Tuesday, July 18

what is civilisation?

Dear friends and readers of this blog. I have been busy recently in another world, hence the postings here have been little less frequent of late. It's not that there isn't a lot to write about - there is plenty. In fact, it seems that change is the essence of our era, and it is coming at us at a pace that at times leaves us stunned - or turning to denial for respite.

As I write, the leaders of the wealthy G8 member countries are negotiating trade deals with the slave countries, in order to be able to perpetuate the destructive consumptive madness of our schizophrenic civilisation - if we look at the effects of our actions we are almost without exception, in small or large part, contributing to the demise of the systems which sustain us. Little wonder the breakdown of mental health is a significant issue in our western industrial societies.

But some brave souls are breaking free of the patterns of daily living (that we have been taught are normal and healthy), and are waving flags to get our attention, in the hope that we will change before change is forced upon us. It maybe too late, but it's worth a shot.

Derrick Jensen is one of these brave souls, who is willing to look the realities in the eye, and be moved by the implications for us and our children and their children. Here are a few snippets from an interview with Arthur Magazine:

ARTHUR: Why does civilization need to be brought down now?

DERRICK JENSEN: A few years ago, I began to feel pretty apocalyptic but I didn’t want to use that word because it’s so loaded. And then a friend, George Draffan, said, ‘So Derrick, what’s it gonna take for you to finally use that word? Give me a specific threshold, Derrick, a specific point at which you’ll finally use that word. Will it take global warming? The ozone hole? The reduction of krill populations off Antarctica by 90 percent? How about the end of the great coral reefs? The extirpation of 200 species per day? 400? 600? Will it take the death of the salmon?’ And I thought about that.

Salmon were once so thick around here that you couldn’t see the bottom of the river. You could hear the runs coming from miles before you’d see them. People were afraid to put their boats in the water for fear they’d capsize. And now, when I go out to Mill Creek, I start crying because I see two salmon spawning.

This civilization is killing the planet. They say that one sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns. I’m gonna lay out a pattern here and let’s see if we can recognize it in less than 6,000 years. When you think of the hills and plains of Iraq, do you normally think of cedar forests so thick the sunlight never touches the ground? That’s how it was before...

... And yet civilization keeps chugging along, despite the deforestation and extinctions. People seem to believe that everything will work out via new technology or the system balancing itself out, even if they don’t know exactly how.

There’s something called carrying capacity, which is the number of any given species that a certain area can support permanently. Certainly populations can overshoot carrying capacity—you can have an island that can support a thousand deer forever but if you put 10,000 deer on it they’re gonna eat too much vegetation, they’re gonna cause erosion, they’re gonna permanently reduce carrying capacity. You can temporarily exceed carrying capacity, which is clearly what’s happening here...

...This way of thinking, that if we just ignore the problems, things are going to be okay, is really really easy, and it’s one of the things the Nazis used to great effect. At every step of the way, it was in the Jews’ rational self-interest not to resist. Because they kept pretending that things couldn’t get worse.

So, would you rather get an ID card, or resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to get on a cattle car or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to take a shower, or resist and possibly get killed? At every step of the way they could talk themselves into not resisting. Zygmund Baumann has this great line, this is a direct quote, that “rational people will quietly meekly go into gas chambers if only you allow them to believe they’re bathrooms.”

It’s the same thing. Rational people will go quietly and meekly to the end of the world if you’ll only allow them to believe that the salmon don’t matter...

...people who think bringing down civilization would bring mass misery are ignoring that this is what’s already happening! It’s just that most of us don’t see it. There are people dying right now, starving to death in India, now, because of the global economy. Seventy-eight percent of the countries reporting child malnutrition export food. During the much-publicized famine in Ethiopia during the 1980s, that country exported green beans to Europe.

During the infamous potato famine, Ireland exported grain to England (and part of the reason the potato blight took hold in the first place was that the Irish were pushed to the poorest land). The famines come a lot of the time because a) people have been dispossessed, b) the land they were on is now used for cash crops for export and c), the water’s been stolen for semiconductor plants or aluminum smelters or whatever. The current system is already enslaving them and exploiting them.

Several years ago I asked Anuradha Mittal, former executive director of Food First, if the people of India be better off if the world economy disappeared tomorrow. She laughed and said, Of course. One of the examples she gave is there are former granaries in India that now export dog food and tulips to Europe. These are people who are dying right now...

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