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Is Derrick Jensen a fraud?

Got a listen to Derrick Jensen at the Synergy Conference in Olympia this weekend
and he used EXACTLY the same words he used in his early January Portland apppearance, down to the seemingly spontaneous little asides, the fiddling with his papers, the cogitating about the number of pages he had completed on his next book. Most troubling, he opened his talk, as he did in Portland, by holding up a "disposable", new plastic bottle of water, opening it, taking a drink, and saying "I know there's no chance of revolution as long as they get us to buy this stuff", while an unused carafe full of water and a glass sat on the table he was using. Among the most striking features about the Evergreen venues and students was the use of nondisposable stuff, including water containers. He did his missive on hope being an opiate, his litany of the mother bear, and the second time around, done in the same voice, with the same false emotion, it felt contrived.

Derrick's a good writer who has some wisdom to impart. He needs to stay in touch with his audience and avoid the culture of make believe.

so - 23.Feb.2004 00:12


he's a "fraud" for reproducing his spiel verbatim in another city?


p.s. "m. lafarge": if you're looking for more impressive displays of spontaneous variation and extemporization, try jazz music - or poetry.

why would this make him a fraud? 23.Feb.2004 00:24

White Lilac

To me he seems a little shy/uncomfortable in front of large groups and he may find that a standard script is easier to get through than a pure extemporaneous effort from scratch at each location. Plus he speaks at so many places it would be difficult to remember what he said there last time, so he seems to go with a largely canned talk based on what he's currently writing and thinking.

I've noticed exactly the same things you have--in fact, he used the same words in Portland in January that he did in Seattle in November--but I don't think this makes him a fraud, just not the best public speaker. I think he's trying to focus on getting the core content of his message (we're fucked, yet life can be good) out to a large number of people, rather than provide for a completely new presentation at each talk (which would use up considerable time that he'd probably rather spend writing).

For me, I've decided to go with the big picture ... if you follow him over a period of years, what he says is updated to reflect his current thinking. If you listen to him in November, then January, then February, you're going to hear the same damn thing. This is probably hardest on his mom (she attends many of his talks).

Much of his material deserves to be retold 23.Feb.2004 00:41


over and over. However, I have never witnessed the absolute verbatim rendition of the same material before with a lecturer, and I have heard many. His gig is more akin to a theater production. The water bottle thing could have been used to demonstrate how revolutionary the students are in eschewing the throw-way society; instead his comment showed his ignorance about the efforts of the organizers and demonstrated a lack of observation about his surroundings. Perhaps he is tired and needs to recoup a while. These are real pitfalls for speakers, and he will hopefully correct them and remain an important voice for change.

lay off derrick 23.Feb.2004 01:40


I don't believe you when you say you've heard "many speakers" speak multiple venues at different times without repeating themselves. It's just not credible. I've heard a few speakers speak at multiple venues, and I've ALWAYS heard them repeat themselves. There's just no one on earth so creative that they can extemporize afresh every single time they speak with completely new material, at least no one I've ever met. Most ordinary mortals find public speaking exhausting, and the effort of coming up with a single original performance is enough, let alone a new one every time.

You wanna know fraud? What's fraudulent and part of the culture of make believe is the whole business of celebrity. I think Derrick would probably agree, in principle. Unfortunately, it just so happens that in our society, there's no other way for a writer like Derrick to make a living at his craft.
Why would anyone demand mulitiple unique performances from a writer on a book tour?!! Only someone seduced by the mystique of celebrity would expect such a thing. But this is a perversion. Derrick is no more nor less an ordinary mortal than any of us.

As far as the plastic bottle thing, I think you're being petty. There's a lot bigger fish to fry in this world.

jfoiog;ho 23.Feb.2004 01:52


i think part of the answer is contained in the title of his first cd-- "stand up tragedy". his presentation is partly an ACT, hence the play on "standup comedian". i don't mean that in a derogatory sense, but rather just that in a sense he is part performer, rather than a lecturer with a specific and often narrow topic each time that he stands up in front of people (or, in his case, sits down, also an appealing aspect of his act i think). what's confusing, i think, is that his comments are supposed to appear offhand and spontaneous, and that can be disappointing the second or third time you see him and realize that, no, he repeats a lot of his material in the same way a band or performance artist would. also, he's bucking the academic model of
linear-lecture (a model most of us are all too familiar with), but being presented, from what i've seen, very much in that paradigm.
i was up in oly, too, and i was kind of annoyed by the water bottle joke-- it just looked stupid with that nice carafe of water sitting right there. still, i think he's pretty damn effective in a lot of ways, in terms of making people laugh while presenting radical ideas in a way that sounds perfectly reasonable (as they are) and hopefully worthy of further thought and exploration.
lastly, i much prefer his inclusive, i'm-not-an-expert-these-are-just-my-observations demeanor to the hyper-masculine motivational-speaker style of kevin danaher of global exchange, also a speaker at the conference-- his ideas are a hell of a lot more compelling, too, at least to my eyes and ears.

Who is the enemy? 23.Feb.2004 06:44


Derrick Jensen and Kevin Danaher and John Zerzan and Alexander Cockburn-- all at Olympia last weekend, and all disagree with each other at some point-- all make a powerful case in their own way that civilization is turning out to be mostly harmful for the entire earth, and not just the people on it. They all notice, by the way, that they are all males, that males did most of the speaking at the conference, and that males were by and large the source of the trouble that they would like to correct or eliminate.

If Evergreen College and Synergy and the Capitol Theater are representative of Olympia, OLYMPIA ROCKS!

Since we all respond to different messengers in different ways, we have to be careful that we we don't confuse the medium with the message-- that is precisely what TV does, and what the Resistance must not do.

And the message? That the present trajectory of human civilization will soon wreck the planet. Only the brain dead zombies who actually believe that driving Hummers and Escalades between McMansions and a beach condo is the good life would disagree. And they do disagree-- and there is no discussing with them, because they are in absolute denial, high on the drugs of greed and envy and gluttony and in no psychic space to hear a different song.

The rest of us who do hear the message must listen to different songs, different bands playing mostly the same tune in different ways and try to find some mid-course correction before the inevitable natural correction of extinction of a species which has overstayed its welcome on the planet occurs.

Personally, I respond best to Kevin Danaher (unlike the writer above). He has an academic-- but not pedantic-- style, draws pictures, is unfailingly courteous to questioners, etc. But he is either a natural-born gifted speaker or he has spent many years perfecting his style (which doesn't go down well with those who have a viseral negative reaction to "motivational speakers") so once again, we mustn't confuse the medium with the message.

As best as I can tell, all of the speakers tell about the same story-- the present system in unrepairable. An alternative system based on local economies and local, interpersonal accountability must be developed. And that alternative system must be sufficiently robust and attractive that the majority of people will choose that over the present catastrophe-- we aren't going to be able to appeal to the higher ideals of the ruling class, or their wealthy sycophants because they have too much at stake in the present system.

And of course the reality is that all of these people have to make some kind of living, and they have to get from one place to another-- so to a large extent, they are, as we all are, slaves to the system we all abhor.

bottled water petty? 23.Feb.2004 09:02


The idea that water needs to be purchased in bottles, and the disposal of those containers, are essential concepts in the privatization of the commons.The mindset that has been created by water bottling companies(Coca-Cola, Vivendi, etc) is infiltrating everyone, including those who claim they are working on changing the system, and it's really disappointing when the thinkers within the movement ignore the efforts of those who are putting those very thinker's ideas into practice. If we're really going to survive on the earth we need to change our individual behaviors, and it certainly isn't a petty concern. Check out Maude Barlow's BLUE GOLD for an in-depth discussion on the history of water privatization and bottled water.

Blue Gold, 23.Feb.2004 11:45

Blue Gold

and um, Blue Gold.

intrigued, 23.Feb.2004 11:54


luigi was not saying that issues surrounding privatization of water are petty but that the author calling Jensen a fraud for pointing those issues out when a pitcher of water water was next to him was petty. I agree with both luigi and intrigued that these issues need to be raised and the fact the Jensen had water avilable to him at this conference is trivial compared to the very real issue of water privatization.

I also agree with luigi that no one should have expected to see anything new if they saw Jensen last time he was here. I was invited up but declined, specifically because I had just seen him and knew that there would unlikely be any new material, except during the q&a, which I heard there was not much of at the conference because of time constraints.

Jensen is a hero! 23.Feb.2004 12:02


While I will admit that I have been somewhat dissapointed in the last couple of Derrick Jensen lectures because they were filled with stuff (almost verbatim) that I have heard in past lectures, I think it is unfair and inaccurate to label him as a fraud because of repeat performances.

But I do think that some criticism in this regard is valid.

You would think that a man of Jensen's incredible knowledge and background would shake up this rhetoric to include things he has not said before. But recently at the Unitarian church and at the Headwaters conference in Ashland, he repeated the same "speal" almost verbatim from his Portland appearance over a year ago, even though the topics were very different.

Jensen will lose credibility if he doesn't begin to add new material.
I truely hope he does, because this man is one of the few brave souls who is not afraid to get up in front of a room full of people advocating the taking down of civilization by any means necessary.

ok 23.Feb.2004 12:15


How discouraging that we need to keep what Portlander said in mind, and be sure not to waste our time with Derrick Jensen speaking gigs, since he's going to say the same thing he said the last times he spoke anyway. I hope somebody talks with him about the water trick when he's speaking at a place that really seems to be making an effort to do things sustainably. This gesture reduces his credibility as a thinker, and suggests that he may be doing the job rather than the work, and is slipping in paying attention to detail. Change is all about personal responsibilty, and blaming the "system" for fucking up the world while swigging bottled water and dumping the container doesn't seem like an effective way to influence others to be the change they want to see. I'm quite disappointed with the unwillingness of people to critique Jensen's style. It is very important for all of us that he be an effective voice, and in order to remain so he will have to be flexible and observant, and needs the help of his supporters to be so. There wasn't a Q&A after his talk at Evergreen, unfortunately.

disagree with m lafarge 23.Feb.2004 12:47


I think, once again, there's a bigger danger in expecting saintliness from public personalities than observing inconsistencies in their behavior. It's a very vulgar sort of celebrity fixation that would use such inconsistencies as arguments for cynicism.

Derrick Jensen is a bright guy. He's a pretty decent writer with a very trenchant style. He's not perfect. He's fallible and human like the rest of us. He may use certain silly props and repeat rhetoric for his speaking tours. BFD. End of story. What's important is not that Derrick refrain from doing these things. Rather, what's important is the substance of what he's saying which, if you and others take it to heart, would lead to introspection about yourself, and an effort to live up to YOUR OWN ideals, not to wag fingers at others and find excuses for cynicism in their failures to live up to your idolized expectations.

Again, it's not me trying to hold Derrick up on a pedestal. It's YOU. Frankly, I disagree with Derrick on a lot of things, and I think that if all you read is Derrick's work, you could end up with a highly skewed perception of reality.

reality check? 23.Feb.2004 13:15


Do you get a better perception of reality reading the New York Times? The Oregonian? The National Enquirer? The vast majority of information sources offer a perception of reality that reflects the interests of the rich and powerful in this country (or the world for that matter). I don't necessarily agree with virtually everything Derrick writes too but I think he offers a closer approximation of reality than about 99% of anything else you might read.

Not a fraud 23.Feb.2004 14:14


I don't think Derrick is a fraud, but I think he is a little un-observant when he goes to a place like Evergreen College where for years and years they have tried to practice sustainability and seems not recognize that fact.

If he had prefaced his plastic water bottle trick with something to the effect that "the revolution will start *here* where they *can't* sell water in plastic bottles" or some such thing, then he would have affirmed what Evergreen has been trying to do, and would have demonstrated his own point that we don't need to lie down and let the corporations kill the planet-- things can, in fact, be changed and actions do matter.

Also, of course no speaker can be expected to produce something entirely new every day-- it's hard enough doing the same old thing. But it isn't too much to ask that local material be incorporated in the same basic presentation. After all, this is Derrick Jensen the prophet, not "The Derrick Jensen Show."

Derrick is great. He has reached the stage where he is breaking out of his circle of disciples into the mainstream world-- where just maybe someone who doesn't already agree with him will say "AHA! This is what really makes sense to me!" and we need to support him so he doesn't die of celebritism.

I wonder about his tales of abuse 23.Feb.2004 16:00


I've been a Jensen fan for a while. I sometimes wonder about his tales of abuse -- his father raping him, his mom, brothers, sisters, beatings, etc. He says that his memories of this are vague, that his Dad denies it, that his Mom is on his side. I wonder if there is any hard evidence. It seems hard to believe in such brutal abuse -- being raped by your father, jeez? All of the kids getting raped...?? Something about it doesn't ring true. I could buy one kid, but all of them, and his father a lawyer.... Hmm. Anyone else have this reaction?

[I'm not making light of the situation, rape/violence is a terrible thing.]

Doug... 23.Feb.2004 17:31


...what Jensen describes is, sadly, well within the boundaries of reality. That kind of thing happens, most definitely.

As for m lafarge, I would gladly go see Jensen speak because... I have never heard him speak before. So I wouldn't particularly care if he repeated his performance. Most speakers are like broken record players, saying the same thing over and over and over again. Why? Because they believe very strongly in what they are saying, and that people should hear it. As someone above said, if you want something different each time, jazz music is perfect for you.

abuse in home, abuse in culture 23.Feb.2004 21:33


doug, i would guess you have experienced little sexual assault in your life.
it happens more than any of us want to imagine.
and our culture-in-denial is perpetuating the unacknowledged acceptance of such activity.

RE: I wonder about his tales of abuse 23.Feb.2004 22:42

a male responding to Doug

Do you think his public telling of these horrible occurances is something he discusses to better himself for some selfish reason? I highly doubt it. Stand between two womyn, look to your left and look to your right, more than likely one of two people you see have been molested or raped. Why knack on someone who is doing something, creating a dialogue? People are strange......

How much have you learned yourself about rape or molestation? How much of it goes unreported? You site nothing which leads me to believe you understand what he has gone through.

I Just Want the Hard Data 24.Feb.2004 10:45


Several people have reacted to my post questioning Jensen's accounts of rape/beatings/etc.

Look, I know that these things exist, that they are common, and that they are horrible. I have no doubts that lots of people have been destroyed by this. But the spokesman for this should be a person who is a GENUINE victim, not some imagined victim. Otherwise it just hurts the cause.

There have been cases where people fabricate stories. The recent Documentary Film "Capturing the Friedmans" (nominated for an Oscar) was about how a community (including kids) could make up tales of abuse: they swore that they were abused and raped, and it was all a lie. The same thing happened in the McMartin preschool situation in California. Hell, I used to work with a woman who claimed that her father (a small town doctor in Montana) raped the kids in her family and was involved in satanism -- this woman was actually on Oprah back in the early '90s -- and when I kept pushing her for answers, she said that he had forgotten the whole thing until she started 'therapy' for past life regression, etc. There was not a shred of proof; then she claimed multiple personalities, etc.

Jensen has gone public with this info. He is the one who made it public. That makes it fair game to ask for proof. We've seen that he can fabricate his 'spontaneous' speeches. What if he is fabricating his stories...?

I say all this as a fan of Derrick's. I think that The Culture of Make Believe is one of the best books that I have ever read, and I have a PhD in Philosophy and teach in a law school. I just want the facts to be clear.....

what do you want, forensic evidence? 24.Feb.2004 13:25


Doug, you're being idiotic. This is not a legal case. The events in question happened decades ago. Derrick's account is corroborated by others. What more evidence do you want? In this case, the burden is on YOU. Are you accusing him of engaging in a grotesque campaign of vilification against his own father for the sake of his personal aggrandizement? If so, you're the one who should be offering evidence. Of course, you don't have any. You don't even know the man.

What are the odds that a little known writer would fabricate an elaborate, vicious story against his own father and get his mother and siblings to go along with it in order to write a great book? I suppose it's possible. But to say that because he gives book talks where he uses the same material repeatedly makes such an hypothesis more likely is asinine, and to even raise this specter is the height of bad taste.

off topic, and off the mark 24.Feb.2004 13:39

lafarge again

Derrick Jensen is on to something with his ideas about the systemic culture of violence we live in and the relationship between that violence and the destruction of the earth. I can assure Doug that such sick family exist, and are in fact fairly common. I grew up in one myself. My father was a military officer. My brother is dead because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of our father.

The only reason why I posted my observation was to convey the information to Derrick that a bit of sensitivity to his audience could make him a more effective speaker. If he doesn't clean up his act he will lose credibility and that will be very unfortunate.

c'mon Doug 24.Feb.2004 15:52


Jensen didn't "fabricate" spontaneous speeches. He merely repeated them. Because what he says is true. Same for the disclosure of his abuse. He is repeating the account of what happened to him. Because it's true.

Men who accept rape culture demand conclusive proof. Which is impossible to provide, short of catching the rapist in the act. Because there can be no proof sufficient enough to satisfy some mens' inner judge, all rape survivors can then be comfortably seen as mere accusers, most likely to be hysterical liars. Which is utter BS. Your male privilege is showing, Doug.

Hard Data for Doug 25.Feb.2004 02:38


I realize this thread is getting off topic, but I can't let male ignorance about sexual violence slip by unchallenged. Doug, you said...

"Hell, I used to work with a woman who claimed that her father (a small town doctor in Montana) raped the kids in her family and was involved in satanism -- this woman was actually on Oprah back in the early '90s -- and when I kept pushing her for answers, she said that he had forgotten the whole thing until she started 'therapy' for past life regression, etc. There was not a shred of proof; then she claimed multiple personalities, etc."

You should know that Multiple Identity Disorder is found almost exclusively in people, usually women, who have suffered repeated sexual abuse and/or torture in their childhood years. In fact, the personalities taken on are often very predictable across cases based on this common history of sexual abuse, such as an aggressive protective figure, a little girl, etc. It is a byproduct of dissociating oneself from situations that a child is psychologically incapable of dealing with. Furthermore, based on physiological changes between personalities (such as measureable changes in voice, speech patterns, handwriting, heart rate, etc.), MID is nearly impossible to fake.
So this woman who you pushed to relive her nightmare, and who you have probably been claiming for some time is a liar and uncredible, is almost certainly telling the truth. I hope next time you'll question your own behavior and ignorance before questioning a victim of rape or sexual assault. You may not be as good of a judge as you think you are.

beside the point 25.Feb.2004 18:48


This is all getting very far afield. And somewhat irritating.

The original point was simply that Derrick had a lot to say that was very useful and even wise-- but that he didn't even try to tailor it to his audience.

The example was that he didn't seem to recognize that the students at Evergreen actually work very hard to avoid non-recycled water bottles and non-sustainable culture in general. It seems pretty trivial now-- arguing about plastic water bottles while the US government goes about fomenting yet another "revolution" in the Caribbean, but I think the point was well taken.

Everyone in the Resistance has to recognize the contributions of the rest of the resistors. This evil global corporate menace is masterful at dividing their opposition. We don't need to do it for them.

Zzzzzzzzz 26.Feb.2004 06:58


Why is this flamebait still on the front page? Editors taking weak rants like this seriously is killing indymedia.

Yes he is a fraud 26.Aug.2011 14:08

Someone who cares

Once you get past the regurgitated jargon, the brilliance is lost. His intellectual wit is what makes him interesting. His insight is short sited to anyone who actually does in depth research on most of the subject matter he chooses or is chosen for him to debate.

The unlearned might take some of his ideas as real solutions which is dangerous.

If you cannot tell yet, he is part of the problem, not solution, listen carefully (to his message), he does not OFFER ANY REAL SOLUTIONS.

In fact he wants you to die. Seriously, he wants as many people to die as soon as possible, that's what he wants!

SO before you you give Derrick Jensen your blessings and mind, understand who he represents, do your own research, and you will be greatly disillusioned.

If I told you he belongs to the very organizations he professes to be opposed towards you might find this hard to believe. DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. The truth will greatly disturb you.