Interview with Derrick Jensen

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Written by Erin Crickett

Derrick Jensen, author of the immensely popular and transformative works A
Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make Believe, was interviewed
by Matt Soltys and Erin Crickett in October 2005, on Matt's weekly radio
show, Healing the Earth. The show explores connections between ecological
issues and power, capitalism, colonialism, psychology, and spirituality.
The forum tries to find ways in which our healing can and must occur.
Healing the Earth airs each Wednesday from 12-2pm, on CFRU 93.3fm.

Matt: Can you talk about the progression you've made in your major works,
with A Language Older than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, and
Endgame: The Collapse of Civilization and the Rebirth of Community?

Derrick: In A Language Older than Words, I look at how this culture is
irredeemable on a personal perspective. One of the fundamental theses was
that we have an entire culture that's suffering from what Judith Herman
would call complex post-traumatic stress disorder. So, what happens if
you're not traumatized once or twice or five times, but you're raised in
captivity? What if you are a political prisoner, or a regular prisoner, or
are raised in domestic violence.

What she found, is that one comes to believe that all relationships are
based on power, based on hierarchy. You come to experience that mutuality
is not possible, and relationships end up scaring you very much. You can
end up an extremely controlling person, because if everything around you
can hurt you, you need to keep everything under control.

And so, I'm saying that we have an entire culture where we're all so
traumatized, that we can't even conceptualize what it is to be in
relationship. When I've talked to American Indians, and I ask them about
the fundamental difference between western civilization and indigenous
ways of being, they all say the same thing, which is that the indigenous
people perceived listening to the natural world not as a metaphor, but as
the way the world really works. And they perceive those others around them
as beings to enter into relationship with, not as objects to be exploited.

My point is that we have been so traumatized we're quite often incapable
of entering into all kinds of wonderful and beautiful relationships. And
we end up perceiving everything around us, including other humans, as
resources. Eventually we come to believe that all life is based on this
hierarchy of power.

Basically, if you have an entire culture that's based on competition,
which of course it will be if we're all traumatized, it's going to lead
inevitably to atrocity, hatred, and objectification, and the endpoint of
this kind of culture is apocalypse.

M: I'd like you to comment on a quote from Endgame, which is, "What is our
solution? Probably the most commonly chosen solution is to use only
tactics deemed acceptable to those in power. The main advantage of
pursuing this non-option is that you get to feel good about yourself while
'fighting the good fight', while not actually putting at risk the benefits
you gain from the same system. Have you ever wondered, by the way, why so
many people in North America support rebel groups in the 'developing
world' rather than participate in similarly open revolt here?"

D: People ask me, What do you want? That's a big part of our problem, as
part of the resistance, or revolution, or whatever we want to call it, a
lot of us don't really know what we want. That's a problem with a lot of
mainstream environmental organizations. I mean, what do you want? Do you
want smaller clearcuts, fewer clearcuts, clearcuts only where you don't
see them, do you want to have your car and a planet that is only slightly
less toxic than this culture is making it?

I'm actually really clear about what I want, and what I want is to live in
a world that has more wild salmon every year than the year before. A world
that has more polar bears than the year before, more migratory songbirds
than the year before. With more wild nature, including wild humans. And
I'll do whatever it takes to get there.

There's a great line by Lucy Parsons, who said, "Never be deceived that
the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth." We have to recognize
that the government is not there to serve our interests. The government is
there to provide the muscle and a form of semi-legitimacy to the
exploitation of the poor by the rich. That is the fundamental purpose of
government. It's a measure of our indoctrination that we fail to recognize

So what I want, as I said, is to live in a world with more wild nature,
and what I want to do is to strike at the root, to get rid of this culture
that is killing the planet. And somebody asked me the other day what I
mean by bringing down civilization. And I've never really had a good
answer until then, and the answer I gave is I want to deprive the rich of
the ability to steal from the poor. And I want to deprive the rich of the
ability to destroy the world. That pretty much gets to the heart of it.

Healing the Earth airs Wednesdays from 12-2pm, on CFRU 93.3fm.

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