Playing for Keeps

Photograph: Robert and Shana Parkeharrison
Photograph: Robert and Shana Parkeharrison

PEOPLE WHO READ MY WORK often say, “Okay, so it’s clear you don’t like this culture, but what do you want to replace it?” The answer is that I don’t want any one culture to replace this culture. I want ten thousand cultures to replace this culture, each one arising organically from its own place. That’s how humans inhabited the planet (or, more precisely, their landbases, since each group inhabited a place, and not the whole world, which is precisely the point), before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one.

I live on Tolowa (Indian) land. Prior to the arrival of the dominant culture, the Tolowa lived here for 12,500 years, if you believe the myths of science. If you believe the myths of the Tolowa, they lived here since the beginning of time. This story may sound familiar, but its significance has, thus far, been lost on the dominant culture, so it bears repeating: when the first settlers arrived here maybe 180 years ago, the place was a paradise. Salmon ran in runs so thick you couldn’t see the bottoms of rivers, so thick people were afraid to put their boats in for fear they would capsize, so thick they would keep people awake at night with the slapping of their tails against the water, so thick you could hear the runs for miles before you could see them. Whales were commonplace in the nearby ocean. Forests were thick with frogs, newts, salamanders, birds, elk, bears. And of course huge ancient redwood trees.

Now I count myself blessed when I see two salmon in what we today call Mill Creek. Another Tolowa staple, Pacific lampreys, are in bad shape. Just three years ago you could not hold a human conversation outside at night in the spring, and now I hear maybe five or six frogs at night. Salamanders, newts, songbirds, all are equivalently gone. The rivers are poisoned with pesticides and herbicides. All in less than two centuries.

Why? Or, perhaps more important, how?

Only the most arrogant and ignorant among us would say something that implies that all humans are destructive, and that the dominant (white) culture is the most destructive simply because somehow indigenous peoples around the world were too stupid to invent backhoes and chainsaws, too backward to dominate their human and nonhuman neighbors with the efficiency and viciousness of the dominant culture. They might even try to argue that the Tolowa weren’t actually living sustainably, even though they lived here for at least 12,500 years. But when 12,500 years of living in place won’t convince them, it becomes pretty clear that evidence is secondary, and that there are, rather, ideological reasons the person cannot accept that humans have ever lived sustainably. One of these ideological reasons is very clear: if you can convince yourself that humans are inherently destructive, then you allow yourself the most convenient of all excuses not to work to stop this culture from destroying the planet: it’s simply in our nature to destroy, and you can’t fight biology, so let’s not fuss about all these little extinctions, and could someone please pass the TV remote? It’s an odious position, but a lot of people take it.

If we want to stop this culture from killing the planet, we might instead try asking how so many indigenous cultures lived in place for so long without destroying their landbases.

There are many differences between indigenous and nonindigenous ways of being in the world, but I want to mention two here. The first is that the indigenous had and have serious long-term relationships with the plants and animals with whom they share their landscape. Ray Rafael, who has written extensively on the concept of wilderness, has said that Native Americans hunted, gathered, and fished “using methods that would be sustainable over centuries and even millennia. They did not alter their environment beyond what could sustain them indefinitely. They did not farm, but they managed the environment. But it was different from the way that people try to manage it now, because they stayed in relationship with it.”

That last phrase is key. What would a society look like that was planning on being in that particular place five hundred years from now? What would an economics look like? If you knew for a fact that your descendants five hundred years from now would live on the same landbase you inhabit now, how would that affect your relationship to sources of water? How would that affect your relationship with topsoil? With forests? Would you produce waste products that are detrimental to the soil? Would you poison your water sources (or allow them to be poisoned)? Would you allow global warming to continue? If the very lives of your children and their children depended on your current actions — and of course they do — how would you act differently than you do?

The other difference I want to mention — and essentially every traditional indigenous person with whom I have ever spoken has said that it is the fundamental difference between western and indigenous peoples — is that even the most open Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to something real. I asked American Indian writer Vine Deloria about this, and he said, “I think the primary thing is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people, especially science, reduce things to objects, whether they’re living or not. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as made up of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, not only is it inevitable that you will destroy the world by attempting to control it, but perceiving the world as lifeless robs you of the richness, beauty, and wisdom of participating in the larger pattern of life.” That brings to mind a great line by a Canadian lumberman: “When I look at trees I see dollar bills.” If when you look at trees, you see dollar bills, you’ll treat them one way. If when you look at trees, you see trees, you’ll treat them differently. If when you look at this particular tree you see this particular tree, you’ll treat it differently still. The same is true for salmon, and, of course, for women: if when I look at women I see objects, I’m going to treat them one way. If when I look at women I see women, I’ll treat them differently. And if when I look at this particular woman I see this particular woman, I’ll treat her differently still.

Here’s where people usually ask, “Okay, so how do I listen to the natural world?” When people ask me this, I always begin by asking them if they have ever made love. If so, I ask whether the other person always had to say, “put this here,” or “do that now,” or did they sometimes read their lover’s body, listen to the unspoken language of the flesh? Having established that one can communicate without words, I then ask if they have ever had any nonhuman friends (a.k.a. pets). If so, how did the dog or cat let you know that her food dish was empty? I used to have a dog friend who would look at me, look at the food dish, look at me, look at the food dish, until finally the message would get across to me.

How do we hear the rest of the natural world? Unsurprisingly enough, the answer is: by listening. That’s not easy, given that we have been told for several thousand years that these others are silent. But the fact that we cannot easily hear them doesn’t mean they aren’t speaking, and does not mean they have nothing to say. I’ve had people respond to my suggestion that they listen to the natural world by going outside for five minutes and then returning to say they didn’t hear anything. But how can you expect to learn any new language (remember, most nonhumans don’t speak English) in such a short time? Learning to listen to our nonhuman neighbors takes effort, humility, and patience.

The Tolowa believed the nonhuman world had something to say, and that what the nonhuman world had to say was vital to their own survival. Given that they were living here sustainably for 12,500 years, and given that we manifestly are not, perhaps the least we could do is acknowledge that they were on to something, and maybe even explore just what that kind of relationship might look and feel like.

Derrick Jensen is the author of Thought to Exist in the Wild, Songs of the Dead, Endgame, Dreams, and other books. In 2008, he was named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” His Orion column is called “Upping the Stakes.”


  1. Dang. This boy might just turn out o.k. after all.

  2. Your article reminded me of this comment – from a geologist who perhaps does know how to listen…

    Maybe the Earth is trying to tell us something

    “Not only are the oceans and atmosphere conspiring against us, bringing baking temperatures, more powerful storms and floods, but the crust beneath our feet seems likely to join in too,” said Professor Bill McGuire, Director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, at University College London.

    “Maybe the Earth is trying to tell us something,” he added.


  3. More inspiration–in spirit and so spirited. Thank you.

  4. I truly love the image associated with this article. I see surface listening and then deep embedded listening where Nature and self co-create a conversation.
    It reminds me of this quote from Stephen Nachmanovitch in his book Free Play.
    Life’s solutions lie in the minute particulars, involving more and more individual people daring to create their own life and art, daring to listen to the voice in their deepest original nature, and deeper still, the voice within the Earth.
    I’m wondering what Derrick would say about the role human creativity plays in our capacity to listen, speak heartfully and behave in ways that honour our relationship with Nature.

  5. The essence of an endangered experiences – being able to sit quietly, to be in a space the lets one actually hear the myriad of natural sounds and voices. I do 1-minute of silence with kids while on hikes and it’s profound. If they don’t have that as a touch-stone, then the constant babble of their world will only increase, expotentially. Cell phones are just the latest distraction, making it easy to forget the other layer that surrounds us.

  6. Your thoughts and words are wise. Indigenous peoples still inhabit the earth. Where we are unable to “bring them around to our way” we frequently try to undercut the living structure that supports their way. Man is Playing for Keeps and has been supported by governments and institutions for about 7000 years, perhaps more. Hard to break that chain of thought. Keep up the good work. Maybe someone is listening somewhere in the universe.

  7. This is a good essay and obviously heart-felt. These are things that Vine Deloria Jr. pointed out in many of his writings during his time on earth. If you are interested in what Vine had to say, I’d suggest his books Red Earth White Lies, the introductory chapter of We Talk You Listen, and a particularly good essay titled “American Indians and the Wilderness,” published in Return of the Wild: The Future of our Natural Lands,” edited by Ted Kerasote.

  8. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Silence speaks. All that we need to know is around us. May we listen with our hearts.

  9. Thank you for your writing, it speaks a truth that is refreshing to hear. You speak of many good points that those in the dominant culture could learn from if they were willing to listen. But far too often we dont listen to others that offer real wisdom. Instead our heads are wrapped up in meaningless dominant cultural activities. Most of these activities take us further from our true inner soul and further from the spirit of the earth/universe that provides everything we need to sustain life. The force of the dominant culture has not only destroyed other cultures but is in the process of destroying itself without even realizing it. Evidence of this destruction is all around us and the earth is absolutely screaming to our deaf ears.

  10. I’m pretty old to learn a new language, one that is completely foreign to me, like listening to nature.
    But, actually, it isn’t a language foreign to me. I haven’t used it for all of my adult life, but I still remember being a toddler and feeling and hearing nature out in my backyard with my mother near by. I watched worms and felt the life in the grass and noticed the buzzing of an insect nearby. I could feel the dampness of the rich soil. It is a language that I once knew, and later forgot.
    I am going to try to remember that language, and lie in the grass and under the trees and watch insects soar and buzz and realize that THAT is life, and THAT is what is important to save.

  11. Hale, friends.

    I heard Jensen talk at the Tsunami Bookstore in Eugene–I am amazed he still walks our fair streets. He is a dangerous man.

    The NSA spends billions digesting e-mails and library records for hints of rebellion–meantime an army doctor advocates bloody jihad at a medical conference, and all avert their eyes. How good we have gotten at that talent!

    Give me a break, I want to say. But that’s not the world’s way.

    Maybe listen to Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” (he reports, you decide). Today he taught me about Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker. “His signature phrases were:

    “Done and done!”
    “You’ve got me there!”
    “Get it on paper!”

    When all seems hopeless, we can at least work at it; “get it on paper.” Thanks Jensen for being brave and not sighing, “What’s the use?” like so many.

  12. What a beautiful essay. I’m going to forward it to my students in ENVS 101, which is the gateway humanities course for our Environmental Studies minor. They are really starting to think about these things–and a few of them have been doing so for a long time. On the other hand, with so many people texting and talking on cell phones all the time, it’s no surprise they can ignore the living world around them. Drives me crazy.

  13. I’ve been reading Jenson for awhile now and he has been important in the way I’ve been changing my thinking about the world.
    Also, some other important works that have helped:
    the DVD:
    and Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
    At sixty I am amazed that I can be still so enthralled with learning a new way of thinking about the world.

  14. I love your lovemaking analogy. Let those who don’t know learn the art of love. Then let the art of love inform the art of life. Long lasting (sustainable) ecstasy. Listen !

    Robert Riversong 1990

    I am rock.

    I congealed from the nebulous primordial universe
    and – giving back my heat – I coalesced,
    turned inward, and took form.

    My energy has returned to disturb me, erode me, and
    shift me on the outside,
    to cause me to flow and fold and fracture inside.

    I am alive. I move; I merge; I emerge;
    I change.

    I am the universe in its most compact form.
    I am dense. I’m heavy, cumbersome, static.

    Yet I’m flowing in cosmic time and becoming,

    I become plants and animals, woman and man.
    I participate in the wind, the movement of waters,
    in the turnings of life and death and

    I am introspection: look within yourself
    and you will find me in your body,
    in your thoughts, even in your spirit.

    For I am your connection to all that is:
    to the past and the future. But above all,
    I am now – I am real.

    Look into the shadows, into your shadow,
    and there I will be in the obsidian passageways of
    your soul.

    Look through the shadows and you will find me still,
    transformed and reborn.
    I am fecund; I am fertile.

    Touch me and you will be dirtied with reality.
    Caress me and you will know beauty.
    Sink into me and you will know love.

  16. While mastering the language of “our nonhuman neighbors takes effort, humility, and patience”, learning to listen can be accomplished by anyone with an open heart and sincere desire in a matter of minutes. I know, because I’ve guided many into that space. They always return amazed at (and often transformed by) what they heard.

    Those who wish to delve more deeply into the language of the Earth might read Stephen Harrod Buhner’s books, particularly The Secret Teachings of Plants.

    The first half of that book describes the cutting-edge science that has revealed the heart as the orchestrator of health, the organ of holistic perception, and the doorway through which we communicate with all of Life.

    The second, more poetic section presents this mode of perception as not exclusive to first peoples, but also shared by the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Goethe, Luther Burbank, and Masanobu Fukuoka, author of The One Straw Revolution. Buhner teaches how one might relearn to listen with the heart and find healing of body and soul in the wildness of the world.

  17. I am a Japanese-Irish Canadian who has been very integrated and given a Special Liaison – Two Row Wampum – treaty outreach task in the matrilineal 5 Nations Iroquois – (Kahnawake) Mohawk Traditional Council. The article is good (sent to me by friend at Concordia U – Montreal)and I can help a bit with this feedback. The Ga ee en gay ha ga (People Who Spark the Mind Like Flint)not the Dutch word Mohawk nor French word Iroquois, did farm and farmed extensively (corn, beans, squash) for centuries. This and the Great Law of Peace and Understanding truly, democratic, consensus based Constitution (modeled after physical make up of universe)is what distinguishes them from all other Peacemaking spiritual systems I have encountered to date and especially from the Dutch, French, British, American and Canadians who never really respected post Colombian N Americas first intl treaty. It is still valid – in effect but why. Since the native and other parties were not to interfere with each others business one can easily prove the white man never held to this agreement but especially because the agreement also meant joint stewardship of the environment where the treaty functions. Finally, the Great Law like the ceremonies are not metaphors but scientific emulations and reminders – done regularly, constantly (to not do so is against the Constitution) otherwise the people, especially the men (always in check by the women)become extremely destructive (but females accepting the male dominant behavior also) Stone Iwaasa

  18. A powerful article. I was brought up to listen to nature. I’m trying to do my part in its preservation.

  19. Derrick – good job. You know from reading my own thoughts on the subject (The Recovery of Ecstasy) that I agree we have lost much of our ability to hear and to touch. So again, I say great job. But, I believe the most important piece in your article is the opening paragraph.

    “Okay, so it’s clear you don’t like this culture, but what do you want to replace it?” The answer is that I don’t want any one culture to replace this culture. I want ten thousand cultures to replace this culture, each one arising organically from its own place. That’s how humans inhabited the planet (or, more precisely, their landbases, since each group inhabited a place, and not the whole world, which is precisely the point), before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one.


  20. Jensen means well and I can sense his anguish. Still, he errs in citing a “White culture” that, in reality, does not exist. Perhaps what he implies is more along the lines of a white-capitalist culture that calls destruction “development” and proclaims that greed is indeed good.
    He ignores the agricultural achievements of North and South indigenous Americans who developed the foods that feed most of the Earth’s people. Jensen also ignores the self-destruction of the ancient Maya culture that failed to maintain sustainability with the land.
    Jensen succeeds in presenting the issues and may some day be able to propose some solutions.

  21. I like Derrick because, at the heart of his writing, he is saying, “face it folks, there is no hope”. He is the only person who has the balls to say it.
    Let’s face it………our corporate controlled world is not going to make a significant change in the next ten years. Species are dropping like flies, and oil is on the downward spiral. Global warming is now unstoppable, and the population will probably reach 12 billion.
    I have hoped and hoped, and gotten excited by this idea or that, but I finally came to the realization that we are going to collapse as a civilization and a species, and we will bring a lot of the rest of nature down with us.
    There simply is no other way to be realistic about it.
    We can wax on and on about love or spirituality or how important it is to try or to be positive, but, folks, it IS COMING DOWN.

  22. Paul,

    Yes, it is coming down. Yes, there are no “solutions”. Yes, hope is an exercise in denial and wishful thinking.

    But there are an infinite number of positive, creative responses to the perfect storm we’ve brought upon us. Millions of rapidly-evolving people are engaged in crafting and living such responses. A new paradigm is being birthed, and a new story being written for this next phase of human habitation on Earth.

    If all you can see is the sky falling down, then you won’t be of any help in building the bridges to the new age of humanity.

    While we need some Chicken Littles to draw attention to the falling sky, what we need far more are those who have the vision and the determination to drum up the sun for a new dawn.

    Sun dancer
    Dance into the night.
    We give our whole being
    To open up our sight,
    That we might see the vision
    Every landscape unfurled,
    That we might dance through
    The crack between the worlds.

  23. Sundancer:
    I do agree with much of what you say, and agree that a whole new world of ideas about transition cultures and living after the crash are developing and may be helpful.
    But, unless you are ignoring the world at large, you must realize that we are a very, very tiny minority. Most people on earth are sure things will continue to go on as they have. A few feel that we must make some big changes. I now realize all of these people are wrong. They are living a lie. They believe our civilization and industrial culture will continue, at least in some adequate form that will allow them to live on pretty much as before.
    What we need is for some of us to spread the world that when we say our culture is unsustainable, it means it can’t be sustained. That means it will end. And changing lightbulbs and riding a bike instead of a car only sidesteps the reality: the crash is coming.
    Now, once you realize that, THEN we can move on to transition culture and survival skills for those who listen and understand what is coming.

  24. Paul,

    Fortunately, it is you who are ignoring the world at large. Those “ten thousand cultures” that Jensen wishes for “each one arising organically from its own place” are already sprouting. But, because they are organic, grass-roots efforts, nobody notices. Nobody, that is, except Paul Hawken.

    In his book “Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement In the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming”, Hawken connects the dots.


    Paul Hawken has spent over a decade researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice. From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person dot.causes, these groups collectively comprise the largest movement on earth, a movement that has no name, leader, or location, and that has gone largely ignored by politicians and the media. Like nature itself, it is organizing from the bottom up, in every city, town, and culture. and is emerging to be an extraordinary and creative expression of people’s needs worldwide.

    Blessed Unrest explores the diversity of the movement, its brilliant ideas, innovative strategies, and hidden history, which date back many centuries. A culmination of Hawken’s many years of leadership in the environmental and social justice fields, it will inspire and delight any and all who despair of the world’s fate, and its conclusions will surprise even those within the movement itself. Fundamentally, it is a description of humanity’s collective genius, and the unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the environment and one another.

  25. UNfortunately, it is a dream……..just part of the irrepressible optimism of most men who will seek any possible route to hope regardless of reality.
    Paul Hawkin, bless his soul, is swayed by lots of hype. The vast majority of those organizations barely make a dent, and almost none really are pushing real sustainability, which is probably impossible with six to twelve billion people on earth.
    Big movement, but falling impossibly short of any goal, and FAR too slow to halt a collapse and destruction of the world’s economies and more importantly the world’s ecologies.
    How many hundred species a day are wiping out? And that is accelerating, regardless of thousands of good deed environmental organizations.
    Also accelerating: the loss of edible ocean species, mountain-top removal, and the opinions of Americans that think the global warming connection is a hoax.

    We aren’t getting anywhere, and maybe it is partly because so many people DO think we are getting somewhere.

  26. Paul Getty

    I cannot help but agree with your conclusions. The conditions for the possibility of such a transformation, not just of culture, but of consciousness, no longer exist. We have travelled too far down this trajectory.

    The way our minds work, how they have been structured by the curriculum of the West, from the mathematical objectification of nature to the scientific technicization of culture and humanity, the logic of our decisionmaking processes has already been wired for a different world. We no longer can experience the world as it was once experienced by our pre-civilized ancestors who “inhabited the planet before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one”.

    Jensen even suggests so much..that our Western rational mind no longer has the ability to participate in the world in a way that would allow a real relationship to nature reemerge. He says “even the most open Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to something real.”

    It is a romantic notion to think we can rebuild such a world in a post-historical reality, operating with the tools and within the presuppositions of an historical consciousness.

    The engines of progress are controlled by the dominant culture; and even if others had the power to change that direction, it would seem that their own rational processes would undermine an attempt to fully recover or reconstitute that experience of the world, of which Derrick speaks.

    Maybe that is why he telescopes his intentions in the title…”Playing for Keeps”.

    One final thought.. I would say that use of the internet, like we are engaged in here, undercuts the very claims of those who would suggest we can do otherwise.

  27. Sandy, if you are not a writer, you should be. If you are a writer, I want to buy your book!

    I wasn’t quite sure of what you meant by your last sentence, “One final thought………..”.

  28. Paul Getty

    Your complement brings a big grin to my face. Thank you!

    My recent book, which Derrick said he enjoyed, would be the most interesting for you. It is called The Recovery of Ecstasy: Notebooks from Siberia, available on Amazon.

    Please let me knoe how you like it and any comments. My url and email are listed on the back cover.

    Regarding my one final thought:
    Our use of the internet,a primary tool of our technological mastery of nature, over time and space, is a symptom of how enmeshed we are in the ‘system’. For those who suggest we can reconstitute a more primal, pre-manipulative past, they should probably begin by throwing away their computers! I did not think this out completely; but it is a thought!!

  29. I love nature like anybody else, but the same technological advancements that are destroying nature also are facilitating articles like these to become commonplace and allow comments to be posted in realtime. Using the internet is like using a plastic bag, or styrofoam. The infrastructure to run the internet required much invasive destruction to nature. The computer you are using contains harmful chemicals, and the processes used to make them create huge amounts of pollution. The power used to drive all these tools is also generated by non-replenishable fuels and creates all sorts of waste products.

    You can’t selectively say that what humans have done is horrible and you would never help facilitate the degredation of nature, you are right now. Do yourself a favor, dig a hole somewhere, live naked, hunt for your own food, clean your own water, and ditch all your electronic gadgets. Let me know how that works out for you. Then you can have zero inpacked on nature.

  30. Paul, I pointed you toward Hawken, not because I accept his faith in all or even many of those local efforts, but because those who have eyes to see have recognized that there are more sustainable cultures and economies emerging. It’s true that much of what he describes is not nearly radical enough for the current moment, but it’s equally true that change is in the wind, and it’s pandemic.

    You make blanket and baseless claims about those who see possibilities that you cannot in order to justify your blindness. I explicitly denied the value of hope and I feel the same about optimism in the face of realities. And yet I, too, see overwhelming evidence of a Shift in consciousness and action. In many cases it’s in its infancy, but it’s crawling everywhere.

    Real change is initiated by those who, knowing the awful truth, persevere in their work – not out of hope or blind optimism but because of necessity and responsibility. Hope fails, optimism is vulnerable to shifting facts and arguments, but perseverance knows no restraint. And it’s not all about action – much of it is in the silent stillness, in the pregnant spaces between thoughts and deeds.

    Sandy, you too have blinded yourself to the Shift – perhaps because you’re looking in the wrong way. Yes, it’s a myth that “we can reconstitute a more primal, pre-manipulative past”. There is no going back, as much as many of us (including myself) would like that to happen. Daniel Quinn had to acknowledge that, even though he’s at a loss to describe what the future might look like. Quinn and Jensen are the critics – others are the visionaries.

    You claim “that our Western rational mind no longer has the ability to participate in the world in a way that would allow a real relationship to nature reemerge”. Apparently, you’ve never made the attempt. Humanity’s millions of years of evolution have not been derailed by our very short experimentation with rational living – we still have within our neural networks and our DNA what we were long prepared for. I know this is true because I have guided many seekers to communicate directly with nature.

    It’s within every one of us. But only when we get out of our heads. The reason you are unable to see what is in front of you is that you are imprisoned in your head. Your arguments here are thoroughly rational, so it is no wonder that you cannot feel the winds that are blowing.

    Stop trying to “think this out completely”, sink into your body and heart, and you will know the truth. Both of you.

    And, for those who would like to read the most honest, complete, perceptive and visionary book yet written about the Shift, get The Ascent of Humanity by Charles Eisenstein.

  31. Mr Riversong… did you ever pay those back taxes up there in, where is it? RI? Hiding $$ from the IRS??

    “The reason you are unable to see what is in front of you is that you are imprisoned in your head.”

    Do you know me well enough to tell me who and where I am? How dare you!

    You continue to provide negative feedback to everyone. We are all so sorry that we have not had your vision quest experience. Maybe you should take John’s advice at the end of post #30.

    I did not ask you for your abusive commentary on my post. And I always make it a habit only to criticize when I know enough about the person I am criticising; and then I try NOT to make it ad hominem.

  32. Sandy, thanks for the info on your book. It’ll be my next purchase.
    It looks great.

    On your last comment: I thought that is what you meant, and I think you are right. I love the internet, but I also realize that it has “enmeshed” me hopelessly into the global thinking grid and it bugs me that I worry I’d be lost if it all came down.

  33. When I watch the pair of vultures who live on the same mountain with me spread their wings to bask in the early morning sun, or trail four bull elk through the woods during rutting season, hoping to find a strip of antler velvet beneath a sapling rub, and then choose to marvel at these things, I engage myself in the dialogue in a different, and perhaps more profound, way. I believe this engagement is possible regardless of whether one is indigenous or nonindigenous, western or eastern, young or old. But to engage in the dialogue without faith or hope or vision is to sever ourselves from the powers of our imagination, and is to deny the creative energies of the universe. It is to say “I can imagine no other world than a doomed world.”

  34. Page, your words ring true. You clearly know the “language older than words”.

    Those who cannot imagine another world are those who have given away their power – the power to imagine. For it is through image-ination, or visioning, that we create our world. It is only by telling a different story that it’s possible to live into a different world.

    Those who cry “doom” are those who are doomed.

  35. Sandy,

    What you so eloquently proved in post #27 is that, by relying on the rational mind that alienated us from the earth and created the perfect storm of crises, we cannot envision another truly sustainable world. But you failed to see the irony in your words.

    Your further rejoinder (#32), blistering with defensiveness, distorting honest feedback into something “negative” and “abusive”, and opening with a poor attempt at character assasination by one who claims to abjure ad hominen arguments – only makes evident that you live not in the heart but in the ego. It’s no wonder, then, that you cannot envision another world being born. Anything that challenges your perceptions you interpret as a threat and respond with either attack or sarcasm. You can’t get out of a hole by digging it deeper.

    My 30 years of public tax refusal (I hide nothing) has nothing to do with this discussion other than to establish my integrity as a person and the fact that I’ve long since disconnected from the Empire which your taxes support.

    John’s comment (#30) was obviously sarcastic, since none can live with zero impact. But one can dramatically simplify one’s lifestyle, as I have, to minimize our impact and free our energy for creating the new paradigm.

  36. There is a Neo-Pagan subculture of mostly white people in the US (worldwide, really) who have embraced their/our pre-Christian European indigenous heritage and who have cultivated a relationship with the Earth that includes listening in just the way Jensen describes. Yes, we white folks have indigenous roots, too; we don’t have to model ourselves after (or appropriate the ways of) Native Americans in order to have a deeply personal and dare I say spiritual relationship with the Earth in our local place. This is not some flaky New Age phenomenon, but a grounded (pun intended) worldview with real implications for action and life choices. In New England the Pagan perspective is best represented by EarthSpirit (, the Director of which is on the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and a member of the Parliament’s Indigenous Religions Committee. If you are a scientist or activist who would like to find a spiritual community of others who relate to the planet in this way, I encourage you to check it out.

  37. Anybody living in this country, regardless if you think you’ve disconnected from this empire, is reliant on the system. Look, if you ever used food stamps, welfare, healthcare, social security, the postal service, the internet, attended school, etc., then you are not disconnected. And these are just a few of the government tax subsidized programs. Please don’t try to be a martyr saying that you don’t pay taxes because you aren’t supported by programs that are funded by taxes. Not to mention that without taxes, you wouldn’t have police/fire protection. You may not use these now, but what if you did?

    You want the best of both worlds. Not contributing to public taxes/programs does not help your cause; instead it seems like you are trying to be all high and mighty. The only way to not benefit from this country’s tax system is to move to another country, or to live under a rock somewhere.

    Also, I’m not being sarcastic.

  38. John,

    I didn’t say I wasn’t reliant on the system. Just as it’s impossible to live with “zero impact” (as you non-sarcastically suggested ;-), it’s also impossible to live completely outside of society. Nor would I advocate that. We are social animals and we each have a responsibility to contribute to society. But there are many ways to do that.

    What I did say was that I don’t contribute to the Empire the two things that it most needs from us: our bodies if we’re of fighting age, and our money if we’re not. I burned my Vietnam War draft card and I have chosen to accept the consequences of refusing to pay federal (war) taxes rather than accept the much worse consequences of complicity.

    This doesn’t make me a “martyr”, at least not yet, but it does make my life consistent with my values. And, by the way, I take no direct aid from the federal government, I don’t drive on Interstates, and I AM the fire department (or at least part of it). Believing as I do that each of us has an obligation to serve society, for 30 years I’ve been a volunteer fire fighter, EMT, wilderness search & rescue technician, rescue instructor and town emergency management coordinator.

    No, I don’t want “the best of both worlds”. I want this current dysfunctional, highly destructive, and thoroughly unjust and inequitable culture to end – and I’m glad to be alive during its demise. What I want, and am actively working toward, is another world – a world based on a deep spiritual connection to all living and non-living creatures, on reciprocity, and on service to a higher level of consciousness.

  39. What if instead of being captivated by our human cleverness, we followed the suggestion of cultural anthropologist Thomas Berry in Dream of the Earth: “Beyond our genetic coding, we need to go to the earth, as the source whence we came, and ask for its guidance, for the earth carries the psychic structure as well as the physical form of every living being upon the planet.” What if we contemplated Robinson Jeffers advice in his poem Carmel Point:
    We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
    unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
    As the rock and the ocean that we were made from.
    Seeking guidance from the Earth is a radically different perspective. We tend to look to human-made technologies, economic models, and industrial processes to “save us.” But most of these approaches offer “abstract” answers to problems that ignore the fact that we are embedded in the Earth. We don’t seek to partner with the Earth, but rather to dominate and shape it to our will and inclinations.
    More “civilization” isn’t the answer, but more wildness just might be.

  40. Yes Mary!
    Through creating what was once abstract can be felt, lived and seen. By connecting to our bodies we learn how to connect to the Earth body, we become awake to our embeddedness.

  41. Mary,

    Great post there, I understand that need to “uncenter our minds”.

    I hope you could build on your last sentence, how to wild and uncenter?

    Aside from vision questing, lifestyle perhaps? How to start, how to proceed?

  42. I was watching a newscast right now on Native suicides in central British Columbia. Apparently the rates are going up among young indigenous groups everywhere in isolated villages throughout Canada. The use of drugs and alcohol is very high among Natives. Obviously not all of them have found the answers.

  43. thanks. to the point and not too violent feeling.

  44. AT, I think there are many ways to “uncenter” our minds and begin listening to the Earth. Poetry is one, of course. And, as you rightly suggest, vision quests. Thomas Berry, whom I quoted, would say that we need to absorb the new cosmological story that tells us that all of creation originated from a single point 13.7 billions years ago, and that we are made from the same stuff as river, raven, rock. For my part, in my work of Awakening the Eco-Soul (, I believe that we can be helped by the great archetypal landscapes: Deserts, Forests, Oceans and Rivers, Mountains, and Grasslands. These archetypes reside as part of our inner nature as well as outer nature, and have the power to rearrange our consciousness–helping us to understand that as Black Elk said, “What we do the Earth, we do to ourselves.”

  45. Mary,

    Thanks for replying. Thanks for the great site (many good book recommendations), Jeffers is a good find for me. I understand the power and shaping effects of the different landscapes. The new cosmological story is perhaps the old one that rests within? As you say is spoken to by the different landscapes. The contrast of these places reflect deeply in myself when I am there, like a different light that shines into myself. I see that new cosmological order needs to be explored, spoken and communicated I think, I can see the value of poetry to help do this. I agree; never truer words …as Black Elk said, “What we do the Earth, we do to ourselves.” Thanks for exploring this in your life.

  46. As I said at the top, I think our correspondent shows a little more maturity in his latest in this series. I mean, who hasn’t felt anything aside from the overwhelming desire to just smash something they don’t like? If just describing and reading an account of the temper tantrum gives both the author and us readers a sense of empowerement, however illusory, fine. But, the real danger is that some will always view this as a policy proposal. We live in way too literal times to be playing that chicken game. Besides that, there will always be those who don’t even need the suggestion to go off. Don’t add to the volatility, I say.

    You can try to push and bully a society to adopt real change, or you can get sophisticated and save the good china. An example of that was a documentary I saw recently on the huge influence the Beatles had in bringing down the U.S.S.R. Talk about a mind blower, but there it was, from the mouths of the youth who were there at the time, living it. Now, our man Jensen might aspire to do the same, and who am I to say that he won’t actually do it? If he does, it will be due more to words like these, not by the angry words of his prior installments.

  47. I agree with Paul…we aren’t getting anywhere. It is by NOT ignoring the world at large that we can draw the conclusion of there being no hope. I’m not sure what world you live in Riversong but mine sure isn’t as sugarcoated as yours seems to be.
    Riversong, the largest movement in the world has come into being but it is precisely because it has no leader that we aren’t getting anywhere. Without a leader/figurehead to go toe-to-toe with corporates/governments, we don’t stand a chance. That is plainly obvious.
    Hawkens’ “Humanity’s collective genius”? Don’t make me laugh. We’re so clever that we’re on the verge of wiping ourselves out.

  48. @ Riversong…

    “each of us has an obligation to serve society”

    What society are you serving Riversong? the one whose mission is the systematic destruction of the entire planet, which it has implemented to a tee, while also destroying it’s citizens’sense of being in the world, and now has its sights set on the rest of humanity… destroying those 10,000 cultures also?

  49. Regardless of what we would like, or would like to feel, or would dream of, or even feel we hear from nature telling us, the truth is that empire culture is dominating and its domination is even increasing as we write here. I don’t know about all of you, but my friends and neighbors and relatives and associates wouldn’t even know what I was talking about if I mentioned the collapse or the Peak Oil crisis or the crash of civilization.
    As far as all of them are concerned, this is the way things will continue going, with man constantly coming up with new solutions to new problems.

    Once you see the light, that our whole system of conquest of others and domination of the planet and all others is coming to an end, you never again feel the same, and being with people that you’ve known all your life is now different, because they see the world as you once did, and you see the world completely different.

    The crash is coming. The collapse is coming. No hoping will avoid it. There will not be an awakening in the vast majority of the people on earth.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t have any hope.
    I hope that a few people, maybe a few million, live through it and understand what we talk about here………..sustainability, love of nature, connections. I think this is what will survive. I doubt that most of us will, as it is just the case of numbers. If only one out of a few thousand live through it, I don’t think it will be me. Of course, at sixty, it is not that important. It IS important to me that my 21 year old son and 16 year old daughter can survive without too much horror, but even that I must realize is hope that may not be realized.

  50. We hear the Copenhagen Climate Conference will be a failure. No binding international agreement will be made. The last best hope for humanity to sensibly address climate destabilization has been turned into a steppingstone to nowhere.

    A colossal tragedy is in the making. Father Profit wins again and again. Mother Nature loses.

    Now for some good news: “THE(only)GAME(in town)” is in the bottom half of the ninth inning and, therefore, not yet over for Mother Nature.

  51. The earth will continue to orbit the sun whether our viral species survives or goes extinct. Nature will continue, it may be different than the past 7000 years, but species will continue to evolve and compete for resources. A little perspective: this thread is full of comments from comfortable westerners decrying the destruction of the world from the comfort of their offices. Your belly is probably full, your pantry stocked. Mine is. The majority of people on this planet’s pantries are not full, bellies empty. Until global hunger and population control are addressed I see little point in arguing about whether there is hope or not of a spiritual re-awakening in the west. Westerners will change when it becomes too impractical, expensive or literally painful to rely on the corporate supply chain.

  52. qchapter, I agree completely.
    It is odd how easily the American people will rally around their leaders and do what is necessary when they are frightened. We saw this after 9/11, and continue to see the support for the “war on terror”.
    The threat from terrorism is so minor, and probably fabricated or at least embellished by our leaders and media, and yet it gets the full awareness and loyalty from most Americans.
    But the environmental problems that are accelerating and becoming so obvious are mostly ignored and largely unknown to the average American.
    Wars, though, have in them great opportunities for making huge amounts of wealth. The environmental crisis requires instead sacrifice.
    There isn’t much of a competition between the two in getting the attention of the people.

  53. RE “It is odd how easily the
    American people will rally around their leaders and do what is necessary when they are frightened. We saw this after 9/11,
    and continue to see the support for the “war on terror”.”

    I am from the U.S. and didn’t see “people” rally; rather I saw a massive media message that implied that. Most people in my community were (and are) very against the steps taken to remove freedom and rights.

    Canadians gave up their entire security system to the U.S. during this time–was that because Canadians rallied around?

    Now the U.S. Homeland Security manages Canadian security.

    Meat now says Country of Origin: Canada, U.S. or Mexico. Did we North Americans rally around this food security decision?

    I think not.

    If we believe what the mainstream media puts out, we’re cooked.

  54. Cecile, I don’t know where you live, but where I live, in a small easter NC town near military bases, people, schools, and churches wrapped themselves in flags, and it was all out for the war against the vile Muslim world. A restaurant here started the “Freedom Fries” campaign that overtook Congress.

    The media can and will manipulate us easily for the will of corporate/imperial interests.

  55. And did we not all begin wearing those wonderful american flag chest(lapel) pins… to show our patriotism.? I know everyman and mowoman in the business community did… and if you did not, people looked at you like, wow what’s with that guy?

  56. Sandy, no actually I didn’t wear one of those flag pins.
    Mary, thanks for bring up Thomas Berry. After reading the comments prior to yours Thomas Berry’s writing on our DNA and cultural coding and how this means we’re connected – not just esoterically or metaphorically, but in reality – with all species, the Earth, indeed the universe. And though on a conscious level most of us live in unaware, it’s still there, present in every one of us. He writes about this in The Dream of the Earth, particularly in the chapter, “Our Way into the Future”. This came to mind because I just finished putting together a special tribute section to Thomas Berry (who died this past June), in my newsletter, Gaian Voices.
    Listening to the Earth is for real!

  57. “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent… Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences…. We cannot avoid this period, we are in it now…”
    – Winston Churchill, November 12, 1936

  58. Yvo De Boer and the leaders of Copenhagen Climate Change Conference are engaged in “the good fight” at the last, best opportunity for human civilization to save the planet for the children and coming generation as a fit place for human habitation. Years ago I was told that my generation had a duty to leave the world a better place than what is was when it was given to us by our forefathers and foremothers. It goes without saying that my not-so-great generation of greed-mongering elders will fall woefully short of discharging its responsibilities. Come what may for the children. Too many arrogant and selfish leaders in a single generation have recklessly chosen to fight wrongful wars for wrongheaded reasons, at a cost of blood and treasure that is as astounding in its stupidity as it is incalculable to measure.

  59. Had this subject on my mind very recently. Even wrote about it. Appreciation for the living world just isn’t possible if you don’t experience it. Technological advancement, misplaced priorities, and ignorance lead human beings to think that the end goal is not survival, but comfort. We sit in our air conditioning, buy our food already prepared most of the time, and complain if we get wet in the rain on the way to getting in our car.

    If you tell someone you like walking in the rain, your eccentric. If you tell someone you did’nt build on the lot you own because box toroises were living there, you’re a liberal tree hugger.

    How is anyone going to be able to listen to nature, when you can’t even get them to walk through the grass barefoot? How are they going to appreciate nature, when they have a heart atack if their kid picks up a frog?

    Our quest for survival has led us to believe that getting some soil on you is dirty, that wild animals in your yard need to be killed, that human beings are the be all end all, and that nature is beholden to our whims, our desires. We pay attention when it suits us, and worse than ignorning nature, we abuse it, in the name of making ourselves comfortable, not survival. We remove ourselves from nature because nature is’nt about comfort or ease. It’s truly all about survival, and we no longer are about surviving, but surviving comfortably.

  60. Wherever man has settled, the place haz been significantly changed. The native Americans transformed the land into a sustainable environment, but they DID transform the land.
    It’s not a matter of “whether,” but of “how” and “into what” the transformation is made.

  61. That is true………..early man changed his environment.
    In fact, every living organism that has ever been on our planet has changed the environment in some way.
    Early man often pushed his prey to extinction, especially when he had entered a new land never before inhabited by humans. When hunter-gatherers lived in one place for a very long time, a sort of stasis of change occurred as he accommodated to his environment and the rest of the living organisms became accommodated to man.
    But obviously that all changed when farming began, and has continued today, especially with the industrial revolution.
    I doubt we can ever live sustainably again, especially with 7 billion of us all needed sustainance. But, I guess, there may one day be a small populations of surviving humans that necessarily begin to live sustainably. I wish them the best!

  62. After I read this article, it made me realize how wrongly we use this planet. The Indians would treat the earth as if they were one with it. It just goes to show how messed up human civilization turned out to be.

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