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Ten Questions for Radical Environmentalist Derrick Jensen, Part II


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Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here [2])

HC: Historically in the United States, a sizable sector of environmentalists have found common cause with parts of the political Right when it comes to restricting immigration, and sometimes even in preserving not just biodiversity in the broad sense, but human biodiversity as well. Madison Grant [3], Edward Abbey [4], and the recently deceased John Tanton [5] are all noteworthy examples of this. What do you make of this overlap, and what do you think of mass human migration generally, and how it relates to contemporary partisan politics today?

DJ: Well, the first thing I want to mention is that anti-environmentalists will often throw out that some of the early environmentalists were eugenicists, and I never understood that until just a couple weeks ago. I was taking a walk with a friend of mine who was talking about Madison Grant, whom I didn’t know before, and who is, I believe, one of the founders of the Save the Redwoods League [6].[1] [7] The guy I was talking to is a profound environmentalist and very biocentric. Anyway, he was talking about the guy who founded the Save the Redwood League and saying that he was not actually interested in saving habitat, he was interested in applying agricultural – I mean, agriculture is eugenics, it’s how do you develop the biggest steer, how do you develop the biggest tomato, it’s specifically selecting for the master race of tomatoes. That’s what agriculture is, and he was saying that eugenics was all the rage 110, 120, or 130 years ago. The rage was to apply that to ideas other than agriculture. Industrial agriculture was just coming on with this particular form of eugenics applied to non-humans. And so the Save the Redwood League guy was actually not particularly interested in saving habitat; in fact, he was opposed to saving habitat in many places. What he was interested in was finding the biggest redwood trees and reproducing their genes. So again, he was just applying the principles of agriculture to – in this case – redwoods, and the eugenicists in terms of humans were likewise simply applying the absolutely standard terms of agriculture to human beings. And I’m not saying that’s okay, I’m not even saying it’s okay for agriculture, because the one who should be determining who survives is who is best for land base, and who is best for that larger community. It’s not who makes a bigger tomato.

Anyway, so that is just a little bit of history that’s not often brought into this. I got it from my friend Greg King, who wrote a book on the founding of the Save the Redwoods League. It’s very interesting stuff. Okay, so I sort of wanted to get that part out of the way. And then, immigration is a hot issue these days, and immigration seems to always be a hot issue, and of course, immigration is going to always be a hot issue when you have a globalized economy that destroys colonies and where you have an economy that impoverishes people and forces them to leave their homes in order to survive. And I used to tell a joke at a lot of my talks that I am in favor of closing the US border with Mexico on one condition, which is that you close it not only to the movement of people, but also to the moment of resources, because if you want to close it to the people, but not to the resources, what you’re saying is that, “Well, I don’t want you, but I want the coffee that’s grown on land that used to be yours,” because the people who are coming up are not coming to take eco tours of the San Joaquin valley, they are not coming up for fun, they’re coming up because their land has been taken, and so it’s what we’re running up against in yet another way. As long as you have an economic system in place that destroys communities, as capitalism inevitably does, and as civilization inevitably does, you will have people who are displaced from those communities, and those people will have to go somewhere. And that is true, which is why I don’t like the Right-wing perspective of shutting down the border. At the same time, when the people who have been displaced go somewhere else, they are moving into someone else’s home, which is why I don’t like the Left-wing perspective, either, which is to say, “Open the borders completely, let anybody come in who wants to, and if you don’t like it, tough luck for you.” Because that’s not even how it works, in the real world, that’s not how it works in nature. Oftentimes, when a State Fish and Wildlife Department will relocate a bear or relocate a mountain lion, what they do quite often is just kill them, and they pretend to relocate and just dump the body. But even when they do relocate, that doesn’t make things okay for the bear. And what it does is it disrupts the social structure that was already there. Somebody already lived there. There is no surplus in nature, and especially when humans have overpopulated the planet, there’s no place for these refugees to go. There will be consequences.

And I know, if these days saying borders need to be absolutely open is a dogma of the Left, then if you don’t agree with that, you’ll be toxic. And you will be toxic if you say that males can’t be female. There are certain authoritarian positions on the Left where to question them is blasphemy, and this is one of them. And I want to be really clear: I am not saying the border should be closed. I’m also not saying that the border should be open. What I’m saying is that when you overpopulate, you can expect refugees. When you destroy the environment, you can expect refugees. When you have colonies, you can expect displaced persons (i.e., refugees), because that’s what colonies do: You are taking the resources away from their communities. And when you have mass migrations like this, there will be consequences on the other end, too, and we should not be surprised when there are those who perceive harm in this influx and who don’t want their old way of life changed because of this influx – changed because of nothing they did.

Just one small example is that I’ve talked to several people in the UK who have talked about how the UK has a very long history of polite queues, like, for the bus. And many of the immigrants over the last two or three decades, their customs are not to have queues, but instead sort of mob the entrance to the bus. I’m not saying either one is better. I’m saying that if you’re used to polite queues, and then now, there are people who are not respecting that tradition, that is a very small-scale way in which something will upset people. We all have the picture of the ugly American, the ugly expat who moves to Mexico and brings their American ways with them. That’s a stereotype, that’s a cliché. And there are reasons why they would be resented. You know, I wrote about this in Culture of Make Believe about how, especially, when you have an economy that’s largely collapsing, we have been taught that you can’t blame capitalism. So instead, it can be really easy to blame the new people who’ve moved in who will take the job for five cents an hour less than you would do it for, and they’re now a competition. This is what happens when you have a system based on competition where . . . This happened a lot in the nineteenth century, where there would be American workers, American-born workers, and then there would be people coming in from Ireland, and they would be resented because they were desperate and they would take jobs for cheaper. And then later, there would be people from the various Eastern European countries coming in, and by then, the Irish had been somewhat assimilated and there was a new round of people driving down wages. And this was a big deal in the nineteenth century and led to a lot of xenophobia.

Humans evolved in small bands. And we evolved with a healthy distrust of those who are different, those from somewhere else, because you don’t know them. Now, I was just interviewing somebody the other day, talking about what it’s like to walk through a city. He said, “We evolved in a group of one hundred twenty people, which means that everybody you saw, you knew.” We did not evolve to walk down a street having all these people ignore us, because we have a hundred thousand years of evolution of being in these other groups. I was talking to a Tolowa guy several years ago, and he was telling me that when people would come down from Grant’s Pass, Indians would come down from what’s now Grant’s Pass and Medford, and they would be met with violence. And I recently read an article by an American Indian in which he was saying that, “Don’t look to American Indians as models for having open borders, because if somebody from some neighboring nation comes across without permission, we might kill them. And don’t look to us for open borders, because we didn’t have them.” And I think that yet again, civilization, with its inherent destruction of communities, has created a huge problem for everyone, including non-humans. Non-humans are facing the same thing. The American Indians faced this, too. As the whites came in to the East Coast, there was a wave of displacement west as people were fleeing the dominant culture, and they would be displacing people all the way across the nation, all the way across the continent.

And then for me, with a fundamentally biocentric viewpoint, it’s what helps a salmon, and what helps the delta smelt, and what helps the blue whale. And what they want, frankly, is fewer humans messing up their land, and this is true whether they are in South America or North America. And they don’t want as many machines, and they’re probably really sick of hearing chainsaws. And how does this apply to a ship full of refugees on the Mediterranean? I don’t know. I think that we need to look at root causes. And I keep thinking about when I talked to Vandana Shiva a few years ago, about whether the people of Mumbai would be better off if the global economy disappeared tomorrow, and she said, “Yes, of course. Why do you think they’re living in the slums of Mumbai? It’s because they’ve been kicked off their land by the transnational corporations.” What we need to do is we need both Right and Left to recognize that civilization inherently creates refugees, and capitalism inherently creates refugees. And we need to recognize that new people moving in will be met with suspicion, just generically. And only when we recognize both of those inherent conditions will we be able to fashion any sort of reasonable response.

HC: One non-environmental topic you have addressed a number of times is pornography. As a millennial – and a former smut shop employee [8] – I find it really striking how ubiquitous porn is in day-to-day life, while being so rarely addressed at length by prominent intellectuals. What got you interested in the topic? What does it say about our society that we are drenched in porn, and what kind of society would we have to build to be rid of the stuff?

DJ: First, as to what got me interested in it, is that I was writing Culture of Make Believe, which started off as a five-page introduction to an encyclopedia of hate groups. But then I asked, “What’s a hate group?” and the book exploded. And the book I found ended up not being quite so much about hate as objectification. And really, before you can really commit mass atrocities against another group, generally you have to turn them into objects, and you have to objectify them in your mind. It makes it much easier. And so that book ended up being about many of the ways that this culture drives us to objectify others. And that’s inherent in the way this . . . I mean, so many Indians have said to me that the most fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded Westerners perceive the world as consisting of resources to be exploited, as opposed to other beings with whom to enter into a relationship. And that’s certainly true; most people perceive trees as dollars on the stump, but not as individual beings with lives as valuable to them as yours is to you and mine is to me.

And so as I’m writing the book, I’m realizing that I need to talk about objectification of women, and how the way you perceive someone affects how you behave toward them. There was an article in the paper several years ago about the reason that crabbers work so hard during the crabbing season. Each crab’s worth about $1.50, and if there were all these envelopes stuffed with a $1.50 all over the ground you’d run around picking them up as fast as you could. And that’s true. The problem is that crabs aren’t actually envelopes full of $1.50, crabs are beings with lives as valuable to them as yours is to you and mine is to me. And if you perceive crabs as envelopes full of cash, then you’ll kill a lot of them. There’s a great line by a Canadian lumber mower: “When I look at trees I see dollar bills.” And when you look at trees and you see dollar bills, you’re going to treat them one way. If you see trees when you look at trees, you’ll treat them another way. If, when I look at this particular tree, I see this particular tree, I’ll treat it differently still.

And the same is true for women. If when you look at women you see orifices, you’re going to treat them one way. If when you look at women you see women, you’ll treat them another way. And if when you look at this particular woman you see this particular woman, you’ll treat her differently still. Pornography had never played a significant role in my life at all. I was born in the pre-porn, certainly pre-computer days. And it just didn’t come up. You always hear stories about guys getting porn magazines, and me and my friends just didn’t do that. We were nerds. I don’t know. I don’t know. It was almost cliché, and sort of the stereotypical boy next door . . . We played basketball and Dungeons & Dragons and read books. And if I was out till three in the morning, it was because we were having a very good session of Dungeons & Dragons or something. It was absurdly straight-laced or whatever you want to say. It was great, actually. Anyway, so I’d never really encountered pornography much, and it just has not been part of my life. And even those stereotypical conversations that you hear in movies and that people talk about, the sort of locker room talk, the Donald Trump “grab them by the pussy” – I still remember the first time I ever encountered that. It wasn’t in high school or college. My car broke down in Idaho somewhere and I had to hitch a ride to town, and the two people who picked me up were talking about – in their language, not mine – some Mexican chick with big tits that they wanted to bang. I’d never actually heard that language before. This was an entirely different world. So I thought, if I’m going to talk about the objectification in general, I need to talk about objectification of women. And if I’m going to talk about the objectification of women, I really have to talk about porn. And so for, I don’t know, six weeks or something, I started looking at porn – just as if I’m going to write about the Middle Passage, I have to read about the Middle Passage. And if I’m going to write about the rise of the KKK, I have to read about the rise of the KKK.

So I started looking at porn. And the thing that was really interesting to me – and it’s also why I quit after a few weeks; just six weeks, four weeks, whatever. I’d finished with the research for that chapter and moved on. And I have to say, too, that I was hopelessly more naïve than that, because basically, the porn I looked at was naked women in fields of daisies. I would occasionally, somehow, come across some of the nastier stuff, and I would just click off of that as quickly as I could because it was just horrifying to me.

And I need to back up a second and say that one of the things that made me want to look up the porn stuff is that I was talking to someone who told me a story about her brother or sister – I don’t remember which – and that person’s partner. They were going through a difficult time, and then they would be sitting in the same room, in opposite corners of the room, each one on a computer, I guess – now you call it “sexting” with someone else. So he’s in one corner of the room, masturbating while he is typing with one hand to somebody else. And she’s in the other corner of the room, masturbating, while she’s typing with one hand, while she’s talking to somebody else. And it just struck me as so weird, like, you’re actually in the same room together . . . And I talked to this one woman who said she broke up with a guy because they were together, and she would wake up in the middle of the night, walk downstairs, and see him looking at porn, and she said, “The woman looked quite like me.” And so he was looking at pictures of somebody who looked like her, instead of her. Since this time, I did a talk and this actress came up to me afterwards, and then we talked for quite a while about pornography and how much she hates it. And she is always on those list of the top fifty most beautiful women in the world. She was saying that she broke up with multiple boyfriends because they had refused to stop looking at pornography. And also they were enacting scenes in porn on her, like choking her or slapping her or doing various other degrading things. And she would say, “Stop using porn,” and they wouldn’t do it. And it struck me as really extraordinary, that dropping of all questions of whether the beauty standard is inherently oppressive. All those questions. She is considered to be one of the top fifty most beautiful women in the world, and she is supposedly a good catch, and a famous actress, too. She’s unbelievably wealthy. All those other things. She’s a good catch, and the guys would rather look at pictures of other women than be with her, when they could be with her. And then when they’re with her, they aren’t even on their best behavior. They’re manifesting degrading behavior toward her.

So I hadn’t heard of that yet, but the point is that I was just confused by all this. I have heard that it is standard behavior. I’d heard this back when I was a kid, even, from my father, who was abusive. I remember a conversation where somebody else said that they were undressing a woman with their eyes, and he said, “Oh, yeah, every man does that.” And I was very young, and I had heard that every man undresses every woman with his eyes, and I didn’t do that. My spontaneous fantasy life, if I see some woman that I’m attracted to, I might immediately think, “God, what would it’d be like to have a great conversation with her? And what would it be like to talk with her about bringing down the infrastructure that supports Las Vegas? That would be fun.” That’s really where my spontaneous fantasy life went. But I looked at porn for several weeks. A lot of the research I did for Culture of Make Believe was using real books, those things that we don’t see very much of anymore. Anyway, I would go down there to the library, I’d get bags of books, and then I would take them back a few weeks later.

So I’m returning a bag of books. I’m walking down the sidewalk, and this woman comes walking toward me. And she was attractive. And traditionally, either I would just say “hi” and walk by, and not even think about it. Or if the spontaneous fantasy side was going to come up, I was like, “Wow, I wonder if she’d be fun to have a conversation with.” But instead, I spontaneously, instantaneously wondered, “What color is her pubic hair?” I had never done that before. And at that moment, I realized, “Okay, I’m done.” Because the research had accomplished what it set out to do. I didn’t know this is what I was trying. I thought I was just trying to figure out what’s horrible about it, how it works. And what I realized was that only looking at it, not even that much, for several weeks, it affected something so intimate as my spontaneous fantasy life. What would happen if you looked at it longer? What would happen if you started looking at it when your ideas of sexuality were being formed? And it was just horrifying. So that was the moment I became an anti-porn activist, was in realizing what it can do – as well as, of course, it being degrading.

And since then, I’ve had some anti-porn activists show me some of the other stuff, where there’s explicit torture. It’s not a woman standing in a field of daisies. There’s one that I will never get out of my head of a woman doing oral sex on a man, and the man has created a toilet seat, like the standard toilet seat. He put handles on it, put it around her neck to jam her face. He’s got his hands on it to jam her face down on his crotch. And some other guy has dental tools that he uses on women. It’s just an unbelievable nightmare. And so far as what this does to society, I love what Robert Jensen says about this, that pornography is what the end of the world looks like. It’s the objectification and degradation of everything. And this is the absolute core of patriarchy: an imperative to violate all that is violable. And in doing so, that’s how you determine that you are superior. Because I do it to them. I am the subject, they are the object. I am the one who does to, they are the one to whom it is done. And it’s classic abuser. If I do this, and she doesn’t go away, does that mean . . . Well, I’ll back up a second. I’ll just say a line by Richard Drennan. I love this. I think the problem, fundamentally, is womb envy, that women can give birth, and women give life. That’s where life comes from. It’s through the woman, through the female. And Richard Drennan has this great line about patriarchy; summing up patriarchy, that is: “If she can create life, and I can destroy it, who is the stronger?” And for me, that encapsulates this entire culture’s death urge, and the entire culture’s violation urge. The way patriarchy works is that you determine there is some other who is identifiably different, and then you violate them. And in that violation, you validate your own superiority over them and you validate their inferiority. Because if they weren’t inferior, I couldn’t have violated them, could I?

And this works across the board. This is why pornography is the way it is. This is why pornography exists. This is why rape exists. This is why this culture has to violate the very genetic materials of objects. This is why there is eugenics. This is why this culture sends probes to the deepest folds of the ocean. This is why this culture bombs the Moon, because everything must be violated, because that’s how we show we’re superior to everyone. And pornography is a door into that violation imperative. And there’s another question here, which is, what would our society have to look like in order to not have porn? Well, one thing is we can’t have capitalism, because porn makes a huge amount of money, and it will not be possible to get rid of pornography by not getting rid of capitalism. That’s something I didn’t mention earlier: Oh, gosh, it’s like 0.3% of all global emissions are because of streaming pornography. And 0.3% might not seem like a lot, but for one thing, that’s a lot. And I’m pretty sure that pornography is the single largest use of the Internet, which is extraordinary, because I would have thought that the single largest use of the Internet would probably be stock markets, because they use the Internet very, very much for all this computer trading. But no. I don’t know what I thought it would be. Maybe military? But no, it’s porn. And it’s not even ESPN. It’s porn. And I learned from Gail Dines that pornography has driven a lot of the technology. That’s why they’ve got those little screens on hand-held devices. It’s because in many countries like India, people don’t have their own rooms where they can go to look at pornography in private, and so they had to develop technology that made it so you can be sitting in a room with other people and look at it without everybody else in the room going, “What the hell are you doing?”

So we would have to get rid of that. We would also have to have a culture that doesn’t hate women. We would have to have a culture that values content over form, which we don’t have. We have a culture that values form over content. And we would have to have a culture that values the real thing over images of the thing, which we don’t have. And that’s one of the things I find most extraordinary about all of this, is that no matter how much you may think you’re having a wonderful evening, capped off by delightful sex with a loving partner, what you’re doing is you’re sitting on a chair in front of your computer table with your sweats around your ankles, hand lotion on your hand, masturbating. That’s not a relationship. So in order to get rid of it, we would have to have a culture that values relationships over jerking off.

HC: You take all of your moral positions very seriously, which is one of the reasons you’re worth keeping up with. To that end, could you explain, without going into too much detail, why you view your radical feminism and your radical environmentalism as harmonious and mutually reinforcing? The connection between the two, I think, is not immediately obvious to a lot of people.

DJ: The place where they come together is the patriarchal violation imperative, and this culture has to violate every woman and it has to violate every wild place, and there can be no boundaries that are sacred and no boundaries that are inviolable. This culture has to always boldly go where no man has gone before. And this is true for technology: There can be no limits. This is true for pornography, there can be no limits. This is true for queer theory, which is there can be no social constraints on anybody’s behavior.

This is true across the board. This is true with population, there can be no limits. This is true with the economy. They’re constantly expanding the economy. There can be no limits to the economy. That’s what holds all these together, is that there is this violation imperative at the core of patriarchy that drives all of those. And I don’t think so much about how my radical environmentalism dovetails with radical feminism. Of course, the idea’s that I can be an ally to feminism, but I can’t be a feminist because it’s only women who can be feminist. But in any case, I don’t really care about the labels, they’re not what’s important to me. What’s important to me is the analysis of self, which happens to drop me into those camps. And, as I have said before – and I really like this – back when I was much younger, I used to read reviews of my work, and I stopped doing that a long time ago. But there was one that I read early on that made me pretty happy, where the person said, “At some point in his career everyone is going to hate Derrick Jensen, because he refuses to adhere to any ideological lines, but instead goes wherever his analysis takes him.”

And so I don’t believe something because I’m a radical environmentalist, I happen to be called a “radical environmentalist” because my analysis has taken me there. And my analysis is the reason I’m a radical environmentalist. And it’s the same thing with the deep ecologists. It’s very clear that this culture, this way of life can’t be changed just by tweaking a few things here and there, this way of life has been killing the planet for the last six or ten thousand years. And so that happens to throw me into those camps. And I don’t agree with everything in deep ecology. I don’t agree with everything that’s considered radical environmentalist, either. It doesn’t matter to me. What’s important is that every year I want for there to be more wild salmon than there was a year before. Every year I want for there to be more migratory songbirds than there were a year before, and every year I want for fewer women to be raped, fewer women to be beaten. I want more liberation for women, I want more liberation for the natural world.

HC: As you are certainly aware, there are quite a few people in the world who simply could not care less about the environment. Most of them are not even “hostile” per se to nature; it’s just something they have never thought about before, and trying to talk to them about trees or creeks or animal life is akin to speaking to them in a foreign language. What creates such people? Do you think there’s any way of getting them to snap out of it?

DJ: What creates such people? The entire culture! We are taught from childhood on that a tree is a “that” and not a “who.” And we are taught that humans are the only ones who think, humans are the only ones who matter, and we are taught that nature consists of resources to be exploited, and not other beings to enter into a relationship with. And we are also rewarded for it financially, socially, and in every other way. And no, I don’t think most people will snap out of it. Part of the reason they won’t is because of what Upton Sinclair said: It’s hard to make a man understand something when his job depends on him not understanding it. Even more strongly, I would say it’s hard to make a person understand something when their entitlement depends on them not understanding, and their way of life depends on them not understanding it.

So you can have people who’ve been working on global warming for thirty years who don’t recognize that global warming is a symptom and not a primary . . . And they think that you can have industrial civilization without having all the harm caused by industrial civilization. And as long as we’re being rewarded for it, there’s no reason for most people to snap out of it. And it’s extraordinary because, you know, The New York Times is even publishing an op-ed about human extinction, possibly soon. And so they will consider humans ceasing to exist, but they won’t consider stopping this way of life. That is something that we cannot talk about. And so, the real point here, which is why I wrote Endgame, is: Will most people snap out of it? No. So if you care about the planet, if you care about life on Earth and you don’t believe that most people will ever snap out of it, then what do you do? Well, what I think you do is you bring down civilization, because if you care about life, and there won’t be a voluntary transformation, you recognize that this culture is waging war on the natural world. And here’s how I think about it: If delta smelt could take on human manifestation, what would they do? If coho salmon could take on human manipulation, what would they do? If ponderosa pines could take on human manifestation, what would they do? I guarantee that if a ponderosa pine could take on human manifestation, what they would do would not involve taking chainsaws to trees.

So, what do we do? It’s like Lierre Keith says: “If there’s anybody alive a hundred years from now, they’re going to ask what the fuck was wrong with us, why we didn’t fight like hell when the world was going down.”

HC: It is perhaps a cliché to end on this note, but I simply cannot help myself: What do you see as the best-case and worst-case scenarios for planet Earth a hundred years from now?

DJ: The absolute best-case scenario would be if everybody suddenly wakes up and realizes that this culture is killing the planet, and they start throttling down very quickly this overblown culture. And women are given absolute reproductive freedom, and they stop having children, because right now, fifty percent of the children in the world are not wanted. So giving women absolute reproductive freedom stops overpopulation. We move away from a growth economy to a rapidly declining economy, a rapidly contracting economy. And we use some fossil fuels that are out there to do things like take down dams, we start to use them to reforest, we allow forests to reforest themselves, which is called “afforestation.” We divert money from the military into things like fighting chytrid and helping to repair and restore riparian areas and populations of endangered species. And the pornography industry goes away immediately, and yes, as long as I’m fantasizing, then fairies and unicorns can jump around the planet, too. That’s not going to happen, that’s the best-case scenario.

The second-best-case scenario is that brave women and men work together with the natural world to bring down civilization as quickly and as carefully as possible. And I think a lot about what a friend told me about how a friend of his worked as a demolition expert in the city. He said, “When you take out a building in a city, you set the charges so that they don’t destroy the surrounding area, but you have it collapse in place.” It’s always been a very powerful metaphor for me, as to how we want to bring down civilization. To put the charges in the right place to bring it down in place and to harm as little as we can of the natural world. And I think that in the short term, as things collapse, whether they’re intentional or not, it’s not going to be pretty, it’s going to be very ugly. And I keep thinking about what someone said to me about how much she loves this river in the Olympic Peninsula. She studies it, and the rivers move across the landscape all the time. She said every time the river floods, it moves into a new channel, and it breaks her heart because of all the deer and salamanders and trees who die in the flooding. But at the same time, it makes her happy, because it’s creating new habitat, and she says, “That’s what it always is. When there’s a flood, there’s short-term habitat loss, long-term habitat gain.” And so there will be short-term difficulties aiming toward a long-term gain of a living planet. So that’s the best-case scenario, that civilization comes down one way or another. I don’t care, frankly, if it’s brave women and men working together with the natural world or if it is solar flares that fry all of our electronics. And I don’t think blue whales care, either. What has to happen is it needs to stop.

The worst-case scenario is the most likely, which is that this culture continues to grind away and it is resilient enough to grind away until there is essentially nothing left on the planet, and there will be sophists out there who go, “Oh, but they can’t kill everything, there will be bacteria left somewhere.” To which I always respond – okay, if we’re in the same room – I would go pick up a knife and I would walk up to you and I’d say, “Give me your hand,” and they wouldn’t do it. I would say, “Look, I’m not going to kill you, I’m just going to cut off your fingers and I’m going to cut off your toes. I’m going to cut off your hands and your feet. I’m going to flay you. But I’m not going to kill you. Besides, when you die, there’ll still be bacteria. When your heart stops pumping, there’s bacteria there. Nobody dies, it’ll be okay.” I wouldn’t really do that, but the point is that one of the lines that haunts me the most about A Language Older than Words is that one night I asked a dream giver, “So, show me the future.” And the dream giver said, “Are you sure you want to see it?” I said, “Yes. It’s okay.” And I went to sleep, and the dream I had that night was nothing but blackness and my own screams of horror and despair. And I’ve said before that I think this culture’s greatest accomplishment is not putting a man on the Moon, it’s not creating modern medicine, it’s not building skyscrapers, it’s not any of that stuff, it is that this culture has made the oceans almost devoid of fish. That’s a huge accomplishment. Can you imagine how hard it is to basically kill the oceans, how huge they are? And this culture is wiping out insects, insects who have survived for, in realistic terms, forever.

This culture is doing a fabulous job of wiping out life on this planet. This is a thing that sets my work apart. You know, somebody asked me one time in an interview, ” If you had to separate yourself from every other writer, what are the things that you talk about that other people don’t?” And one of the things that comes up is that this culture has a death urge. And I don’t see a lot of writers, especially environmental writers, writing about that. You can’t talk about the murder of the planet without talking about the fact that this culture . . . Who would think of making nuclear weapons? And making enough of them so that you can blow up the world, like, five thousand times over, or however many times? That’s nuts. Well, okay, we sort of stepped back from that brink, so what should we do now? I know. Let’s spray endocrine disruptors all over the planet. How about neurotoxins? Let’s put neurotoxins all over the planet. Let’s make something that doesn’t degrade, that nobody on the planet eats, and let’s smother the oceans in plastic. Once you see that this culture has a death urge, a lot of things make a lot more sense.

So, best-case scenario, civilization crash. Well, best, best, best-case scenario, we all wake up and we change, we turn things around. Every cell in my body wants it. It’s not going to happen. Second-best-case scenario is that something happens to bring down civilization, whether it’s us bringing it down or whether it’s somebody else bringing it down. And worst-case scenario is, this culture kills the planet. Congratulations.


[1] [9] Madison Grant was indeed one of three men who founded the Save the Redwoods League, the others being John C. Merriam and Fairfield Osborn, in 1918.