Derrick Jensen: Consumer Culture Is Killing the Planet -- We Need to Build a Culture of Resistance
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AMY GOODMAN: We end today’s show with a figure who’s been called the poet-philosopher of the ecology movement. Author and activist Derrick Jensen has written some 15 books critiquing contemporary society and the destruction of the environment. In 2008, he was named one of Utne Reader magazine’s 50 visionaries who are changing the world. Among his books, A Language Older than Words, Endgame, What We Left Behind, and Resistance Against Empire.
Derrick Jensen lives in Northern California. I had an extended conversation with him in San Francisco just a few weeks ago. Today we play part one of that discussion. I began by asking Derrick Jensen about the title of his book, what he means by Deep Green Resistance.
DERRICK JENSEN: I think a lot of us are increasingly recognizing that the dominant culture is killing the planet. And we can argue about whether, you know, there will be a few bacteria left or whatever, but when 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone, when there’s six to ten times as much plastic as phytoplankton in parts of the ocean, when there’s dioxin in every mother’s breast milk, when rates of extinction are a thousand to ten thousand times background rates, you know, it’s sort of just playing with numbers to talk about whether it’s killing the planet or simply mortally wounding it. And I think it’s very important for us to start to build a culture of resistance, because what we’re doing isn’t working, clearly.
I ask a lot of times why it is that environmentalists, as environmentalists—I include myself as a front line activist—I ask why it is that we lose so often. And there’s a couple of answers that really speak to me. One of them is that I think a lot of us don’t really know what it is we want, and we don’t think strategically very much.
So, I don’t think that a lot of us think very clearly about what it is exactly we want. I do know what I want, which is I want to live in a world that has more wild salmon every year than the year before, and I want to live in a world that has less dioxin in every mother’s breast milk every year than the year before, and a world that has more migratory songbirds every year than the year before.
There’s this absolutely extraordinary book called The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton, and in this book he describes how it was that men—people, but men in this case—who had taken the Hippocratic Oath could work in Nazi death camps. And what he found was that many of the doctors who worked in the death camps actually cared very deeply for the health of the inmates. And, you know, Mengele was, you know, horrible. But a lot of the sort of straight-line doctors they would do whatever they could. They would give them an extra scrap of potato to eat or—the inmates. Or they would hide them from the selection officers who were going to kill them. Or they would—
AMY GOODMAN: To keep their experiments going?
DERRICK JENSEN: No, no, no. They would hide them from the selection officers who were going to kill them. They would do this to protect the inmate for that day. They would put them to bed, you know. They would actually do everything—if they were in pain, they would give them aspirin to lick. They would do what they could to help, except for the most important thing of all, which is they wouldn’t question the existence of the entire death camp itself. So they would find themselves working within the rules, however they could, to try to improve conditions marginally. And in retrospect, of course, that’s just not sufficient. And as a longtime activist, I see myself and other activists doing the same thing, that what we do is we do everything that is allowed by those in power to attempt to stop their destruction. But the problem is, whenever we figure out a way to use their rules to actually stop them, they change the rules.