Sunday, January 3, 2010


I haven't done my mood any favors in the last week by continuing to read Derrick Jensen's major work, Endgame, which is a sprawling twin-volume opus that does a very convincing job of supporting its central premise that human civilization is based on violence, is unsustainable and is going to kill the planet dead unless it's killed first. Actually, Jensen lists 20 premises, but they pretty much boil down to that main point. I'm not even close to finished but I had to take a break because the more I read, and the more I find myself unable to disagree with him, and seeing no hope for a solution, the more depressed I get.

It is very hard to face up to the conclusion I am coming to, a very pessimistic one, that civilization is going to have to collapse under its own weight and fallacy in order for the planet to be "saved." Sure, some might lend a hand in pushing over that which is leaning, but even many a concerned environmentalist or far-leftist or Earth First diehard is going to have a hard time understanding how to save the world when you realize that basically there are just too many of us, and unless enough of us were willingly or forcibly returned to a life where there are a lot fewer people and those who remain live in a stone age level of civilization, the planet is pretty much screwed, and it's time to fight back.

But how am I gonna fight back and still have my computer and my music collection, and my tomatoes year-round and my gas stove? Reading Endgame I am struck by how much I am unwilling to give up, even though I think of myself as far less materialistic and more conscious than so many other citizens of this culture. Is it largely conceit and an unwillingness to look plainly at the reality of where we're at? Jensen asks, why it is that we're willing to poison our bodies? Why are we willing to kill off our only world? Watching coverage of the Copenhagen climate summit on Democracy Now, I wanted to feel like a difference could be made, but reading Jensen I feel like the conclusion I'm being led to is that even if we get the governments of the biggest polluters to pay, and even if we reduce carbon emissions, and maybe even stop the privatization of water, we're all pretty much screwed.

But this can't be it, right? Is my role simply to live in a way that I can stomach, fiddling while Rome burns because it's gonna burn anyway? Or is my role to cheer on the burning? Or is the right thing to try to encourage revolution? Beats me, but I don't feel very hopeful right now. What feels like might happen is that for a few short weeks I'll look at everything in my life in a new way, seeing even those organic foods and recycled products as more than can be justified when species are vanishing from the planet, and I'll contemplate the ways in which our choices of candidates for office are pointless to contemplate because they only offer us differently-worded menus that serve the same doom to our world, or I'll see that while I would consider spending all my time growing my own food and making my own tools and clothes and living off the local land, I have to make money to pay rent to somebody, and my having made the choice to go caveman didn't affect the world much at all, because the drumbeat goes on, the trees are still being hacked, the land is being stripped, the mountains are being blown apart, the arctic ice vanishing... Most people I meet don't even want to consider not buying Nikes, let alone think about the idea of living in accordance with nature.

If the feeling does last, then where does that lead me? What is the point then of careerism and study? What is the point in watching a movie or working on my resume? Why should I bother voting, even for someone I really like? Well, I guess it makes me think about the things I can do that don't have to do with civilization. I can enjoy watching the snowfall with my girlfriend, and listen to the sound of my breath and be grateful for these things which take no resources of any kind to produce. I'll be curious to see if Jensen offers a way to live in the world with this. I know he lives and works for money and pays for things and lives in the culture. How does he deal with the problem of living? Meanwhile, how do I?


Shauna said...

Wow. You could not pay me to risk my own mental health for immersion into another person's bleak worldview. (And what is reading but temporary immersion into another person's psyche?) You're very brave for reading this. This book also apparently proves that depression is largely a state of mind.

With that said, self-destruction is hardly a solution. Do you know anything about objectivism? Also, I recommend reading some Dr. Seuss after this volume is complete ;)

Of course, if I had no soul I would publish books that depress other people to clear a path for me to succeed!

Reuben Radding said...

Hi Shauna, I appreciate your comment. I just wrote a long and well thought-out response and Blogger ate it, much to my dismay! Frustrating. I'll try to summarize:

I was pretty deeply into Objectivism as a young man in my 20s and eventually went another direction. I still credit Rand and Branden with a lot that I still use in my thinking. I'm grateful you brought it up because it got me thinking about the Benevolent Universe Premise which the Objectivists like to go on about. (I agree that depression is a state of mind, as well.) But I think that we humans often see ourselves as beyond nature, or superior to it, and I no longer see it that way. Objectivism always seems to me to hold as highest values the very things that will destroy the human race. We seem to think that we can go on poisoning ourselves and our world and still have something left to live for, some other great human achievement. Well, humans are a pretty small part of the universe and most of the other beings and matter in it don't give a damn about our values and our cognition. And despite what Leonard Peikoff says, if we learn to live "properly" in this universe we may express our values and feel happiness, but I doubt that we can credit ourselves with the omniscience it would take to know that those values are suicide, or murder sometimes. And then what?

I worded all of this so much better the first time... Thanks for giving me the reason to think, even if I didn't get to let you in on the best version of my thoughts!

Keir said...

Reuben, as with music, the two volumes of Endgame reveal their value after reading through to the end. There is a lot of horrific information in there, but if you haven't gotten to the end I encourage you to keep going. The effort is rewarded - not with a cure-all, but with a depth of understanding of both the severity of the situation and the value of fighting back.

One important thought that I'm not sure is covered in the pages of Endgame is the very 'optimistic' view Jensen takes on having no hope in an article for Orion Magazine a few years ago:
Beyond Hope

On depression: people who work really hard to protect the planet they love may be sad sometimes, but depressed? I'm not so sure. Keep it up!

Reuben Radding said...

Thanks, Keir, and thanks for the link. I'll check that out in the morning...

I finished vol 1 and am going to get with vol 2 soon. I kinda think that how I feel doesn't really matter much in the face of issues this important and voices this vital.