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An Interview with Derrick Jensen
Tearing Down the Master’s House
by ADAM ENGEL

Engel: The title makes it pretty clear, but what’s the message of Endgame." We’re at the end of our rope?

Jensen: We are in a crisis. We are literally in the midst of ‘the Apocalypse.’ The dominant culture is not going to change. What I’m saying in "Endgame" Volumes 1 and Volume 2, is if you really believe the culture must change, what does that mean for your strategy and your tactics? For the most part we all say we don’t know because we don’t talk about it. The reason we don’t talk about it is because we are all so busy pretending that things are going to somehow magically work out if we can just buy fair trade or something.

Engel: Do you think you’ll reach the "general public," or are you, if you’ll pardon the term, "preaching to the converted?"

Jensen: My audience consists mainly of people who already recognize how bad this culture is and I want to push them to become more radical. It doesn’t really matter to me if they are left or right. I get asked quite often if I’m an anarchist. If they want to put a label on me, that’s fine. What is most important to me is to live in a world that is not being murdered. We can put whatever label we want on that. Honestly what this culture has done to the planet needs to be stopped. Working to stop this culture from destroying the Earth can certainly take many forms. Everything from working within the system to working at rape crisis hot lines at women’s shelters to knocking out the infrastructure that is killing us.

Engel: What about the "mainstream" — like Al Gore and his "save the environment by merely ‘fixing’ the system" crusade?

Jensen: I’m doing this little book right now with Stephanie McMillan about 50 simple things you can do to stay in denial while the world is being murdered and it’s based on Al Gore going around the country showing this film. It’s great that he’s increasing awareness, but according to the filmmaker, Timothy S Bennett, who’s directing a documentary, "What a Way to Go: Life at the End of the Empire," if every single American did every single thing that Al Gore’s suggest that that would reduce carbon emissions in the US by about 22%. The scientific consensus at this point is to avert further disaster carbon emissions in the U.S. need to be reduced to at least 75%.

Engel: It should be obvious to everyone that bad things are happening, even if you "don’t believe" the facts about global warming. Just common sense tells us that we are going to run out of oil – civilization is going to crash- you look outside and the seasons are not what they were 20 years ago. So why speed it along? I think what people are themselves resembles: okay if it is going to happen anyway, I might just as well sit back and enjoy my Budweisers. So why take it down now?

Jensen: Because it is systematically dismantling the infrastructure of the planet and the sooner it comes down the more that remains for the humans and non- humans that come after. Even from a purely selfish perspective, if someone were to have "brought it down" 200 years ago, then people in the East would still be able to eat pastured chickens – if it happened 50 years ago, people in the West would still be able to eat Salmon. There are going to be people sitting along the banks of British Columbia 40 years from now saying "I’m starving to death because you didn’t take out the dams that were used to create electricity that were used to change phosphates into aluminum beer cans," and that’s inexcusable. So that’s why we have to hurry it along. Because everyday more of the ecological infrastructure is being destroyed. From a more moral perspective of course the reason to do it is because those in power have no right to drive us down to extinction.

There’s something else. People say "what do you mean" when you talk about "bringing down civilization." What I really mean is depriving the rich of the ability to steal from the poor and depriving the powerful of the ability to destroy the planet. That’s what I really mean.

Engel: Why do you so few people resist, unlike in the 1960s or 1930s?

Jensen: If your experience is that your water comes from the tap and that your food comes from the grocery store, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them; if your experience is that your water comes from a river and that your food comes from a land base then you will defend those to the death because your life depends on them. So part of the problem is that we have become so dependent upon this system that is killing and exploiting us, it has become almost impossible for us to imagine living outside of it and it’s very difficult physically for us to live outside of it. Also, one of the smartest things the Nazis did, according to Sigmund Bauman’s "In Modernity and the Holocaust," was to make it seem in the Jews’s rational best interests not to resist: "do you want an ID card or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to live in the ghetto or do you want to resist and get killed? Do you want to get on this cattle car or do you want to resist and get killed? Do you want to take a shower or do you want to resist and get killed? Every step of the way it was in their so-called "rational best interest." We see the same thing happening today. People will keep suffering all these indignities because if you resist there is the theater of terror to keep you silently, submissively in line. Put you in your place, where you belong.

Engel: The Germans were the height of civilization and the Israelis are the height of civilization as defined by art, science, literature etc. I don’t think it is an accident that both Nazism and Zionism came out of the same place, at the same time from the same culture and region. They are civilized, you know, but this is what civilization does. Ernst Mayer at the end of "They Thought They Were Free," wrote of the many similarities between Germans and Jews. Even before Nazism the Germans were considered, and considered themselves, "pariahs" by the rest of Europe. They weren’t put in ghettos, like the Jews, but Wiemar was no picnic. The WWI treaty, despite Wilson, was a French and English attempt to humiliate them.

JENSEN: Well part of it is that. If you get traumatized once you can get PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. Well, Judith Herman came up with another definition which is what happens if you are raped, or beaten, or suffer in another way not just once, but repeatedly for years in captivity, or are raised in captivity, as prisoners are, or victims of domestic violence or Palestinians today, or Jews once were in Europe. Such experiences cause what she would call "complex post traumatic stress disorder," in which the world around you is deemed a terrifying place because it was so scary for so long. If your life is going along okay and then suddenly you are beaten on one particular street, you’ll avoid that street because of bad associations, but it might not affect your entire being. But if every street is dangerous, if every circumstance is traumatic, you can come to see the world as tremendously scary. The best way not to be scared is to control what is around you and frankly the best way to control what is around you is to kill it. But you can also come to believe that mutual relationships are not possible, they can’t exist, that all relationships are based on power.

Engel: You talk a lot about abusive relationships. In "End Game" you compare the businessmen and politicians who actually control the land and how it’s used, to abusers in an abusive relationship.

JENSEN: We are in an abusive relationship with the people who control this country and we’re living in denial. Part of the problem is the notion that people have one answer and right now science is the way to know the world and capitalism is the way to structure an economic system and industrialism is the way to live. I mean talk about people living in a non-industrialized way and everybody just looks at you as if you are insane, but the truth is that the I live in Trowa land "T-R-O-W-A" in California, and the Trowa lived here for 12,500 years. The replacement culture, "our" culture, has been here for 150 years and it is trashing the place. So let’s talk about what a "successful" way to live is.

One book that influenced me was Lucy Bancroft’s "Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men." My father was abusive, I’ve written about it. There were still things I didn’t understand. For example, the notion that abusers just lose control. Well, do abusers just become outraged and beat up their boss? No. So that means they don’t just lose control. We have to ask what are they gaining by the act of "losing control?" We can say the same thing about CEOs. When CEOs are destroying communities, when they are polluting, do they dump dioxin into their own bathtub? No. The violence flows outward. Of course, they are poisoning their own children because you can’t control land-based lines. But they don’t live in cancer alley. The thing that makes me so mad is that we fall for this stuff again and again and again, just like an abused family. We keep hearing, "oh, it’s not going to happen again, it was an accident." When you build a plant that produces toxic chemicals in bulk, how much of a surprise is it when they leak?

Engel: Right – or a nuclear power plant.

Jensen: Right, or a nuclear power plant. How much of a surprise is it when it does what one can expect it to do? The important thing to recognize is that an abuser will twist anything to his advantage as long as you stay in the abusive relationship. It’s not possible to argue with an abuser and win; the only way to survive is to destroy the relationship. It only takes one person to destroy a relationship, but it’s often very difficult. The average abused woman has to leave her partner seven times before she is really able to get away – because he will hunt her down. Often times in the abused woman’s situation she has become financially dependent and so she runs into the same problem – how do you get away from the abusive situation? On a large scale it is even harder because where do you go to get away from this abusive culture spread across the entire planet? You don’t. Which is why at some point we have got to begin to fight back.

Engel: You spend a lot of time debunking the pacifist myth that we can somehow come to an agreement with the politicians and CEOs who are trashing the place.

Jensen: Part of the reason I wrote the book is that when I’ve done talks that have to do with violence (I should say counter-violence, fighting against this system that is exploiting us) the response by the audience has been really predictable. If the audience consists of peace and social justice activists and mainstream environmentalists and also non-activists, a lot of times they are just horrified and put up what I call the "Ghandi-shield" to protect themselves from evil thoughts and keep saying "Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Dalai Lama." Now if they are a different kind of audience, if they are grass roots environmentalists, they would do the same thing, and then come up to me afterwards and whisper in my ear, "thank you for bringing this up." If I talk about anything to do with fighting back to an audience of prisoners, American Indians, a lot of people of color, the poor, survivors of domestic violence, family farmers, their response is to look at me like – "tell us something we don’t know." I realized really quickly the difference is that if you have suffered violence in your own body it is no longer an abstract, or spiritual or theoretical question and so you don’t make it into something bigger than it is, it’s simply a part of life and you deal with it. It doesn’t mean you do it yourself, but it means you deal with it, it’s simply a part of life! As opposed to "oh, my God – capital V violence." I realized very quickly that pacifism is a cult, and much like Christianity, it’s a cult that can brook no heresy. So it is very interesting that dogmatic pacifists don’t want to think about it themselves, and won’t let anybody else talk about. They have to censor everything related to violence, shut down even the mere possibility of discussion or debate.

Engel: That’s a kind of violence.

Jensen: Yeah, it is. This book was originally going to be like a pamphlet, and I was just going to pamphlet-ize this part that would simply respond to all the clichés pacifists throw around all the time, because so many of them don’t make any sense. One is the Audre Lord line, "You can’t use the Masters tools if it’s not the Master’s house."

The thing is, she’s not talking about pacifism at all, and the other interesting thing is I can tell that Audre Lord never worked in construction because it doesn’t really matter whose tools you use. You can use anybody’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. In fact, there is no master’s house, there is simply a house that we pretend is the master’s and the master doesn’t have any tools. We pretend that violence is one of the master’s tools. The truth is there is simply violence. Those in power try and tell us that they own the land, that they own the water; they try to tell us they own everything and they are trying to tell us that they own violence. I don’t think Mother Grizzly Bear agrees.

Another argument I want to shoot down is: People say, "oh, my God Derrick you talk about fighting back but that just shows that you don’t have any love, because if you have love you can’t fight back." And once again, I don’t think Mother Grizzly Bear agrees. I grew up in the country and in my life I have been attacked by mother horses, cows, chickens, geese, mice, spiders, hummingbirds, who thought I was attacking their babies. So don’t give me this shit that love implies pacifism because if you love, you are going to fight back to defend your beloved. Well, that’s not true. If you have love you will do what is appropriate and sometimes it is appropriate to fight back and sometimes it’s not.

Another thing I want to shoot down about pacifism is that violence doesn’t solve anything. Bullshit. What that means is that if violence doesn’t accomplish anything does that mean that all the Africans just jumped on the slave ship on their own? Does that mean that American Indians just handed the land over? Does that mean that women don’t have to be afraid everywhere in the world because of men’s violence? It’s absurd. And what’s more is this whole culture is based on violence and if violence doesn’t accomplish anything then I guess that civilization doesn’t exist, does it?

Engel: As you say in the book, it’s all situational. Whether violence is appropriate or not depends upon the circumstances, really.

Jensen: Pacifism is, in many cases, dogmatic pacifism. Einstein was not a dogmatic pacifist. Or the Dalai Lama, I love what the Dalai Lama says, which is that violence, I quote it in "End Game," I don’t remember it exactly, but it’s like violence "is a very strong pill that has very strong side effects." There you go and that is all you need to know about this. Pacifists so far have responded very, very poorly to my book of course. What I was thinking is that I should put out a book that is called "End Game for Pacifists." The book would consist of 1000 blank pages with one page in the middle that says, "Sometimes it’s okay to fight back." Because that is all that pacifists see – they ignore 1,000 pages of analysis and that is the only thing that they can see. Which is, by the way, what happens when we get emotionally triggered – we get stuck back in a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) situation and we can’t see anything else at all. I have issues around water skiing that evoke my experience as an abused child. So when I was in high school or college if some friend talking for two hours suddenly said the word "water skiing," that would be the only thing I would hear. Similarly, I’ve noticed that pacifists are really afraid of emotion, and they are really afraid of anger and really afraid of their own emotions. So, once again, if they hear the possibility of fighting back, it scares them so much that they can’t see any of the other analyses.

Pacifists say I’m calling for violence and the truth is I am not. I am calling for people to think for themselves. Look at the situation, let’s just look at it. What is happening? 90% of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Many of us have diseases of civilization. Civilization is killing us, it’s putting us in jobs we don’t like and it is killing the planet and committing genocide against everyone it encounters and that is what this book is ultimately about: what are we going to do about this? What do you want to do about it and what are your gifts? As I say near the end, that’s why I go on so long, and I express my puzzlements and I go off in one direction and then another direction. What I am trying to do is model a process for people to go through to figure out their own answers. What I really want is for people to think for themselves and feel for themselves and to listen to their own land base and to ask that land base, "What must we do?" Start a relationship with the land where you live. Ask that land what it needs from you. Because the truth is the land is the basis for everything. It’s embarrassing to even have to say that, but — and this is something else I think is really important — the only measure by which we will be judged by the people who come after is the health of the land base, because that is what is going to support them. They are not going to give a shit whether or not we were pacifists; they are not going to give a shit if we supported Israel or we didn’t support Israel; whether we voted green or democrat or republican or not at all. What they are going to care about is whether they can drink the water, whether they can breathe the air, whether the land can support them. One of the important questions is to ask what does the land need from you.

Derrick Jensen is an environmental activist, lecturer, teacher and author of "The Culture of Make Believe," "Listening to the Land," "A Language Older than Words," and several other books, most recently "Endgame." He lives on the coast of Northern California. Visit his website at www.derrickjensen.org

ADAM ENGEL can be reached at bartleby.samsa@verizon.net