Q: How can I accept the risks of being caught when that could mean never being able to see or help my family/lover/children in these difficult times?
Derrick Jensen: Nothing in this book is meant to exhort people to do things they don’t want to do. In fact, nothing in this book is meant to exhort people to do anything illegal (recognizing that innocence of actual criminal activity is no guarantee that one will not be punished by those in power). We’ve said numerous times that there are plenty of ways that a culture of resistance can manifest, any number of activities that you can participate in that are not as immediately risky as belowground actions. If your primary concern is the risk of being caught, there are plenty of other things you can do.
But remember that when state repression gets really bad, being aboveground does not mean that the state won’t come for you. It’s often the public intellectuals, the organizers, and the writers who are thrown in jail. The people underground, without a public profile, are sometimes safer.
Perhaps, though, we should turn the question around. “Are you willing to risk not having fish in the oceans?” If things continue the way they are, by 2050 there will be no fish in the oceans. Amphibians are already dying. Migratory songbirds are already dying. The planet is dying. Are you willing to risk that?
None of this is theoretical. When the industrial system starts to collapse, I will be dead. I am reliant upon high-tech medicine for my life. But there is something larger and more important than my life.
Derrick Jensen: A couple of years ago, I got an email from a policeman in Chicago. He was reading Endgame and liking it except that he thought I came down too hard on cops. He said, “Our job is to protect people from sociopaths and that’s what I do every day. I protect people from sociopaths.” I wrote back, “I think that’s really great that you protect us from sociopaths. When my mom’s house got burgled, the first thing we did was call the cops. When my house got burgled, I turned it over to the cops. It’s great that you protect us from sociopaths. My problem is that you really only protect us from poor sociopaths, not rich sociopaths.”
After Bhopal, Warren Anderson was tried and found guilty in absentia for the atrocities of running Union Carbide. He was sentenced to hang. And the United States refuses to extradite him. If it were up to me, all the people associated with the Gulf oil spill, which is murdering the Gulf, would be executed. That would be part of the function of a state. Instead, one of the primary functions of government is to protect the rich sociopaths from the outrage of the rest of us. Who is protecting the farmers in India from Monsanto? Who is protecting the farmers in the United States from Cargill and ADM?
I did a benefit for a group of Mexican Americans who were attempting to stop yet another toxic waste dump from being placed in their neighborhood. The toxic waste was, of course, from somewhere far away. The conversation turned to what it would be like if police and prosecutors were not enforcing the dictates of distant corporations instead of the wishes of the local communities. What if they were enforcing cancer-free zones? Or clear-cut-free zones? Or rape-free zones, for that matter? And then everyone laughed, because everyone knows it’s not going to happen. But what if we in our communities started to form community defense groups and said, “This is going to be a cancer-free zone. This will be a clear-cut-free zone. This will be a rape-free zone. This will be a dam-free zone.” What would happen if we did that?
That’s exactly what we’re talking about in this book. We want our communities to be cancer-free. We want them to be clear-cut-free. We want them to be rape-free. We want them to be dam-free. And we need to stop the sociopaths who are hurting us.
As civic society collapses in a patriarchy, things can become much worse. Look at the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there are organized mass rapes. What do we do about that? One of the things we need to do is to prepare now. That’s why we’ve emphasized in this book so often that the revolutionaries need to be of good character. A friend of mine says that he does the environmental work he does because as things become increasingly chaotic, he wants to make sure that some doors remain open. If the grizzly bears are gone in twenty years, they’ll be gone forever. But if they are there in twenty years, they may be able to be there forever. It’s the same for the bull trout, the same with the redwoods—if you cut down this forest, it’s gone, but if it’s standing, who knows what will happen in the future? And it’s the same for people’s social attitudes; as things become increasingly chaotic, events become increasingly uncontrollable. We must make sure that certain ideas are in place before that happens. That’s why we have emphasized zero tolerance for horizontal hostility, zero tolerance for violence against women, zero tolerance for racism. Because as civic society collapses—no matter the cause of this collapse—men will rape more, and the time to defend against that is not then, but now.
There are two approaches to the problem of men assaulting women. One of them is in a line by Andrea Dworkin, “My prayer for women of the twenty-first century: harden your hearts and learn to kill.” Women need to learn self-defense, and they need to form self-defense organizations, and they need to be feminists. And men must make their allegiance to women absolute. They must have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of women.
The same is true for race-based hate crimes. As the economic system collapses, those whose entitlement has put them at the top of the heap are going to start blaming everyone else (witness the Tea Party, for example). As Nietzsche wrote, “One does not hate what one can despise.” And so long as your entitlement is in place and so long as your entitlement isn’t threatened, you can despise those whom you’re exploiting. But as soon as that entitlement is threatened, that contempt turns over into outright hatred and violence. As civilization collapses, we will see an increase in male-pattern violence. We will see an increase in violence against those who resist. We will see an increase in violence against people of color. We are already seeing this.
My answer for people of color is, learn to defend yourself and form self-defense organizations. And the job of white allies is to make our allegiance to the victims of white oppression absolute.
There have been many resistance movements who have formed self-defense organizations and their own police forces. The IRA acted as neighborhood police, the Spanish Anarchists organized their own police force in some of the bigger cities, and we will talk about the Gulabi Gang in Chapter 13, Tactics and Targets. We need something similar. We need to form self-defense organizations to defend those humans and nonhumans who are assaulted and violated. Those assaults will continue to happen until we stop them.
To be clear, civilization is not the same as society. Civilization is a specific, hierarchical organization based on “power over.” Dismantling civilization, taking down that power structure, does not mean the end of all social order. It should ultimately mean more justice, more local control, more democracy, and more human rights, not less.