Derrick Jensen is an activist and writer whose books include Listening To The Land (1995), A Language Older Than Words (2000) and The Culture Of Make-Believe (2003). Jensen’s critique of civilization is both informed and unforgiving. Connecting the dots between the illnesses of the dominant culture, he makes sense out of the denial that keeps us, individually and collectively, on our current destructive and self-destructive course. Jensen’s investigation of the deeper motivations for domination and violence, individual and collective, be it violence against humans and non-humans or violence against the environment at large, is what motivated me to do this interview.
In the fictitious event that the war against Iraq could have been prevented, or in the even more fictitious event that a more moderate US administration would have chosen not to invade Iraq and before it Afghanistan, it would still be vital to examine the underlying principle behind the ideology that dictates a state to use force and eventually develop and deploy such military might. It is ironic that the United States Of America, which has been built upon the expropriation and genocide of its native people and whose economy has been partially built upon the enslavement of another people forcefully brought to this continent for that purpose, is so far the sole nuclear power in history to have dropped atomic bombs upon civilians. It is also ironic that the US is using the Orwellian pretext of waging war in order to bring peace. But it is true that its propaganda machine has worked so well that a great number of US citizens still believes that Saddam Hussein was partly responsible for 9/11 and had the capability to send deadly weapons onto US soil.
In the philosophical thread going from The Republic of Plato to the teachings of Leo Strauss, the latter of whom Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle (among other prominent figures in the current US administration) were disciples, it is taken for granted that the ruling elite must conceal and bend the truth. This version of the political lie has become the definition of what politics are today in a large state. This is how Joseph Goebbels, the master Nazi propagandist, defined it: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth becomes the greatest enemy of the State.” Let’s not forget that Goebbels was an ardent reader of Edward Bernays, PR flack of the Woodrow Wilson administration during WWI and author of Propaganda, that the US 19th century Manifest Destiny doctrine’s racist and expansionist policies were greatly admired by Adolf Hitler. Nor should we forget that the Nazis called any national resistance of a German-occupied territory terrorism.
On the other hand, the recent US presidential candidacy of General Wesley C. Clark is tainted by accusations of war crimes in Kossovo. To say nothing of the fact that the current militarized atmosphere in the US makes the candidature of a dubious ex-general acceptable and even desirable for some, we are quick to forget that modern warfare, with the great technological distance it puts between the attacker and the attacked, tends to blur the line between subject and object. If we are to keep our high moral ground, the definition or war crimes has to evolve parallel to technological advances in weaponry, and ultimately to condemn it. Yet in such a case, no military commander since WWII could stand clean in front of the Geneva conventions. Besides the fact that weapons are indeed designed to kill with the greatest possible efficiency (cluster bombs, napalm and mines do not, and are not meant to, differentiate between soldiers, civilians or animals), military divisions, human and non-human populations and the environment at large become the tools and victims of a goal dictated by reasons of state (access to land and natural resources, testing and show-off of new military tools and strategies), and are to be sacrificed when need be.
The question of considering land in an exclusively utilitarian and objectified way extends well into our perception of domesticated animals, wilderness and, in the end, humans. For instance, it was recently discovered that Donald Rumfeld’s Pentagon now classifies individual soldiers as equipment assets. This world-view, in which the world is no longer composed of subjects to have relationships with, but of objects to be exploited or disposed of, is what allows a pilot to drop bombs upon civilians, what allows corporations to despoil the environment (and corporations, as impersonal as they may be, are still composed of people making daily decisions). It is what allows health care companies and governments to determine the average monetary value of a human being. It is also what transforms languages. The recent and generalized use of euphemisms such as human resources and collateral damage to describe human beings further enhances this perception of the world around us. If civilian war victims are to be considered collateral damage and a group of workers human resources (to say nothing of soldiers being classified as equipment assets), we will then deny the individuals composing those groups any human and individual quality. We cannot feel a sense of closeness, or empathy for human resources and collateral damage. And the same goes for non-humans and the environment: if living beings and ecosystems are considered objects to be exploited or disposed of, we then deny any possibility of relationships with them.
There is little doubt that our current set of assumptions, the artificial division between humans and the environment and the myth of the ever-growing economy in a finite system, just to mention two obvious examples, is destroying the world around us.
This interview took place on March 10th, 2003.
Laurent Brondel: I would like to start with a quote from The Politics Of Experience by R.D. Laing, and have you comment on it, as I think it is central to your work: “Social adaptation to a dysfunctional society may be very dangerous. The perfectly adjusted bomber pilot maybe a greater threat to species survival than the hospitalized schizophrenic deluded that the bomb is inside him”.
Derrick Jensen: Yes, one of the big problems I see within our culture is that the culture has normalized atrocities and normalized assumptions that lead to atrocities. And I’ve heard said that unquestioned assumptions are the real foundations of any culture. What are the assumptions that cause men to rape women? What are the assumptions that are leading people to systematically dismantle the ecological infrastructure of the planet? What are the assumptions that would cause someone to blithely drop bombs that are going to kill many, many people, to kill at a great distance?
LB: That’s what interested me in that quote, that we are so dysfunctional that we might find absolutely normal for US and UK soldiers to drop about 3000 bombs onto the Iraqi people, who are not yet accused of anything, and yet refuse to see the Iraqi civilians as victims, but rather consider the U.S. and U.K. pilots who might be captured as victims and heroes.
DJ: Our culture is based on a rigidly defined and often unarticulated hierarchy, and violence done by those higher in the hierarchy to those lower is either transparent or fully rationalized. As for the violence done by those lower in the hierarchy to those higher, we are then shocked by the fanatization of victims. On a familiar level, my father could beat everyone else with impunity, but the one time my brother fought back, he was beaten far worse than any other time. Or on a larger scale, the United States routinely kills people the world over, using weapons of mass destruction (to use that phrase we hear so much these days). But, when anyone fights back, then we’re shocked by the fanatization of victims. Or with the Police: in the United States four to six people die everyday because they encountered Police. And that includes: beatings, shootings, high-speed chases and medical neglect in jails and prisons. Yet when a cop dies there’s a state funeral and there’s a bumper sticker saying “Some Gave All, All Gave Some“. But the cops aren’t even in the most dangerous profession. The most dangerous profession is garbage collector. And the same is true with the natural world. When some guy gets bit by a shark, that makes national news. Yet, industrial humans are driving many species of shark to extinction. And A, we don’t know; B, if we know we most probably don’t care.
LB: How close to ecological collapse do you think we are?
DJ: How much more terrible can you get than the eradication of the salmon, than the turning of the sea off San Diego into a dead zone? The collapse of krill populations in Antarctica, the collapse of the earthworm population in the American Middle Eastern forest? How much worse does it have to get? It can’t get much worse than that. There is dioxin in every mother’s breast milk in the world. The climate of the planet is changing. On one hand I don’t know how it can get any worse, and on the other hand I know that we have a tremendous capacity for forgetting. And when I read about the death of flocks of passenger pigeons so large they darkened the sky for days at a time, about the death and murder of those flocks, I somehow get this feeling that maybe there were people hanging around in 1850 going “You know, it can’t get any worse than that.” And maybe there will be people, a hundred or fifty years from now, going out in protective suits to look at the one tree still left in their town, and thinking “God, if we can just stop the damage now, things will be OK.”
LB: But right now the majority of people in the US and the western world will tell you they have a great life. What do you think is going to happen?
DJ: Clearly, the current way of living is not sustainable. Any way of life based on the use of non-renewable resources can’t last. And the entire economy is based on oil. Right now the entire agricultural system is based on oil. The entire economic system is based on oil and oil is not going to last forever. I was talking to Jan Lundberg a couple of years ago. He’s an anti car activist and used to be with Alliance for a Paving Moratorium. He’s now with Culture Change. I asked, “Are we going to see the end of car culture?” He said, “There will be cars, they just won’t be running.” Within our lifetime we’ll see the end of the oil age. There is something called the Hubbert curve, which is basically a bell curve that describes oil production, for a field, for a nation, or for the world. The curve for US oil extraction peaked in 1972 or so. And experts who don’t work for the oil industry generally agree that, if we are not at the peak of the curve for oil extraction globally, we will be in the next five or six years. Because oil consumption continues to rise so quickly, the downside of the slope will be very, very steep.
I recently re-read 1984, and (laughs) one thing about it is, I don’t want anybody ever to tell me my work is depressing again, because, as you know, 1984 is as depressing as you can get. I think Orwell is brilliant, it is an amazing book. But there is no ecological understanding in that book. He thinks it can go on forever. There is a line about it, and this not an exact quote, but it’s pretty close: “If you want to see the future, picture a boot stomping on a human face forever.” And I think he’s right, that as civilization collapses we’re seeing a tightening of control by those in power.
LB: This is what I noticed during the February 15th peace demonstration in New York. Two things shocked me: the extraordinary amount of people in the streets and the violent and repressive attitude of the police.
DJ: Well, it’s only going to get worse. It seems clear to me that the reason it won’t be “a boot stomping on a human face forever” is because of ecological collapse. It seems so clear to me now, this will be the only thing stopping the dominant culture. It won’t be some sort of mass revolt, in part because of the quote you used at the start. This kind of behavior has been normalized. There’s a line from 1984 about how the old totalitarianisms’ line was “Thou shall not”, and the new despotisms’ line was “Thou shall”. In 1984 the command of those in power is Thou art”. Which means that they actually want to change people, so that they no longer perceive it as insane to drop these massive bombs everywhere in the world, and to systematically dismantle the ecological infrastructure of the planet. And once we get to that point, where we don’t even notice, where we’re stuck inside this incredibly dysfunctional system, we can’t see our way out. This happens to all of us on a personal level all the time; anytime we get involved in abusive relationships. At that point, you can’t even see what is normalized anymore. The only way out of this is some sort of outside intervention. That is clearly what’s happening with the natural world. The system will not stand.
One of the most important things any abuser can do is to monopolize perception. If they can cut you off from any surrounding support systems, then you will no longer be able to perceive, you will only see things through their eyes. You won’t be able to perceive their behavior as insane. So within a family structure, if they can get prevent the victims from having contact with anybody else, then they may come to believe, as my sister did, that every father rapes every daughter. They come to believe it’s normal, and that there is no reason to fight it. On a larger scale, if we can get people to believe that it’s normal for the rich to own the land, for the rich to own the water, for the rich to increasingly own the right to toxify the air, we can come to believe that there are no other possibilities. In which case, once again, why fight it?
One thing I like to think about is, what is the extent at which civilization has been able to monopolize our perception, while most of us are just sitting around? And this isn’t true for me right now because I’m outside. I live in the country. But for most of us, at any point, if you can stop and look around: how many of the things around you that you see, hear, smell, taste and touch, are of civilized human origin, or mediated by civilized humans? You know, if I were inside, everything around me would be mediated by civilized humans. There would be nothing coming into my senses that is a direct contact with a source of life. What does that mean? This is true on so many levels.
Another thing that is happening, as we both know, is that languages are disappearing as quickly as non-human species, as quickly as cultures. Language informs the way you perceive and informs the way you act. It informs the way you think. If you don’t have words for it, it’s very difficult to formulate a concept, to formulate a different way of being. If you can’t even think about it, you can’t even talk about it. So all those languages are disappearing. That’s how much tighter that perceptional noose gets around us.
Now back to what I think is going to happen. Increasingly the natural world is going to rebel against the slavery of the dominant system, and increasingly it will do the only thing you can really do to someone who is abusive, which is to withdraw your support. In other words the natural world will increasingly collapse. Those in power aren’t going to give up on that power because they suddenly see the light, because it’s insane in the first place. They’ve had many chances for adaptation all along. When Europeans arrived on this continent, the fecundity of the continent was extraordinary, it was unbelievable. There were communities living here, living in what Thomas Berry calls creative equilibrium, with their surroundings. They were living sustainably in their surroundings. They were living in a way that didn’t kill these huge runs of salmon. They didn’t toxify the land and air. There was a chance for the civilized to see that they’ve made mistakes, but they didn’t and instead they eradicated those who were living on this land.
LB: What makes destruction –of people, and life in general–the inescapable condition for the self-preservation of our culture and economic system?
DJ: Well, our culture definitely does destroy. Obviously not all cultures do. There is a bunch of reasons for that. One is that, on a physical level, our culture is characterized by the growth of cities and if you have a city, what you have by definition is the need to import resources. And if you require the importation of resources, then you have to have a military. Otherwise trade will never be sufficiently reliable, because the people in your city are going to starve if you don’t have the resources. So, sometimes people ask me “Are you saying that people shouldn’t live in New York?” And I say “No, I couldn’t care less where people live.” But we have to recognize that people in New York are stealing resources from the people of Columbia, or Venezuela or wherever. So that’s the first thing, it’s characterized by that sort of metastatic cancerous growth.
On another level, for whatever reason a long time ago, this culture decided that the Earth is a Vale of Tears, that the real life is somewhere else in Heaven, that there is this sky God. The god is no longer present in every leaf of every tree and in the sow bugs that are in this log in front of me, in the water striders and back striders and tadpoles that are in this pond right here. That’s not where the real life is. Real life is some abstract thing out there. The real terror of the body, and terror of that… So there’s this belief that we don’t actually live here. It’s like my friend Jeanette Armstrong says (she’s an Okanagan Indian): “Indians have just as many squabbles among themselves as you white people do, but the difference is that we know we have to live in this place, so we have to learn how to get along.” It’s the same with the relationship with the natural world. If you live in a place you’re going to destroy, you destroy the land-base where you live.
But there is something else too. Why is there this imperative for destruction? As I say in The Culture of Make-Believe, any culture that’s really based on competition is going to… I mean if you believe that the world is a dangerous place, and that in order to survive and succeed, you need to out-compete everybody else, then you’re going to out-compete them, you’re going to take them over, you’re going to kill them, you’re going to annihilate them. You’re also going to hate them. If your way of life is based on competition, then you’re going to end up hating those who compete with you for those scarce resources. Or those resources that you’ve made scarce.
But there is something deeper here too, which is one thesis in A Language Older Than Words: if the entire culture is so traumatized, individually and collectively, we’re all manifesting systems of complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). PTSD is what happens to you if you’re traumatized severely once. For instance, if somebody has been raped in a certain type of car, when they see that same car again, they may feel really nervous. There will be an association that will make them really scared getting into that type of car. Or for example, I was in a very bad car accident with my mum several years ago, and she was injured very badly, I wasn’t. But now, whenever we happen to drive anywhere on a rainy night where it’s very dark, she gets very, very jumpy. That’s classic PTSD. And Janette D. Sherman said: “What happens if someone is not merely traumatized once, but they’re systematically traumatized. They’re raised in captivity-like domestic violence? Early on, and for many, many years, all relationships are based on hierarchy, exploitation and domination.” What happens to your perception of the world? One of the things that happens on a real simple level is, you get terrified and you begin to believe that mutual relationships are impossible, and you begin to believe that all relationships are based on domination. Because you’re so terrified, you need to control your surroundings, you need to control everything around you because it can all hurt you. So, you can’t be open to a sort of back and forth around you. You have to make damn sure that it won’t hurt you. And that will cause a lot of rage, a lot of hatred and a lot of destruction. You’re going to not allow those around you, human or not human, to be who they are. Because they are way too scary. Instead, you will attempt to control them, you will attempt to enslave them. You will attempt to annihilate them if necessary, because it’s too damn scary to be open to the back and forth of life. Which is one of the reasons why the dominant culture has to parasitize off of everything else, because it has cut itself off from the real source of life. When you cut yourself off from the land, from the ground, from the source of life, you have to get that life from somewhere. And the dominant culture has to suck it off those humans or non-humans that it parasitizes off.
LB: So, do you think the solutions can come from science? That we will find a sustainable way of living by replacing oil with wind and solar power, hydrogen and so forth, while preserving the same type of economy, and the dominant culture that created it?
DJ: Well, I think a few things. One is, I think that the belief that we can manage the problem manifests the same megalomania that got us here in the first place. The belief that we can manage the problem is just as stupid and arrogant as the belief that we can manage a forest, that we can manage an ocean. We can’t manage anything. I mean that’s part of the problem, it is to believe that we can step in and manipulate things. I think what’s much more appropriate is to attempt to enter into a relationship with the landscape.
The second thing is, I don’t blame our economic system, any more than I blame Christianity; any more than I blame science; because they’re all branches from the same tree. There is, at the root, this attempt to dominate. And what is science fundamentally about? Sure, there can be a few scientists who here and there… I mean conservation biologists are working as hard as any of the rest of us to try to save salmon, or grizzly bears, or anything. But on the whole, in the real world, what has the effect of science been? It has been to magnify these attempts to control and destroy the natural world. Our economic system is based on the perception that the world is there to be dominated, and consists of resources to be used. The scientific system is based on the notion that the world consists of objects to be exploited. And Christianity, like I said, is based on this notion of Heaven being somewhere else. My point is, I don’t attack any one of those individually. So far as science saving us, that’s like believing the economic system will save us. It’s a big part of the problem that got us here in the first place.
Years ago, I was riding in a car with my friend George Draffan (he’s an activist). I asked him: “If you could live at any level of technology that you wanted, what would it be?” He said: “Derrick, that’s a very stupid question. We can fantasize whatever we want, but the truth is, there is only one level of technology that’s sustainable, and that’s the Stone Age.” I mean this is so obvious, it takes anybody but a rocket scientist to figure this one out. The only level of technology that is sustainable is any level of technology that is not based on the use of non-renewable resources. I wish the scientists would just pay attention to the first, second and third laws of thermodynamics. It’s nothing else.
There is only so much solar energy reaching the Earth. As of 1983, or whenever it was when William R. Catton wrote the book Overshoot(and it’s much worse by now), with the amount of energy that civilized humans used at this point, if you were to live with only the current solar energy, you would have to have nine Earths that were all exploited to the extent of this one in 1983. So, this is not something that we can sort of magically wave our hands at, and get ourselves out. We can talk about having a respectful relationship with the natural world, we can talk about entering into beautiful, respectful mutual relationships with trees and salmon and everything else. Now that’s all wonderful, that’s all true. Or we can jump into the scientific paradigm and say, let’s talk about energy. The truth is, it’s magical thinking to think that one can maintain this level of energy usage without this much energy coming in. And in addition, let’s say OK, people find more energy sources. I was reading not so long ago that there are those massive sources of methane, that somehow ended solidified, I think, down on the ocean floor. Currently oil companies are massively exploring for this. Sure, so there are some more calories they can use. And there’s a lot of coal. There’s enough coal to last the dominant culture a few more hundred years. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the world is collapsing around our ears. I just read yesterday that one out of every three -let’s say five, to be safe- students in the San Joaquin valley takes an inhaler to school because the pollution from the agro-corporations is so terrible. This is an insane way to live, and those in power will continue to run this string out to the very end. So is everybody going to wear gas masks twenty-four hours a day? Is that the point where people will finally rebel against it? I don’t know…
When the Europeans arrived on this continent they wanted to fix the forests, which were doing perfectly fine. The natural world can get along without us very well. There are no problems to be fixed that way. There is a lifestyle that is exploitative, and needs to be done away with, really.
LB: So essentially you are thinking that civilization will come to an end on its own? That there is no way to stop the machine?
DJ: I want to be very clear, that I’m in no way suggesting that people should not do palliative work. I think the band-aids are incredibly important. All the environmentalists I know are hanging on by their fingernails, hoping that endangered salmon survive another twenty years, until civilization comes down, or grizzly bears, or whomever. I know a lot of women who work in battered women shelters or rape crisis hotlines, who recognize their work is not doing a damn thing to stop men from beating on women. But that doesn’t mean that their work isn’t important. So I need to say that before we go on.
That’s one of the nice things about everything being so, so messed up. No matter where you look there’s a lot of great work to be done. Having said that, I don’t think we can stop the machine. I think what we can do is attempt to push at the right times to try to get it to come down in place. I think we can help the natural world push that along.
I don’t think the culture as a whole will have a voluntary transformation. Those in power are insatiable. They won’t be stopped, and they won’t stop on their own. So, one of the things I want to do is to deprive them of that power, and cause as much damage as they do.
That’s the only way that I can see sustainable communities once again developing. Everything is local, everything is particular, everything is tied to a specific piece of ground, and the only way for sustainable communities to once again reemerge, is for this over-arching structure to be eliminated. And another thing, a lot of my Indian friends tell me that, once civilization comes down, they will teach us how to live in place. And yes, that will be really helpful, but I’m not even sure that the real teaching comes from them. The real teaching comes from the land itself. That’s where my hope, such as it is, lies. It’s going to be pretty nasty for a while, I mean it’s pretty nasty now and it’s going to get increasingly nasty, no matter what happens. But then, after that, people will begin to remember what it’s like to live in place, and overtime they can develop, once again, communities, learning how to live in their places.
LB: You used a great metaphor referring to how buildings are demolished, that if the charges are placed in the right places, at the right times, you can take the building down, without damaging the surroundings, and that the same is true of the dominant culture. Have you found the right places?
DJ: Well, no! (laughs). And when I say charges I mean them in every sense: I mean them philosophically, I mean them spiritually, I mean them intellectually and I mean them physically. When I say charges, I’m not merely talking about destroying the infrastructure, I’m also not merely talking about destroying the philosophical underpinnings. I think it’s all so important. So many of us working for social change, do all this wonderful intellectual work, and then every so often, we ignore that those in power have tanks and guns and airplanes, and the willingness to use them. I’m all for all forms of revolution, including a revolution of the heart, including a revolution of education, including a revolution of taking down the means of production which are destroying the planet. Once again I think it has to do with humility. No, I don’t think we can stop the machine. The belief that we can stop the machine manifests once again the same megalomania that has gotten us here in the first place. I think instead we can help the natural world to do what it needs, and we can help our own bodies do what we need. Once again, how much dioxin is it going to take in mothers’ breast milk before we fight back?
LB: So, is it similar to one of the ideas you put forth, that humans will not willfully chose to live sustainably?
DJ: I’m not actually saying that. What I say is that the culture, as a whole, won’t have a voluntary transformation. That doesn’t mean that individuals or communities don’t want to, that has been the experience all along. One of the reasons the Pilgrims had to kill the Pequots is because so many of the Pilgrims were shaking their clothes, and going off dancing naked in the woods with the Indians. The question of leaving the system, that was the first option for many, many of the Whites. Benjamin Franklin said something to the effect: “No European who’s tasted the savage life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.” And it was commonly known, during the prisoner exchanges, that the Indian prisoners would run joyfully, back to their relatives, when the white prisoners had to be bound hand and foot not to run back to their captors. That was very, very embarrassing during the French and Indian war.
The point is that many, many individuals want to get out of the system. It happens all the time. And that’s different from saying our culture is going to undergo a voluntary transformation. Because let’s say we have a community, an entire community or an entire county, an entire state or an entire country, who cares, that says OK, we are going to protect our land-base. That’s the number one priority. And that community develops a way, or remembers a way to live sustainably. And they’re living sustainably, equitably, and all those groovy things. And then the dominant culture decides they want resources that are within that community. We all know what is going to happen. It’s not going to be very long before the tanks roll in, and before the people who live in that community are hanging long necked from lamp posts. That’s not going to take long at all. And that’s why there is not going to be a voluntary transformation, it’s not because people don’t want to get out, it’s because they’re not allowed to get out. Anytime they do get out, the alternatives are eliminative.
The dominant culture has the title to all the land in the world. Increasingly, it has to be controlled by fewer and fewer people, because land means sustainability, land means self-sustainability. It means the ability to take care of oneself. Self-sufficiency. And how would you possibly get somebody to work in a factory, or work in a line, if they can live on their own land and feed, clothe and shelter themselves? You can’t, and that’s one of the reasons why people need to be systematically dispossessed. And it’s also one reason why, by the way, wild stocks or food stocks such as wild fish, wild berry, wild anything, wild herbs, can’t survive the logic of capitalism. Because why would I possibly go to the grocery store when I can go out of my back window and catch some fish? All of those possibilities for self-sustainability or self-reliance have to be systematically eliminated. And we’ve seen that, over and over, in countries all over the world, where native communities that have been self-sustaining, have been systematically eliminated, and explicitly forced into the wage economy.
LB: I recently read an Ariel Sharon interview where he says that, when he was a young man, he used to look at Palestinian workers. He observed that when they ate, they all sat in a circle, put all the food each of them brought in the middle, and shared everything. And he said it made him very, very envious of the Palestinians. What I think this comment illustrates is that, besides economical reasons, there seems to be a philosophical reason to suppress any alternative culture.
DJ: Right, absolutely.
LB: You used the tree metaphor before to link economy, science and religion. You also said that it doesn’t matter which angle is used to attack civilization, whether it is violence, racism, slavery and so forth. It all leads us to question the very basis of civilization. This, I think, is one of the particularities and qualities of your work, to connect the many illnesses of the dominant culture, to emphasize their interdependence, and put the puzzle together. How did that develop?
DJ: Because I actually wanted to understand. That’s part of who I am. I’ve always been interested in understanding why the dominant culture is so destructive. One of the things I’ve always been pretty good at is at seeing connections and at free-associating. And then I attempt to understand. I’ll make some connections and, wait a second, is there any connection here? And then perceiving some intuitive connection between two things, and attempting to understand whether that connection is real or not. I love walking down a path and just considering, so what is the relationship between perceived entitlement, threats of entitlement, contempt and hatred? Is there a relationship between these things? A friend of mine, a long, long time ago, told me that he felt he was born to be a mechanical engineer because he loved doing that work so much. It’s the same thing here. I love attempting to perceive those connections. That’s really why, on a sort of cosmic level. On a more sort of fundamental level, another friend of mine says, a lot of environmentalists begin by wanting to protect a piece of ground, and end up questioning the foundation of Western civilization. A lot of these connections aren’t really that hard to make if we really start to think about it. I don’t consider my job to come up with fabulous theories about this or that, but instead to articulate the things that I know in my heart to be true, but to which I’ve not yet put words. And in so doing, I hope to help other people to articulate things that they know in their heart are true, but to which they’ve not yet put words.
6300 w. October 20, 2003
A part of Derrick Jensen’s published and unpublished writings are available on his website at http://www.derrickjensen.org/.