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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Facing reality in Derrick Jensen's "End Game"
By Adam Engel
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Aug 15, 2006, 01:00

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We're at the point at which even if the alleged "dream" of beauty contestants everywhere, "World Peace," were to come tomorrow, to the Mideast, to Chechnya, to India-Pakistan, everywhere, we'd still be doomed.

We're running out of the oil, the drug that's killing us, but we've made no real plans for a survivable "detox." As with everything else, we try not to think about our dwindling supply, or we tell ourselves that "they" (you know, "them," the ones who addicted us in the first place) will come up with a cleaner, safter drug, a "renewable" fix that will keep us high forever.

Twenty-five years ago, when it still might have been possible to save ourselves, I remember reading and hearing of damage already done to the planet by "climate change" and "global warming." But the government, "ours" and others -- it's all one corporate shell game -- needed more "hard facts" and "scientific" proof.

On the level of plain experience, which the religion of science considers something along the level of blasphemy, I remember seasons, according to the sports I played. "Spring Training" for Baseball began in the high school Gymnasium in February before it moved outside in March and the season began in April, ending in June. Football training began without equipment in August, then went into full-contact practice with equipment in early-mid September, before the season started in late September, lasting until early December, when it became too cold to play. Now, though I don't play sports, "November --cold, rainy -- begins in early October and lasts until late June, when it becomes "August" -- hot, humid --until mid-September and "November" begins again. Though this is my "unscientific" personal experience, several years of record-breaking heat and outrageous storms provide the essential statistics to back me up.

Conversation, among those not completely decorticated by Mainstream Media (a.ka., Corporate Meida), and sometimes even within Mainstream Media, when the weatherman isn't smilingly telling us we're facing a week of 100-degree weather, stay indoors (and burn more fuel), centers around the weather. The old adage, "we can't do anything about the weather" has become "what will the weather do to us?" What will "they" do to fix this mess? Solar power? Wind power? Water power? Recycling? Beam us to another planet? Given that "they" got us into this mess and let us stew in it for as long as "they" could rake in profits before the jig was up, I doubt "they" will do anything, even if they had the power to do so.

Meanwhile, the talk and the long silences have become more pessimistic. A) "Well, most species only last about 150,000 years, and our number's just about up," or, B) "We've made a mess of things anyway; maybe the planet will be better off without us," or, C) "It might not happen for another century or so; might as well enjoy life while we can, one day at a time."

Before I read Derrick Jensen's "End Game," I was a "type A" pessimist. I believed humanity had had its "run," now Atlas would "shrug" in a way Ayn Rand never dared imagine, and in a few thousand, maybe even a few hundred years life would begin anew. But having read "End Game," I realize it's not "humanity" that's the problem, merely "civilization," which unfortunately, in its brief 6,000 years (humanity's been around for about 150,000 years), managed to usurp the cultures and traditions and land bases of nearly all of humanity. Before "civilization" (which includes any society living beyond its means, or "land base," as Jensen defines it, East and West, from China to Sumer to Egypt, Rome, Britain and the perhaps the most murderous, most wasteful civilization ever to have existed, the United States) and even during, even now, primitive cultures have lived on the same land base, followed the same culture and traditions for thousands of years and would have continued had not civilization, specifically European civilization, violently colonized the planet over the past 500 years.

If we look at the United States alone, which currently consumes more oil (50 percent going to its corporate/military structure) than the next four largest oil consumers combined, much of it going to the military so it can invade countries like Iraq and procure more oil, Jensen's desire to bring down "civilization" by "any means necessary" is not merely the most radical idea to come down the pike in years, it's the most sensible.

"Civilization begins with repression at home and conquest abroad," wrote Stanley Diamond, in his 1974 classic, "In Search of the Primitive." From its inception in the early 1600s to this day, the "colonies," later to become the United States in 1789, completed the most successful genocide in history, wiping out nearly every one of the millions of natives of various tribes, language groups and cultures, who lived here for at least 10,000 years, possibly more. As slavery exists in civilization almost by definition -- someone's gotta do the work for the ruling classes -- America imported tens of millions of Africans -- that is, kidnapped and enslaved tens of millions of human beings -- to work its mostly Southern plantations until at last the Northern factory based economy, which realized it could make more on wage-slavery in factories (paying workers barely subsistence wages, then tossing them aside, rather than "caring for" slaves from birth to death) won a bloody civil war and the modern corporate U.S. was set in place.

Jensen uses the "metaphor" of rape, specifically, family abuse or other abuse by someone who is supposed to be taking care of the person/place/creature bearing the brunt of abuse.

In this case it is the land, specifically, and the human population, but only because those are the only populations left to abuse. For thousands of years humans lived in harmony with other animals -- sounds strange to say that, "other animals" as if we are not and never were animals, trees, on land and in the sea.

But in order to make his case, as if we needed further convincing, Jensen forces us to take a deep, long look at "civilization," not just America or China, or Capitalism or Communism, but all that has developed over the past 6,000 years. His conclusion, as will be the conclusion of anyone who reads this seminal volume, is that we are insane.

It's not that we won't get fooled again, it's that we can't -- well some of us; most of us, it seems, can go on getting fooled for as long as the new boss remains the same as the old boss -- but really we're running out of time. This widespread feeling of madness, nervous madness (not to mention our aggressive actions at home and abroad), is almost in keeping with the energy level promulgated by the sitcoms, "reality shows" and "Mainstream News," so it seems like the same old same old. But when we look under the hood for even a second, when we spend an hour reading an "alternative" web site instead of the New York Times, or actually talking about why the weather is not the same as it was 20 years ago instead of joking about it -- ha ha, ho, ho -- it all becomes too clear. It is then that we realize that even though magazine, like the alternative websites "those in the know" read, tell us "the truth" as compared to the corporate media's lies, and we ourselves write angry articles against the insanity and violence being perpetrated by a very few people against the powerless many other living beings -- yes, it's time to fess up: animals feel pain; hence, I.B. Singer's statement that industrial agriculture is a "Treblinka for animals" is not far off the mark; and plants are alive and form complex relationships with other living systems, and when we kill a bunch of them or cause an entire species to go instinct, we're bringing terrible "karma" upon ourselves by destroying the ecological balance of life that the awesomely beautiful, complex universe (way more powerful than any puny anthropocentric "god," including Bono, civilization has come up with) set in place -- a forever changing place -- many years before "we" evolved.

But we can't help fooling ourselves, or asking to be fooled by our "leaders" because it's so damn easy, so much easier than facing the horrible reality that 90 percent* of the life on this once thriving planet is dead already, and if we don't act, fast, the rest will be gone in a heart-beat -- a few years, decades, does it even matter if we have the luxury of centuries? Do you think THAT would get us up off our asses. No. Iraq didn't. Palestine isn't. Iran, Syria, North Korea, New York, Chicago, LA, and whoever else after that, won't. And even if it were just "us," a bunch of wasted slaves and media junkies -- junkies: those people we love to hate and blame for growing up in a culture run on addiction and advertiser's ability to take advantage of it; those people who instead of helping, we put in jail for "breaking the law" even as we scarf down our narcotizing pain-killers and sedatives, even as we grow addicted and increase our dosage month after month year after year -- it's okay, the doctor said so! -- and take down the name and website of the latest drug advertised on TV, while we scream murderous approval at the same television screen when our favorite lobbyist-turned-senator calls for the new "three strikes and you're dead" law.

We're so insane, unreasonable, violent, addicted and full of terror that just to list a fraction of the contradictions in our thinking, the discrepancies between what "we" say and what "we" do would turn this article into a book. So I'll just list a few important ones and move one.

Before Columbus -- who has a holiday named after him -- landed in 1492, over 100 million natives lived in North, Central and South America, spanning thousands of cultures, languages, tribes, and ways of living (I was going to say "lifestyles" but that word has been so tainted by corporate media as to be rendered worse than meaningless, it's offensive, which was probably the point all along) -- now there are a few million, if that. True, the blood of Sioux, Pequot, Inca, Aztec, Algonquin etc. runs in tens of millions of veins today, but blood without culture is meaningless, important only to racists and "ethnic purists."

Once a language dies, a way of living or story-telling (media: like CNN, Fox, Star Wars are the stories WE tell and pass on), a history and set of myths shared by a distinctive group, that group dies as a group, regardless of the number of "blood survivors." If all of the Navajo survived, but did not look, act or behave like Navajo, did not even know themselves that they were Navajo, we could say effectively that the Navajo did not survive. In human societies, the existence of the codes, stories, language, myths that identify them as societies are more important to the concept of the society than the body count. Though it can work both ways. If we, the civilized, could learn to live as the natives did, ecologically, in communication with the land base, cultures would develop organically out of the land-base, whatever it may be, and such cultures, like those of the natives or primitives that developed out of the land and what it had to offer and what it needed to receive in return, would be stable, healthy and enduring. Like the rivers, the trees, the animal life, the vegetative life, human life, held together by its culture, could last as long as any other natural facet of the land base. River. Trees. Mountains. Deer. Humans.

"End Game" is a book of hope, not despair; the best such book I've seen since Mumford's "Myth of the Machine" in the early 70s pointed the problem is not "humanity," but "civilization." If we look at what is now North America in 1491, we see thousands of tribal units and culture/language groups living of what Jensen refers to as the "land base," that is, the bounty of Nature. These people lived the same way for at least 10,000 years in more or less the same place -- the place we managed to almost totally trash in a few hundred years, particularly the past 150.

Jensen is not merely a writer, but an activist. Once the problem is identified, and he identifies the problem in abundance in "End Game," hundreds of footnotes and references for the "scientifically skeptical," it must be solved. While I refer to "End Game" as an "optimistic" book because it doesn't hold on to the "humanity is finished" view held by many, nor rely on false "solutions" such as solar energy and recycling that use more energy than they produce, he is dead set on destroying civilization, specifically its technology, as soon as possible. Civilization has destroyed 90 percent of the life on this planet; Jensen believes it must be stopped so that, when the inevitable crisis comes via peak oil, global warming, overpopulation, unequal distribution of food and resources or any of the other hallmarks of civilization, those who are left will have something to live on.

This is not a happy ending for those alive right now, or even for their children. The population will shrink to a sustainable number: millions, perhaps billions will die. It will take several generations for survivors to "unlearn" civilization and return to the primitive life that is sustainable for humans and other beings. One doesn't hear or read much about non-human life-forms, but in "End Game" they are integral to a thriving land-base, a true "state of nature" in which humans, plants and animals mutually thrive. A state much like the ones we exterminated in Africa and the Americas over the past 500 years.

So committed to this view is Jensen that his "main goal" throughout the book is to destroy dams in order to save salmon. These are not "metaphorical salmon" representing all life-forms endangered by our "way of life," especially our own, but actual salmon. They are a source of life and sustenance to countless animals, forest and river life, and natives who have lived off the bounty of their runs since time immemorial; therefore, Jensen is willing to fight, to give his life, if necessary, to save the salmon in his area and throughout the country from dams and other corporate/government abuses.

His message in "End Game" is to "find your salmon," the life form or source that is most important to you, and fight for it with everything you have.

Civilization, as we know it, is on its way to extinction. The signs are too apparent for the corporate media to hide any longer. Global warming, peak oil, these are realities that will reach a critical point, if they have not done so already, of no return. Once this critical point is reached, life won't be fun for the majority of us -- it's already hell for the majority of humans and animals -- or our children, or perhaps even our children's children. But if we can save what's left, what hasn't yet been destroyed by civilization's madness, its abusive relationship to the planet -- Jensen uses the metaphor relation to great effect throughout "End Game" -- there will be generations who will again know Paradise and the bounty of Nature, the majority not minority of whom will again love live and its seasons.

Adam Engel can be reached at

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