- Date:Tue, Feb 18, 2014
- Time:04:00 PM EST
- Duration:1 hour
- Host(s):Erik Hoffner
Gretchen Legler teaches creative writing at the University of Maine, Farmington. Her nonfiction books include All the Powerful Invisible Things: A Sportswoman’s Notebook and On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. See images from Bhutan at her trip blog.
DetailsDate:Tue, Feb 18, 2014Time:04:00 PM ESTDuration:1 hourHost(s):Erik Hoffner
Gretchen Legler teaches creative writing at the University of Maine, Farmington. Her nonfiction books include All the Powerful Invisible Things: A Sportswoman’s Notebook and On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. See images from Bhutan at her trip blog.
A speaker and writer focusing on themes of civilization, consciousness, money, and human cultural evolution, Charles Eisenstein’s short films and essays have established him as a genre-defying social philosopher and intellectual. He has traveled to Bhutan and is the author of Sacred EconomicsThe More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, andAscent of Humanity.
Helena Norberg-Hodge produced the award-winning 2011 film The Economics Of Happiness and is director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture. Her groundbreaking work on development and the strengthening of local communities earned her the Right Livelihood Award in 1986.
Happiness For All
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Individual humans can certainly attain happiness, but can whole societies? One country, Bhutan, is working to light the way by rearranging priorities to ensure that its citizens can all lead fulfilled lives. Whether this is possible, even at the scale of a small nation, is a large and fascinating question, and the world is watching this country’s efforts to implement what it calls Gross National Happiness.
Author Gretchen Legler recently lived in the tiny Himalayan nation while serving as a Fulbright Scholar,and wrote about what she learned (“The Happiness Index”) in the January/February 2014 issue of Orion.
A panel of experts including Helena Norberg-Hodge andCharles Eisenstein will join us to discuss her findings, Bhutan’s progress, and related initiatives elsewhere during Orion’s next live web event. Moderated by Orion, this event is free and open to all and takes place onFebruary 18 at 4 p.m. Eastern/ 1 p.m. Pacific, and 9 p.m. GMT.
The call is toll-free but pre-registration is required, so please fill in the blanks below and mark your calendar for this unique event.
(Please click the link below to register-
A CONVERSATION WITH ALAN WEISMAN
Published in theSeptember/October 2013 issue of Orionmagazine
Over the course of the past one hundred years, we humans have grown in population at a rate rarely seen outside of a petri dish. Alan Weisman, author of the best-selling The World Without Us,spent two years traveling to twenty nations to investigate what this population explosion means for our species as well as those we share the planet with—and, most importantly, what we can do about it. His book Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? will be released later this month. Orionmanaging editor Andrew D. Blechman met with Alan at his home in rural Massachusetts, amid birdsong and the patter of rainfall, to discuss some of the most serious issues ever to face the human species.
Andrew D. Blechman:Population is perhapsthe monumental topic of our time, and yet the title of your book ends in a question mark. Why is that?
Alan Weisman: I’m a journalist, not an activist. I don’t make statements, but I try to find the answers to big, burning questions. This is the big one to me, because it addresses whether we’ll be able to continue as a species, given all the things that we have been doing to our home.
Andrew: The human population stayed relatively stable, or grew at a manageable rate, for tens of thousands of years but exploded in the past century. What happened? How did we humans come to dominate the planet so quickly?
Alan: The explosion began during the Industrial Revolution. Jobs were suddenly in cities rather than on farms. People were living in tight quarters, and that became an incentive for doctors to begin dealing with diseases that were starting to spread much more easily. Beginning with the nineteenth century, medical advances, such as the smallpox vaccination, were either eradicating diseases or controlling the pests that spread diseases. Suddenly, people were living longer, fewer infants were dying.
Andrew: Before that, we were basically at a replacement rate?
Alan: Pretty much. Women would have seven or eight kids, and if they were lucky, two survived. Two is replacement rate. If a male and female have two kids, then they have essentially replaced themselves. Population remained stable because as many people were dying as were being born.
The other thing was that suddenly we learned how to produce far more food than nature could ever do on its own. Nature’s ability to produce plant life has always been limited by the amount of nitrogen that bacteria could pull out of the air and provide as food for plants. In the twentieth century, we discovered how to pull nitrogen out of the air artificially.
Andrew: You’re speaking of the Haber-Bosch process.
Alan: Yes. As a result, we suddenly came up with artificial fertilizer that could produce much more plant life on this planet than had ever existed before. We were at about 2 billion in 1930 when we started using artificial nitrogen extensively. Today we’re at 7 billion. Between 40 and 50 percent of us would not be alive without artificial nitrogen fertilizer. It nearly doubled the food supply.
Andrew: They say that, in some ways, too much abundance isn’t actually good for a population, that it can actually stress it because it leads to overpopulation. For example, if you overfeed city pigeons, they have more babies and the population starts maxing out, whereas if you don’t overfeed them, the population keeps itself in check.
Alan: That’s the paradox of food production—it can ultimately undermine the viability of a population. At a certain point, it expands beyond its resource base, and then it crashes. Wildlife managers, for example, well know that if we don’t keep population in balance with food, a species can run into serious problems. They know that they can either relax controls on natural predators, or issue more permits to hunters—that is, human predators.
Andrew: If that’s the case, then is part of the problem the fact that humans don’t have an apex predator to worry about?
Alan: Yes, there was a time when we got knocked off rather frequently by wild animals that had as much or more power in the landscape as we did. As our technology grew, starting with stone hammers and then slings and spears, we started getting the upper hand. Once we rose to the top, the limiting factors on us were basically mortality, disease, and hardship.
Andrew: What does it mean for the earth to be full? For example, 350 parts per million has been identified as the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere beyond which we set in motion changes that will threaten the future of life as we know it. Is there a comparable figure for global population numbers?
Alan: That was one of the big questions that I set out to answer, or to try to see if it’s possible to answer: how many people can fit on the planet without tipping it over? It’s completely related to what we are doing. If we all lived an agrarian life, self-limitations would set in and our numbers wouldn’t grow much beyond our ability to grow our own food. However, if we are force-feeding our crops through chemistry, we can produce a lot more food, and a lot more of us, too. At a certain point, a downside kicks in to that.
But the answer to your question isn’t really known because we’re finding it out right now. We’re all part of a big experiment to see how many of us can live on this planet without doing something to it that is going to destabilize it so much that our own future is in jeopardy.
Andrew: Isn’t it almost impossible to predict the future, given how variables change? What if the population problem is self-correcting? After all, we’re no longer doubling, and many developed nations are experiencing population decline.
Alan: Some argue that population is in fact self-correcting, and that the correction is already underway. But it’s a little like saying a house fire is self-correcting, because it will eventually put itself out. Unfortunately the damage is done. One way or another, when a species exceeds its resource base, the population will come down. Nature does that in 100 percent of the cases in the history of biology. The question that I keep coming back to is how soon is that going to happen?
Andrew: And will it be in time?
Alan: Exactly. If our population is coming down because nature is going to do it for us, well, it’s going to be, frankly, unpleasant to watch. When nature does in a horde of locusts because they eat themselves out of sustenance, it’s interesting for us to observe. When it happens to our own species, it’s not going to be very pretty.
The whole reason for writing this book was to ask the question, should we take the responsibility to try to manage population decline gracefully, and possibly speed it up? We can do it humanely if we decide to manage it rather than let nature take its course.
Andrew: Is it the sheer number of people or is it the amount that we consume that matters, particularly in the so-called developed nations. Or is it simply that we live too long?
Alan: The answer to all of that is yes. All of those things are involved. I’m always curious about what people are thinking when they say, “It’s not population; it’s consumption.” Who do they think is doing all the consuming? The more consumers there are, consuming too much, the more consumption.
Andrew: And, as you mention in your book, there’s no condom for consumption.
Alan: I think, in the twentieth century, when our population quadrupled, we got to the point where we kind of redefined original sin. Just by being born, we’re part of the problem. There’s also no question that the most overpopulated country on earth is actually the United States, because we consume at such a ferocious rate. We may not be as numerous as China or as India, but our total impact is huge.
That doesn’t mean that poor people in developing nations don’t have a severe impact on the environment. I was in Niger, which has the highest fertility rate on the planet now. Its average is around eight children per fertile female. In every village, I heard, “Had you been here twenty-five years ago, you couldn’t have seen that house over there for all the trees that we used to have.” Where did the trees go? Well, they needed them for firewood, and then the climate began changing on them and there’s less rain now. They’re not responsible for the industrial pollution that has gunked up the atmosphere, but when you take down trees, things change. You graze too many animals, and things really change. They’re now in chronic drought. In every village, hundreds of children had died.
What will ultimately carry the day in Niger is the dawning realization that they don’t have the luxury of continuing life as they used to live it, where men had multiple wives and wives had many children. And it’s not just in Niger, but many countries on the planet. Education seems to be the key. Any time you start to educate people, they start to put these things together, particularly if you educate women. Education is the best contraceptive of all.
Andrew: That’s what I gather from your book—the more you educate women, the faster the birth rate drops, and the quicker a population adopts a family-planning mentality.
Alan: It was one of the wonderful things about doing this book, which could otherwise have been very grim and sobering. I went to so many countries, twenty-one including all my travels around the United States. I saw human beings confronting some of the most difficult questions in our history. How are we going to survive? What are we doing to ourselves? Yet one of the easiest things that we can do that can make such a huge difference is one of these blessed win-win situations. You educate women, and give women rights that are equal to anybody else’s on this planet, and they generally choose to have fewer children, because they have another way to contribute to society that would be difficult if they had seven kids to care for.
Every place where you’ve got really educated women, you’ve got a society that is more and more livable. The more women decision makers we have, the better our chances. All we have to do is offer fair, equal opportunity to half the human race, the female half. This problem will start taking care of itself really, really quickly. A whole lot of environmental problems, within a couple generations, will also ease up because there’ll be a lot more space on this planet for other species.
Andrew: It’s amazing how flexible we can be as a species. Humans seem to adapt to having large families, and they seem to adapt just as easily to having very small families, even single children.
Alan: There’s a moment in the book with four hundred brilliant, animated students at Guangzhou University in China. Their parents or grandparents had been denied education in the Cultural Revolution and led limited lives. But these Chinese kids believe the twenty-first century is theirs. They’ve got education and incredible opportunities to do interesting work. The sky is the limit for them—but also literally, because they know that Guangzhou’s factory pollution hangs over their lives, and that it would be even worse if China hadn’t curbed its population.
Something occurred to me out of the blue. I asked my translator, a young woman in her twenties, “Hey, are they all only children?” She said, “Sure. We all are.”
Many people appalled by China’s one-child policy think it must be so unnatural not to have siblings. I asked these kids whether they missed having siblings. They admitted that yes, they did. But then they said, “On the other hand, our cousins have become our siblings. Sometimes our best friends have. We’ve reinvented the family.”
That, to me, was yet another example of the great flexibility of the human race, that we can make adjustments when we need to.
Andrew: Now that it’s entered its fourth decade, what other lessons can we learn from China’s massive social experiment with the one-child policy?
Alan: In one sense, the one-child policy has been successful—there would be 400 million more Chinese otherwise. And we’ve learned valuable lessons about population management, like the threat of discrimination, even lethal, against female babies.
We’ve also learned that while a draconian edict may have worked in one place, it’s not going to work everywhere. We have to take the culture of a country, a nation, a political system, a religious system, into account if we’re going to talk about managing population, which I think we have to do. Look, if we manage populations of predators and prey in parks because they have limits, we need to realize that we’ve now come to the limits of our planet. We occupy the whole thing—in a sense the earth is now a park, it’s parkland. We live in it, and we have to manage it ourselves. There’s no way around that. I don’t want us to cull ourselves like we do with deer, but we do have the technology, contraceptive technology, to control our numbers, and I think that one way or another we’re going to have to be doing it.
Sure, maybe we can learn to consume less. But frankly, if we try to attack consumption to solve all of our problems, by the time we change human nature enough so that people consume a lot less, I think the earth will be trashed in the meantime. So I think there are other things we have to do.
Andrew: It seems like contraception is a lot easier to encourage.
Alan: Yes, and it’s improving enormously. We’re no longer overloading women with estrogen the way that we used to. Even better, there are several male contraceptives that are becoming available that involve much simpler chemistry.
Andrew: As you’ve said, restricting the size of families through legislation is usually viewed with disdain. After all, for many, children represent hope, the future incarnate, and reproduction a fundamental human right, even a biological imperative. But can we really tackle global population without resorting to this sort of intervention?
Alan: I don’t think we need to legislate population management. What we need to do is make it very attractive to people, and let them manage their own population. I’ve got several examples in this book, big examples, of where this has worked brilliantly. There are a couple of Muslim nations that I refer to that have brought their populations down to replacement levels without draconian controls from above, without any edicts. They’ve done it through making family planning available, and making it available for free in one case, and also opening up the universities to women and encouraging them to get educated.
Andrew: Like Iran.
Alan: Like Iran, yes. Iran is the place that has had the most successful family-planning program in the history of the planet. They got down to replacement rate a year faster than China, and it was completely voluntary.
Andrew: How did they do it?
Alan: First of all, the present ayatollah, Khamenei, issued afatwa saying there was nothing in the Qur’an against having an operation if you felt that you had enough children that you could take care of. Everything from condoms through pills, injections, tubal ligations, vasectomies, IUDs—everything was free, and everything was available in the farthest reaches of the country.
I interviewed this wonderful woman, an OB/GYN who was part of this, right after the plan was implemented, ten years after the Iranian Revolution, in the late ’80s. She was going on horseback into these little villages to help perform vasectomies and tubal ligations. As the country grew more prosperous, her transportation changed to four-wheel-drive trucks and even helicopters. Everyone was guaranteed contraception if they wanted it.
The only thing that was obligatory in Iran was premarital counseling, which is actually a very nice idea. I recommend it to everybody who’s contemplating getting married. The Quakers do it in our country, and, for six months before a couple gets married, they attend classes. In Iran, you could go to a mosque, or you could just go to a health center. They would talk about things to get you prepared for getting married, including what it costs to have a child, to raise a child, to educate a child.
People got the message really well. They were told, “Have as many children as you want to have, as you think you can take care of.” Most Iranians continue to choose to have either one or two.
Andrew: Is that something that is easily scalable, or replicable, assuming a culture is receptive to it?
Andrew: It’s interesting to hear about such a program being embraced by a theocracy. Do the world’s major religions generally differ when it comes to family planning, or do they share similar beliefs?
( This is a little less than half the article. Please click the link below to read the whole article and the excellent, highly informative comments section-
I have to share this excerpt from an amazing comment I really loved- it is very worth checking out Orion’s site. Articles and comments are extremely informative and thought provoking. The excerpt below is the beginning-a break and then the very end of a longer comment-(
21 TimF on Sep 17, 2013
“Crowded Planet” tackles what is without doubt one of the greatest challenges of our time, and with regard to identifying informed reproductive empowerment for women as a key ingredient in making the turn toward a healthy future, the piece is spot on. That said, “Crowded Planet” is also plagued with unquestioned assumptions and diametric inconsistencies that effectively undermine its broader message.
And thus, we will see the imperative to redefine our role in relation to the gift of life from master, manager, engineer and even steward to gift-tender. Otherwise, our time here will end. And, without us, life will flourish once again, as Weisman shows in his excellent book, “The World Without Us.”
Yet, is it not possible and preferable for us to be a part of that flourishing? Is it not possible for the re-greening, re-wilding world to be a world with us? I believe so.
And the time has come to learn how. We might start by imagining ways for human cultures to function more like mycorrhizae in a forest than yeast cultures in a petri dish. In other words, we might start by giving our attention to the trees and, like Kimmerer, recognize them as our teachers. Of course, that recognition may be, in itself, the most important lesson for us to learn. And if our present relationship with trees, and our treatment of forests, is any indication, we have a long, long way to go.)
Derrick Jensen has a wonderful way of cutting thru the doublespeak, programming and nonsense to show us the bare still bleeding bones of the Truth. He does this no matter what subject he is writing about, but I found his explanation of climate change deniers particularly pertinent to my own frustration in dealing with them.
To me colonization IS the culture of abuse-in order to function; colonization, hierarchy the culture of power-over instead of power within can only operate when people engage in abuse of one another, other living beings and the Earth herself. It is *inherent* and required for the system to function as intended.
A system where 1% of the people have 80% of the wealth, where untold billions go without adequate food, shelter or medical care while there is plenty of all of it going to waste is a system designed to abuse, to use abuse to meet its goals, and to engender abuse and abusive perspectives in those who are functioning parts of that system.
Heartfelt thanks to Derrick Jensen, and to Orion for publishing him-we need to see clearly now before it is too late. Everyone cries over abused children who die, but who will be left to cry if we destroy the entire PLANET?
Upping the Stakes
The Victim Liked It
Climate deniers and the cycle of abuse
By Derrick Jensen
Published in the March/April 2013 issue of Orion magazine
OCTOBER 2012 was the 323rd consecutive month for which the global temperature was above average. The odds of this happening randomly are literally astronomical: one in ten to the hundredth power. For comparison, there are ten to the eightieth power atoms in the known universe. So if all the atoms in the universe were white, except one was green, your odds of reaching blindly into a bag of all the atoms in the universe and picking out the green one would be greater than that of having 323 consecutive months of above-average temperatures were global warming not happening.
A sane person might think that in the face of this, and with life on earth at stake, the debate over whether global warming is happening would have ended. A sane person might think that in the face of melting glaciers and melting ice caps, we would be desperately discussing how to stop it. A sane person might think that after Hurricane Sandy ripped into New York City (the center of the universe, according to some), the denial would be over.
But this sane person would be wrong. In December of 2012, former head of the EPA and White House Climate Czar Carol Browner said, A majority in our House of Representatives appears to not even think the problem is real. Its sort of stunning to me because Ive never seen the breadth of scientific consensus on an environmental issue like there is on this. The next speaker at the event, a conference about the Clean Air Act, was Joe Barton, chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce who currently sits on the Environment and the Economy subcommittee. As if to prove her point, he stated that atmospheric carbon cant be dangerous because its a necessity of life. In fact, he noted, he was exhaling carbon as he spoke! Q.E.D. Besides, he said, greenhouses are good things: Theres a reason that you build things called greenhouses, and thats to help things grow.
It would be easy enough to laugh at his stupidity if he werent in a position of power and using that position to help kill what remains of the planet. It would be easy enough to just label his denial stunning and move on. But his denial is part of a larger pattern, and articulating patterns is the first step toward changing them.
I first learned about the stages of denial from trauma expert Judith Herman, who said, Whether its genocide, military aggression, rape, wife beating, or child abuse, the same dynamic plays itself out. It begins, she says, with an indignant, almost rageful denial. Where global warming is concerned, there is plenty of rage, but, strangely, hardly any of it is directed at civilization or captains of industry for causing the warming that is contributing to the murder of the planet. Instead, it is primarily felt by those who deny that global warming is taking place, and is aimed at those who provide evidence counter to their denial.
Anger, according to Herman, is followed by the suggestion that the person bringing forward the informationwhether its the victim or another informantis lying, crazy, malicious, or has been put up to it by someone else. The first political piece I ever published was an op-ed about global warming in a regional newspaper. The first letter to the editor about my first political piece followed Judith Hermans script explicitly by calling me a liar. Im not alone. A Google search for global warming and liar brings up more than 33 million web pages. A representative sample of these includes a video called Al Gore, Liar; an article from Business Insider titled Greenpeaces Director Busted for Lying About the Effects of Global Warming; and A Political Whos Who of Global Warming Liars, which lists the politicians who believe in global warming. Heres how one blogger put it: Finally a real consensus on global warming: Its a lie. We can know global warming is a lie, according to this writer, because the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of American Adults [sic] shows that 69% say its at least somewhat likely that some scientists have falsified research data in order to support their own theories and beliefs. This particular article has a bigger problem than the rank stupidity of pretending that a belief that some scientists may have falsified data means that the field as a whole is a lie, which is the belief that a poll of the beliefs of Americans (or anyone) implies anything about physical reality. Reality is determined by reality, not consensus.
There are plenty of instances where the deniers claim that those who believe in global warming are crazy. A few quick headlines: Insane British Global Warming Ad, Californias Insane Global Warming Initiative, Why the Global Warming Crowd Is Insane. As for the claim that those who believe in global warming have been put up to it by someone else, I recently read a global warming denialist screed with the title Follow the Money that Drives the Climate Warming Alarm, which described how the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis has been kept alive by the power of money for over two decades. According to one source, this money flows from the solar energy lobby, which of course is massive compared to the tiny oil and natural gas lobbies.
And what if the denialists efforts to discredit fail? There are a number of fallback positions to which perpetrators can retreat if the evidence is so overwhelming and irrefutable it cannot be ignored, or rather, suppressed, says Herman. These include the whole raft of predictable rationalizations used to excuse everything from rape to genocide: the victim exaggerates; the victim enjoyed it; the victim provoked or otherwise brought it on herself; the victim wasnt really harmed; and even if some slight damage has been done, its now time to forget the past and get on with our lives.
Right on script, global warming deniers accuse activists of exaggerating, never mind that the global warming we are witnessing now greatly exceeds almost all previous estimates. Just last week I read that new scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is worse than previously expected, rather than not as bad as previously expected. The article quotes Naomi Oreskes, a science historian with the University of California, San Diego, as saying, Were seeing mounting evidence now that the scientific community, rather than overstating the claim or being alarmist, is the opposite.
Other denialist claims that fall into the rationalization category: global warming is actually good for us (Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2 was the name of a session at a recent conference of conservative lobbyists); global warming is natural (i.e., the planets fault); global warming wont harm the planet (and if it does, we just need to, as one pseudo-environmentalist puts it, play God and geoengineer it).
Judith Hermans articulation of this pattern has helped me recognize the maddening comments of climate deniers for what they are: a script more or less followed by most abusers. Its imperative that we recognize and call out this pattern. So long as we dont, we allow the abusers to choose the rhetorical field of battle. And instead of talking about what is to be done to stop this or that atrocity, we are stuck insisting that the atrocity is happening at all, that we arent crazy, or lying, or so on. The perpetrators thus keep us on the defensive. And no matter what proof we provide, they will never listen. Because the purpose was never to gain understanding, or even to debate: the purpose was, from the first to the last, to obfuscate, so that they can continue to exploit.
Sandy didnt break the denial. Hundreds dead in a massive typhoon in the Philippines didnt break the denial. Three hundred twenty-three months in a row of above-average temperatures havent broken the denial. As I write this, the eighteenth round of climate talks at Doha is ending the way previous talks have ended: with, as Reuters put it, no progress on curbing greenhouse emissions, and with the United States taking a lead role in denial and obstruction.
At some point, those of us who care about life on the planet have to confront not only the denial of others but our own denial as well, by which I mean our belief that if 323 months wont convince them, then 324 months will; that if after eighteen climate conferences global carbon emissions are higher than ever, then the nineteenth conference will lead to a different result. Weve got to stop wasting time trying to convince those who refuse to be convinced that reality is real, so that we can begin discussing how best to stop the rapid, unprecedented, undeniable warming of the planet.
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ANOTHER 120 SPECIES went extinct today; they were my kin. I am not going to sit back and wait for every last piece of this living world to be dismembered. I’m going to fight like hell for those kin who remain—and I want everyone who cares to join me. Many are. But many are not. Some of those who are not are those who, for whatever reason, really don’t care. I worry about them. But I worry more about those who do care but have chosen not to fight. A fairly large subset of those who care but have chosen not to fight assert that lifestyle choice is the only possible response to the murder of the planet. They all carry the same essential message—and often use precisely the same words: Resistance isn’t possible. Resistance never works.
Meanwhile, another 120 species went extinct today. They were my kin.
There are understandable personal reasons for wanting to believe in the invincibility of an oppressive system. If you can convince yourself the system is invincible, there’s no reason to undertake the often arduous, sometimes dangerous, always necessary work of organizing, preparing to dismantle, and then actually dismantling this (or any) oppressive system. If you can convince yourself the system is invincible, you can, with fully salved conscience, make yourself and your own as comfortable as you can within the confines of the oppressive system while allowing this oppressive system to continue. There are certainly reasons that those in power want us to see them as invincible. Abusive systems, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, from the familial to the social and political and religious, work best when victims and bystanders police themselves. And one of the best ways to get victims and bystanders to police themselves is for them to internalize the notion that the abusers are invincible and then, even better, to get them to attempt to police anyone who threatens to break up the stable abuser/victim/bystander triad.
And meanwhile, another 120 species went extinct today.
(To read this article click the link to go to Orion Magazine)
by Derrick Jensen
Published in the May/June 2006 issue of Orion magazine
THE MOST COMMON WORDS I hear spoken by any environmentalists anywhere are, We’re fucked. Most of these environmentalists are fighting desperately, using whatever tools they have—or rather whatever legal tools they have, which means whatever tools those in power grant them the right to use, which means whatever tools will be ultimately ineffective—to try to protect some piece of ground, to try to stop the manufacture or release of poisons, to try to stop civilized humans from tormenting some group of plants or animals. Sometimes they’re reduced to trying to protect just one tree.
Here’s how John Osborn, an extraordinary activist and friend, sums up his reasons for doing the work: “As things become increasingly chaotic, I want to make sure some doors remain open. If grizzly bears are still alive in twenty, thirty, and forty years, they may still be alive in fifty. If they’re gone in twenty, they’ll be gone forever.”
But no matter what environmentalists do, our best efforts are insufficient. We’re losing badly, on every front. Those in power are hell-bent on destroying the planet, and most people don’t care.
Frankly, I don’t have much hope. But I think that’s a good thing. Hope is what keeps us chained to the system, the conglomerate of people and ideas and ideals that is causing the destruction of the Earth.
To start, there is the false hope that suddenly somehow the system may inexplicably change. Or technology will save us. Or the Great Mother. Or beings from Alpha Centauri. Or Jesus Christ. Or Santa Claus. All of these false hopes lead to inaction, or at least to ineffectiveness. One reason my mother stayed with my abusive father was that there were no battered women’s shelters in the ‘50s and ‘60s, but another was her false hope that he would change. False hopes bind us to unlivable situations, and blind us to real possibilities.
Does anyone really believe that Weyerhaeuser is going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anyone really believe that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely? If only we get a Democrat in the White House, things will be okay. If only we pass this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. If only we defeat this or that piece of legislation, things will be okay. Nonsense. Things will not be okay. They are already not okay, and they’re getting worse. Rapidly.
But it isn’t only false hopes that keep those who go along enchained. It is hope itself. Hope, we are told, is our beacon in the dark. It is our light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. It is the beam of light that makes its way into our prison cells. It is our reason for persevering, our protection against despair (which must be avoided at all costs). How can we continue if we do not have hope?
We’ve all been taught that hope in some future condition—like hope in some future heaven—is and must be our refuge in current sorrow. I’m sure you remember the story of Pandora. She was given a tightly sealed box and was told never to open it. But, being curious, she did, and out flew plagues, sorrow, and mischief, probably not in that order. Too late she clamped down the lid. Only one thing remained in the box: hope. Hope, the story goes, was the only good the casket held among many evils, and it remains to this day mankind’s sole comfort in misfortune. No mention here of action being a comfort in misfortune, or of actually doing something to alleviate or eliminate one’s misfortune.
(to read the rest of the article click the link below to go to Orion Magazine)
Orion Magazine, like Yes! is one of the few sources of widely distributed print media that still inspire, give hope and practical encouragement for creating a better world. I encourage everyone to check out their site-not only the articles but the comment and discussion after the articles can be incredibly educational and interesting. Orion and Yes! are also great magazines to convince your local library to carry so more people can read them(if you can afford it and the library allows it you could buy them a subscription).
Derrick Jensen is one of the most amazing and enlightening writers in the world today. His books change you; they break your heart and make you cry from the depths of your soul while at the same time elevating you and filling you with the true power-from-within you always knew intellectually was there. His writing draws it out and makes it a force within you, like the need to eat, sleep, dance or fall in love-suddenly you have within you not only the awareness but the connection to all living things-and the need and drive and direction to do whatever you can to stop their destruction.
If you can only buy one book this year make it one of his;-) A Language Older Than Words uncovers the roots of the truth,it is a book that will break you and heal you at the same time. Deep Green Resistance gives you some tools to do something about the crisis on our planet that so many are working so hard to obscure or ignore(or live in complete denial of).
Upping the Stakes
This Culture Is #/?*#-+
What we don’t say and why we don’t say it
by Derrick Jensen
Published in the July/August 2011 issue of Orion magazine
THIS CULTURE IS @†‰Ø the planet. The latest studies show that global warming will be far #+?þ than anyone has imagined, and could easily lead to an increase of #-+^)@ Fahrenheit by 2100, which would effectively spell the ?*#-+@* of life on Earth. Yet our response—including the response by most of the #/?*#-+^)!@* community—is utterly incommensurate with the #216;‰§« posed by #/?*#-+^)!@*. For crying out loud, most @?#/?*#-@ can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that the @†‰Ø system is inherently unsustainable, much less that ?*??#-+^)!@ itself must be !$#/?*#=-+^)!@*.
I’m #/?*#-+^)!@* of it. I want to talk about what we #/?*#-+^)!@*. But before we can talk about what we #/?*#-+^)!@*, it’s necessary for us to talk about why we don’t talk about it.
One big reason is censorship—from without and within.
The United States government is said to have been founded on free speech and freedom of expression. After all, doesn’t the First Amendment to the Constitution state that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”? Pretty clear, no? And haven’t we seen landmark case after landmark case declaring that even such vile material as the most degrading pornography is protected free speech? And don’t corporations have the right to use their money as “free speech” to influence politicians—that is, buy elections? Actually, by extension, so do you—never mind that Koch Industries (84 percent of which is owned by the infamous Koch Brothers, who provide significant funding for climate denialists and the “grassroots” Tea Party) had an estimated $100 billion in income in 2010, while you have $524 in your checking account and $850 rent due in two weeks.
The truth, however, is that those who will stop at nothing, including the murder of the planet, to increase their power and perceived control will—no surprise—also not hesitate to prohibit speech that might lead people to attempt to decrease that power, or to decrease the ability of the rich to exploit the poor and to murder the planet. And—again, no surprise—they will not hesitate to punish those who break this prohibition.
The history of the U.S. government (and state and local governments) prohibiting and punishing such speech is nearly as old as the United States itself. Congress didn’t even wait a decade after the ratification of the First Amendment before passing the Alien and Sedition Acts, which, among others things, punished anyone who spoke critically of the government. These were merely the first of far too many acts aimed at prohibiting speech dangerous to those in power. We can fast forward to the Wobbly free-speech fights of the early twentieth century, when local governments passed ordinances disallowing union organizing, causing union members to flood the streets of, for example, Spokane, Washington, where they were arrested for such unpatriotic acts as publicly reciting the Declaration of Independence (and where police later were said to have turned the women’s portion of the jail into a brothel, with policemen soliciting “customers”). Then there was the Espionage Act of 1917, primarily used not to prohibit espionage but to prohibit speaking out against U.S. involvement in World War I. One woman was sentenced to five years in prison for saying that “the women of the United States were nothing more nor less than brood sows, to raise children to get into the army and be made into fertilizer.” A film producer was sentenced to ten years in prison for making a film called The Spirit of ‘76, in which he showed British atrocities against colonists during the American Revolution. The judge said the film questioned “the good faith of our ally, Great Britain.” The name of the case? U.S. v. The Spirit of ‘76. And union organizer and presidential candidate Eugene Debs was sentenced to ten years for advocating nonviolent opposition to World War I; he ran for president from prison and received nearly a million votes. More recently, of course, there is the Patriot Act, among others. It goes on and on.
Part of the problem here is that government censorship—for obvious reasons—applies only to those who oppose atrocities committed by those in power. Those who support atrocities that further the ends of the state need fear no such censorship. For example, the scientific philosopher Sam Harris has suggested that a nuclear first strike against Islamic nations, killing “tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day . . . may be the only course of action available to us.” And, in an essay titled “In Defense of Torture,” he envisions scenarios where “torture may be an ethical necessity” and imagines something he calls a “torture pill” (he also calls it a “truth pill”) that would “produce transitory paralysis and transitory misery of a kind that no human being would willingly submit to a second time.” Did he need fear punishment for suggesting these horrors? No. Why should Sam Harris get in trouble when John Yoo, Dick Cheney, and George Bush haven’t been brought to justice for not merely articulating but planning and implementing programs of systematic torture?
When I give talks, I routinely ask audiences: Do you fear the U.S. government? Do you censor yourself for fear of government reprisals? If you spoke honestly about the near-complete corporate control of the United States government, and how so-called elected representatives better represent corporations than they do living, breathing human beings, and about what you believe is necessary to halt environmental degradation, do you believe you would be arrested or otherwise harmed by the United States government? Nearly everyone—and I’m talking about thousands of people over the years—says yes.
Let the implications of that sink in.
The truth is, we no longer need the government to censor us; we now preempt any such censorship by censoring ourselves. This self-censorship has become utterly routine. We see it constantly with journalists employed by the corporate media. As the world is being murdered, they act as pitchmen and -women for capitalism—that is, when they aren’t pitching mere gossip. Many, if not most, nature or environmental writers self-censor as well. How else could otherwise intelligent and sane people describe in great detail the harmful effects of the oil-based capitalist economy on the planet (through global warming and many other means), then propose solutions that run from overinflating tires to more capitalism? I’m reasonably sure that in many of these cases, if the writers didn’t self-censor, they’d probably lose their funding, their teaching jobs, or their book contracts.
But fear of state repression or loss of funding are trivial, I think, compared to our primary reason for self-censorship: fear that we’ll lose credibility. We are, after all, social creatures, to whom credibility can be more important than finances or even safety (when global warming is threatening to turn the planet into Venus, the weakness of our responses makes clear that safety has long since been left in the dust). So strong is the stranglehold of capitalism on our thoughts and discourse that to suggest that the real world, that life on Earth, is more real and more important than capitalism is to commit blasphemy. It has become almost unthinkable for far too many people.
I can’t imagine any of the victims of this culture—whether they’re salmon, sharks, subsistence farmers, or traditional indigenous peoples—proposing solutions that favor capitalism over life. But the people who are proposing these solutions are not the victims but rather the beneficiaries of this way of life, and they identify more with the industrial capitalist system than they do with life on the planet. It’s an effective system whereby the loyal opposition gets to speak truth™ to power™, and those in power get to trumpet their tolerance™ for free speech™, while they continue to concentrate their power, steal from the poor, and murder the planet. It works great, except for the poor, and except for the planet. If we allow it to continue, then we’re truly #/?*#-+^)!@*.
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Derrick Jensen’s most recent book is Dreams. He also coauthored Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, with Aric McBay and Lierre Kieth.
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