You Can't Kill a Planet and Live on It, Too
Saturday 16 July 2011
Let's expose the structure of violence that keeps the world economy running.
With an entire planet being slaughtered before our eyes, it's terrifying to watch the very culture responsible for this - the culture of industrial civilization, fueled by a finite source of fossil fuels, primarily a dwindling supply of oil - thrust forward wantonly to fuel its insatiable appetite for "growth."
Deluded by myths of progress and suffering from the psychosis of technomania complicated by addiction to depleting oil reserves, industrial society leaves a crescendo of atrocities in its wake.
A very partial list would include the Bhopal chemical disaster, numerous oil spills, the illegal depleted uranium-spewing occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, mountaintop removal, the nuclear meltdown of Fukushima, the permanent removal of 95 percent of the large fish from the oceans (not to mention full-on systemic collapse of those oceans), indigenous communities replacement by oil wells, the mining of coltan for cell phones and Playstations along the Democratic Republic of the Congo/Rwanda border - resulting in tribal warfare and the near-extinction of the Eastern Lowland gorilla.
As though 200 species going extinct each day were not enough, climate change, a direct result of burning fossil fuels, has proved not only to be as unpredictable as it is real, but as destructive as it is unpredictable. The erratic and lethal characteristics of a changing planet and its shifting atmosphere are becoming the norm of the 21st century, their impact accelerating at an alarming pace, bringing this planet closer, sooner than later, to a point of uninhabitable ghastliness. And yet, collective apathy, ignorance and self-imposed denial in the face of all this sadistic exploitation and violence marches this culture closer to self-annihilation.
Lost in the eerily comforting fantasy of limitless growth, production and consumption, many people cling to things like Facebook, Twitter, "Jersey Shore" and soulless pop music as if their lives depended on it, identifying with a reality that's artificial and constructed, that panders to desire rather than necessity, that delicately conceals the violence at the other end of this economy, a violence so widespread that we're all not only complicit in it to a degree (e.g., if you're a taxpayer, you help subsidize the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction), but victims of it as well. As Chris Hedges admonished in his books, "Empire of Illusion
Moreover, any culture that cannot distinguish reality from illusion will kill everything and everyone else in its path as well as itself.
As the world burns, as species die off, as mothers breastfeed their children with dioxin-tainted breast milk, as nuclear reactors melt down into the Pacific while the aerial deployment of depleted uranium damages innocent lives, it is perplexing that so few people fight back against a system that has horror as a reality for most living on the planet. And those who fight back, who stand in opposition to the culture behind such wholesale abuse and call it what it is - a genocidal mega-state (especially if you believe that the lives of nonhumans are as important to them as yours is to you and mine is to me) - are met with hostility and hatred, scoffed at, harassed, even tortured. With so much at stake, why aren't more people deafening their ears to the nutcases who preach a future of infinite-growth economies? And why do so many people continue to put "the economy" first, to take industrial capitalism as we know it as a given and not fight back, defend what's left of the natural world?
"One of the reasons there aren't more people working to take down the system that's killing the planet is because their lives depend on the system," author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me from his home in
"The other problem is that fear is the belief we have something left to lose. What I mean by this is that I really like my life right now, as do a lot of people. We have a lot to lose if this culture is to go down. A primary reason so many of us do not want to win this war - or even acknowledge that it's going on - is that we materially benefit from this war's plunder. I'm really unsure how many of us would be willing to give up our automobiles and cell phones, hot showers and electric lights, our grocery and clothing stores. But the truth is, the system that leads to these things, that leads to technological advancement and our identity as civilized beings, are killing us and, more importantly, killing the planet."
Even in the absence of global warming, this culture would still be murdering the planet, bumping off pods of whales and flocks of birds; detonating mountaintops to access strata of coal and bauxite, eliminating entire ecosystems. All this violence inflicted upon an entire planet to run an economy based on the foolish and immoral notion that we can sustain industrial societies, all while trashing the planet's land bases, ecosystems and life. And the fantastic rhetoric those who insist on adapting to these changes promulgate - that technology will find a fix, that we can adapt, that the planet can and will conform to fixes in the market - is dangerous.
"Another part of the problem," Jensen told me, "is the narratives behind this culture's way of living. The premises of these narratives grant us the exclusive rights and privileges of dominion over this planet. Whether you subscribe to the religion of Science or of Christianity, these narratives tell us that our intelligence and abilities permit us exclusive rights and privileges to work our will on the world that is here for us to use. The problem with these stories, whether you believe in them or not, is that they have real effects on the physical world. The stories we're told about the world shape the way we perceive the world and the way we perceive the world shapes the way we behave in the world. The stories of industrial capitalism - that we can sustain infinite-growth economies - shapes the way this culture behaves in the world. And this behavior is killing the planet. Whether the stories we are told are fantasies or not doesn't matter, what matters is that these narratives are physical
"Another example [of how things that truly aren't real still have real-world effects]," Jensen continued, "is there was this serial killer a while back who was killing women in
You find the problem with an industrial production economy when you unpack the word "production." As Jensen makes clear in his book "The Culture of Make Believe," production is essentially the conversion of the living to the dead
And with conflicts and wars that are waged or instigated by this culture to access (steal) the resources needed to fuel this economy's colossal machines, this culture winds up butchering entire non-industrialized communities of people ... the elderly, children who cling to their mothers as drones hawk over staggered onlookers ... the innocent and vulnerable written off as "collateral damage." Himmler used a similar epithet for Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Serbs, Belarusians, and other Slavic peoples in a pamphlet he edited and had distributed by the SS Race and Settlement Head Office
This is an acceptable price we must pay it, so we are told.
The list of victims whose lives are subject to violent assault and extinction to feed this culture's "production" is as long and as diverse as you want to make it.
"An infinite-growth economy is not only insane and impossible," remarked Jensen, "it's also abusive, by which I mean that it's based on the same conceit as more personal forms of abuse. It is, in fact, the macroeconomic enshrinement of abusive behavior. The guiding principle of abusive behavior is that the abuser refuses to respect or abide by limits or boundaries put up by the victim. Growth economies are essentially unchecked and will push past any boundaries set up by anyone other than the perpetrators. And a successful abuser will always ensure that there are some 'benefits' for the victim, in this case, e.g., we can watch TV, we can have computer access and play games online - we get 'benefits' that essentially keep us in line.
"Furthermore, according to the stories of industrial capitalism, this economic system must constantly increase production to grow and what, after all, is production? It is indeed the conversion of the living to the dead, the conversion of living forests into two-by-fours, living rivers into stagnant pools for generating hydroelectricity, living fish into fish sticks and ultimately all of these into money. And really, what is gross national product? It's a measure of this conversion of the living to the dead. The more quickly the living world is converted into dead products, the higher the GNP. And these simple equations are complicated by the fact that when GNP goes down, people often lose jobs. No wonder the world is getting killed.
"And if we take global warming into consideration here - oh and I believe the latest study on global warming mentioned something along the lines of the planet now being on track to heat up by 29 degrees in the next eighty years ... if that isn't curtailed immediately, no one will survive that ... And so all the so-called solutions to global warming take industrial capitalism as a given. And here we see the same old abusive behavior
"A while back I had a conversation with an anarchist who was complaining that I was 'too ideological,' and that my ideology was 'the health of the earth.' Well, actually, the earth is not and cannot ever be an ideology. The earth is physical. It is real. And it is primary. Without soil, you don't have a healthy land base and without a healthy land base you don't eat, you die. Without drinkable clean water you die."
And this is one of the problems with our culture
"One has to ask," pressed Jensen, "if hammerhead sharks could provide solutions, if the indigenous could give solutions and if we would listen to the solutions they are already giving, would these solutions take industrial capitalism as a given? The bottom line is that capitalist solutions to global warming are coming from the capitalist boosters, from those in power who are responsible for exploiting and destroying us and more importantly, the planet."
By the 1940s, in
Those members of this culture who blindly go along without interrogating the culture's narratives, who identify with the pathology of this culture, will always see themselves as just other members of society. For these people, the murder of a planet feels like economics; it feels normal after having been pushed out of consciousness by careers, styles and fashions; it may not even feel like anything at all after being psychically numbed by pop radio, sitcoms, smart phones, video games ... But at the other end of all these glittery distractions is an unremitting array of violence, poverty, extinction, environmental degradation.
"I saw this right-wing bumper sticker the other day that read, 'You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers,' but it's not just guns
When Adolph Eichmann stood before the Jerusalem District Court and was asked why he agreed to the task of deporting Jews to the ghettos and concentration camps, his response was, No one ever told me what I was doing was wrong. Today, 200 species have become extinct; another indigenous community will disappear from this planet forever; an entire forest will be removed; and millions of human lives will be forced to endure the agonies of famine, war, disease, thirst, the loss of their land, their community, their way of life. Not enough people have stepped forward to say that what this culture is doing to the planet is wrong.
Well, here it is folks
Derrick Jensen has been called the poet philosopher of the ecological movement. He has written some 15 books critiquing contemporary society and the destruction of the environment.
Frank Joseph Smecker is a freelance writer and philosophy/English major at the
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs