Deep Green Resistance: Occupy (and more) till civilization falls

By Duggan Flanakin (reviewer)

The central theme of Deep Green Resistance, written by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen (author of Endgame), is simple. To save the planet, its wildlife and some of its people, the enlightened few must rise up in resistance – not to reform, but rather to totally tear down the corporate capitalist economic system, and even civilization itself as we know it. 

 
Jensen presents his thesis in the book’s preface. “The dominant culture – civilization – is killing the planet, and it is long past time for those of us who care about life on earth to begin taking the actions necessary to stop this culture from destroying every living being.”

So it was no surprise that Jensen used Skype to address the assemblage at Occupy Wall Street – and then used YouTube to broadcast his message across the globe. Bizarrely but perhaps even less surprising, he cited the American Declaration of Independence as legal authority for a resistance movement for which he is already a major spokesman. In the midst of an appeal to local police to join forces with the “Occupiers,” Jensen quoted Jefferson:

[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right  of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its  foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall  seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Echoing (but going well beyond) Al Gore, James Hansen, Ted Danson, Ted Turner, and others, Jensen and his coauthors rattle off scary statistics as evidence of the global disaster allegedly upon us because of corporate capitalism, even the liberal kind. [The authors even give electric cars short shrift, noting that their widespread use would require massive quantities of fossil-fuel-generated electricity.] Indeed, their mission is to move today’s counterculture from passive to active resistance, given their premise that merely withdrawing from this “destructive” civilization does little if anything to threaten the existing power structure.

The authors are quite clear in stating their goal, and the methodology by which they intend to achieve it. “The goal of DGR [Deep Green Resistance] is to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.”  Simply put, “Industrial civilization [including corporate agriculture] must be stopped,” and direct actions against strategic infrastructure (even blowing up dams and destroying electricity grids) represent just one set of tactics in their arsenal. 

In a recent interview, McBay says, “I think one of the problems with industrial society in general is that it tries to come up with some answer that it can impose everywhere on the planet, and that just doesn’t work.”  He envisions a new social order based on small communities that can obtain their food locally (shades of Bill McKibben!) and use energy that the land around them can provide.  All three authors are firmly convinced that the corporate civilization has opened a Pandora’s box of global warming, toxic chemicals, and other ills (including drastically reduced natural fisheries and depleted soils) that may only recover over time (if that is even possible, they assert). Indeed, to these revolutionaries, even “sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron.” After all, the authors say, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato all said the world in their day was being destroyed by agriculture.

Also fueling the Occupy Wall Street movement is its growing belief that government at all levels today serves corporate interests far better than it serves individual human beings. Yet it is not “the 99 percent” that Keith is looking to for change – or to “protect” under her new world vision. As she says, “usually there is only a small percentage of the population that will rise up and take on the power structure.” So she wants to go after “the 2 percent” who might join her in what she hopes will be the coming revolution.

The “Occupiers” themselves have now found common ground with what is emerging as the “Arab Spring” leadership, who appear to be increasingly devoted to Shariah law and quite happy to ensure that their people never embrace the comforts (or equal rights) of Western civilization. A recent communiqué from Egypt has been posted with approval on the OWS website. It states, “An entire generation across the globe has grown up realizing, rationally and emotionally, that we have no future in the current order of things.”

Those of us who are heavily invested in the current culture may see this movement as bizarre, if not inspired by our political enemies.  Indeed, they are enemies of technology, modernity and all that we and our ancestors labored to create – to end human bondage to the cruel elements and lives that for most of human existence were nasty, brutish and short.

We certainly should not forget that many of today’s youth are heavily burdened by student loan debt, a shrinking jobs market, wars revolutions, earthquakes and hurricanes even in New York City (and other natural disasters so eerily covered by worldwide media outlets). But natural disasters have been a common affliction mankind for millennia, and modern prosperity and technology help to soften their impacts. Student debt and job problems are in large part the result of a political establishment that promised what was simply not sustainable under any economic system. And far too much of this Deep Ecology, Planet in Crisis ideology (or religion) is taught today in schools where traditional religion is taboo and prohibited.

While there is a strong move by establishment liberal politicians to harness this unrest (often with more empty promises), the Deep Greens urge their followers not to trust anyone invested in (and profiting from) the dominant culture. 

Keith, an avowed feminist (but anti-vegetarian), condemns “the troika of industrialization, capitalism and patriarchy” for “skinning the planet alive.” She lampoons Al Gore, noting that his solutions are like a band-aid to a gushing wound, and arguing that there are no quick fixes: “Industrialism itself is what has to stop,” she insists. Sarcastically, she notes, “I have been to workshops where global warming was treated as an opportunity for personal growth, and no one there but me saw a problem with that.” 

Keith attacks the Lockean view of society for “loosen[ing] the ethical constraints that had existed on the wealthy” and thus “turn[ing] the powerless over to the economically powerful, simply swapping the monarchs for the merchant barons.” But she is just as harsh with “the reformers” who, despite seeing government as “the only institution that could break the economic stranglehold of the big trusts,” nonetheless still believed in individualism.” She is utterly disgusted with today’s “vaguely liberal alterna-culture, “ which she describes as “identifiable by its meditation classes and under-cooked legumes, its obsession with its own psychology, and its New Age spiritual platitudes.”

Not that unlike Sarah Palin, Keith zeroes in on corporate [or crony] capitalism, noting with some accuracy that the Democrats and Republicans [Bush:Paulson, Obama:Geithner] are “really two wings of the Capitalist Party” – explicitly the corporate and mass media versions.  Like others with entirely different hopes for the future, Keith pleads for people to deal with the dehumanization, the near-total disregard for the real consequences of greed and power trips –  and find a way back to a more genuine humanity.

She pleads for a world in which children “must learn basic values like compassion, generosity, and duty to becoming functioning members of society.” And yet the world she would bestow is one where “survival of the fittest” rules, amid austerity, privation, hunger, the collapse of civilization and the denuding of habitats in a savage search for food and fuel. That is hardly a recipe for compassion and generosity.

Nor can Deep Greens seem to distinguish between market-based capitalism and the aberrant cronyism, approaching state capitalism, that plagues this nation and others today.
McBay describes modern “civilization” as globalized, mechanized, militarized, very young, primarily an urban phenomenon, employing a division of labor, based on large-scale agriculture, and (worst of all, in his view) predicated on perpetual growth. He asserts that civilization is characterized by short-term thinking, hierarchical and centralized, dependent upon increased regulation of behavior, increased regimentation and investments in monumental architecture and propaganda to maintain sway over the masses – because (at least historically and pre-industry) it has required large amounts of human labor to maintain this order.

Yet it is this message, this ideology of imminent ecological disaster – this belief that industrialized civilization is at the root of a supposedly massive destruction of species, water supplies, breathable air and the planet itself – that provides the energy behind the “deep green resistance” movement.  This message gives DGR credibility among those who still enjoy the comforts of a civilization they outwardly loathe.

The typical response to this movement by the corporate and political Left has been to embrace the deep ecologists, some of whom have influential jobs in the Obama Administration (and who are heavily influencing many federal policies). Similarly, the corporate and political Left (George Soros, public employee unions, crony capitalists and so on) seeks to mobilize the Occupiers for political advantage in the upcoming election cycle.

Those on the Right have an opportunity – and, one might say, a responsibility – to deal honestly with the fears, misconceptions and even disaffections of the mostly young people who identify in some way with the so-called  “99 percent movement,” even though doing so might be difficult and require some serious soul searching. While the Left seeks to appease (forgiving student loan debt is one proposal) or co-opt (by appearing to be Green while not so secretly subverting tax dollars supposedly invested in Green enterprises for personal gain), the Right has yet to find, or in most cases even try to find, ways to speak to the emotions that have led so many to give up on the American dream.

Let’s start with the basics. Surely there has to be agreement that the wholesale buying and selling of votes in Congress is akin to the situation Jesus confronted when he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. The solution here must go well beyond a simple ban on earmarks; somehow we have to get back to evaluating the true costs and benefits of various options and make tough decisions, based on common sense and sound science, not short-term advantage or unfettered greed.  We have allowed Congress to steal or misappropriate gazillions of dollars from the emerging (and even yet unborn) generation, and it is up to us to work to root out the corruption that emanates from our nation’s capital and has spread to even small towns.

These radicals in many cases are asking legitimate questions. Why, for example, are the rich and powerful – corporate and political leaders alike, including those responsible for ecological disasters (one thinks about Saddam Hussein in Kuwait) or even financial catastrophes (like MF Global) – so rarely held accountable for their wrongdoing, while others are put away for decades for deeds far less negatively consequential? They (and we) are not getting answers from the Left or anyone in the dominant culture, certainly not from a corrupted mainstream media or from politicians and bureaucrats whose primary concern is short-term political power.

Yet the truths are out there. We might, for example invite some of the Occupiers to join in task forces to investigate why the costs for college education have risen far more rapidly than the costs of other intellectual goods and services, and listen to plans for reducing the cost of a college education. We might likewise invite them to join us in crafting ways to lower the costs, while raising the value of medical care (including nontraditional care) – and lowering the cost to society of fulfilling longstanding commitments that today are perceived as “entitlements,” even though they are not sustainable, even though they grant special favors to one group but deny them to others, and even though they create two political classes: one that pays for the entitlements, and one that secures them while paying little or nothing to sustain them.

We might further invite investigations into how the clause in Article I, Section 9, might be applied to the often shady dealings of Congress today. That clause states, “No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another.” But most of all, we must convince this generation that we can solve real problems. Otherwise, we give them little reason NOT to go along with Jensen, McBay and Keith in calling for the destruction of what they see as a modern-day Tower of Babel.

In short, we need an ever stronger effort to “educate the public about various issues related to environment and development, and to promote positive solutions to public policy concerns.” We need to focus especially on emerging and future generations, who are inheriting the whirlwind that has been unleashed by political classes and their media and other allies, who to date have not been called to account for their profligate spending, outright theft, and bald-faced lying to hide their blame for the mess that upcoming generations will have to unravel, or be overwhelmed by the maelstrom.

Of course, we hardly expect the hard-core Deep Greens and Occupy leadership to seek any positive solutions to the challenges they have presented.  It is easier by far, and perhaps it fits with their misery, to just stir up discontent and encourage destructive acts.  No real work involved!  Let others do the dirty work.  Enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame.  Keep your head in the sand.  Forget that Malthusian poverty was supposed to come to pass two centuries ago.  But we will plow up, seeking solutions that will move society forward, lift people out of poverty, and remove the shackles of government from people’s shoulders.

Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.

McBay, Aric, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen.  Deep Green Resistance: Strategy To Save the Planet.  Seven Stories Press, New York, copyright 2011.

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