Side with the Living

THE OTHER NIGHT I saw a commercial for a PBS program that breathlessly described how orcas “dominate” the oceans. And the nature program I had the misfortune to see before that talked of different species of bears “conquering” each other’s territories. The program repeatedly emphasized the powerful bite of one particular type of bear — making sure we got the point by always playing scary music when these bears were depicted — and only late in the program did viewers learn that these bears were exclusively scavengers, with powerful jaws not so they could “conquer” and “dominate,” but so they could break the bones of those already dead. This projection onto the natural world of this culture’s urge to dominate is so ubiquitous as to be at this point almost invisible to us, like air. And obviously, how we perceive the natural world affects how we behave toward it: if we perceive it as full of domination, we are more likely to attempt to dominate it.

Not infrequently, people will use the mass extinctions of the past to rationalize their efforts to dominate (read: destroy) the world at hand. For example, I recently read an essay by the influential scientific philosopher Sam Harris titled “Mother Nature Is Not Our Friend.” It begins, “Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. . . . I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology. Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature’s indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is.” Never mind that only one of the major mass extinctions was probably caused by an asteroid. But the real point is that the moral I derive from mass extinctions is precisely the opposite of the moral Harris projects onto them.

I’m lying on my stomach where meadow meets redwood forest. The ground is wet from last night’s misting rain. My clothes quickly become soaked, my skin chilled. I hear the soft sounds of songbirds — I’m grateful that some remain — carrying out their daily activities, and in the distance I hear a crow. A frog chuckles in a nearby pond — I’m grateful some frogs remain, too. This is the year the worldwide amphibian die-off has come home; the frogs in this pond are disappearing. A fly buzzes overhead.

Looking down, at first I see a more or less undifferentiated mass of life and death. But then, as I begin to get past my own discomfort at being cold and wet, and, more to the point, as I begin to grant even the few seconds it takes to stop paying attention to me and start paying attention to what (or who) is directly in front of my face, I begin to see. A tiny mushroom, an inch tall, stalk as slender as a hair, button smaller than the butt on this pen. A fir tree, two inches tall, already forked, tiny green needles already stiff and sharp. Three-lobed plants whose names I don’t know, and slender plants who stretch to their full height of less than the length of my finger. Mosses grow beneath; they are fragile, and I take care not to dislodge them.

I see first one spider web, wet with dew, and then another, then another. I see huckleberry leaves, each its own shade of green. Some leaves are complete, some have small bites taken out of them, by whom I do not know. I look closely at one salal leaf. The dew, barely beaded, looks slick across its surface, like delicate sweat on a lover’s chest. The leaf is a rich green, with a few dark spots where some fungus is feeding. Another tiny plant, this with a single unopened flower, pale pink, at its tip. An old piece of redwood, long fallen off the stump of a tree cut eighty years ago, slowly losing shape, covered with lichen; tan roots of something — someone — sprouting out like hair. I see another spider web, and then, beneath it, tiny greenish stalks of some fungus growing from a half-buried piece of that murdered tree. A fruit fly lands on the pocked leaf of a native blackberry. A gnat navigates this forest of six-inch-tall plants. All of this life in one small area in only a few moments of noticing.

Elsewhere in life I have seen spiders who have lost three legs, yet still they live. I’ve seen a young bear who was shot in the back right knee by someone with more firepower than heart; I saw her soon after she was shot; and I saw her wound abscess grow to the size of a salad plate. I saw my mother give this young bear antibiotics; I saw this bear survive and grow and return to my mother’s house to show my mother her first twin cubs; I saw this hurt bear raise these cubs; I saw her back right leg remain tiny, shriveled, no more useful than a peg, as she could not bend it, could not put weight on it; I saw her survive. I saw my mother moments after she broke her neck in a car wreck: C2 fracture, hangman’s break, the damage so severe that doctors said the only person they’d ever seen in the entire world with damage this severe never regained consciousness. I have seen her twenty years later close her eyes tight against the pain from this accident; and I have seen her stagger from the broken-neck-induced vertigo. Yet still she lives on. I should have died any number of times: at birth, at nine months, at twenty-three years, at forty-four years. Yet I survived.

The point? Life is tenacious.

Just last night I was walking through the dark forest when I heard the distinct and sadly familiar sound of a snail shell imploding beneath my feet — two hundred pounds coming down on half an ounce. I returned this morning and saw a beetle hauling away the body. It is not hyperbole to say that I cannot imagine how many minute creatures I have killed simply by walking, scratching, wiping my forehead. I don’t want to imagine how many I have killed by running into or over them with a car.

The point? Life is fragile.

Life is tenacious. Life is fragile. Life relentlessly wants to live. This is the real moral of the story of mass extinctions, but life wanting to live does not mean that no harm ever comes. Life wanting to live does not mean that bad things don’t happen. We all know this. Or should. And when bad things happen, life still wants to live. Relentlessly, desperately, lovingly, fully. Even in Chernobyl. Even in toxic waste sites.

Sam Harris seems to blame “Nature” for mass extinctions, and he implies that these mass extinctions have caused him to no longer trust “Nature.” Do you see the unstated premise that binds him to fundamentalist Christianity? All he has done is changed the name “God” to the name “Nature” in presuming that “Nature” is omniscient and omnipotent. How else can we explain his evident belief that “Nature” can stop an asteroid? His whole argument is nonsensical, much like saying that just because I didn’t prevent my mom’s neck from breaking in a car wreck, I’m not her friend, and that my wisdom, such as it may be, is not to be trusted. That’s absurd. I would have done anything to prevent the accident, but I had heartbreaking constraints (such as not being able to see around a broad corner; such as not being able to see a black tarp against the backdrop of a black night; such as not being able to anticipate that a semi loaded with plywood — the load covered with a black tarp — would have overturned moments before and blocked the entire road; such as not being able to convert that semi load of lumber into feathers, foam, or Jell-O. And who is to say that “Nature” does not also have constraints? How did life respond to an asteroid striking the Earth? Life responded as life does, by attempting to live. How is life responding to the horrors of industrial capitalism? Life is responding as life does, by attempting to live.

Life wants to live. Life so completely wants to live. And to the degree that we ourselves are alive, and to the degree that we consider ourselves among and allied with the living, our task is clear: to help life live.

Derrick Jensen is an activist and the author of, most recently, What We Leave Behind and Songs of the Dead.


  1. One of the great values I consistently find in Jensen’s writing is his relentless uncovering: the exposure and examination of all the layers of unexamined assumptions. We would all do well to improve our senses of perception by working at the same. So much of “common knowledge” is simply cliche and assumption, based on lazy thinking. Uncover! Examine! Question!

  2. Derrick provides a strong voice of reason and like many great thinkers before him, identifies the importance of our perceptions and beliefs in how we behave toward the natural world. In reading this work and assimilating it into our daily lives we are growing and shedding our old skin. Cultural norms and beliefs do change and we all have an important play in the current evolution.

  3. It is commonplace for all of us to fail to examine our preconceptions and presuppositions about things. We are raised, enculturated and educated in a specific ‘curriculum’… let us call it “the curriculum of the West”. This education is fraught with unstated presuppositions and predispositions about life, and all of the categories we so unthinkingly attribute to it. Derrick does us all a great favor in helping to disclose many of those prejudices articulately, painstakingly and painfully at times.

  4. I almost mistook Derrick for writing something anti-civilization; almost. The point? Jensen can’t write anything anti-civ because he’s afraid it’ll interfere with making money off of book sells.

  5. I like this article’s simplicity. We need to examine our underlying paradigms in order to realign ourselves with nature. Just as the religious cast human qualities on God, Derrick points out how we assign human traits and values to nature.
    I look to the natural world for models of sustainability. For example, there is no waste in nature (water, nitrogen, carbon cyles, etc). Derrick’s reordering of perceptions can not only change our relationship to the natural world, but to our cultural world as well.

  6. @HardyHarHar,

    Clearly you’ve never had a book published or you would know how ridiculous it is to believe that (except for a few bestsellers issued by huge publishers) it makes a writer rich or even an adequate living.

  7. Yes, Jensen is good at exposing the unexamined assumptions of civilization, but unable or unwilling to explore his own.

    For example: While sharing his careful perceptions of his immediate environment, he refers to “a half-buried piece of that murdered tree”. Notice he does not refer to those unknown creatures who nibbled on a leaf for their own survival in pejorative terms. He doesn’t even call himself a monster for stepping on a snail. But he assumes that the taking of a tree – which may have been for legitimate survival needs – is “murder”.

    Even his concluding remark that “our task is clear: to help life live” reflects an all-too-human arrogance. The best we can (or should) do is to let life live – that is Life with a capital “L”, for all living things must take life in order to live. And we must come to terms with death – of others and of ourselves – as a vital element of Life.

    To illustrate the danger of thinking that our good intentions are enough to “help” life, there was a story years ago of an eco-tourism group watching sea turtles hatch on the beach and attempt to run past a gauntlet of voracious sea birds to make it safely to the water. In spite of the guide’s clear warning not to interfere, one good-hearted woman rushed out to shepherd the first hatchling to the sea and, by so doing, initiated a mad turtle rush which resulted in mass slaughter.

    To create a wholesome paradigm for humanity, it is necessary to expose the fallacies of our current mythologies and the unquestioned assumptions of our own thinking. But, to do that, one must first face one’s own demons. I don’t believe Derrick Jensen has yet done that work, for he consistently projects his demons onto others.

  8. Robert

    I agree in large measure with, and appreciate, your observations on his own use of language. And, I do not wish to defend Derrick, but I will make the following comment.

    We, as a civilization have already gone too far down the road that Rousseau identified so long ago… we have become completely beholding to the tools and instruments of our society so that we can not get along without them. In short, as I said above, we have all been indoctrinated by “the curriculum of the West.” Our langauge, our thoughts, our reactions, are not simply indebted to the presuppositions of that ‘curriculum’, they are fashioned by them.

    I would suspect that some of his choices of vocabulary are for effect – rhetorical flourish (a tool of our curriculum) (e.g., “murdered tree”), some are more unconscious influences of the curriculum (when he speaks about “helping life live”)

    He also knows he has an audience (cultural tool) and is trying to wend his way through the thickets.

    So I would say, some of his uses maybe intentional; some unconsciousinfluences of the curriculum!

    Just a thought!

  9. “HardyHarHar…actually the more anti-civ he articulates his case… the more money he makes… har har har!!”

    How wonderfully naive of you to think that Sandy. To think that someone is going to make more money by articulating the case against civilization is remarkably foolish.

  10. This is Orion here… We just removed a comment that went over the edge of civility. We certainly enjoy lively discussion, but please do keep things polite.

  11. Scott Walker (of Orion),

    Why are you giving such inordinate space to Jensen’s voice? Can you not find thoughtful and articulate writers who are not so caught in their own internal contradictions that they succumb to advocating the violent take-down of civilization?

  12. While I agree with the Orion moderator that the removed post critical of Stephanie McMillan was offensive and vulgar, the more cogent issue should have been disclosure on the part of Jensen defender McMillan (post #8) that she is a collaborator on Derrick’s latest novel and depicted herself on its cover as a gun-wielding silhouette.

    Birds of a feather…

  13. A key point that I’d like to comment on, besides the fact that the article is thought provoking, interesting, and quite accurate – is the cooment made about Jensen’s ‘internal contradictions’ – who among us does not live in constant contradiction? I make one choice to live more lightly in my bioregion, and I will affect everything else – positively and negatively, depending on the perspective and scope we take – for example: buying locally grown food versus imported foods – helps farmers here, hurts farmers there (I think that globalization is really negative and will come to an end with Peak Oil).
    Drawing attention to the cognitive disonance that occurs when we are reminded to pay attention to and celebrate all the life around us, while we are given the modern mandate to ignore it, kill it, depersonalize it, and to have solely a “use’ relationship to nature – is clearly an unresolvable dualism – we must choose the side that honours life and the dynamics of a healthy ecosystem. I cannot be at peace with nature and rape it at the same time – something must give – and unfortunately our human need to fit in with the crowd ultimately dictates to many of us that we must choose the ‘rape’ side, because to choose the other means that we will choose the road less taken, cause ourselves more isolation from the dominant social group, thus choosing a difficult life. Who really wants ostracism? However, it is through opposition, strife, and challenge that we experience our humanity and feel most alive. It is liberating to learn that our industrial civilization cannot understand this and very likely, will ideologically attack those who are called and inspired to criticize the dominant social paradigm. Each of us must choose to engage and activate ourselves through the natural world. Not to do this means that we will reflect back to each other the deadened inner psychic landscapes that we must maintain in order to secure even a modicum of pseudo-sanity. Metaphorically speaking, there is a fork in our human cultural road, which happened a very long time ago, however, we can vaguely see the other path which is one that honors sustainability and permaculture and we are all free to choose to ‘hike over’ to this path, and recreate what it means to be human. We are free to do this. We just need to understand this freedom and to find others to build this community.
    Lastly, so much of the debate about the fact that every species affects every other and the larger ecosystem, has much to do with scale. Our human numbers have been artifically inflated due to the procurement of cheap fossil fuel energy, and our impact on the life of the planet has been so detrimental. We need to start planning for when these populations begin to decline, by having a dream of what it means to be human in a post-carbon world. A society that values nature and biodiversity – placing the environment at the centre, from which all else springs, is our work. May we continue to have writers such as Jensen who provoke our thinking, and to urge us to articulate what we value.

  14. Pammybaby: Absolutely. Thank you.
    And regarding Orion’s decision to include Jensen in each issue, brilliant. Just look at the discussions that have been going on since the very first article came out. No other article has inspired discussions that go on for weeks. It’s a good thing. Jensen’s column is the first thing I check out when a new issue arrives!

  15. To HHH:

    I am so glad you are such an expert. I certainly appreciate and am grateful for your brilliant and illuminating counsel. Shame on me for being so foolish, O Great One!

  16. Sandy Krolick,

    Your cynicism and sarcasm is wasted effort, but to be expected from one who cannot see the forest for the trees.

    On your website, you declare “It is not a spiritual crisis at all. The true challenge, social-cultural in nature, has less to do with religion, spirituality or transcendence, and more to do with coming back to our senses, back from the disembodied existence we have been living since the foundations of history.”

    You get most of it right, but fail to appreciate that every indigenous culture, living in the fullness and harmony of the sensate moment, has expressed a profound spirituality that we have supplanted with mere religion.

    All the cultural dead-ends that you so well describe on your site, are but ramifications of the primal loss of spiritual connection with All-That-Is.

    Those who have re-membered this visceral connection have no need of sarcasm nor cynicism.

  17. Robert

    Sorry you are so unhappy with your life. Stop criticizing everyone, and get on with your rehabilitation :))))

  18. If it wasn’t for Derrick Jensen’s column I probably would have never resubscribed to Orion. Thank you to the Orion staff for publishing his work.

  19. I used to be a big fan of Derrick Jensen’s, but this article is a massive disappointment. The real moral of mass extinctions is a positive one, namely that (so far) they always result in greater speciation. Even the mass extinction that humans are now exacting on the planet will likely end well for the world, but of course none of us will be here to witness it. And that’s OK. For me, this essay is a drag – it just waffles around in a romantic and wholly unconstructive manner. Bemoaning the snails that get squished is silly – moose squish them too, and always have. Is it somehow better when moose do it than when humans do? More broadly, the fact is that all life must kill to survive. That’s what life is. Some killing is direct (for food), and some killing is indirect (for space). Of course Jensen knows all of this, but he seems to have gone soft in his celebrity. I was particularly let down by the smarmy and preachy ending to this essay: “our task is clear: to help life live”. I completely disagree. Our task, as Robert Riversong says correctly, is to let life live. This starts with recognizing and valuing all species (genotypes, not phenotypes) and their survival needs. A few people get this, but the vast majority don’t, and thoroughly don’t care. Non-human life doesn’t need man’s help, we have already “helped” too much already. Our task must be to first help ourselves, to: achieve zero population growth; find less destructive means to clothe, feed, power and entertain everybody; and eliminate poverty and needless human suffering. Only then will man be in any position to help anything. Right now humanity is just the bull in the china shop, all of us, including the formerly radical Derrick Jensen. The mantra “Helping life live” smacks of slogans we get from the Pro-Life movement, the Nature Conservancy, and Monsanto – groups connected by their mutually vicious and arrogant desire to control and dominate the planet. Count me out.

  20. My whole being feels both lighter and frustrated after reading Jensen. He writes and unravels a very deep truth that gets buried beneath the endless illusion we buy into and find so hard to break through.
    I personally need writers like Jensen to help keep me from drowning in the sea of conformity and indoctrination that is everywhere(but in untouched wilderness). Frustration, grief and sorrow are a blessing.

    Thanks you Derrick and Orion.

  21. I can’t describe how hilarious it is to see someone accuse others of not being able to see the forest for the trees when they and others continually make remarks showing they confused examples for the point of the article, and clearly inferred meaning of their own into Derrick’s writing and acted as if it was fact or some huge revelation.

  22. The collection of the three “upping the stakes” articles is very good I think. It is a little bit like a series of great paintings that each are different, but were painted around a similar time.

  23. “But he assumes that the taking of a tree – which may have been for legitimate survival needs – is ‘murder’.”

    For what legitimate survival need would one fell a tree and then half-bury it?

    For what legitimate survival need would one clear-cut a redwood forest to build decks for rich people?

    Is there no other way a person can survive besides doing those things?

    Looks like you have a few unexamined assumptions of your own, Robert. While cutting a tree for firewood would certainly meet a legitimate survival need, assisting the industrial machine in destroying forests for the sake of vanity does not. If you’re just doing it for a paycheck, you could get that paycheck anywhere.

    And would we not be helping Life live by letting it live? Isn’t that Jensen’s message anyway?

  24. I should add that while I am nobody famous and it’d suit me fine if I never was, I have undertaken writing online in the past, and I used to tackle tough issues like ecology and religion and sociology as well, within the limits of my relatively un-formally-educated understanding. I was learning a lot of fascinating stuff on my own, and wanted to share it with people I knew who were following my blog.

    It was a disaster. I saw the same kind of missing the forests for the trees mentality that’s on display here, complete with ad hominem attacks. From people I thought were my friends, mind you. I like talking about this stuff, but I do it mostly offline now.

    The fact that Jensen can keep going and doing what he’s doing despite the attacks speaks volumes of his character and courage. Me, I’m just chicken.

    What really gets to me–and I experienced this from my detractors also–is that so many of the questions raised by the anti-Jensen crowd have already been answered if they would bother to read his other essays and his book-published work. (If you don’t want to buy his books, public libraries often carry them.) So, really, you’re wasting our time by raising these objections here. I’m not sure whether you really care what Jensen thinks or whether you just want to read your own words on a website. WordPress is free, you know, and on their blog site you’d pick up an audience fairly quickly too.

    The funniest part was one of his detractors saying something I interpreted as, “Land sakes! Why, he even wants to DESTROY CIVILIZATION!” Mah stahs and gahtahs. You really *haven’t* read anything of his, I guess.

    Part of the problem is the habit most of us have of equating civilization with positive, properly socialized, life-affirming behavior in human beings. I don’t fall for this line of thinking. I have straddled the urban and rural worlds all my life; I come from two farming families and I grew up a Navy brat. I currently live in one of the top 20 largest cities in the United States. I’ve seen both sides of this and in my experience, the less city there is in a person (“civilization” being based on a Latin word meaning “city”), GENERALLY speaking, the better that person behaves. What poor socialization I’ve seen in the countryside seems to stem largely from drug use and social isolation, but where people interact with one another more, the bad behavior seems to happen a lot less.

    People care more about the esteem of those they know than about the punishment meted out by those they don’t.

    I don’t believe megafarms and megacities and domestication are what keep us behaving properly. I believe just the opposite. So it’s not so difficult for me to sympathize with Jensen’s view. Someone who has not had that background may be handicapped in their quest for understanding. Assuming, of course, they’re on that quest at all.

  25. Derrick, you’ve done it again! This is my favorite Orion piece so far.

    And Dana, thank you for your words. You are right on.

  26. As usual I enjoyed the Sept-Oct. issue of Orion. Derrick Jensen’s contribution was interesting. As a Christian (at least of sorts), I always find the various negative references to Christianity interesting. However, after reading Sam Harris’ essay that Jensen refers to in his article, I couldn’t quite track Jensen’s comments. How is Sam Harris, who has no use for any religion, bound to fundamentalist Christianity by supposedly referring to ‘Nature’ as omniscient, omnipotent, and capable of stopping asteroids? Harris’ article doesn’t attribute any of these characteristics to ‘Nature’. My reading (granted a quick one) of Harris’ article is his affirmation that ‘Nature’ understood in the strictly physical sense could give a hoot about anything including our precious lives as individuals or a species. That’s certainly not a fundamentalist (or any breed of Christian’s) view of ‘God’.
    Actually, at the beginning of his article, Jensen obliquely refers to the old saw that Judeo-Christian philosophy is responsible for our hell-bent approach to ‘dominating’ nature. As many Christian apologists have pointed out subsequent to Lynn White’s 1967 article in Science ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”; ‘dominion’ interpreted through the lens of Christ-like humility does not support the destruction wrought by unbridled capitalism, which is basically the antithesis of true Christianity (should you be able to find that!). Jensen concludes his article with the comment that we humans are charged with the task (by whom or what, ourselves?) of ‘helping life live’. This is a fairly parallel statement to Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”, ie. foster life. Only in this case, the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of the charge is clear.
    Getting back to Harris’ essay about not trusting ‘Nature’, I believe he posits that since we’ve already munched down on the fruit for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it’s time to start working on the fruit from the tree of life. But that’s another discussion.
    One parting comment to all contributors in this or other Orion discussions, love (read respect) one another!

  27. Robert’s comment (#13) questions why Orion is giving so much space to Derrick. Derrick is a columnist and we’re not committing any more space to him than we are to past and current columnists. He gets two pages out of each 80- or 88-page issue.

    We try to choose columnists who provide a range of opinion and who help underscore a basic goal of the magazine: to serve as a forum for ideas about how we shift the relationship between the environment and human culture. We’ve known Derrick for a long time and we thought he’d be a good addition. It’s about that simple.

    Chip Blake, Editor-in-Chief

  28. Derrick, I’ve read near every word you’ve ever written and have never been disappointed. Great wisdom lies in nature and her wild places, that still exist. “A Language Older Than Words” by far…, as Thoreau noted often, for those still brave enough to read him.
    Namaste’ Derrick.

  29. Dana,

    It is you, not I, who are projecting demons and inserting between Jensens’ lines what is not there. I responded to the words Jensen wrote: one felled tree – no other context.

    He wasn’t describing an industrial clearcut, or the unnecessary taking of a magnificent Redwood for a deck on a second home. (I teach sustainable building, involving the responsible cutting of local, well-managed forests for such essentials as basic shelter).

    If the cutting of a single tree is “murder”, then homo sapiens have been murderers since the creation of stone tools. All earth-based indigenous peoples cut trees.

    And you entirely miss my final point: that it is the epitome of human arrogance to believe that Life needs our help to flourish. That belief, in fact, is the basis of the entire spectrum of ecological devastation we’ve caused.

    It is the basis for “wildlife management” and “forest conservation”, as well as the unintended consequences of well-meaning interventions such as I described earlier.

    I know that Jensen doesn’t subscribe to such nonsense (I’ve read enough of his written work to know where he stands), but he has been getting sloppy in his articulation of some very important ideas. And, in his Endgame writings, he makes some assertions based on ignorance and leads his readers into a self-destructive path of violent resistance.

    Jensen is one of the most important writers of our time. He is a very perceptive man, but still lacks wisdom. And his writings demand honest criticism rather than obsequious acceptance.

  30. Robert,

    In #13 you asked someone from Orion:

    “Why are you giving such inordinate space to Jensen’s voice? Can you not find thoughtful and articulate writers who are not so caught in their own internal contradictions that they succumb to advocating the violent take-down of civilization?”

    In #31 you wrote:

    “And, in his Endgame writings, he makes some assertions based on ignorance and leads his readers into a self-destructive path of violent resistance.”

    Please elaborate on this. To me, the use of violence is neither the result of internal contradictions nor a self-destructive path. Violence is as much a part of life as is death, as is non-violence, as is love. It is appropriate in some circumstances and not in others. It is not the only option that Derrick Jensen advocates, far from it – he says constantly in print and interviews and lectures, “We need it all”. However, it is very important that he parts ways with the vast majority of environmentalists (mind you, not indigenous groups, not impoverished communities, not people under immediate phyiscal threat, not people who have tried every other option without success) when he says that violence is a tool that we can and should use in defense of life.

    If you want to refute or disagree with something he specifically says, please cite him so that we can talk about it openly and clearly. Please provide the honest criticism that you’ve said his writings demand.

    On another topic, I’m very happy to hear that you teach sustainable building. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I attended a workshop on medieval timber-framing this spring. I’m searching for a way to make a living that allows life to live as well, and I am heartened by every example I hear about.

  31. Andrew,

    Your confusion is due to humanity’s projection of its own dysfunction onto Nature. When Hobbes called the state of nature “nasty, brutish, and short”, he was projecting civilization’s shadow onto a world that is based on foundational laws of reciprocity and balance (harmony). When early European anthropologists (or the missionaries who preceded them) labeled indigenous peoples as “violent”, the behavior they witnessed was almost always due to their own interventions.

    Nature is the endless cyclical flow of life into death into life. While all life requires death, there is no “violence” in a world based on natural law.

    Look at the word “violence”. It means to violate – to break the natural law. Indigenous peoples understood that to take life respectfully does no violence, but to take anything with disrespect or needlessly or without consideration of the next seven generations is a form of violence.

    The New Biology recognizes that, contrary to Darwinist ideology, natural evolution was and is based primarily on cooperation and synergy (non-violence).

    In the activist community, there has been an endless debate about whether the destruction of property (particularly property that causes harm) is “violent”. Even if we could agree that it is not, there is never a guarantee that such acts will not result in human or other animal death – which would be an act of murder, or violence – intended or otherwise. This was the dilemma of such groups as the Weather Underground in the 70’s.

    Being willing to risk or sacrifice one’s own life for a noble cause is not a violent act, but risking death or injury to another is not only a violent act but a diminishment of one’s own soul.

    Consider the Parable of the Tribes. Violence is a contagious disease. Once initiated, it becomes epidemic and destroys both its victims and its perpetrators.

    If we are to build a new paradigm and a new world, it can be done only by creative and constructive effort. The rotten old edifice of civilization will crumble on its own – as we are already witnessing. It will certainly take many lives as it falls – the innocent and the guilty – but that is the necessary cost of the terrible errors we’ve all participated in.

    LIFE will take care of itself. Our task is to serve life. For too long we have served death. To engage in violence is to continue to use the same tools in hopes of a different outcome – the definition of insanity.

  32. Robert Riversong, thank you for your articulate comment #34. You agree with Derrick Jensen that when we see nature as violent we are projecting the human urge to dominate on to it, and then you take the next step, as Jensen does not, to say that humans not only can reject violence, but must if we are to avoid diminishment. I agree.

  33. Is it so hard to understand that when someone, whether human or other-than-human, is being raped, beaten, and killed, it is natural to defend one’s life, and one’s family and so on?

    Do you really think that you’ll stand by and not fight back – for some purity of soul or other b.s. – when some psychopath(s) come to steal and destroy your loved landbase, and rape, enslave, and kill your loved ones?

    Thank you

  34. Why don’t people stick to the TOPIC at hand, instead of a food fight over Jensen’s did this or that?

    He, like many others, is just another flawed human being, seeking purpose and meaning for this journey we are all on.

    What he points out is correct — and this is the only issue here that should be discussed.

    Man’s hatred of Nature goes very deep and is embraced by the majority of people in America. It has become totally institutionalized, marketed behind all the glitz and glitter of mountains of useless and environmentally destroying “toys”.

    We DESPERATELY need to be reminded that we are not alone in this Universe, this planet is home to billions of other species, none of which I should remind everyone, undertake the path of global ecocide.

    Life sustains life, but unlike humans, all the other life forms on this planet manage to coexist. Even in death, a symbiotic relationship is present sustaining life.

    Humans have no such methodology, consuming our way down the food chain on species after species. We’re thoughtless creatures, uncaring and unconcerned at how devastating our practice of living really is.

    You people want to discuss Jensen are ENTIRELY missing the point — but I strongly suspect that IS the point. You don’t care, you don’t want to care, you don’t want to be reminded and you’d rather just stupidly bicker amongst yourselves as if your opinions about another human are meaningful or even worthy of discussion.

  35. Misko,

    You ignore two essential points:

    1)There are two forms of self-defense – putting one’s body in the way of violence to protect another, and returning violence in-kind to stop the violator. The former is what we expect of the Secret Service when they guard a political leader and what a mother will often do to protect her child. The latter is what a military force is expected to do – return violence for violence. Shall we be protective nurturers or soldiers?

    2) Immediate response to violence is universally considered self-defense. A strategic plan to stop alleged violators is no more self-defense than “pre-emptive warfare” is a form of peace-keeping.

  36. Survival Acres,

    We don’t “DESPARATELY” need anything. Desparation, yours or Jensen’s leads, inevitably, to violations of ones integrity and violations of natural law (e.g. violence).

    You claim to be a defender of Nature, yet you seem to fear or loathe an organic (i.e. natural) flow of discussion. And, rather than contribute constructively, merely diminish and devalue both those who participate in dialogue and what they have to say.

    Seems to be the epitome of old paradigm thinking and (re)action.

  37. Survival Acres, I know that my response isn’t exactly right on the topic but I think it’s related closely enough for me to respond.

    Robert Riversong, we probably won’t agree on this, but nonetheless, think of how much better your chances of survival are if you’re being attacked on the street for example and you know an instant in advance that the attacker will throw you a punch, or if he is only beginning his motion to punch you. You can stop him in his tracks if you’re either determined, fast or smart enough, or all of the above.

    The same applies on a larger scale. If you know that a group of psychopaths – a corporation or whatever – is planning on taking your landbase away from you and your people, you have more options than if you’re surprised. Knowing in advance permits you to go and stop them before they get to your place. That’s the situation we’re faced with on a global scale.


  38. Robert,

    I don’t think I’m confused. There is violence in nature, because living things are willful beings, and they don’t always do what other living things would like, like not kill and eat them, not rape them, not beat the hell out of them, not step on them without seeing them. Humans aren’t the only people who do these things. This is not to say that nature is a vale of tears, just to say that it’s a complicated place, that each living thing has to figure out. I don’t see this as projecting human dysfunction onto nature. I’m not suggesting that humans aren’t significantly more screwed up than our neighbors. I’m not suggesting that cooperation and synergy aren’t as much a part of nature as is the use of force, indeed much more so. I’m just saying that when you have a multitude of individuals that make up a whole, those individuals are going to have different ideas about how to do things. I think natural law is much trickier than any of us can know. Who’s to say that some humans trying to actively stop other humans from turning the earth into mud and garbage isn’t some part of natural law? Are they not trying to honor and enforce the natural laws of reciprocity and balance?

    I read a brief summary of the Parable of the Tribes. It said that the “four possible outcomes for the threatened tribes: destruction, absorption and transformation, withdrawal, and imitation. In every one of these outcomes the ways of power are spread throughout the system.” I would argue that defensive violence and offensive violence have different effects. I would also argue that defensive violence is much broader than simply responding to an immediate threat. There is a huge border area, and likely no real way to distinguish the two, but there are different kinds of violence. What are we to do, then, when confronted with a threat? I would prefer that my tribe defend itself and then heal from the effects of that defense than the other options, unless trying to defend ourselves is totally useless.

    I agree that a new paradigm and a new world can be done only be creative and constructive effort. I agree that civilization will crumble on its own. However, I do not believe we must, or even should, stand by and wait for it to happen. The cannibal sickness of civilization is extremely tenacious, and requires no high technology to perpetuate it, merely the will to control others. I think when petroleum-driven industry crashes, a huge number of people will abandon it or be open to new paradigms, opening opportunities for so much creative and constructive effort, but those post-crash generations

    I don’t see that it’s so easy to draw a line between preventing immediate violence and stopping potential, even ongoing violence. Sooner or later the latter becomes the former. The forests of New England are recovering in part because we’re deforesting other areas and because the relatively rich people who live there don’t want to be surrounded by fields of mud but still want their toilet paper and patios. How would you react if the forests you love and work in are going to be cut down, because it’s now economically feasible? This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely interested.

    Misko brings up a good point. Know what’s coming and prepare for it. I think the global scale of things is part of what makes it so hard to distinguish defensive and offensive violence. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I would add that civilization anywhere is a threat to life everywhere. There is violence happening everywhere. If we choose to stop it, how is that not in some way self-defense? We’ve started to see people engaging in climate change civil disobedience using the necessity defense, saying that their law-breaking was made necessary by the need to prevent a greater injustice. I would agree, and add that small acts of carefully applied force have also been made necessary by the greater injustices happening around us. One does not rule out the other.

    Also, thank you for defending the flow of discussion.


    I don’t see how rejecting violence is the next step from not projecting violence. Please elaborate on this.


    Thank you for your bluntness. So many people have been confronted directly with the violence of civilization and have had to decide what to do.

    Survival Acres,

    We can go where the conversation leads us. We’re not stopping anyone from talking specifically about the article. Calling something a food fight because you’re not interested in it is lazy and insulting. I agree with your comments about the article, which I read several times and think is extremely important, but I don’t agree at all with your comments about the use of this discussion forum.

  39. My dear Andrew,

    You suffer from civilization. You over-complicate everything.

    Natural Law is so simple that “primitive” man and every animal and plant and prokaryote comprehends it.

    There is no violence in Nature. Civilization invented violence and then projected it backward upon the world of Nature in order to justify it.

    It is not at all difficult to distinquish between what serves Life and what does not. Violence of any kind for any reason undermines Life. It is the disease of civilization. One cannot tear down the Master’s House with the Master’s tools.

    The Neo-Con strategists of pre-emptive warfare all considered themselves idealists, engaging in active “self-defense” of what they understood to be in the best interest of the world.

    You know which road is paved with “good intentions”. Do not add paving stones to the road to Hell.

    Instead, sing to the moon and the dying polar bears. Plant a Linden tree for your great-grandchildren. Craft a new story for the next seven generations. Those things serve life.

  40. Robert,

    For someone who has repeatedly and rudely insisted that others are confused or in some way misdirected (stop that, it’s rude and is poor debating form), you have a very poor grasp on reality. And I mean real, physical reality. Your pseudo-enlightened B.S. has no bearing on how life really works, and your complete lack of understanding both indigenous and civilized conceptions of the world is disrespectful, to say the least.

    I have only a slight authority, being an indigenous person in recovery from civilization and a fledgling anthropologist trying to go beyond my bachelors, but I can tell you straightforward that indigenous oral histories from all over the world directly contradict the crap you’re spouting. Violence exists in the world, and it’s violence whether or not it’s controlling and abusive as civilization’s always is.

    As I’ve seen Derrick write in other places, you either don’t know how discourse works, or you do and choose to cheat at it anyway. Stop that.

    You’re being an arrogant, pompous, and inconsiderate ass by assuming you can analyze people, their motivations, and their previous knowledge based on a few lines of text. Or to take a page from the playbook of you and other dogmatic pacifists: you’re simply falling into the need to control that the dominant culture instills when you label and analyze others instead of asking honest questions and debating real points. If you truly had love and respect for others, you wouldn’t do that, but rather would treat their arguments with respect, and them as well, by actually arguing the points instead of making pointless, useless, and un-called-for attacks on their intelligence of integrity to cover up for you lack of either.

    If you insist on staying in denial about who is destroying the world and how screwed we really are right now, and if you insist on continually inferring your own meaning into others’ comments instead of deigning to take the time to actually contemplate other people, kindly keep it to yourself.

    With love and rage,


  41. Also:

    Oh my many gods! I can’t believe you actually said “One cannot tear down the Master’s House with the Master’s tools.”

    You seriously haven’t read any of Derrick’s books, have you? Such an easy to refute phrase handed to me, I have to take advantage of it.

    One: Audre Lorde is not a pacifist.

    Two: Yes you can, because it doesn’t matter whose tools they are (and assuming violence is only “the master’s tool is idiotic) as long as they work.

    Three: If anything is “the master’s tools” it’s the legally proscribed, non-violent methods set up to allow people to feel like they’re making a difference when they’re not.

    As for you advice to “Plant a Linden tree for your great-grandchildren”; planting trees is great, but what good is it to plant a new tree when you’re unwilling to defend the forests? How will the plants live if all they have as a home is a barren moonscape? Allowing life to live means stopping those who would kill it all. Complicity in the murder is murder.

    C’mon, give us a hard one.

    With love and rage,


  42. This conversation puts me in the mood for some acorn bread…

  43. I very much appreciate Daniel’s admonishment of Robert’s uninformed and abusive posts which have been bothering me also. I have been excited to read Jensen’s articles in Orion and truly value the comment section as a space for discussing topics of enormous importance.

    So I wanted to offer a couple specific examples of Robert’s errors as a similar attempt to Daniel’s at restoring constructive dialogue here and to hopefully discourage Robert and others from writing abusive and uninformed posts that risk undermining or destroying that:

    1. In his attempt to portray violence as “unnatural” and as something that does not exist in the natural world, only in civilization, Robert writes (#34):

    “The New Biology recognizes that, contrary to Darwinist ideology, natural evolution was and is based primarily on cooperation and synergy (non-violence).”

    To anyone who is familiar with current thinking in biology and ecology, this comment reveals clearly Robert’s profound confusion and lack of knowledge about these topics. For one thing, Darwin himself never said that violence (or competition) was the primary mechanism for evolution, so it’s simply a falsehood to label that argument “Darwinist ideology.” That argument was actually first made by racist “Social Darwinists” (e.g., Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest,” a phrase and an argument which was never uttered by Darwin).

    For his part, Darwin argued that *natural selection* was the primary mechanism for evolution and he very explicitly made it crystal clear throughout his work that (a combination of) both competition AND cooperation play crucial roles in a given species’ survival in the long run. Which works better at a given moment and for a particular population depends on a lot of things, but for Darwin neither can be said to be primary in general. If Robert can find evidence to the contrary (from Darwin’s work or from current thinking in “The New Biology”) then I’d certainly be interested to see it, as would many academics who teach graduate level courses on these things (and who, according to Robert, have been teaching it all wrong!! :)).

    2. In a severely incoherent attempt to draw a distinction between planned self-defense (which Robert considers to be violence) and unplanned or “immediate” self-dense (which Robert considers not to be violence), Robert writes that (#38):

    “Immediate response to violence is universally considered self-defense. A strategic plan to stop alleged violators is no more self-defense than “pre-emptive warfare” is a form of peace-keeping.”

    This argument is plain silly, if you think it through logically, as Misko (#40) and Andrew (#41) do a great job of illustrating.

    In addition, Robert evidently does not understand the notion of “pre-emptive” war or how it relates to the US government’s invasion and continued occupation of Iraq. Robert writes (#42) that

    “The Neo-Con strategists of pre-emptive warfare all considered themselves idealists, engaging in active “self-defense” of what they understood to be in the best interest of the world”

    In fact, the illegal invasion of Iraq was an example of what is called “preventive” war, not “pre-emptive” war. The distinction between these terms may sound trivial but the difference for Iraqis and for US moral standing in the world is enormous. Pre-emptive war (legal under international law) means launching an attack against an enemy that has been proven to pose an *imminent* threat against you. Preventive war, on the other hand (which is illegal international law), means launching a war against an enemy that the aggressor claims *will* pose a threat against them *sometime in the future*, but that does not pose a threat to them at the time they launch their invasion. Clearly a huge difference! The US launched its invasion by claiming Iraq posed an imminent threat (which would have made the war “pre-emptive” and legal) but their claims of course were lies, thus rendering the invasion in actuality “preventive” and illegal.

    Robert is thus using a fallacious understanding of international law in general, and of what led to the invasion of Iraq in particular, as ostensible support for his own truly silly and illogical argument about good and bad kinds of violence. Even in their own words, the neocons did not see themselves as engaging in pre-emptive warfare but rather in *preventive* warfare. If you read The Project for the New American Century texts, for instance, they very clearly state that their goal is to spread American hegemony globally and that they were looking for a chance to go into the Middle East in particular, to increase US control of the oil over there. Like everyone else (including Hitler), they too justify (and rationalize) their goals as somehow decent and benevolent and thus as serving “the best interest of the world.” But they were not and are not doing so on grounds of self-defense; the self-defense argument was simply their marketing strategy (to present their aggression as palatable to the US and legal under international law).

    In short, pre-emptive war most definitely can be a form of “peace-keeping” and is, notwithstanding Robert’s confused arguments to the contrary, a form of self-defense. At least, these are the arguments accepted under international law and they certainly make sense to me. Of course, the way things actually play out (like the US invasion of Iraq) is almost never justified, but that doesn’t invalidate the principle itself.

    Literally every one of Robert’s posts contains ignorant and abusive statements that I (and I’m sure many others) could go on exposing endlessly, but hopefully my and Daniel’s posts will suffice in getting Robert and others to be slower to post their unhelpful and abusive shit. Hopefully my effort here will also be useful in helping to steer dialogue back into a more constructive direction, which we so desperately need and which I personally value and appreciate so very much.

    Love and Rage,
    Swimming in a Bubbler

  44. Moderator,

    Please do not remove Daniel Quiray’s post #43 and Swimming in a Bubbler’s post #46, even though they are so clearly little more than ill-tempered and intemperate personal attacks aimed at me.

    It is important for your readers to witness how verbally violent and reactionary are many of the cult-like supporters of Derrick Jensen. These poorly-aimed and factually-deficient responses are typical of what I encountered when I challenged some of Jensen’s positions on a discussion forum of Jensen acolytes.

    Ironically, both these attack dogs signed their posts “with love and rage” (apparently the salutation of Jensen cultists), though their words are all rage and empty of either love or logic.

    Jensen, like Jesus, inspires deeply loyal followers. In both religions, however, the apostles fail to practice what the master preaches.

  45. For those who were fooled by Swimming in a Bubbler’s faux response to my factual points, while I don’t intend to enter into a debate with one who has no other purpose than to obfuscate and undermine (the essential tools of the propagandist), let me mention these few facts which are in contradiction to his allegations:

    Darwin first used Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as a synonym for “natural selection” in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869. And, at the end of his life, he openly acknowledged that he had overemphasized the importance of competition in natural selection over the contribution of cooperation.

    While the Project for a New American Century’s primary neo-con document (which became the foreign policy foundation for the Bush regime) clearly promulgated pre-emptive warfare (see following), it never once mentioned Middle East oil.

    “The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire.”
    – PNAC, statement of principles, and intro to Rebuilding America’s Defenses

    And, again in contradiction to what was alleged by Bubbler, UN Charter article 2 section 4 states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” And the Nuremburg Principles clearly state that attacking another nation (pre-emptive war) is a war of agression and the highest of all war crimes.

    And, lastly, the WikiPedia entry on pre-emptive war begins:
    “Preemptive war (or a preemptive strike) is waged in an attempt to repel or defeat a perceived inevitable offensive or invasion, or to gain a strategic advantage in an impending (allegedly unavoidable) war before that threat materializes. Preemptive war is often confused with the term preventive war. While the latter is generally considered to violate international law, and to fall short of the requirements of a just war, preemptive wars are more often argued to be justified or justifiable (although international law categorically rejects Preemptive war).”

  46. Andrew,

    Thanks for your comments (#41). When I wrote that rejecting violence is the next step from not projecting violence on to nature, I was thinking that violence is basically a human phenomenon, and that once humans recognize that their violence is an aberration in nature, they would be able to choose to re-join the natural order and thus reject violence. But you are right to raise the questions of violence in nature and the large grey area between offensive and defensive violence. There is some form of violence in nature, but it does not originate from confusion, neuroses, and maliciousness, which are characteristic only of humans. Could we call the violence that occurs in nature necessary, because it is used to get either food or territory? Or perhaps it could be called defensive, as it is used to promote the well-being of the organism. Actually, instead of trying to sort out defensive vs offensive or necessary vs unnecessary violence, perhaps a better goal is to try to reduce the total amount of unnecessary suffering that we see. Then we would be focusing on the ends rather than the means, but not endorsing a “by any means necessary” philosophy.

    Survival Acres,

    Humans usually do behave thoughtlessly, but that doesn’t mean that we necessarily are thoughtless creatures. We don’t have to hate nature. Treating people with more kindness and compassion is more likely to bring out the thoughtfulness in them.

  47. To the editors, et al:

    While I have no evidence that Derrick Jensen sends his attack dogs (posts #43 & #46) to savage those who challenge his writings, I can assure you that he allows his acolytes to do so.

    This I know because, when I was even more viciously (and vulgarly) attacked on a Jensen discussion forum and asked Jensen to keep the dialogue civil, he responded that he would not intervene. When a charismatic figure refuses to reign in the excesses of his followers, he is complicit in those violations.

    Jensen’s writings, particularly his Endgame philosophy, attract a large numbers of disaffected and angry people who have formed a cult-like following which can tolerate no challenge. Their “love and rage” blinds them to the light of truth.

    One might notice that truly revolutionary figures, such as Gandhi and MLK, attracted no fringe followers because their message had no room for hatred. But figures such as Jensen, whose message has a strong undercurrent of violent iconoclasm, draw to them such faux-anarchist rabble as has been evidenced here and elsewhere.

    For his part, Jensen carefully positions himself above the fray, maintaining “plausible deniability” while deliberately refusing to discourage (if not actively encouraging) the most aggressive and destructive elements within the social-change movement.

    As I’ve stated several times, I agree with most of Jensen’s perspectives – he is a very perceptive individual. But such an injured soul (he acknowledges that he was a victim of abuse), who has not healed that deep existential wound, can not help but perpetuate the cycle of violence, even if done vicariously through his acolytes.

  48. Robert (#51 etc.)

    While I have a totally different perception and experience than yours on the discussion forum (too bad yours went sour) you’re refering to as well as on many subjects. I find that your comments can serve to clarify some things for people who are starting to see thru the smog of civilization. Also, we get to know you and your intentions in the process. Thank you for that. Keep them comming!


  49. Robert,

    Nowhere in the discussion pages of any of Derrick’s three pieces in Orion have you actually specifically countered anything that Derrick has written about violence, or even directly referenced it. I think it’s hard to claim that he’s caught in his own internal contradictions if you don’t explain what those are.

    I worry about this because you’ve said things like this: “Specifically, his belief that the only effective response to systemic violence is violently tearing down the machine of violence. Stating it that clearly should be enough to demonstrate its inherent contradiction.” This makes me think that you really haven’t read a thing he’s written outside of these articles, because he never says that. Never. One of his most common refrains is “We need it all”, after which he explains in detail what “all” means. He’s said a number of times something like, “I always get pegged as ‘the violence guy’, when in reality I’m really ‘the everything guy'”. You’re not “stating it that clearly”, you’re making it up to suit your own rhetorical purposes. If you misunderstand Derrick’s writing on that basic a level, I really don’t know what else to say, except read his books. Heck, you don’t even have to read all of them, or even one of them. has a number of good excerpts.

    I think you give violence way too much power as a corrupting influence. I think what corrupts about violence is its ability to make manifest your will while ignoring the wishes of others. In that, I don’t think it’s much different from other forms of power, which in themselves are most likely coercive and not something we want to support. Satyagraha is a very different form of power, one that makes the practitioner and those around them more humane, and I have extreme respect for it. I have no respect for people who say that violence only feeds the beast. This is making complicated things simple, and no, I’m not suffering from civilization when I say this, I’m being honest and respectful of the mystery of the universe. Several times you’ve accused people here of dualistic thinking, including Derrick, when his writing at least is not dualistic. He’s saying that there are many things we can do in service to life.

    A point on “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House”. If you haven’t read Audre Lorde’s original essay, I recommend it. You can read it here or elsewhere online: A couple quotes from that. “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.” “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.” What this says to me is that “the master’s tools” are compartmentalization and opposition. I disagree that violence is one of the master’s tools.

    I’m sorry you felt mistreated on the discussion forum. If it’s the one I’m part of, I find it an extremely respectful and sensitive place. I hope you have not taken anything I’ve said here as a sign of disrespect. I’m just confused and I’m trying to explain why. On the other hand, I see you making needless insinuations, and I don’t appreciate that.


    I think you’re mostly right, in that lots of human violence is really unlike anything else found in nature. I think we’ve elevated viciousness, insensitivity, senselessness, sadism and deliberate brutality to totally new levels, mostly because we’re not living how we’ve evolved to live, how we should be living.

    I think we could call violence in nature necessary, but I don’t think even then it’s that easy. I’ve heard some animals, like mountain lions, characterized as real jerks, since they hunt things just for fun. Then again, I have to say that there’s really no way for humans to know why other beings do what they do, so in that sense we’re always projecting. Why do female mantises eat their mates’ heads? Why do dolphins and other creatures practice what looks like gang rape? Honestly, it’s hard for me to find examples of “unnecessary” violence in nature, and I hope that’s because there isn’t much.

    I agree, we should try to reduce the total amount of unnecessary suffering that we see.

    What do you mean by “focusing on the ends rather than the means”? Your meaning isn’t obvious to me in this context.

    I think a good “by any means necessary” philosophy is one that really lays out all options on the table. Do we shoot Hitler? No? Ok, why not? Do we engage in massive nonparticipation? Yes? Ok, why? Do some tactics make sense in some situations and not in others? Can we ever really say that something will never work without trying it? Will we ever really be able to say “this works, and that doesn’t” with any certainty aside from false certainty? That’s what “by any means necessary” means to me. That puts a lot of emphasis on examining “necessary”.

  50. Robert,

    You’re still deflecting and not arguing anything substantial. Please stop that and learn to argue (books on formal logic are available at most libraries).

    If you can’t deal with the fact that thinking people honestly object to your lack of logical argument, and feel the need to depict it as some sort of conspiracy, I suggest finding someone to talk it out with. I’d suggest a psychiatrist, but I got out of that field primarily for my objections to mainstream psychological treatment of anti-civilization folks.

    Also, I just invented that “Love and rage” thing, as I considered it an accurate way to close most of what I write. Glad it’s catching on!

    With Love and Rage,


  51. Daniel:

    (as per Andrew’s citation)

    “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”

    Formal logic is one, if not the principal tool of the Master. The syllogism is the foundation stone civilization as we know it. It is the basis of modern science, technology, politics and law. I did not know this was a debating championship we were engaged in. Perhaps that was my mistake.

    With love and rage,


  52. Robert,

    Sadly, from your latest posts you seem determined to keep resorting to ad hominems, character assassination, making ludicrous (and really pretty delusional and paranoid) assumptions and accusations about people’s motives, etc., and to portray yourself as simply a blameless and hapless victim of mean spirited people who are Out. To. Get. You. —all truly text-book classic forms of abusive behavior.

    From what I’ve seen, the vast majority of the other posters here have focused mainly on substance (and continue to be amazingly kind and patient towards you), the vast bulk of which you show little sign of even having read. Instead, you seem committed to playing the victim to a degree that imo frankly rivals a Hannity, Limbaugh, or Beck.

    The pattern in your posts is plain for all to see so I won’t dwell on it too much, though I will say it takes some pretty vulgar depravity to assert that someone who has experienced violence firsthand (in this case Jensen, post #51) therefore has no credibility to speak on the topic of violence—unless that person is a pacifist! Reminds me of rightwingers who wailed that Cindy Sheehan shouldn’t be listened to on the war because they said she was overly emotional and irrational following her son’s death! And some continue to say similar things about Iraqi victims, too! Pretty nasty stuff indeed.

    But just as you can’t know Jensen’s emotional state, you also can’t know the unstated motives of those who disagree with you. Claiming you can is also a form of evasion by endlessly shifting the grounds of conversation away from the substance, with one novel and unfounded accusation after another that then needs to be swatted away in what eventually becomes a Sisyphean task.

    For the record, I’m no Jensen worshiper, have no use for cults, and started using the “love and rage” thing years before I’d heard of Jensen—first saw it in an email I got from an activist friend and prof I had in undergrad and I dug it. I think it’s actually used in a lot of activist circles outside of Jensen fans, which may even be where Jensen got it from.

    My explaining this may only further reinforce your conviction that I am part of a cult that is out to get you, though you’re equally free of course to see it instead as a chance to apologize for (and stop) making baseless, hateful and paranoid assumptions and accusations about people which exert a destructive influence on discussion here.

    Given the length already, I’ll respond separately to the (more) substantive points that you thankfully raised about my last post. I’ll post that shortly.


  53. In response to Robert’s post (48), first I’ll admit upfront I made a mistake in my original post, for which I sincerely apologize. I said Darwin never used the “survival of the fittest” phrase and Robert is right in saying that he did (eventually). As I’ll explain, this doesn’t alter one iota the validity of my larger argument, but I did write that sentence too hastily and should’ve been more careful with my word choice.

    My bigger argument, which Robert sidestepped altogether, however, was that it’s inaccurate to say that nature writ large is either primarily violent (aka competitive) or primarily cooperative, and neither Darwin nor contemporary biologists and ecologists share Robert’s view on this. This is a pretty key and basic starting point for understanding evolution, ecology, biodiversity, etc., and Robert’s (likely unwitting) distortion has a long and sordid history so it’s important to correct.

    Part of the misunderstanding is attributed to Darwin’s unfortunate (and relatively late) adoption of the “survival of the fittest” phrase as a synonym for “natural selection.” Spencer coined the phrase, like I said before, but whereas Spencer claimed we could somehow know (with foresight) what makes a given creature or population more vs. less “fit” evolutionarily, Darwin rejected that view entirely. Biologists post-Darwin went back to the term “natural selection” to avoid the many dubious Spenserian connotations. Hope that clarifies this.

    As for “preemptive” vs. “preventive,” it’s interesting that what Robert quotes from wiki actually matches precisely what I wrote (except the penultimate word in the wiki quote is a typo). Re-read it, Robert, and I think you’ll agree. Preemptive war is generally viewed as (proactive) self-defense and thus as justifiable and legal, whereas preventive war (e.g., the Iraqi invasion) is aggression, unjustifiable and illegal. That’s exactly what I said and it’s supported even by wiki. It’s also fully consistent with the UN charter (specifically, Article 51), which Robert mischaracterizes (by conflating preemptive and preventive). I would encourage you, Robert, before responding again, to slow down, re-read things carefully, apologize for your haste and errors, and learn something potentially useful.

    Love and Rage,

  54. One final response to Robert’s post (48) is that, yeah, the neocons are smart enough not to bandy about the word “oil” too carelessly and instead they use standard coded language like “national interests,” etc. But Robert if you are suggesting the US did not invade Iraq for control of oil, then why, pray tell, do you think they did?! Did Cheney quit Halliburton (sort of) and join the defense department because he had a dream of making sure oil would remain in the ground permanently, as part of his infamous hegemonic crusade against global warming!? 🙂

    As much fun as this thought experiment is, the tedious process of correcting falsehoods, distortions, and inaccuracies risks burying the bigger topics at hand.

    I’ll come back to those (about justifiable/unjustifiable vs. natural/unnatural violence) in another post, but I really don’t want to monopolize the comments, and for now I also feel the need to go inhale some fresh crisp air following a cool September rain in the NW.

    Love and Rage,

  55. Fellow Readers,

    What kind of person comes in late to a substantive discussion, with nothing to contribute but vitriol and Orwellian inversions of truth, for the sole purpose of discrediting one who dares challenge their false prophet of “love and rage”?

    Could it be the kind of person who so glibly accepts the logic of “the ends justifies the means” – the time-worn rationalization of every demagogue and sociopath? “Love and rage” is the excuse of every wife-beater (I pummeled her because I love her).

    What kind of person projects their own unacknowledged inner demons onto another, so transparently imputing to others what they alone are guilty of?

    And what is it about Derrick Jensen’s writings that so powerfuly attract such tortured souls? Like attracts like is a law of the Universe.


    Thank you for acknowledging your confusion (which you had earlier vehemently denied). You defend Jensen’s “any necesssary means” argument, without realizing that such a philosophy is diametrically opposed to the Satyagraha of Gandhian non-violence (“the means must be consistent with the ends”) which you claim to respect, while in the next breath you deny the essence of Gandhi’s teachings: that violence can only stoke the cycle of violence – whatever beast we feed is the one which prevails.

  56. Exactly Robert:

    “What kind of person projects their own unacknowledged inner demons onto another, so transparently imputing to others what they alone are guilty of?”


  57. Robert,

    Saying “I don’t think I’m confused” is not my idea of vehement denial. Also, that first statement was about violence in nature. The second statement was talking about my confusion in this conversation in general. For example, I’m confused why you would completely mischaracterize what Jensen is saying and then saying that your made-up summary contradicts itself. These are two different things, so please treat them as such.

    I respect all that Gandhi’s philosophy and practice have achieved, along with all the other nonviolent practices I see in small and large ways around the world every day. I am absolutely in support of anyone who wants to follow the satyagrahi’s path when defending life on the planet from those whose actions and mindsets are destroying it.

    However, I can respect something while disagreeing with parts of it. I am very much taking issue with the distinction between violence and nonviolence as two different and opposing beasts that gain strength. Violence isn’t the only thing that potentially stokes the cycle of violence – so does letting the abuser define the terms of the interaction. If you do not ensure that someone’s abusive actions have real consequences, they will continue to do whatever they’re doing. Satyagraha is not at all letting the abuser define the terms of the interaction, it is saying very clearly Do what you will, I am here to show you that you are wrong at every step of the way, but I will let you come to that realization on your own, or let your supporters desert you until you are no longer in the way of justice.

    That strategy does work, and it works a lot, I would suspect most often by draining support from the abuser. Absolutely, it should be used. However, to suggest that anything else is counterproductive is to care more about the abuser than the victim. Yes, the abuser will keep abusing until they’re stopped or until they change their mind. I understand that. Meanwhile, the victim continues to suffer. In this case, the victim is the living world on which humanity utterly depends and of which humanity is an inextricable part. The living world is not interested in our means so far as I know, only our ends. This is not to justify any half-assed scheme, but to say that there is a real world out there, that this is not at all academic, it is being fought in the real world, which is suffering every day.

    It may be that violence and nonviolence, or whatever two systems are out there, are somehow simultaneously adversarial but complementary. Both are necessary, though they don’t necessarily know it. The satyagrahis and the guerrilla fighters may see each other as wrongheaded, but they are all dancing in the same dance, and somehow all the steps make sense together, like order is often found behind chaos (though there may be further chaos behind order, and further order behind that chaos, and then it’s anyone’s guess). I think everything does have its mirror.

    It’s not as simple as violence or nonviolence. Some violence may feed the cycle of nonviolence, and some nonviolence may feed the cycle of violence. Perhaps the whole notion of any cycles at all is inaccurate, or at least is not the two beasts that you imagine.

  58. Interesting thought sandy, but essentially I think it won’t stand up to careful observance. Formal logic is ultimately just a fancy way of saying that one’s arguments make sense internally and externally. Basically that one point follows from the last and to the next, and of course whether or not the premises match reality. It’s also essential to tracking. If it were actually applied to scientific research more, perhaps we wouldn’t have so much crap science coming out.

    And here I was thinking I’d thought up something so creative with “Love and rage”. Guess it’s something in the mental undercurrent.

  59. Daniel

    So you insist on dragging me into this debate… something I do not believe in, and almost never practice (LOL). Indeed, I abhor debate, as nature does a vacuum!!

    But, I think you and I can agree that Aristotle is the father of the syllogism. And we can also agree with The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy when it says that “Aristotle’s logic, especially his theory of the syllogism, has had an unparalleled influence on the history of Western thought.” As we both know, the syllogism revolves around one key concept: deduction (sullogismos)

    Now, according to Aristotle in the Prior Analytics, “A deduction is speech (logos) in which, certain things having been supposed, something different from those supposed results of necessity because of their being so.” (I.2, 24b18-20)

    This corresponds to our modern notion of a logical consequence: X results of necessity from Y and Z if it would be impossible for X to be false when Y and Z are true. We could therefore take this to be a general definition of “valid argument”. (Stanford Encycl of Phil)

    The syllogism then, is the foundation of a sound, formal argumentation in science, mathematics, law, and debate class. These ideas while not emerging ex nihilo from Aristotle’s head, certainly have become the tools of the master… and we cannot tear down the master’s house with his own tools… but only entertain him temporarily.

    Thanks for your response.

    And I do like that…

    love and rage,


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