Random thoughts after hearing Derrick Jensen's lecture
Feel free to chime in with thoughts of your own (or comments/praise/hate mail on my thoughts).
Just got back from hearing Derrick Jensen speak.
Knowing next to nothing about I was very pleased when he floated the idea of talking about the taking down of civilization, and even more pleased when everybody else wanted him to talk about that, too.
I was hoping to write some sort of coherent response to it, but can't seem to organize all my thoughts into a logical sequence. Well, neither could Derrick -- he kept leaping off on digressions; his talk had the flavor of many scattered points. So I'll respond with many scattered points.
* The points end up being almost completely negative. Which is not to say that I disagree completely with him, I actually agreed with much of what he said. It's just that the disagreements stuck in my mind. Agreements, anyhow, don't foster debate.
* Jensen decribes himself as "anarcho-primitivist". As much as I dislike "anarcho-hyphenism", the best way I can describe myself in response is as an anarcho-post-civilizationist -- I want to go away from and beyond civilization onto an entirely new path, not return to any past model.
* The idea that there's an ideal or optimal social model (be it primitive societies or any other model) just waiting to be picked up and adopted is a fool's paradise.
* Derrick got tied into knots over the Hanford Tank Farms issue (tanks are leaking, are gonna take long term stewardship, stewardship takes technology, that level of technology precludes primitivism, ergo primitivism means radioactive despoliation of the Columbia Basin). And the planet has many such hazardous waste sites to deal with.
* Speaking of that, what happens if an E-bomb causes the control systems at a chemical or nuclear plant to go haywire, with the predictable consequences? Are environmental catastrophes in the name of The Revolution acceptable?
* The little bait-and-switch about society never voluntarily abandoning destructive ways, slipping in "this society" for "any society".
* There's a certain coarseness in his logic, denouncing all industrial production that operates on extracting natural resources. It's not a question of black-or-white, extract-or-not, pollute-or-don't. The amount of extraction and pollution matter. (The Stone Age cultures he admires as models for the future polluted. What else would you call the smoke from the campfires and intentional burns they set?)
* I'm generally suspicious of anyone who deduces a chain of inevitable future events that legitimates violent (in the sense of violence against people) means in the here-and-now. The former is what Marx did, the latter is what some of his posthumous disciples did. It all makes me suspicious that primitivism might be the new Leninism/Stalinism/Maoism (in terms of its bloodiness).
* Or, to state it another way, I didn't like his nihilistic despair -- briefly, civilization is going to crash, it's going to be messy no matter what, the longer the collapse is postponed the messier it will be, therefore go ahead and do whatever it takes to hasten the collapse (and don't obsess too much over casualties).
* The central paradox of anarcho-primitivism is that the ideology (as are all contemporary ideologies) is a product of industrial capitalist society, argued using the symbolic language and logic of the civilization it denounces, and thus ends up being corrupted and polluted by that which it denounces.
* There's nothing but paradoxes, really. The core of our own existence is a paradox, as Erich Fromm states in his Humanist Credo: "I believe that man is the product of natural evolution; that he is part of nature and yet transcends it, being endowed with reason and self-awareness." Stated differently, the mind that creates the reason and self-awareness by which we transcend nature is the result of a brain that was created through natural evolutionary processes.
* Rejecting social progress and advocating a return to society as it existed at the dawn of mankind is, therefore, anti-nature.
* And futile. We've seen where the natural chain of events proceeding from that state of affairs leads (look around you).
* The unavoidability of paradoxes makes any attempt to construct a complete, coherent, and logical response to the human condition doomed to result in nonsense.
* My anarchist's objection to violence. (It's force, basing a revolution on it is basing one on force, i.e. creating a new society based on force. Anarchism is about getting RID of the force, not about rearranging it.) I can't easily wave off people with pacemakers killed as a result of an eco-revolutionary's E-bomb as nothing but so much collateral damage.
* Playing with a definition of "city" (as a concentration of human population that requires importation). Hey, I can do that, too. Define a city' boundaries to include the hinterlands that support it. (Granted, this excludes all of today's cities, which are reliant on world trade, but it does allow for future eco-cities. Fun with words and definitions.)
* Jensen's biggest sin of the evening was a sin of omission, not of commission. I don't recall much being said about the evils of biotechnology and nanotechnology. Despite how badly we've messed things up, we're still basically naturally-evolved animals living as part of the ecosystem. Both of the aforementioned technologies make it possible (nay, inevitable) to sever possibly irrevocably these links to the natural world.
* I'll close on a positive note. I really did like Jensen's advocacy of both revolutionary and reformist tactics. I've long been frustrated by fundamentalists who insist that either one or the other are the only legitimate tactics.
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