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  1. Lauren
    Lauren June 30, 2009 at 7:38 pm |

    I’ve got about as much of a personal issue with Derrick Jensen as you can have with an author that you’ve never met (well, I “met” him once at a book signing and thought he was a pompous ass). The reasons why are what you outline above — the equation of women with fish, for one, a repeat offense, and the hyperbole, too. We got into an argument at his talk at Oberlin a few years back, when he was suggesting that to save The Fish we must blow up dams (and fuck all the people and wildlife, mind you), except he was inciting the audience to blow up dams because In The Revolution We All Have Jobs and his was, conveniently, writing books, not dam bombing. It’s real cute and all to poop in the woods and make observations about it — plenty of authors have done so, though my favorite poopin’ in the woods author has to be Thomas Lynch — but I have issues with authors whose dedication to The Movement stops right at the point at which their legal and personal risk-aversion kicks in, leaving the dirty work to the rich, radical kids that idolize their books.

    But that’s me.

    Ultimately I feel about Jensen’s other work as you describe your feelings toward this book (I’m unfamiliar with Aric McBay), that you learn a lot about the permissive and integrated systems of oppression that make widespread ecological damage a socially desired commodity. There is value in that. But ultimately I have always been bothered with his relationship to his own privilege on many levels, and because his writing depends so much on personal observation, I usually leave his books thoughtful but with a bad taste in my mouth.

    Vandana Shiva, on the other hand, blew my head wide open with Stolen Harvest when I first read it. Her work, like you say, lets the facts speak for themselves, and they’re damning and scary, especially as they detail the ways agricultural companies steal the work (and seeds) of indigenous farmers and patent them, so the product the indigenous farmers developed can be sold back to them as new, breaking scientific innovation.

    Great review.

  2. Lauren
    Lauren June 30, 2009 at 7:51 pm |

    One other thing about Jensen, since I’m being snarky: He’s particularly enthralled with the idea of being a voice for oppressed populations, but his fondness of these populations decreases with the degree of agency they have in speaking for themselves.

  3. NiceFeminist
    NiceFeminist June 30, 2009 at 9:05 pm |

    As if that weren’t enough, the authors go on to criticize the use of birth control, stating that “More than 100 million women around the world use some form of pharmaceutical contraception…. But as liberating and empowering as it may be, when the drugs in contraceptive pills find their way into water they can be very damaging to aquatic communities.” (Emphasis mine.)

    This sentence could only be written by a person who has never experienced a pregnancy scare.

    You’re taking the strongest part of this terrible excerpt and making it weakly personal.

    It’s not unfeminist to agree that there are chemicals in birth control pills that do bad things to our planet, and bodies, while they also help us in other areas.

    Also, just because a bad thing does good things for many people, that doesn’t mean that we should defend its goodness to the death. Why aren’t we asking more questoins about the Pill, and seeking out other options until a better, more healthy, more earth-conscious alternative becomes available? Why only get mad when people criticize it? That’s not only counter-productive; it’s incredibly dangerous.

  4. NiceFeminist
    NiceFeminist June 30, 2009 at 9:09 pm |

    Another thing:

    In the excerpt cited above, you cannot possibly believe that the author actually believes that women should give up reproductive freedom for the good of the rest of the planet. That’s such a knee-jerk reaction, it’s like you were looking for one, grasping at straws. There are plenty of other reasons to hate that article. Let’s try and be productive about it, instead of using the same old tired rhetoric and groupthink that permeates the rest of this “feminist” blogosphere. Care to speak for yourself sometime?

  5. Jill
    Jill June 30, 2009 at 10:38 pm | *

    Nice Feminist, your comments are really condescending and rude. If you actually want to engage then do it, but there’s no need to be a jerk. Julia was certainly being productive and insightful, and not deferring to “groupthink” or tired old rhetoric. And what’s with the scare quotes around “feminist”?

  6. kaninchenzero
    kaninchenzero June 30, 2009 at 10:42 pm |

    That is some of the finest concern I have ever seen! I bet even the East German judge — if such fabulous creatures as East German judges still existed — would give that at least an eight. eight-point-five. Coming back with the accusations of strawmen, groupthink, and hivemindery were excellent touches, though I think saying “There are plenty of other reasons to hate that article” without providing a single such reason really puts it over the top.

    Well done, NiceFeminist! You should be proud of yourself.

  7. Colin Day
    Colin Day June 30, 2009 at 11:06 pm |

    However much the use of the Pill may affect the environment, is that affect greater than the affect of increased population on the environment?

  8. Phil
    Phil July 1, 2009 at 4:40 am |

    I would also add that casually defecating in wild areas in the belief that it’s a natural and harmless thing to do may put both wildife and other human visitors at risk from any nasties you may have in your intestines unless you take some basic precautions. See eg (won’t mention exact title of book as it might get the comment rejected)

  9. Medea
    Medea July 1, 2009 at 4:56 am |

    I do think that it’s not inherently unfeminist to question the environmental toll of oral contraceptives (and drugs in general)–but Colin Day has a good point. Besides, surely all those condoms would be even worse? A vasectomy would be more environmentally friendly, but you’d have to be sure you don’t want kids/already have kids/aren’t sleeping with people who might give you STDs…

    The pill is something to think about, but I don’t think it needs to be a priority of any environmentalist movement.

  10. Cynthia
    Cynthia July 1, 2009 at 6:41 am |

    Great review.
    When someone categorizes women with forests and streams, we can be pretty sure that he visualizes his readership as entirely male. I’m sure most of the people commenting on this site have had that experience of cheerfully reading along in a book or article and suddenly coming across a sentence that makes it clear that the reader, if female, is not a part of the intended audience. It’s infuriating. Same for indigenous people – you can read numerous articles, even in the left press, that use “we” to mean people in the dominant culture, as though there is no possibility that a Navajo or an Inuit is reading the magazine. Anyway, on the strength of this review, I wouldn’t read “What We Leave Behind”.
    Colin Day’s comment that the environmental ill-effects of the pill are outweighed by the population control effects is an excellent one. I don’t know if the authors of the book mentioned it, but there are dozens of substances including many pesticides, plastics and industrial by-products that have hormone-like effects on aquatic populations. So do anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals. This needs to be addressed, but the pill would probably be the last thing to go after.

  11. La Lubu
    La Lubu July 1, 2009 at 8:07 am |

    Ooooh! Lauren, I remember that post! The whole Rich White Dude Environmentalist schtick gives me a fucking headache to no end. I read that whole branch of the (non) movement as looking for critical mass not through collective, systemic methods of addressing and resolving environmental problems, but rather through the magical-thinking of “gee, if we could just get enough individuals interested in Going Back to the Land, the Planet would heal.”

    Ignoring, of course, the fact that Going Back to the Land requires asspots of money that folks just don’t have, and making that Great Leap of Faith in giving up a job means giving up healthcare, housing, heat in the winter, and a steady intake of food. And for all that romanticizing of “indigenous people”, what does he have to say about the, oh, four-hundred and thirty-some-odd broken treaties with indigenous people in the U.S. alone? Not to mention the fact that a lot of folks here in the U.S. are the descendants of indigenous people who could no longer stay in their (our) lands? Also, Europeans were/are “indigenous” too, and a whole hell of a lot of us went straight from feudalism to post-industrialization on the rapid-fire plan, not the installment plan (I know I’m not the only person reading this blog whose family regaled them with tales of the joys of living as a landless peasant).

    And geez louise, out of one side of his mouth there’s too many people; out of the other side women are ruining the environment by using birth control. WTF? Cognitive dissonance ring any bells?

    Part of why that mindset is so frustrating to me is because I would like to be able to live in a more environmentally sustainable way, but the attitudes and practices of what I call “white boy environmentalism” make it difficult and/or impossible to do so. To give an example:

    I used to take part in a CSA (community-supported agriculture). You pay up front in the winter, and then in late spring to around Thanksgiving (in my climate), you get tasty fruits and veggies cheaper than at either the grocery store or the Farmer’s Market (and please don’t get me started on how goddamn high the prices are at the Farmer’s Market now that the yuppies have discovered the place. Still tastes better than the grocery store, but I find myself buying more and more food at the store because I can’t keep up with the boutique prices at the Farmer’s Market). Sounds good, right? Well, this year the white guys running the CSA decided that it was a good idea to have folks pick up their food at the farm so they “could see the farm and how it is run”. Is this an urban farm? Noooo! It’s a half-hour-or-so, one-way drive for me.

    As a single mother, that means: an extra hour or so behind the wheel each week for me, getting home later than usual, scrambling for the time to cook dinner and help my daughter with her homework (she goes to summer school; she’s struggling in school), spending extra money on gas, and frankly—saying the hell with dinner and ordering fast food once a week to make up for having to use the time I could spend cooking to burn gasoline getting my environmentally friendly veggies. Because, of all days to pick for these pickups, they chose a weeknight. WTF??? I sent them a letter explaining why I would not be able to take part.

  12. Persia
    Persia July 1, 2009 at 9:38 am |

    La Lubu, that’s the most infuriating bit about books like this to me– it assumes a huge amount of economic privilege and opportunity on behalf of his reader, and everyone else is just ‘ignorant’ or uncaring.

  13. chava
    chava July 1, 2009 at 9:57 am |

    I’d just like to offer a big freaking YES to La Lubu’s comment. It isn’t always a matter of this vaunted “re-prioritizing” of our resources, some of us DONT HAVE THE RESOURCES for a cabbage that costs 2/pound.

  14. Kai
    Kai July 1, 2009 at 11:15 am |

    Excellent, incisive, usefully juxtaposed reviews, Julie. “Stolen Harvest” blew my mind too, and as someone who has spent time in third world slums. I’m gonna pick up “Soil Not Oil”. I think I’ll pass on the other one.

  15. Tiktaalik
    Tiktaalik July 1, 2009 at 4:47 pm |

    Ultimately, hunter-gatherers, with their portable lifestyle, lack of industrial infrastructure, minimal physical goods, and extensive knowledge of the land and its nonhuman inhabitants, have been far more successful at [low-impact lifestyles] than industrial society will ever be. (Emphasis mine.)

    Except for the part where they exterminated almost everything bigger than a deer from Europe, Australia, and the Americas (and just about everything larger than a cat from every island humans have ever colonized)…

  16. NiceFeminist
    NiceFeminist July 1, 2009 at 6:17 pm |

    Sorry for the tone. I regretted it after posting, considering the fact that I’m adamantly against it on my own blog, but admittedly just figured that this blog seems to like it just fine, since most commenters (and some bloggers) here love to dole out the sarcasm and insults left and right, and they’re never called into question.

    Either way. I still stand by what I said, stripped of it’s condescending tone. The knee-jerk reaction of a writer on a feminist blog to stamp “anti-feminist,” “misogynist,” etc., when discussing something that criticizes things like birth control pills, is incredibly problematic.

    Who cares about bloody reproductive rights if there’s no planet to live on? I know it’s not that dramatic, but let’s try to figure out some better alternatives, instead of covering our ears and shouting “but what about our right to not have children?! Don’t take away my rights!!!1! I hate condoms/IUDs/everything else!!”

    We should start thinking about alternatives, because obviously, hormone-based birth control is not necessarily the best thing ever and is causing damage.

  17. amandaw
    amandaw July 1, 2009 at 6:39 pm |

    So do anti-depressants and other pharmaceuticals. This needs to be addressed, but the pill would probably be the last thing to go after.
    O RLY? This feminist, birth control pill taking woman with a disability would like to know why antidepressants and “other pharmaceuticals” are better to go after than the Pill.

  18. shah8
    shah8 July 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm |

    Hollywood plays a big role in creating miscreants like that author…

    Just think, the end of BSG…

  19. Raincitygirl
    Raincitygirl July 2, 2009 at 12:01 am |

    Just think, the end of BSG…

    Um, do we HAVE to?

  20. Entomologista
    Entomologista July 2, 2009 at 10:18 am |

    Just out of curiosity, I’d like to see some satellite pictures of these continent-sized garbage piles that cover 40% of the ocean.

  21. Julie
    Julie July 2, 2009 at 1:31 pm |

    NiceFeminist, your comment is full of strawmen and your tone is still wildly inappropriate. Nowhere in my review did I claim that pharmaceutical birth control isn’t damaging the environment. If you can’t tell the difference between criticizing the dismissive tone of Jensen and McBay’s argument and criticizing the argument itself, then that’s your problem, not mine.

    Please don’t comment on this thread again.

  22. belledame222
    belledame222 July 2, 2009 at 2:50 pm |

    Oh Christ. If people like this Jensen* didn’t exist, Rush Limbaugh would have to invent them. Thanks, d00d. Animate scarecrows ahoy!

    *reading up from the comments, at first I assumed this must be Robert Jensen; it’s depressing to realize that there’s another appropriative Savior Dude out there named Jensen who’s probably even -more- obnoxious.

  23. jemand
    jemand July 2, 2009 at 3:34 pm |

    amandaw, I think people were hypothetically tossing out ALL arguments of individual rights and pointing out that reducing population by any means is probably going to be better for “the environment” than going after birth control.

    It’s a very very bad argument, because we could save “the environment” by committing mass suicide/murder but we actually do have a balance of priorities here….

    I believe someone was just pointing out that EVEN IN the author’s silly upside down value world, birth control was still doing more good than harm.

  24. jemand
    jemand July 2, 2009 at 3:37 pm |

    oh, and yeah. If this guy is pooping in his back yard… and yet eating at any restaurant or ANY food shipped more than 50 miles… he is causing MAJOR environmental issues by possibly introducing foreign bacterial colonies to local soil populations. VERY BAD idea to be eating things from ALL OVER the planet and then pooping them out on the surface of the soil.

  25. Kristin
    Kristin July 2, 2009 at 3:37 pm |

    “And what’s with the scare quotes around “feminist”?”

    Jill: Only Nice Feminists are Real Feminists. Didn’t you get the memo?

    Perhaps I shall change my handle to Tactful Kristin just to find out if that will make it so.

  26. GallingGalla
    GallingGalla July 2, 2009 at 3:55 pm |

    NiceFeminist, way to go with tone arguments and a condescending tone on this blog when you decry those things over at your place. i think we call that “hipocracy”?

    also your call for eliminating antidepressents and other drugs “for the good of the planet” is pretty damned ableist. i think my not committing suicide from uncontrolled depression takes priority here.

  27. Dana
    Dana July 15, 2009 at 12:44 am |

    From a comment: It’s not unfeminist to agree that there are chemicals in birth control pills that do bad things to our planet, and bodies, while they also help us in other areas.

    Also, just because a bad thing does good things for many people, that doesn’t mean that we should defend its goodness to the death. Why aren’t we asking more questoins about the Pill, and seeking out other options until a better, more healthy, more earth-conscious alternative becomes available? Why only get mad when people criticize it? That’s not only counter-productive; it’s incredibly dangerous.

    My body has zero tolerance for hormones related to pregnancy, which the Pill provides. I can carry a pregnancy, but it throws my entire endocrine system off-kilter. I started out in my adult life at 5’6″ and about 135 pounds. Went on the Pill and put on ten pounds. Got pregnant twice and each time came out the other end with an extra fifty pounds of cargo. To say nothing of the extreme mood swings each time, Pill or baby. I have no idea what’s going on with my other glands but my pancreas is sure unhappy, and I had autoimmune issues in my second pregnancy to boot. You’ll look at this account and go, “Oh, welcome to reality for most women,” but guess what? It’s not normal, or at least not natural. What possible evolutionary purpose is served by alienating the people who are supposed to help you through labor, delivery, and childrearing?

    And you better bet that what we do to the waterways is much, much bigger than any individual woman having a pregnancy scare. Hate to break it to you but the ecosystem’s kind of more important, and if you didn’t believe it was, you wouldn’t be interested in environmentalism in the first place.

    Besides, the fact that we have to be scared about pregnancy at all in the first place should give us pause. Framing pregnancy as a bad thing, framing being poor and pregnant as a bad thing, ALSO come from a privileged point of view–the point of view of someone who maybe doesn’t want their share of the pie going to someone who didn’t work hard enough for any pie, period. If you don’t feel that way, then great, but a lot of folks who wring their hands about poor/teen/unmarried mamas sure do, and I’ve caught my share of crap for daring to Breed While Poor from self-identified liberals and socialists.

    Jensen has his issues, for sure. I love his books but I do find myself thinking, “So blow up the dams already.” And it’s true that destroying one would mess things up around the former dam site for a while, but it’s ALSO true that building it in the first place caused quite a lot of ecological destruction that is ongoing. Salmon, for instance, are reduced in number significantly thanks to hydroelectric dams, despite the cute little “salmon ladders” they build into the things. It’s not enough. Salmon didn’t evolve with ladders. They expect to encounter undammed rivers and there’s nothing we can do to change that.

    It’s not like the response from the state wouldn’t be significant if he went around acting on his words. They wouldn’t just slap him on the wrist and let him go. Any white guy who genuinely works against the domesticated ag-industrial culture and genuinely damages it gets equated with women and people of color and treated accordingly, at least unless he recants. Ask the white guys who were radicals in the Sixties. Hell, ask Ayers, who nearly became political kryptonite for Obama.

    Anyway, Jensen’s kind of language isn’t new to me, but then, I’ve read Starhawk. And I think a lot of your critique comes from that post-industrial, over-schooled, hyper-individualist mindset almost incapable of synthesis, that is so endemic among liberal thinkers anymore. I am less interested in arguing how things are “supposed” to be than about how they actually are, because every time we try to remake the world into what it’s “supposed” to be, we fuck up spectacularly–which is why the Jensens and Shivas of the world exist and write at all.

  28. alice
    alice July 20, 2009 at 1:11 am |

    Dana, I think your comment is excellent.

    I also wanted to point out that it seems like many of the commenters have never read anything that Derrick Jensen has written besides the quotes in this review.
    To my knowledge, Jensen has never implied, in any of his work, that individual actions themselves would save the planet. He’s also never advocated “going back to the land” as a solution or suggestion for all people. In fact, in the book reviewed in this article, there are numerous pages devoted to why an attitude like ” the magical-thinking of ‘gee, if we could just get enough individuals interested in Going Back to the Land, the Planet would heal'” (as La Lubu claimed he was advocating) is, well, magical thinking. There’s an entire chapter of this book called ‘Magical Thinking’.

    And in many of his books (especially ‘Endgame’, and in his interviews with activists in ‘Listening to the Land’), Jensen talks about “looking for critical mass not through collective, systemic methods of addressing and resolving environmental problems”.

    I’m not trying to defend the parts of Jensen’s work that could be interpreted as racist and/or sexist, and besides that he really does have some issues with self-importance. I do think he’s written some really valuable and insightful work, however. All I’m trying to say is that in general, I think it’s pretty ridiculous and lazy to write paragraphs-long comments criticizing an author you’ve never even read!

  29. alice
    alice July 20, 2009 at 1:13 am |

    In the second-to-last paragraph I just wrote, I meant to omit the ‘not’ in the quotation.

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