Interview by eco-prisoner Chris ‘Dirt Blackcrow’ McIntosh and Claudette Vaughan / Abolitionist-Online
Chris McIntosh: What form of technology do you see as the most malevolent? For me at least it’s the machines use of advanced medical science to usurp the “laws” of balance and natural selection.
Derrick Jensen: If I had to choose one piece of technology it would have to be automobiles because there’s been so much conversion of land to roads and they are changing the climate. Or how about internal combustion engines because without internal combustion engines we wouldn’t have global warming or maybe it’s computers because without computers you couldn’t have this whole global economy or maybe it is the Cross because how many millions and millions of indigenous people have been killed under the sign of the Cross? Why don’t we just go to the root and say the problem is the Machine itself which is this social system. I mean machines are physical manifestations of the social system and what a machine does is convert raw materials to power as opposed to living beings convert raw materials to life and what a machine does is converts raw materials to power and that’s what this entire culture does. This is why this culture has over-whelmed other cultures. If you live in a way that doesn’t give back to your surroundings then you obviously have a lot of extra energy that you can use for destruction. That’s what this culture does for power and that’s one of the reasons why this culture has over-whelmed basically every culture it has encountered. I would say the most malevolent technology is the culture itself.
Chris McIntosh: As a Green Anarchist I am all for returning to the balance and communion with my brothers and sisters of all species. Do you see the return of hymns to the cycle of life coming from a mass awakening within our culture or more realistically or for having an apocalyptic event such as the mass spread of bird flu culling the population and in turn destroying the infrastructure of the Machine?
Derrick Jensen: Endgame, my latest book, is really predicated on the question: Do you believe the culture will under-go a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living? I ask people from all over the country when I do talks and nobody ever says, yes. A lot of people just laugh. One guy at one of my talks raised his hand and everyone just looked at him and he said “Voluntary? Oh no, of course not”. Because what that means is yes eventually we will be living sustainably, we won’t be living at all but will that transition be voluntary? No. Okay then the next question is if you don’t believe the cultures going to under-go that voluntary transformation what does that mean for your strategy and your tactics and the answer is we don’t know. The reason we don’t know is because we don’t talk about it. One of the reasons we don’t talk about it is because we are all so busy pretending that we have hope and there’s going to be a magical transformation. Once again, if you don’t believe there’s going to be a voluntary transformation and you care about the places that you live, you care about wild nature, you care about non-humans, you care about humans for that matter, then that’s going to dramatically shift what you feel is important and appropriate to do. You will begin to defend the places where you live with your life because your life depends on it. As opposed to, if we believe there’s going to be a voluntary transformation then we can go ahead and trust and continue to work within the system a lot more easier because the system will transform but if you don’t believe it’s going to transform then, yes, you can still work within the system but be not of the system. You divorce yourself from the system now and you recognise that it’s appropriate sometimes to use the tools of the system and sometimes it’s appropriate to use the tools outside the system. The short answer to the question is no there is not going to be a mass awakening.
Chris McIntosh: When I was growing up in the eighties it seems like the main activity was catching turtles, snakes, riding bicycles and all of that. As I have gotten older and the internet and video games have become more advanced with every new year, kids don’t seem to have the same drive to experience the outdoors. I don’t know if this is the right term but they seem weaker, coupled with the fact that the Snack Industry has advanced as well they are more obese. Do you believe that direct action should be applied to these targeters of our children? It seems while earth and animal exploiters are being targeted for actions, we are totally over-looking the cropping of this next generation and every other successive generation. Could we hope to slow the flood using SHAC style tactics?
Derrick Jensen: I don’t think that earth and animal exploiters are being sufficiently targeted obviously because they still exist.
Claudette Vaughan: Is that because the numbers aren’t there or is that because the quality of the direct actions aren’t good enough yet?
Derrick Jensen: I would say all of the above. I think we need our seriousness called into question and I think so do many other people. To the other part of the question I think Yes. I can’t see why those who target children should not be targeted themselves. In fact I’m going to guess that a lot of times it’s the same corporation anyway. I’m guessing that a big snack producer such as RGR Nabisco also do tobacco and I’m guessing that for tobacco and the snacks there’s also some animal testing involved. That’s one-stop shopping.
CV: Perhaps the question should be asked then: Is there a deliberate ploy in the world to destroy it? I mean can we really keep putting the destruction of the symbiosis of life, not only in nature but in our own being as well, down to human stupidity all of the time ?
Derrick Jensen: It’s not human nature. I live on Tolowa land here. They are an Indian tribe and they lived here for 12,500 years if you believe the myths of science. If you believe the myths of the Tolowa they lived here since the beginning of time. They didn’t destroy the place. The Shawnee didn’t destroy the place and the Lakota didn’t destroy the place so it’s not human nature to destroy one’s land base. If that was the case we would have killed ourselves a long time ago.
CV: So if it is not “human nature” to foul its own nest is there a deliberate plan in the world today to take the human outside of its own experience of what it means to be “human” in order for that destruction to occur?
Derrick Jensen: I’ve written 9 books about this now and I think a lot of it hinges on our definition of the word “deliberate” because what is a father who rapes his daughter hoping to accomplish? Is he deliberately destroying her soul? On one level yes. One of the reasons my father was so violent was because when we were free and happy children we reminded him of who he was before his parents destroyed him. On an unconscious level he couldn’t allow that because then he would have to revisit the drama that he never was able to metabolise himself. You see that all the time when white people go into an area where there’s indigenous people and immediately they have to destroy, on one level of rationalization or another, the wild in which they are encountering. On one level yes, it’s deliberate. On another level it’s not consciously deliberate. On another level it’s fully rational. There’s this great idea by Robert Jay Lifton in “Claims To Virtue”. He said “Before you commit any mass atrocity you have to convince yourself and others that what you are doing is not in fact an atrocity but instead is really good”, so instead of vivisectors torturing countless individual non-humans that are living horribly tormented lives they think they aren’t torturing anyone. They are advancing medical science and saving human lives. Members of this culture are not destroying the planet, they are developing natural resources. That Hitler wasn’t killing Jews. He was purifying the Aryan race. This is true on a personal level too. I don’t know about you but I have never in my life been a jerk. I’ve always had whatever jerkish actions fully rationalised. So on a personal level this is really true and on a social level it’s also absolutely true.
I don’t think that consciously George Bush is rubbing his hands together and saying “Ha-ha-ha. I’m getting to murder Iraqi children”. Instead he is bringing freedom and democracy to them. He really believes this shit on some level. On another level I was talking to a corporate lawyer who got a conscience and came over to the good side. She was saying that for years she sat in those corporate boardrooms and she said those executives know exactly what they are doing. I’ve seen the hand-written note where they worked out the calculations saying it would be cheaper go ahead with production and simply keep running the thing and let all this lead from this process directly out in the air to poison the local kids and the local children have had the highest blood levels ever recorded. They actually have the notes where they are saying it is cheaper so on that level is it deliberate? Yes. They deliberately poisoned the children. On another level. No. They were maximizing profits. So it’s all hinging on this word ‘deliberate’. This is very unconscionable. This culture has a death urge. This killing the planet and it unconscionably wants to destroy everything that’s wild because they want to control everything. On another level is it deliberate? On a conscious level, much of it. You would confront them and they would say, “Oh no, Here’s another part of it”. There’s a great line by Upton Sinclair when he says, “It’s hard to make a man understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it”. And so we could talk till we are blue in the face about non-human sentience or anything else and the vivisectors wouldn’t get it. They will not get it. There’s a great line about this. It’s so horrible. Recently scientists have figured out that birds are really smart which of course anybody who has every seen a bird knows that anyway. There’s this amazing line by this scientist who said this recognition that birds are so smart (but he didn’t say smart though because that would be too much like humans and humans of course are the one’s that could be smart) and that this recognition is going to lead to a scientific revolution. I was thinking, “Hey, that’s great” until I got to his next sentence which is birds will soon replace lab rats as the primary subjects of cognitive studies. It’s like fuck, the first thing you do when you finally realise this creature can think is think about ways to torture them.
CV: Perhaps the question for activists then is how can they to be stopped?
Derrick Jensen: By stopping them. It’s like if space aliens came down from outer space and systematically started to deforest the planet and they were vacuuming the oceans where 90% of the large fish are gone, if they put dioxin in every mother’s breast milk to cause cancer…when I give talks I say how many people present have had someone they love die of cancer? 70 to 80% of the people say, yes . If space aliens came down and they were destroying our planet we would know exactly what to do. We would grap our camo outfits, we would head off to the woods and we would start fighting them.
There are 2 million dams in the United States . There are 60,000 dams over like 13 feet tall and there are 70,000 dams like 6 feet tall. If we only take out one dam a day it will still take us 200 years to take out all those dams over 6 feet tall. If they were fascists or pinko commies or whoever invading the United States we would know how to stop them. According to the US Geological survey there are carcinogens in every stream in the United States . It’s like what do salmon need to survive? What salmon need to survive are six things. They need for dams to be removed. They need for industrial forestry to stop. They need for industrial fishing to stop. They need for the oceans not to be murdered. They need for industrial agriculture to stop and they need for global warming to stop which means for the industrial economy to stop. Each one of those is a technically durable task. So okay then, you want salmon to survive, you need to remove dams. How are you going to remove dams? This immediately moves into the technical level. How are you going to stop industrial forestry? That’s a technical question. The problem comes when we say how are we going to save salmon and maintain this system that is killing the planet. It’s the same thing with vivisection. How can we stop vivisection yet maintain this system that inevitably leads to vivisection. How do we stop, fuck, circuses when you have this system that’s based on the exploitation of non-humans? Let me be very clear on this. I am not saying that we shouldn’t attempt to stop or mitigate or ameliorate any of these individual atrocities. The whole reform versus revolution question is just bullshit because if we all sit around and wait and plan and get ready for the great warrior’s revolution there’s going to be nothing left once we get there. At the same time, if all we do is reform work there’s nothing going to be left anyway.
The place where this fell apart for me was I used to teach creative writing at Pelican State Prison. Every time I went in I knew I was doing the most reformist of the reformist work. I’m walking into the most horrible biggest, basest gulag on the planet – a supermax – you can’t get much more reformist than that. Yet on the other hand I also knew a lot of my students said the only think keeping them sane were our classes together. So at that moment the whole reform versus revolution question fell apart. If somebody liberates one beagle from a lab or one rabbit from a lab or one chicken from a factory farm that’s not going to stop factory-farming or vivisection but it is going to help that chicken or animal.
CV: Certainly it appears to be equally the systems fault as well as an existential problem and not one versus the other.
Derrick Jensen: That’s one of the great things about our culture being so fucked up that no matter where you look there’s great work to be done. (laughter)
Chris McIntosh: How, if at all, is the info you detailed in “Welcome To The Machine” affected your daily life? For me it feels like the clock is ticking in my heart and that it’s now or never. Your book “Welcome To The Machine” increased that feeling or writhing anger and a burning hatred and mistrust for all the so-called “achievements” of this steel jawed monster. Apart from the obvious, writing books, what is your outlet for this same anger I’m sure you feel?
Derrick Jensen: As a writer it’s my job to articulate the things I know in my heart to be true but to which I have not yet put words and to help others to then do the same. I’m sure obviously he was feeling that rage and I’m glad I was able to help him more fully realise it.
Years ago somebody asked me how my anger at the dominant culture affects my sex life and that question is predicated on the idea that anger is a shotgun and if I am angry at the dominant culture then that anger would spill over to my friend’s too. And it doesn’t. The truth is I feel a million different things. I feel tremendous rage. I feel tremendous joy. Then there’s sorrow, happiness, contentment, upheaval. I’m angry at the things that make me angry and I’m not angry at the things that don’t make me angry.
There’s this idea that if you recognise how bad things are that you have to walk around being miserable all of the time. The truth is I am very, very happy and I’m also very sad etc etc. I don’t take the dominant culture personally.
I actually have been sick these past 10 months. I have been having the worse flare up of Crohn’s disease in my life. I’m pretty sure that part of the reason is I’ve been, in terms of writing and giving talks, pretty much working myself to death. I’ve just finished EndGame which is 1400 pages. I finished that in November 2004 and then over the next month I wrote an anti-zoo book then over the next thirteen months I wrote two novels. I’m feeling pretty bad as I’ve only written 30 pages since but it’s like fucking exhaustion, you know? So what I don’t do with the anger is I don’t push it away. That’s a really, really important thing. About 15 years ago I was undergoing this sort of collapse where I just bursting into sobs all the time over the death of the salmon or just over how horrible this culture is. I called up this American Indian friend of mine, a writer and activist, and I said to her that this thing being an activist is breaking my heart. She said, “Yeah. It’ll do that”. I said, “The dominant culture just hates everything, doesn’t it?” and she said “Yeah it hates even itself”. I said, “It has a death urge, doesn’t it?” and she said, “Yeah, it does”. I said, “ Unless it’s stopped it’s going to kill everything on the planet. We’re not going to make it to some great new glorious tomorrow, are we?” and her response was the best response she could give and it was, “I’ve been waiting for you to say that”. The reason why that was just a perfect response was because it let me know that it normalised my despair and that despair is an appropriate response to a desperate situation. It let me know that my sorrow is just sorrow and my pain is just pain and that I can feel it. It’s not so much my sorrow or my pain that hurts, it’s my resistance to it. The other thing is it lets me feel all of these things and I knew it wouldn’t kill me. There’s this fear that if I recognise how bad things are then I’ll just die. Well no. There’s even a better thing that happens. When you recognise how bad things are, it does kill you and there’s a wonderful thing about being dead and that’s once your dead they can’t touch you any more. They can’t touch you with threats, they can’t touch you with promises and one of the smartest things the Nazi’s did was they made it every step of the way so appear it was in the Jews best interests not to resist. Do you want to get an ID card or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to move to a ghetto or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to get on a cattle car or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to take a shower or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Every step of the way it was in their national best interest not to resist. What’s very, very, very important is that the Jews that participated in the Warsaw ghetto up rising had a higher rate of survival than those that went along with it. We need to keep that in mind over the next 10 years. The point is that once that rage and sorrow really started to crystallize and once it started to go through me like I said, it killed me. The “me” it killed wasn’t the animal me, wasn’t the human me. The “me” it killed was the socially created me. What emerged was someone who no longer relies on hope and someone who is simply an animal who is going to defend those I love.
CV: Are you talking about the breakdown of what has been acquired by life – false idealism – up until that time of transformation?
Derrick Jensen: I’m talking about the one who relies on the system that is killing us. I’m talking about the one who sat through 19 to 20 years of school the whole time being taught to never question authority. Someone once said, “Unquestioned assumptions are the real authorities of any culture”. I am talking about the one who accepts those unquestioned assumptions.
CV: It almost sounds like the essence of an epiphany. Do you see it in terms of a metaphysical realm?
Derrick Jensen: John A. Livingston just died early this year. He was a great, great writer who wrote, “The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation” and in that book he goes through all the arguments for preserving wildlife and preserving wild nature. He shows how, from the perspective of the dominant culture that it can all be shot down. In the end what he comes to is it’s a state of being. It comes from a connection with the natural world. Either you have it or you don’t.
CV: So we and the land are one?
Derrick Jensen: The land is everything. The only measure by which we are going to be judged by those who come after is going to be the health of the land base. They are not going to give a shit whether we voted. They are not going to give a shit as to whether we re-cycled. They are not going to give a shit as to whether we were pacifists or violent. They are not going to give a shit to whether we blew up dams or wrote books or worked at Wal-Mart. They are not going to give a shit if we were vegan. They are not going to give a shit whether we were nice people or whether we were shits. What they are going to care about is whether the land is living enough to provide them with food and whether they can drink the water or whether they can breathe the air. We can talk all we want about some great groovy eco socialist utopia with free love and blah, blah, blah but it doesn’t fucking matter if you can’t breathe the air. It’s embarrassing to do nine books and god knows how many words to come to the conclusion that the land is the source of life.
It extraordinary that we have to even say that. It shows the whole pathology of the culture. Not just pathology in terms of philosophical pathology. Another thing that is really important is that if your experience, not your philosophy, not anything you talk about, if your experience is that your water comes from the tap then you will defend to the death the system that brings that water to you because your life depends on it. If your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store, then you will defend to the death the system that brings that to you because your life depends on it. If one the other hand your experience is water comes from a river then you will defend to the death that river because your life depends on it. If your experience is your food comes from a land base then you will defend to the death that land base that brings that food to you because your life depends on it. That’s one of the problems we face. We have become dependant upon this system that is killing us. It’s killing everything.
CV: In “Welcome To The Machine” you spoke about the nature of the dominant culture being sado/masochistic. In this slave/master culture I make connections between Abu Graib, a gay mans dungeon and the ritual happening inside every vivisection laboratory. What are some of the connections you make Derrick?
Derrick Jensen: This culture is all about power over. Within this culture that’s what all relationships are based on is power and perceived entitlement to exploit. That’s what you get in any prison, that’s what you get with vivisection, that’s what you get in standard patriarchal relationships. I read this great book this past year, “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Mind’s Of Angry and Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft. Having grown up in an abusive family and having written about abuse I thought I had understood it but, man, he blew me away with his stuff. He throws out some of the lies that are told about abusers and very quickly shoots them down. For example, the idea that the abusers lose their temper and he asks Huh! So does an abusive father beat up his boss? I guess they don’t really lose control, do they? They know who to target. If they are breaking stuff do they break their own things? I guess not. So while they are raging around and breaking stuff I guess they are not really out of control, are they? His whole point is that the problem with abusers is not that they have a violent temper, the problem is they have the perceived entitlement to do what they want and they will do whatever it takes to get there. Sounds a lot like the culture. The point is that when you have this power dyad like that of master/slave that’s the exact same dyad as vivisector/rabbit and the same dyad as racist/victim and it’s exactly the same dyad as timber company/forest. All down the line it’s exactly the same thing. When you have that perceived ability to exploit you will do whatever it takes to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. That’s part of it.
I think Foucault talks about excess repression which is necessary to maintain the system. It also goes beyond that. Let’s take vivisectors at their word and let’s say for a second, and I don’t believe this myself, that they have to do a certain amount of testing to achieve some medical end. Yeah but when you look at the reality of it, the reality is those sorts of experiments what 5%, 10%, 20% of those experiments are simply tormenting for the sake of tormenting. This ties back to the question about how much is this “deliberate”?
The world’s governments subsidize the worlds commercial fishing fleet to a greater value than the entire value of the catch so the governments pay commercial fishing fleets more than all the fish they catch and sell. The world would be better off if they just handed them the fucking money and just said, “Stay home and sleep”. It’s the same with when they put in these big dams to make cheap electricity. They say they are doing this for jobs but it ends up that the amount that they spend on aluminum smelters is like $120,000 per job and they get this guy who’s making $40,000 a year, we could do a lot better. Everybody would just be a lot better off if the government just paid the guy $60,000 and said, “Go take out a dam”. None of this makes any rational or economic sense. Like fucking duh! Killing the planet doesn’t make any sense but it doesn’t even on their own terms. In the United States , the United States Forest Service sell trees to timber companies. They actually sell them below cost. They actually are handing over money to timber companies so they can de-forest. The point of this is this is a death urge. Within this culture, especially, there’s no other way to put it, rape makes no fucking sense on one level. One another level of course it does. Chris [McIntosh] is a great example of what I’m saying here. How much economic damage did he do? $5000. How much does it cost to hole up a prisoner? Say, $120,000 a year. He’s in for 8 years. So he’s actually costing the State, and I’m not saying he should be in prison, $960,000 by being in prison. Obviously it’s a lot more than the damage. I mean if they could have forced him to do it they could have said you need to repay the damage. That would have made more economic sense. I mean none of this stuff makes any economic sense. What it does is it’s the spectacle of terror that one will, one hopes, from their perspective, get others to not follow the same path.
CV: Would you agree there is no heart and no authentic move to rehabilitate prisoners in maximum security prisons around the US today?
Derrick Jensen: The reason I stopped teaching at Pelican Bay was the State got into financial problems, supposingly, but then they gave guards a pay increase that same year! I worked in the Arts and Corrections Program. Every study has shown, where they had writing classes, teaching classes, they had a rock band, drawing classes, painting classes all that stuff, every study has shown that arts and corrections was great at reducing recidivism for what ever reasons. Nobody knows why. If you have them in there doing creative writing or drawing it lowered their rate of going back to prison afterwards.
Most of my students were in prison, one way or another, because of drugs not because of possession. It was more like a drug deal went bad so they killed somebody but the point is that every study has shown that drug treatment programs makes much more sense on every level yet they gut the program. I’ve written 9 fucking books and I still can’t figure it out. It makes no sense. None of it makes any sense to me.
There’s this great book by Jack Forbe’s called “Columbus and Other Cannibals”. The thesis in his book is the problem is not the culture as such, obviously it is, is that there is a spiritual illness with a physical vector on what he calls the “cannibal sickness”. Forbe’s is an native American Indian by the way and he’s taking this from an Indian perspective. If I had the flu and I cough and we are in the same room and you get the germs then you can end up with the flu symptoms. On the other hand, if I have the cannibal sickness and I cough, this is a highly contagious spiritual illness, he says, I cough and you can get the cannibal sickness. You are then going to have to consume the flu from others in order to live. That is so clear to me. That helps me to understand. I don’t think that that is a metaphor. I think the problem is a spiritual illness and the people who are running this are sick. They are psychopaths, absolutely and they are also vampires. They have this spiritual illness. I mean how else do you explain killing the planet? How else do you explain tormenting rabbits for cosmetic reasons?
CV: What are your views of the uprising in the US of the migrant worker? Workers having no papers, no access to health care or welfare, are given no rights under the law of the country, move from town to town dependant on where the work is, will work from a crumb and are usually dark or dusky skinned. Sounds like slavery to me and more prevalent than any plantation or cotton field but deliberate slavery none-the-less.
Derrick Jensen: There’s a really good book I can recommend and it’s called Kevin Bale’s “Disposable People”. He talks in there about how there are more slaves using a rigid rigorous definition, not just wage slaves but slaves, there are more slaves here today than what came across in the middle passage. And this ties back to the migrant workers who are working for a pittance but he said one of the big differences is back in the American South the average slave would cost about the same as a medium sized house as a capital expense. These days slaves in the world cost, on the average, less than $100.00 dollars. They have become not a capital expense but instead a simple expense to be disposed of. You are going to treat something differently depending on what it costs you. E.g., if I buy a car for $50,000 I am going to treat it differently than if I buy a car for $100.00 I’ll drive it until it drops. It’s the same thing with people.
I remember saying to my African-American friends while I was writing “A Culture Of Make-Believe”. Oh my gosh! Slavery didn’t end because of the Civil War and they are like, “Derrick, What are you? 150 years behind the times? You haven’t figured that out yet?”
There’s a quote in “The Culture Of Make Believe” from a pro-slavery philosopher who was writing to his abolitionist friend in the North and he said, “There are social conditions where it is in our economic interests to own slaves and there are social conditions in our economic interests not too. This all has to do with access to land. If there’s a lot of land and not many people the only way you can get people to work for you is by owning them at the point of a gun because access to land means access to self-sufficiency, food, clothing and shelter. If on the other hand there’s a lot of people and not much land then they have to work for you because they don’t have access to food, clothing and shelter. They are dependant on you which means,” he told the guy in the North, “if we could arrange social conditions like up there – a lot of people and not much land – we would let the slaves go immediately because it’s a lot cheaper and that’s our social conditions which are systematically created”. Systematically those in power have to deprive us of land because otherwise how the hell else are they going to get you to work for Wal-Mart? At the same time they have to destroy stocks of wild foodstuff. This culture cannot allow any form of independence from the system and that’s why every indigenous culture must be destroyed because they are independent of the system. This system cannot allow any option.
That’s one of the reasons. Cortez as he was marching through Mexico put a stockade around where his troops slept every night not to keep the Indians out, it was to keep the soldiers from defecting. Why did the Pilgrims have to kill the Pequot? Only because some of the Pilgrims were running off, chucking their clothes off and were dancing naked in the woods with the Indians. You can’t have that so the first thing they would do is go and grap those white people and they would torture them to stop others from doing that in the future and when that didn’t work the only other way is to eliminate the alternative. Once again, how are you going to get people to work for Wal Mart? You have to destroy the alternative systematically.
CV: Is the uniform of the other side the suit and tie?
Derrick Jensen: I think that’s one uniform of the other side. Another is a cop’s uniform. How about a military uniform? How about a white lab coat? How about the smiling face of your 8 th Grade teacher that you have to get a hall pass in order to go to the bathroom? How about the crying face of your mother as she delivers you to school on the first day of class when you’re a kid. She knows what she is doing and that’s why she’s crying because she knows she’s delivering you into prison. How about our own minds? Stephen Biko said, “The most powerful tool in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” How about the newspaper? That’s another uniform. The uniform is the culture itself. The uniform can be the groovy peace/love pacifist. The uniform can be the liberal. The uniform can be movie stars and those are the stories that teach us how to live. The uniform, for that matter, can be the anarchist.
CV: In western culture this quality of unpredictability isn’t tolerated and when it rises moves are made to quickly eradicate it. All must be uniform. Keeping in mind university texts, how we think and respond to sex, how history is written, how men relate to woman and the environment and also the “unpredictability” of individuals like Chris McIntosh, SHAC7 and activists in general. Is diversity destroyed because the dominant culture can’t control wildness?
Derrick Jensen: Well, I think it’s the same thing as what I was just saying. No alternatives must be allowed. I read the book 1984 when I was a teenager and I thought it was pretty good and I re-read it before I wrote, “Welcome To The Machine”. That book is so fucking good. But in answer to your question comes in the question itself. They are afraid of diversity because diversity is unpredictable. It’s much easier to control what happens in a parking lot than what happens in a forest. That’s one of the reasons why the hatred of fear and unpredictably because you can’t control it.
I’d like to talk about animal rights. I’m actually opposed to animal rights.
CV: Do you mean in a dominant culture-based legalistic sense?
Derrick Jensen: Animal rights as a tactical means, sure. I don’t think we should extend human rights. I think we need to limit rights. People talk about people have the right to clean water, clean air whatever. I think that is all wrong. What I think is more appropriate instead of saying, “I have the right to clean air” we need to say, “You have no right to pollute the air.” Instead of saying, “Guinea pigs have the right not to be vivisected”, we need to say, “You have no right to vivisect guinea pigs”. The difference is as long as we are saying, “I have the right to this or that…” we are keeping the focus on ourselves or on the guinea pigs etc which is not the right place because we aren’t the problem, the guinea pigs aren’t the problem, the fucking vivisectors are the problem, the fucking polluters are the problem. Some people think this is semantics. Whatever. I think it’s a huge difference.
It’s like if one is in therapy it may be appropriate on one level of one’s development to say, “I have the right not to be abused”. Once again, that’s keeping the emphasis on you. Feel the difference between that and, “You have no fucking right to abuse me” and that’s like getting right to the point of it. It’s chipping the emphasis to where it’s meant to be to the responsibility.
CV: I agree. The emphasis must shift if the animal rights movement isn’t to be forced underground for the next 80 years because of the inability of the aboveground groups who refused, in this era, to offer resistance to the system. Animal rights people are fond of saying we are just one more animal and yes, there is more work to be done there in a Darwinian sense, however, it’s a cop out and where’s the responsibility in saying that in any case?
Derrick Jensen: I love the word ‘responsibility’ because responsibility originally comes from the root: to give and return. The question is, To whom am I giving in return? Ultimately of course everything is coming from the land so that’s what I have to get back to. I have to give and return. I think of that a lot in turns of loyalty. It’s like who are I writing for? Ultimately who are I going to be responsible to? That’s a question everyone needs to ask. Am I responsible to the corporation who pays my pay cheque- by the way I don’t work for a corporation, but if I did would I be responsible? I’m really clear for myself that I am responsible for the land that gives me life. I am responsible to the trees around here. I am responsible to the salmon. I am responsible to all those things.
I got into a big argument because this guy was saying because I use toilet paper I am just as responsible for deforestation than a CEO warehouser. I knew that answer was kind of nonsense but I couldn’t articulate it. I asked a tree that I had a relationship with and the tree reminded me of this. “Yes, I am culpable for de-forestation but not because I consume the toilet paper but because I consume the toilet paper and I don’t stop the CEO warehouser from deforesting. If I use the flesh of a tree I now have to take responsibility for making sure the tree stands.
Part of the reason that so many environmentalists, and this may be true for animal rights people as well, is why we always lose is I think a lot of us don’t know what we want. And we don’t articulate what we want. Timber companies know what they want. They want to maximize profits. They want every last tree. As an environmentalist do we want smaller clear cuts, do we want democracy in the forest, well it would be nice to have a planet but, you know, if my baseball team wins etc. We don’t know what we want. I know what I want. I want to live in a world that has more wild salmon in it than last year or the year before. I want to live in a world that has less dioxin in every mother’s breast milk than the year before. I want to live in a world with no vivisection. I want to live in a world with no factory farms. I want to live in a world with no industrial forestry. I want to live in a world where there are more large fish in it than the year before etc. I want to live in a world that has tigers. I want to live in a world that has polar bears. I will do whatever it takes to get there so I think that’s a question that animal rights and environmental activists should ask ourselves and that is: What do you want? And get really, really specific. I am very, very clear. I will do whatever it takes to make sure that Coho salmon are not driven extinct by the dominant culture.
CV: How do you think once revolutionary activists get infiltrated? The man that founded Greenpeace, Patrick Moore now speaks in favour of nuclear energy. Peter Singer once coined “the father of the animal rights movement” wrote a book on bestiality while not condemning the practice. What kind of person is willing to destroy the hopes and ideals of a whole generation?
DJ: We shouldn’t be relying on them anyway.
CV: Well, I know that but there’s plenty of people that do place their hopes in self-appointed leaders. Okay then, how do people become infiltrated over the years because the dominant culture says what happens is people get middle-aged and they no longer want to fight a system they know can’t be beaten?
DJ: It can be beat. We are going to win. We are absolutely going to win and you know why we are going to win? We are going to win because the world’s on our side and we need to match the other sides determination. There’s a great line from Thomas Jefferson about fighting Indians and he says, “In war they shall kill some of us, we shall destroy all of them”. That’s why the dominant culture always wins because there’s that absolute determination and our side is like, “Well, okay so we’ll win as long as we don’t have to hurt anybody and as long as we don’t get hurt and as long as we still get home by 5 o clock to watch the BBC Mystery”. (laughter)
What would happen if we matched their determination? You know if we go to some big protest that’s exactly what the cops are all thinking. You know, if this comes to a riot they may hit a few of us but we are going to fucking destroy all of them.
People have said to me “God Derrick, people can’t take out dams because they would just stop you and that would be it”. What would happen if we were to say “You know what? You can stop a few of us but we are going to take out every fucking dam”. What would happen if we were to say, “We are going to stop every fucking vivisector?” What would happen if we started having that level of determination that they already have.
Thomas Jefferson’s statement is simply a statement of truth having to do with the natural world. The natural world can save industrial civilization. You may kill the passenger pigeon. You may kill the Eskimo curlews. You may kill the Great Auks. You may even kill the Hammerhead sharks but I am going to destroy every last one of you. That is simply a statement of truth. You cannot fight the natural world and win. We have the biggest ally on the world on our side. We are going to fucking win. Okay that’s one thing. The next thing is I don’t know why people turn.
I have had this worst, worst Crohn’s disease and back in November I was actually thinking if it keeps going this way I am going to die. I have been taking various medicines over the years. I’ve done herbal medicines, I’ve done western medicine. I started taking this high tech nasty genetic engineered thing and it saved my life. I thought about that a lot and Freddie Perleman said before going in for open-heart surgery, “I can make a philosophical stand and die or I can not”. There’s a bullshit line used by the pacifists alot, which I think is nonsense, but they say, “You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house”. That’s bullshit. You can use anybody’s tools to dismantle the master’s house.
We are talking on the telephone so I’m already using the tools of the system. So I didn’t have a problem taking this high-tech medicine in order to stay alive knowing full well that various creatures, and it’s the same with any other medicine, that various creatures were vivisected for it. That’s horrible but that’s part of being in the system. That doesn’t alter the fact that if not taking the medicine would have brought down civilization, I would not take it in a fucking heartbeat. Me taking this medicine doesn’t make modern medicine okay. It simply means that in this case, Crohn’s disease, is a disease of modern civilisation. I got this disease from modern civilisation and I am going to use the tools which are appropriate.
Years ago I interviewed Theodore Roszak because he had written some great stuff before. I asked for the interview before reading his most recent book because I liked his earlier stuff then I read his most recent book. Oh my god! His most recent book at that time was how he had been wrong about industrial civilisation all these years because the truth is that modern medicine will keep people alive longer and as they get older they get wiser and things will make sense which of course is total bullshit. What was the transition for you? I asked. And get this. The transition for him was he thought industrial civilisation was bad until both he and his wife had some sort of miraculous western surgery that saved their lives. So, he changed his entire perspective on this because it saved his life. I have to be honest and say I lost all respect for him.
CV: Does everything have to revolve around the little person? There is an objective truth involved. There is a right and a wrong irrespective of the small self.
DJ: Even that. I have no problem with him doing the surgery, obviously, but the problem is universalizing that. It would be like me saying because I am taking a modern medicine that actually saved my life at that moment …
CV: …everything you have stood for, lived for, spoken about, influenced people and provided them with hope and an understanding not always available elsewhere and then you turn and kill that off.
DJ: Exactly. So that’s my only experience. I don’t know why how people give up the fight. People say, “God Derrick, you’ll have to watch out because you are going to burn out”. I’m not going to burn out because this is my life. This is who I am. The short answer is I have no idea what causes those people to turn.
I have a good idea about what causes so many of those ‘Green Scare’ people being arrested I think I know what’s caused a lot of them to turn. It’s a fear of facing the rest of their life in prison.
CV: Well, you’ve spoken before about your views on snitchers and I don’t know if you have written about this before but an activist needs some substance within, some life experience, to be able to do this kind of work.
DJ: Yes I have written about this before. I had this kid come up to me after one of my talks. He’s about 16 years old and he says to me, “I want to bring down a factory”. I said, “Okay, you know what? First off, this is really bad security. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. Second, I would never dissuade anybody from doing something that they want like that. On the other hand I want to ask you a question. Have you ever had sex? And he said “No”. Okay think about this. If you burn down a factory and you get caught you are not going to have sex for at least 20-30 years.” What I was attempting to do was actually dissuade him from doing it because he was a kid. He hadn’t thought through these things yet and he was just excited and that’s not right. On the other hand this guy approached me whom I knew from reputation. He was very, very serious etc etc. He was talking about it and he didn’t do anything but the point is, I talk about this in Endgame, so you Fed guys listening in can go ahead and lose your tiny little erections because I am not going to say anything exciting – the point is that there’s a difference between somebody who knows what they are doing, who is older and who has lived through it and who knows this isn’t a game. And that’s one of the things I think is really important is if there’s a lesson from this whole ‘Green Scare’ thing it’s I am so disgusted with the people who are turning and if anything can be learnt from that it’s that, once again, this is not a fucking game. Before you go underground, before you do anything like that, you need to ask yourself do you have the seriousness to go through with it and to face the consequences? And if you don’t then go and fucking pay $10.00 to the Sierra Club or the Circle of Life Foundation and pretend that you have done a good day’s work.
Here’s another thing that just pisses me off is that working with the people at the prison and they are considered so often as scum and the lowest of the low. A lot of them are socially inept and all this other stuff but here’s a story to illustrate what I’m saying and I contrast this with all these people I have no respect for the people who are turning. I don’t care if you are facing life in prison because you just don’t do that. I know myself well enough to know that if I was facing it there are things I wouldn’t do. I would not fucking turn.
Here a story from the prison: One guy, a white guy was working at a regular prison job and he called the Blacks there “lazy niggers”. That’s mistake one. Another day at work he went to sleep and of course they had not forgotten what he said so they stabbed him in the face with a nail. They didn’t try to kill him. They were sending a message. Do not do this. So the point of the story is do you know what happened to the black guys that stabbed him? Nothing. You know why nothing happened? Because he didn’t fucking snitch. They stabbed him in the face, he didn’t say anything and lesson learnt. Done.
Once again, his guy we can look down on him for being racist. We can look down on him for being in prison. We can look down on him for being a drug addict. He had more honour, in terms of that, in his little fucking pinkie than these people that are turning in their whole bourgeois middle class bodies.
A lot of my students were so addicted to drugs, they gave up their families, they destroyed their families for drugs, they still wouldn’t fucking turn. That’s one thing. Another thing is we need to ask ourselves what would the IRA do about snitches? What would the Shawnee have done to a member of their community who was passing on information to whites? What would any serious group do? We need to have our seriousness called into question.
CV: There needs to be a long-term plan.
DJ: I think before we need a long-term plan we need a heart. Also a plan is supposed to accomplish something. First off, once again we have to ask ourselves what we want to accomplish and that could be true on so many levels. In that way SHAC is a really good model for a small-scale thing. SHAC is very clear. This is what we want to accomplish and this is how we are going to go about doing it. And now I think we need to do that for larger things. We need to start thinking clearly which is extremely difficult to do in a culture where you are consistently taught not to think.
CV: The controlled drug companies fund animal testing and insist that the scientists they are funding look only for ways of treating disease through drugs or technology that can be brought and sold. The world is awash with tablets and potions yet people have never been unhealthier as the drug companies measure their profits in the billions. Is everything the opposite of what it really is? Are drug companies the biggest drug pushers of the lot?
DJ: Of course they are. Oh my god! The whole thing with Ritalin and everything else, that’s as scary as hell.
CV: You know the saddest thing article I read recently was a detailed description of vivisectors pulling back the penis of a beagle to test Viagra.
DJ: I wrote an article for the Ecologist on this. I said I am not opposed to vivisection under one condition which is that the people being vivisected should be the scientists themselves. Because you say this is important for medical science, okay here you go. Is it really that important? If you want to stop vivisection what you do is instead of making it be just about the scientists you make it like jury duty. So they say to you, “Okay so you are up for jury duty” and you say “Oh shit!” Then you find out it’s for viagra and you say, “Yeah great!” then you find out they are going to attach electrodes to you, cut off your penis and then kill you. Yeah it’s really fucking twisted. It’s the culture.
CV: Tell us about Endgame, your latest book.
DJ: Another really good book was a book written by Robert J Lifton called The Nazi Doctors. In this book he tries to figure out why these people who took the Hippocratic Oath could then work in a concentration or a death camp. What he found was many of the doctors who worked there, not Mengele, but regular doctors were doing everything they could to help the Jews and other inmates except questioning the existence of the concentration camp itself. So they would give a sick patient an aspirin to lick or they would hide them from Selections or they would let them sleep in the Infirmary for a day or two but they wouldn’t question the existence of the camp, of working the Jews to death. They wouldn’t question starving them to death, they wouldn’t question gassing them to death. So I feel that a lot of things are true there for a lot of environmental and animal rights activists that we are doing the best we can, we are absolutely working as hard as we can to try to save the salmon, or this wild place or to stop this particular or that particular horror – everything we can – except question the entire death camp mentality. Of course I have an interest in saving whatever wild places we can and I have an interest in stopping whatever atrocious I can but that is not sufficient. What I simply want to do is not try and make things a tiny bit better for the inmates of the camp I want to destroy the whole concentration camp. I want to destroy the whole death camp.Filed in Interviews of Derrick Jensen