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A Revolutionary's Handbook Disguised as a Book on Deep Ecology

Deep Green Resistance

by THOMAS H. NAYLOR

Aric McBay and Lierre Keith’s provocative new book Deep Green Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2011) should be required reading for every Occupy Wall Street sympathizer worldwide.  Disguised as a book about global warming and the demise of life on the planet earth, this book is little short of a handbook for revolution to dismantle the global industrial economy.  It also represents a frontal assault against technofascism – affluenza, technomania, cybermania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism.

Appropriately, the preface of Deep Green Resistance was written by radical environmentalist Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame.  The authors want to stop global warming, end globalized exploitation of the poor, and stop the planet from being devoured alive.  They actually want to bring down civilization.  According to Jensen, bringing down civilization means “depriving the rich of their ability to steal form the poor, and it means depriving the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.”  McBay and Keith add that it also means “thoroughly destroying the political, the social, physical, and technological infrastructure that not only permits the rich to steal and the powerful to destroy, but rewards them for doing so.”  That’s a lot!

The rationale underlying Deep Green Resistance is as follows:

Humans aren’t going to do anything in time to prevent the planet from being destroyed wholesale.  Poor people are too preoccupied by primary emergencies, rich people benefit from the status quo, and the middle class (rich people by global standards) are too obsessed with their own entitlement and the technological spectacle to do anything.  The risk of runaway global warming is immediate.  A drop in the human population is inevitable, and fewer people will die if collapse happens sooner. 

McBay and Keith fully grasp the fact that just as the global industrial economy is not fixable in its present form, so too is the United States government unfixable.  Unlike the Occupy Wall Streeters, they have not been taken in by spurious left-wing reform proposals such as campaign finance reform and laws curbing corporate personhood.  Also to their credit, the authors have neither been seduced by pop environmentalists such as Al Gore and Bill McKibben nor the feel good Transition Town movement.

In the first section of the book Lierre Keith sketches out the moral, philosophical, and political underpinnings of Deep Green Resistance.  Her crisp, clear, radical, cogent message has real bite.  There is no doubt about where she stands.

In the second and third sections of the book Aric McBay outlines a series of alternative actions all aimed at “bringing down civilization.”  Some of these actions are acts of omission such as strikes, boycotts, embargoes, tax resistance, conscientious objection, civil disobedience, mutiny, and insubordination.  Others are acts of commission which may be as benign as lobbying, protests, and public education.  But some are not so benign.  These include obstruction, occupation, material destruction, and even violence against humans.  Basically, what McBay is all about is teaching his readers how to plan, organize, and execute a revolution.

In spite of my enthusiasm for this hard-hitting, compelling book, I do have two rather serious reservations about it.  Although I have sympathy with the goal of dismantling the global industrial economy, the global economy is a pretty diffuse target.  It is effectively controlled by Wall Street and Corporate America through their proxy the United States government.  To be quite blunt the role of the U.S. Government is to impose the will of its masters on the rest of the world.

If you want to bring down global capitalism, you target Wall Street and Corporate America, just as the Occupy Wall Streeters are doing.  The focus should be on dissolving the American Empire, the root cause of most of the world’s environmental problems and global warming.  The American Empire is too big, too powerful, too undemocratic, too materialistic, too environmentally irresponsible, too racist, too militaristic, and too violent.  Unfortunately, much of the rest of the world still chooses to emulate its behavior.  When the Empire falls, so too will global capitalism.

My second reservation with Deep Green Resistance stems from its endorsement of violence against humans.  Virtually every political leader throughout history who has ever led his nation into war has framed the problem of war versus peace as one in which there are only two choices.  Either risk being the victim or become the executioner.  McBay and Keith come dangerously close to this position.  In their view we either bring down civilization, even if it involves human violence, or civilization will destroy us all.  French writer Albert Camus argued that such a choice is no choice at all.  We always have the option of refusing to be either the victim or the murderer.

In 1989 Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, and Poland brought down their communist regimes nonviolently within a few months of each other.  Romania was the bloody exception to the rule.  Two years later the Soviet Union imploded nonviolently.

Engaging in violence against the American Empire, the most powerful empire in history, would be an exercise in utter futility.

I believe there is much to be learned from Deep Green Resistance, but McBay and Keith should reconsider their position on violence against humans.

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of AffluenzaDownsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning.