed try and steal from the next watershed over, the people in that watershed will learn to resist effectively and don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can reason with an abuser.
LA: You have a book on surveillance that will be out in June. What are some of the technologies and tactics the government presently has, and will most likely have in the near future that should concern us most?
DJ: It’s the scariest book I’ve ever written. It’s really scary what they are capable of doing already.
Something that not the feds, but corporations have — and the isn’t science fiction it’s already being put in place — are RFID (radio frequency identification) chips which right now are about the size of a grain of rice and they are going to be the size of a speck of dust. They want to put individual ID tags on every consumer item made. That doesn’t mean every pair of shoes of a certain sort will have an ID tag; it means every particular shoe will have an ID tag. There will be receivers all over. The town of Tulsa was already wired for this and they ran a test of the receivers so that the items could be tracked everywhere. They say the reason is for inventory control so if you want to know where your load of toilet paper is you can tell that it’s on the highway between Redding and Arcata. That’s small potatoes, cause they also talk about having these little chips in your pill bottles in your medicine cabinet that will remind you to take your pills and let the pharmacy know when your pills are low so they’ll have your pills ready for when you need them. When they’re in every consumer item in the next year or so and I walk into a store the store clerk can say “hello Mr. Jensen would you like to see some sweaters the same price as the sweater you are wearing?” The point is they’ll be able to track you everywhere if you are wearing any consumer item. Which is pretty scary.
Wal-Mart, International Paper, Gillette, Michelin and other companies are all in the process of implementing RFID technology. The European Union is putting them into the Euro bank notes, so they can literally follow the money. If you have money it will be traceable and every place you take your money it — meaning you — will be tracked.
The book started because a guy sent me a zine that was filled with outlandish technology and I didn’t believe any of it until I started following back his sources, which were original sources like the department of defense. They have microwaves that they can beam into one spot, like into people’s brains, beaming words into your head and make you think you are thinking them. You read this, and it’s like “yeah, yeah, bullshit. This is science fiction stuff;” but it’s not.
Another technology that scares me and makes me sad is one the feds are in the process of creating: what they call a morning after pill for regret. They want to give it to soldiers so they can go in and slaughter a village and afterwards won’t develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it will guarantee even more than boot camp that they’ll never develop a conscience. That’s the end of all humanity and animal nature.
There’s also “Smart Dust,” little receptors that are tiny, which they are already putting out, they can detect movement. They can put these into a forest and detect when somebody is there. So far — wink, wink — they are using them for bird counts and to monitor forest fires, but the military is already talking about putting them on the battlefield so that they can see everything. That’s really what this is about; there is no limit to their psychopathological urge of those in power to control and destroy.
LA: Do you see any way we can counter some of those technologies and strategies?
DJ: I’m sure that there are a lot of people who can come up with better ways than I to counter particular strategies. Somebody at one of my talks suggested that people microwave their sweaters to destroy the RFID tag, and George Draffan pointed out the tags are metal and we all know what happens when you put metal into microwaves. I don’t want to see them blow their faces off. I don’t want to recommend something I haven’t done myself because I don’t know if it’s a good idea.
LA: Someone on the derrickjensen-discussion list posted an article that mentioned RFID tags being used in microwavable food, and receivers in the microwaves would be able to read the tag and know how long and at what temperature level, to cook the food. So I don’t know if microwaves would even effect the chips.
DJ: Well that’s handy! The answer seems pretty obvious to me at this point. We can come up with technical solutions to all of this but what we need to do is stop the capacity of those in power to do it because I don’t think they’re reachable and they’re not going to stop because we ask nicely. So we need to find out a way, using our own gifts individually and collectively, to figure out ways to stop them, to shut down the whole system.
Do you think that if we vote and elect the right people they’ll say, you’re right we won’t allow RFID tags? It ain’t gonna happen; but you know that.
LA: What kind of advice can you offer potential revolutionaries in the first world, particularly in the U.S.?
DJ: The first thing that comes to mind is figure out what you want. I just wrote a long essay for Adbusters (I don’t know if they’re going to use it or not) which talked about why our resistance is so ineffective, but part of what I said in it is that we don’t know what we want. Those on other side know what they want: every last tree, every last fish, every last bit of resistance crushed, control everything turned into products, kill everything and they want it right now. We don’t know what we want. Do we want a few smaller clearcuts? Kinder gentler clearcuts? The first advice I would give is figure out what you want. I think I’m clear, I want a world where there is more wild salmon, ancient trees and migratory songbirds in the world than there was the year before. Do I? I ask that question because: am I doing what it takes to save the Klamath River salmon? I don’t know.
I read a really good essay by Eduardo Galeano not very long ago and I love his work. In this article he attacks writers by saying that they aren’t actually doing anything. Maybe I am doing something to help the salmon, but it’s really frustrating because it’s acting symbolically as opposed to doing something tangible to help the salmon. It’s incredibly frustrating. What do you want? Then figure out what to do to get that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about pacifism for a long time and one of the problems I have with pacifism is that — as Philip Berrigan said before he died — when someone said that pacifism doesn’t actually achieve anything, it doesn’t get results, he said your god doesn’t want results, your god doesn’t need results, god requires faith. He was acknowledging there that pacifism and much of our so-called resistance really is based on magical thinking: that if we’re just nice enough God will take care of everything or the Easter Bunny will, or the great mother, or somebody. My point is that I can give advice to people if they figure out what they want to do. Figure out what you want to protect and then go ask the creature or place itself, ask them “what can I do to help you” and then act. Then ask what are the biggest problems that I can help resolve using the gifts that are unique to me in all the world? Like I said, I don’t know how to act, I don’t know anything about explosives, what I do is know how to write and for now that is the way I can serve best.
I have to say — and this blasphemy among some places — I’m really sick of all the pacifists, protesters, or whatever, doing something symbolic and then standing there waiting to get arrested. What’s that about? I don’t understand. There is this whole perverse thing where we have our resistance — which is dada-esque — the cops get off on beating people up and the protesters seem to get some sort of pride getting arrested. I don’t understand what any of that is about. What really ultimately is accomplished? The advice I would give them is what do you want to accomplish and do it. Take care of yourself.
The consequences of not acting are real. Real salmon are really going extinct. I just read a couple days ago in The Ecologist (volume 33 #10 page 4) about Chemical Induced Puberty. In 1997, 1% of the girls under 8 were developing breasts and pubic hair from the way that chemicals have been pumped into the natural world. By the end of the survey — now — it rose to 27.2% for black girls and 6% for white before the age of 8. Worse, the doctor reported that 1% of the 3 year olds they examined had developed breasts or pubic hair. 57% of the carcasses of deer in Montana had severe genital abnormalities. The majority of lakes in the state of Florida contain alligators that are unable to breed because their testes have become shriveled. There are real consequences to this.
What will it take for people fight back? The answer unfortunately is that for most people it won’t take anything because they won’t do it, no matter what. So the consequence of that is forget them. People say you are going to scare away fence sitters. I don’t give a fuck, they’re going to be scared away anyway.
At the same time there are real consequences to getting caught. A very cool kid came up to me after a talk and said “I want to go blow up a factory.” I asked how old he was and he said 17. I said “have you ever had sex?” He said “no.” I said “just remember if you get caught you aren’t going to have sex for twenty years at least. That’s not saying that one person having sex is worth the salmon. I’m not saying it’s a reason not to act, I’m saying don’t be stupid.Filed in Interviews of Derrick Jensen