Interview with Derrick Jensen
via Telephone, 7/2008
A- What are the connections between responsibility and maturity? How are we infantized by this culture?
D- Lets go to the root of the word responsibility which means to give in return. The deeply mature sense of giving back to the land where we live, that’s the responsible thing to do. To be responsible to those who give to us, its about mutuality. And then you look at this culture, and everything in this culture moves towards infantilizing us. Now of course you don’t expect responsibility from a young child. A young child is necessarily taken care of.
But look at this culture, T.V., advertising, any kind of entertainment, and especially our activism, its almost entirely infantile, by which I mean it is based on magical thinking. For example if I hold a candle or write a letter to Dick Cheney, it will end the war, this is magical thinking and its developmentally very young. But even when its not purely magical thinking a lot of activism involves begging those in power to do the right thing, it consists of asking daddy to do the right thing, “Dear great father in the White House please do the right thing.” None of this consists of demands and it certainly doesn’t consist of doing it ourselves.
A- Any thoughts on Native Habitat Renewal or Invasive Species removal?
D- Removing invasives can be a really important thing to do because native species are getting hammered in every way, they need all the help they can get. In some cases I think it is crucial to remove exotics. But at the same time the whole approach to it is really stupid because as long as you have global trade its going to keep happening. But I think it is important to remove exotics wherever we can. Out here Himalayan Blackberries, Scotch Broom and Pompas Grass three of the biggest invasives. And what I’ve found,k living in the same place for ten or eleven years now is that as the forest grows back it shades out the Himalayan blackberries, the Scotch Broom, and the Pompas grass anyway. So in this case the invasives are an indicator that the land had been hammered but when it was left alone, the land took care of itself. In addition, any time I take out a Himalayan Blackberry, it kind of says to me “I’m a symptom, I’m not the problem and if you really want to take out invasive species, stop civilized humans in their tracks.” Its civilized humans who are invasive.
A- Do you have a good “working definition” for violence? I always liked the definition you use for insanity (to have lost touch with physical reality)
D- I think its important to distinguish between different types of violence. Emotional violence is any act which causes emotional harm to another and physical violence is any act which causes physical harm to another. This really shows the ubiguity of violence, violence is everywhere. (pause) I just caughed and that killed some cells, I defecated a little while ago and that killed a bunch of bacteria. Violence is everywhere so the question isn’t “is violence bad” because if you really believe all violence is bad you can’t eat. If you’re a vegetarian and you eat celery you are doing violence to that celery and if that celery was mono-cropped then a lot of violence went into the whole process of growing that celery and getting it to you.
So the question becomes “what violence do you object to in what situations?” or “what violence is acceptable under what circumstances?” most of us would agree that under most circumstances it is not morally acceptable to kill another human being. But I would also say that most people would think it is morally acceptable in most circumstances to do violence to a carrot. Violence requires a relationship of some sort and that’s a question of whom does what to whom? So instead of some blanket statement like “violence is bad” which is absolutely meaningless and usually hypocritical because it is usually said by some liberal who fails to acknowledge their own role in violence to a carrot or bacteria for example. Instead of blanket statement lets talk about indirect violence like the land where the carrot was grown may have been stolen by corporations. That’s an example of indirect violence that we don’t normally like to think about. So I don’t have a concise definition for violence but the implications are really big.
Another definition of violence I like is related to violation. If I shoot a deer or if I somehow kill a deer that’s not violent because I’m going to eat it. On the other hand, if I disrespect that dear or if I participate in factory farming by eating a factory farmed cow that’s a violation.
So those are a couple of definitions. I’d say that the important thing is to be explicit bout how you are defining violence.
A- A lot of the books you are working on right now seem to focus on the spiritual implications in the material world. What are the implications of this spiritual dimension being wrapped up in the living world?
D- All of my writing is imbued with spirituality, its everywhere in every book. But having said that I did make a decision to exclude the other side, except through dreams, in Endgame. Because that book is about stopping this culture that’s killing the planet. This culture is both insane and lazy. So I knew if I gave people any out, if there was any possibility given that muses or fate or some help from the other side were possible, people would just sit on their asses and do nothing. Which they are doing anyway.
I’m so disappointed with the fact that most people don’t do anything. If I give people an excuse and say “the great mother will take care of everything” I mean they’re already saying this anyway. So in Endgame I wanted to say “the Great Mother’s not going to help us”. But I don’t believe in a scientific, materialist, instrumentalist perspective at all. I do believe there is a constant intercourse between all these sides, whatever that means. But I’ve written in Endgame and elsewhere that I have absolutely no respect for any spirituality or any belief system that rationalizes inaction in the face of evil or atrocities. Any spirituality that does not facilitate effective action against atrocities should be gotten rid of, removed from our lives. That said, it is also true that we can’t adequately explain the destruction of this culture, I have 13 books out now and none of them adequately explain it. 90% of the large fish in the oceans are gone. There is 6-10 times as much plastic as phytoplankton, the oceans are essentially dead. The earth is being murdered and the front page news stories are about trivia, the economy. The absolute insanity stuns me, it really stuns me.
No one can be insane enough to kill the planet so they can have more…toys. It makes no sense. In Columbus and Other Cannibals, Jack Forbes writes that the problem is an illness with a physical vector. It’s highly contagious like the flu.
So something I talk about in the new books is if the earth is intelligent which it obviously is why hasn’t it killed us off? It makes no sense to me. Humans are no more important than matinees or passenger pigeons in fact matinees and passenger pigeons were more important, they were helpful. If the earth is intelligent why hasn’t it taken us out, it makes no sense to me. I want to emphasize that I don’t think humans are the problem, the problem is civilized humans. I don’t understand why amphibians are getting sick and dying and decreasing in population. It would be much better for the earth if civilized humans decreased in population.
I don’t understand why the civilized have continuously wiped out indigenous people when they are the ones that have these connections to the other side. Why weren’t they able to get allies to help them rom the other side? So that’s what I’m asking in the new book and you know really every book I write is a part of one big book. It’s all just chapters of one big book.
A- What are your thoughts on Rewilding?
D- I’ve had a lot of Indian friends say that the first and most important thing we need to do is decolonize our hearts and minds. And I think a start to that is recognizing that civilization is bad, not accepting the culture’s definition of violence; that’s a really important start. But in addition getting to know our non-human neighbors, getting to know plants, I can name a lot of corporations but I’m looking at a bush right now and have no idea what its name is in English or any other language.
It’s stunning how little we know about our closest neighbors. So there’s that and there’s skills like fishing and knowing which mushrooms are edible, all that is extremely important. I can write whatever books I want and people can rewild but if this culture kills the planet it doesn’t matter. What is really important at this point is that rewilding or anything else leads to resistance.