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Review of Derrick Jensen's Q&A last night in Portland

Review of Derrick Jensen's Q&A last night in Portland

As someone who truly respects and admires much of Derrick Jensen's work as an author and activist, I had been disappointed in the past when Derrick appeared to simply repeat what appeared to be a well rehearsed "production" at each of his last three speaking engagements in Portland. But last night was different, in a very good way.
Walking into the Disjecta, one could not help but feeling somewhat uncomfortable in the dark cold empty warehouse located underneath the Burnside bridge. But given the dire circumstances of the planet and the "times", it was also somewhat appropriate even in the holiday season. Looking out the west windows of the building, you could see the skate park under the bridge and hear the buzz of traffic. Despite asking $15 to $18 a head , a crowd of approximately 100 people filled one side of the warehouse. A representative for Disjecta informed everyone that this would be the last event at the warehouse and that we were really not supposed to be there and were essentially "squatting" on the property.

Urban Scout (who organized the event) came out with a large bandage on his nose and joked that he had already spent the proceeds from the event on some plastic surgery. Scout then introduced Derrick who wasted no time in getting right to the questions. A "moderator" held the mike preventing the long "statement" questions and limited each question to one minute.
The audience did not disappoint and there were several excellent questions that each evoked 10 and 15 minute detailed responses from the renowned author and activist. It was the kind of give an take that required that he leave his usual script and it unveiled a side of Derrick that was not as confident as he appears in his prepared lectures.

Derrick began part of one response by posing the question "how many people here have an AK47?" To which a few people raised their hands and a couple even chimed in with where they can get one and how much they cost. Another lady mentioned that we can each make our own AK47's. Someone else then asked if Derrick "fly's" and if so why do they let him? Derrick said he does fly and even crosses the border, which promoted a humorous story about being hassled at the Canadian border because he had a small baggie of pills that were actually for his arthritis but he had forgotten what they were. He mentioned that the feds even allow Ward Churchill to fly and leave the country without a hassle. Later he followed this point up by talking about how as a "radical" writer he would actually be a huge liability to any group or organization if he actually participated in some of the resistance he preaches is necessary. He said he felt his role was to sound the alarm and move people to action and that he depends on each individual to make a judgment about what their role in the resistance is and how we each to need to support all avenues of resistance regardless of whether certain actions go beyond what we would participate in as individuals. Another question posed was short and too the point when a woman asked Derrick if he votes. If memory serves me, Derrick replied that he does vote although in addition to Nader in 96 and 2000, he has also voted for Emma Goldman. He conceded that his voting was analogous to writing his senator about the egregious nature of deforestation for profit, but that he did it anyway.

I had an opportunity to ask a question and I mentioned that during Derrick's last speaking engagement in Portland, he had some pretty thought provoking things to say about the concept of "Hope". I inquired if he saw a conflict or "divide" between hoping that my two year old granddaughter can have a wonderful beautiful life and understanding that we need to expedite the end of civilization. In his usual charming way, Derrick took about 15 minutes to get to an answer which ranged from "there is no good answer" to teaching my granddaughter how to live off the grid and preparing her for the inevitable coming crash. This prompted other questions regarding personal sacrifice and the value of one's own life as compared to the continued existence of salmon as an example. Derrick said he was once asked if we would sacrifice the lives of his closest loved ones if he could be guaranteed the survival of the Salmon. He said he would have to ask his family, but when he did they responded that he better have said yes! He said this made him very happy. He also said he would give his own life for the same cause and spoke eloquently about the sacrifice of the few for the survival of the many.

A "Hanford" nuclear activist asked what Derrick thought about the fact that over 100 people will show up to hear him speak and yet only a handful of people would show up to oppose nuclear waste that would poison the earth for hundreds of thousands of years. Derrick responded with an analogy that more people care about the Detroit Tigers than they do the real tigers themselves. This prompted a series of excellent responses from people in the audience about the barriers to organizing successfully and what prevents people from "showing up".
In my opinion, this part of the group discussion illustrated how valuable this format really was.

There were many other excellent questions and numerous profound responses including the morality of blowing up dams and taking down cell phone towers.
In the end, I was very glad I attended and am hopeful that other revolutionaries utilize the Q & A format in the future..


Sorry, Brian, but humans have never lived 21.Dec.2007 00:47

head out of sand

sustainably to the tune of 6 billion (and growing) on the planet.

Humas are here aren't they? 21.Dec.2007 17:15

Brian the Green

Homo sapiens have been here between 130,000 and 200,000 years. Other human species preceeded these dataing back 6-9 million years. That seems pretty sustainable to me.

Prior to 10,000 years ago, all humans, as far as we know, lived tribally. 10,000 years ago, a segment of the human population developed a new way of living: Civilization. Civilization, like an invasive species, eliminated most tribal human beings. Now, after 10,000 years, 99.5% of all humans live in civilizations.

Derrick Jensen's message is that this social order is not sustainable. Our job is to find a new way of living. I think we could learn a lot learning from the people who live tribally.

Interesting comments 22.Dec.2007 17:54


I find it interesting that the same people who oppose globilization and one world government are quick to rail against the concept of sovereign nations.
And so it goes on the left....

I was asked "Are "Nations" a legitimate form of human gathering? Do Nations have true standing to tell people what to do?"

Philosophical questions such as these accomplish little in reality. The reality is that we are a world with nations and there are those who would like to end that and form a one world government. Call me wack, but I believe we can maintain our individual cultures and our countries sovereignty without endless war and that local communties can control their own populations through cooperation.

But make no mistake about it, "nationalism" and it's underlying racism needs to be strenuously fought against because of the negative ramifications of such thinking. It is nationalism in fact that gives rise to the Orwellian "support the troops" propaganda.

But let me address some previous points:

1) The number of years that various human species have remained sustainable is irrelevant once population reaches a certain level as it has done today. The fact that we could be far more responsible with our energy consumption or the fact that technology advances will offer new solutions will not be enough to prevent the coming collapse.

We needed to begin to transition from an oil economy back in the 70's and we might have had a chance to stop global warming, acid rain, deforestation, and toxins in every body of water in the country. Hundreds of thousands of species have died since then.

People like Amory Lovins try to claim what Brian has claimed which is that all of the solutions are right before us and that we need not worry because once we have to change, we will. James Howard Kunstler's book "The Long emergency" explains why transitioning from a petroleum economy will not happen easily or quickly enough to stop the collapse.
In a debate between the two, I though Kunstler decimated Lovins on these points.

2) While experts worry about a decline in much of the industrialized world's population, sub-Saharan Africa is among the few places where the population is expected to grow dramatically over the next 50 years. VOA's Catherine Maddux reports on what is being done to help ease the social and economic pressures of overpopulation in Africa.

First, the numbers: by the year 2050, demographers predict there will be 1.7 billion people living in sub-Saharan Africa. That's uptroops" propaganda and feeds support for wars fought under the guise of "defense".

from the current population estimate of 752 million, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
That means in terms of percentages, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is widely expected to make a staggering leap from just over 12 percent to about 20 percent of the world's total population.

 link to www.voanews.com

3) I always snicker at the "how diverse was the crowd" remarks here in Oregon.

I come from LA and I never went to an event where there was not diverse in both race and class and sexual preference.
But guess what stewart! This is Oregon. 90% of the population is white. Furthermore, the African American community in this town is not that interested in working with white radicals or liberal progressives. I tried many times.

Replies to S 23.Dec.2007 19:03

Brian the Green

S wrote:

"he number of years that various human species have remained sustainable is irrelevant once population reaches a certain level as it has done today. "

I disagree. While I agree that our population is unsustainable, and I do agree that a significant population collapse is within the realm of probability, the fact that humans know how to live sustainably is inspiring. It is our culture that is unsustainable and not humanity itself. This is where our cultural blinders come in. We believe we are humanity and in fact, the pinnacle of humanity simply because of our domination.

If all the humans living today had the values of aborigines, or Eskimos, or Navajo, I think we'd find a solution

"The fact that we could be far more responsible with our energy consumption or the fact that technology advances will offer new solutions will not be enough to prevent the coming collapse."

I agree. While I don't believe technology is the solution (I believe a paradigm shift is the ultimate solution), we needn't dismiss what people like Amory Lovins offers. This isn't an either/or situation, instead we should be thinking both/and.

While I agree that a collapse is likely, and have written about often over the years, I think you'll agree that it is likely some humans will survive the collapse. Do those who survive simply start working to become us or will they be driven by a different vision? I hope it is a different vision. What I think is possible is to change that vision NOW. There is nothing stopping us from rejecting the current paradigm and figuring out a new one and a new way of living.

That isn't necessarily easy, but it is doable.

Finally, as a side note, I think the VOA numbers about Africa are a joke. Where are they going to get food to feed another billion mouths in Africa? How do you reconcile that with peak oil? I think the projections of increasing populations were made by people who don't understand peak oil.

Visualize a sustainable future 24.Dec.2007 10:08

Brian the Green

The next 20-50 years will be extraordinary - either we will learn to live sustainably or we won't. I think you'll agree that regardless of which way we go, it will be extraordinary times. I choose to remain hopeful and work to figure things out. One thing I'm absolutely certain of - if we go on living the same way we do now with the same mindsets, it is likely we will make the world uninhabitable for humans and could very easily be extinct. We live at the top of the food chain and when it collapses, animals at the top are the first to go.

One technique for getting from point A to point B across time is to visualize the future and then look at the steps and/or changes necessary to get from A to B. What does a sustainable future look like?

The first thing that must change is our idea of control and domination. We are not in charge of the community of life but rather, just another member. Earthworms and bees are far more important to the community of life than are humans. Indigenous people of the world knew this and lived accordingly. By adopting this mindset, our actions, visions and lifestyles would change accordingly.

We would also come to know that there is no one right way to live. This belief would help foster tolerance and diversity - two important characteristics of sustainability. What keeps us from adopting more sustainable lifestyles right now? Why can't we live on 10% of our current consumption? No one is forcing us to buy, buy, buy. The world is not going to make a universal change all at once. If we wait for that to happen, we'll all die waiting. What we need are 1000's of mini experiments and what we'll end up with are 100's of ways of living. Right now, we essentially have one way: Under the control of a nation state, part of the global corporate empire. Try and leave this system and the system will destroy you.

...really is the no. 1 cause of Global Warming! 26.Dec.2007 13:09

in the trenches

Brian, thank you for supporting the spirit of choosing veganism; but! Nothing was exaggerated in the above statement. Here are references: Ayres, E. (1999, Nov. 8)Will we still eat meat? "Time" magazine; USDA-NRCS (1997) America's private land; a geography of hope (p.54) Program Aid 1548; FAO, United Nations, Livestock & the Environment; Denslow, J. and Padoch, C. (1988),People of the Tropical Rainforest (p.169), University of California Press; "Scientific American" (2001, Feb.) p. 50; FAO, United Nations (1996), Livestock and the Environment; Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem, Minority Staff of Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, 104th Congress, Dec. 1997; U.S. EPA (2001, Jan) EPA-821-B01-001; Center For Disease Control (July 6 1996) Abortions Possibly Related to Ingestion of Nitrate-Contaminated Well Water, "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly", Report 26, pp 569-571; "N.Y. Times" (2003, May 11), Neighbors of vast hog farms say foul air endangers their health; USDA (1991), April) World Cereals Used for Feed; Cattle-Fax (1989, Dec. 8) Grain Utilization in the Livestock and Poultry Industries; L. Beckett & J.W. Oltjen, (1993), Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States, "Journal of Animal Science", 71, 818-8268; Resolutions for a new millennium (2000, Jan 1), "Audubon News"; Lowy, J. (2004, Feb ) EPA raises estimate of newborns exposed to mercury, Scripps Howard News Service. Look at this: "Producing a single hamburger patty uses enough fuel to drive 20 miles and causes the loss of fives times its weight in topsoil" -- "E. Magazine", Jan/Feb '01.

Let's continue the dialog -- as if our lives depended on it.

Patently illogical, Brian the Green 26.Dec.2007 22:55


Brian the Green, I believe you can find the problem in this sentence and sentiment if you really want to:

"Everything helps, even if it isn't the ultimate solution, at least it buys us a little more time."

Step back and think about what a Prius is. It is made in a factory. It is covered, filled, and imbued with blood and exploitation on so many levels that it boggles the mind. It is not simply a CO2 producer.

It is a signifier. It represents a marginal, stopgap solution that plenty of well intentioned people are willing to see as a major move toward "saving the environment." It was brought to us by a FUCKING CAR COMPANY.

Industrial capitalism is extremely malleable and adaptable. It will accommodate most anything except fundamental change that means its extinction. It LOVES a reformist mindset.

Are we getting anywhere?

for Brian the Green 27.Dec.2007 17:09


I drive a car, too. I live just like nearly everyone in the USA. But I'm not waxing eloquent in public about how I'm changing the world; I'm not preaching reform.

If I were forced to preach something, it would be to learn how systems work; to learn how sociology and anthropology describe human behavior in groups; to learn how capitalism and the state will never reform themselves out of existence, no matter how earnest are our entreaties.

Poison in poison. Exploitation is exploitation. Slavery is slavery. Inegalitarian social structures make us miserable and replicate themselves at every level of our interactions with each other. Technics makes these situations worse by orders of magnititude.

It appears to be impossible to compete with power's hold on discourse. Hardly anyone believes what I've just written in the previous paragraph - or that said paragraph describes our society and the emerging world. But it's the truth.

That's what I'd preach. Change the social agreement and the rest will follow. But how on earth might we do that - especially in light of the defeatist reformism being preached by most everyone who's bellyaching about how things are going?