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Beyond Civilization
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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 749)...

    I first heard about Derrick Jensen's work through a recommendation you made on your reading list several years ago for his book A Language Older Than Words. I thought Language was a deeply moving and beautiful book--still do--and I also admired his next book, The Culture of Make Believe, though its subject was so dark as to make it far from enjoyable for me.

    In his more recent work, though, Jensen has expressed his conviction that "[t]his culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living" (quoting from Endgame). Based on that assumption, he's argued that the very best those who love the world can do is to try to bring civilization down as soon as possible in a sort of planned demolition, like taking down a condemned building. While I don't agree with Jensen and see no reason to think you do based on my understanding of your work, my impression is that many people with an earnest desire to save the world have read books by both of you and would likely be interested in reading your reaction to his clarion call for us to "bring it all down."

    ...and the response:

    In ISHMAEL (pages 105-110) I dubbed our civilization "the Taker Thunderbolt," a badly designed aircraft that began in free fall and is still in free fall--in the air but not in flight. Nowadays, Ishmael says, "Everyone is looking down, and it's obvious that the ground is rushing up toward you--and rushing up faster every year. Basic ecological and planetary systems are being impacted by the Taker Thunderbolt, and that impact increases in intensity every year. Basic, irreplaceable resources are being devoured every year--and they're being devoured more greedily every year. Whole species are disappearing as a result of your encroachment--and they're disappearing in greater numbers every year. Pessimists--or it may be that they're realists--look down and say, 'Well, the crash may be twenty years off or maybe as much as fifty years off. Actually it could happen anytime. There's no way to be sure.' But of course there are optimists as well, who say, 'We must have faith in our craft. After all, it has brought us this far in safety. What's ahead isn't doom, it's just a little hump that we can clear if we all just pedal a little harder. Then we'll soar into a glorious, endless future, and the Taker Thunderbolt will take us to the stars and we'll conquer the universe itself.' But your craft isn't going to save you. Quite the contrary, it's your craft that's carrying you toward catastrophe. Five billion of you pedaling away--or ten billion or twenty billion--can't make it fly. It's been in free fall from the beginning, and that fall is about to end."

    Derrick Jensen sees as clearly as I do the disastrous impact the Taker Thunderbolt is having on our planet. It is at this point that our visions diverge. I would like to avert the crash if at all possible by making the "passengers" of the Thunderbolt understand WHY the Thunderbolt can't stay in the air–and never could have. I want them to understand this for two reasons: first, to get them working on making the Thunderbolt airworthy, and second, if they can't do that–if the Thunderbolt crashes–to make sure they understand that they must not just BUILD IT AGAIN. Jensen merely wants to accelerate the crash. My point is that, if that crash were to occur tomorrow, the people of the world would, I believe, immediately begin rebuilding the Thunderbolt, putting themselves in a position to repeat the catastrophe once again someday in the future. As I say, I would like to avert the catastrophe; but if that's not possible, I would like time to make as many people as possible understand WHY it has happened and that we must not just start doing it all over again. Jensen puts his faith in destroying civilization; I put mine in changing minds.


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