Leaving Us Behind

What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay
(Seven Stories Press)

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis by Vandana Shiva
(South End Press)

Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay’s What We Leave Behind begins with a story about shit. It sounds snarky and unfair when I describe it that way, but that’s because shit occupies a rather maligned place in Western culture; the story itself is quite lovely. One of the authors (they intentionally avoid saying who writes which chapter, and although it’s often easy to tell, I’ll refrain from naming them individually), reluctant to “flush all those nutrients down the toilet,” goes outside of his house in the woods to contribute to the food chain by depositing his shit on the soil. If waste is something that’s no longer usable by anyone or anything, he explains, then the concept of “waste” doesn’t exist in nature, and sure enough, he soon sees slugs and bacteria breaking the piles down and plants growing in their places. However, he notices that when he’s prescribed antibiotics – which pass through a human’s system more or less intact – his poop starts to kill plants and soil life. “The soil in the two main spots where I relieved myself became bare,” he says. “[They] remained bare for the next two years.”

That casually terrifying observation sets the tone for the rest of the book. True to the title, What We Leave Behind is an exploration of what industrial civilization’s various endeavors – disposable products, plastics, mining, medicine, embalming and burial practices – leave behind, and the effects of capitalist priorities, “green” or otherwise, on the environment. Part I outlines each major form of pollution, from solid waste products to toxic gases, and for the most part, it’s as engrossing as it is important. The facts Jensen and McBay present should horrify you. The “Eastern Garbage Patch,” a floating island of garbage nearly the size of Africa, is only one of six six patches that cover 40% of the world’s oceans. The breast milk of women living across the Arctic, about as far from industrial civilization as one can get, contains levels of toxic chemicals that are “literally off the charts” because of wind and ocean currents. If facts like these don’t spur readers into action, then nothing will.


Despite its many merits, this book is riddled with sexism and racism, empty and often bizarre rhetoric, and sheer White American Dude ego. The hijinks begin in “Garbage,” when one of the authors starts talking about what he gives his friends for Christmas. “A pasta factory bagged the noodles that fell on the floor and sold them for ten cents a pound,” he writes. “I bought them by the hundred-pound bag. Not only did this provide chicken food, but it allowed me to gorge on pasta, and one trip to the factory completed all my Christmas shopping.” I don’t know about you, but if someone gave me an unliftable bag of processed food that was collected off a factory floor, I would consider ending my relationship with that person. The author also mentions dumpster diving for ice cream and feeding it to his dogs, cats, and chickens, seemingly oblivious to the fact that most dogs and cats (and I’m assuming birds) are lactose intolerant.

The book kind of goes off the deep end, though, in Part II, which discusses metaphysical concerns like morality and magical thinking. Most of this section veers sharply away from capitalism’s tangible effects on the environment and deals almost exclusively with what the authors believe are the problems with the Western way of thinking. To be sure, there are lots of problems with the Western way of thinking, but the thrust of the authors’ discussion feels lazy at best. Some of the philosophy is fine, but obvious – in “Morality Revisited,” they explain the difference between internal and external morality – but at other times they enter the realm of stoner logic. In “The Real World,” for example, they assert that the reason we watch TV or have MySpace accounts is because we can’t admit that we should never have been born, and “cannot face the possibility of actually living.” Like many of the doped conversations about, like, God and stuff that some of us stagger through as college freshmen, “The Real World” gives you the sense that Jensen and McBay could have produced something noteworthy if they’d only turned a critical eye to their own ideas. What ice cream and external morality and MySpace are even doing in a book about environmental justice, aside from rehashing the already well-documented need to change the way we think and live, is beyond me.

Except, wait, looks like they’ve got my concerns covered. In “Compartmentalization and its Opposite,” one of the authors brushes off criticism of his writing style by claiming that “my writing is organized along different principles than those that normally guide discourse and thought in this culture. I write this way to undercut or even destroy the monopoly, the stranglehold, that linear thinking has over our discourse, our thinking, our lives.” All right… except the very fact that his writing is comprehensible means that he’s working well within the boundaries of Western discourse. His claim seems to function more as a way to stave off uncomfortable questions than as a genuine exploration of thought. Criticizing consumer culture could have really worked in this book, especially for readers unfamiliar with radicalism or environmental justice movements, but only with a drop or two of humility.

The authors also have a habit of tossing out the phrase “This culture is killing the planet,” often several times in one chapter. By the time I reached Part II it had really started to bug me, and at first, I thought my problem was just my own geekery. See, when I hear “killing the planet,” I think Death Star versus Alderaan. But the more times I read it – I, an activist committed to environmental justice – the more irritated I got. I finally realized that it takes a remarkable amount of sloppiness to claim that human beings will destroy every last bit of life on Earth, right down to the tiniest microbe, before we kill ourselves. Again, though, the authors have heard this before. They respond:

Just two days ago I was talking to a group of students, and at one point I said that this culture is killing the planet (Oh, okay, you got me: I said it at many points). An activist about my age said, “But this culture can’t kill the planet. Algae or something will be left, and then in millions of years evolution will move in another direction. The Earth won’t die. It will just change.”

I asked if any of the students there happened to have a knife, and if so, could I borrow it… I stood, opened it, walked to the activist, and asked, “Could I have your hand?”

He said no.

I said, “I’m not going to kill you. I’m just going to cut off your little finger…. Then I’ll cut off another. And another. I’ll move up your arms, and then I’ll start on your feet, and move up your legs. You’re not going to die. At least not for awhile. You’re just going to change.”

Note that his analogy isn’t actually parallel to the situation. Because resources are dwindling and environmental destruction is just as toxic to us as it is to animal, plant, and microbial life, a better analogy would have him chopping off his own limbs simultaneously, with a blunter and blunter blade. But by that point, the question of who will die first doesn’t even matter anymore, and the whole exercise becomes embarrassing. Indeed, that doesn’t even seem to be his point. Don’t listen to what I’m actually saying, he seems to cry throughout the rest of the passage. Listen to the sentiment behind it! I was reminded of Nadia Abou-Karr’s response, on SPEAK!, to the common claim that Israelis are just like Nazis: “I explained [to someone who made the comparison] that this is too important, and the Israelis have committed their own atrocities. What they have done is big enough to stand on its own without the Nazi comparison.”

Exactly. What capitalism and industry are doing to human cultures and the global ecosystem is big enough to stand on its own. With 40% of the world’s oceans covered in garbage and women secreting poison from our breasts, why do the authors feel the need to hyperbolize? It’s precisely this type of frothing that loses audiences. Just as people roll their eyes when someone calls Israelis Nazis and then feigns surprise when the Oppression Olympics begin (well but Israelis don’t have death camps and but well see pogroms etc.), people who aren’t already steeped in environmental justice issues will lose interest when someone makes arguable claims and then threatens to sever the limbs of those who argue with him.

Where the book really gets infuriating, though, is when the authors turn their attention to women and people of color. In “Compartmentalization and its Opposite,” one of the authors waxes eloquent about his desire to understand and communicate with forests, streams… and the ladies. “I want to be able to begin to recognize the organization of a forest, the organization of a stream, the organization of a woman,” he says. “No, I want to be able to understand what a forest, a stream, a woman may wish to communicate to me.”

Oh no you didn’t. You know, fellas, we women actually have quite a long history of being classified alongside nonverbal entities that don’t have brains. If you don’t get why a statement like that is offensive, then take a male privilege 101 class and shut up until you learn. And if you want to understand what I may wish to communicate to you, then ask me.

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.

Aside from the fact that scapegoating oppressed groups for environmental damage is a pretty old tactic – notice how he pits women against fish? – by framing the use of birth control in the most frivolous and bourgeois terms possible, he manages to erase the most important, and common, reasons why women use birth control. Gone are the women who literally cannot afford children, or more children. Gone are the women who are raped within or outside of relationships; gone are the men who don’t like condoms but would never dream of supporting a child. Gone are the women who just want to have the type of sex life that Jensen and McBay probably enjoy. I doubt the authors bothered to educate themselves on any of these issues before pooh-poohing women’s frivolous coveting of second-wave buzzwords.

Finally, the entire book exoticizes and idealizes indigenous peoples. In “Technotopia: Industry,” the authors claim that

Some clever and persistent people have already developed a way (many ways, actually, literally thousands of ways) to replace big, industrial infrastructure with knowledge. They’re called indigenous people. 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.)

If you’re equating “indigenous person” with “nomadic hunter-gatherer” – that is, if you honestly don’t know that indigenous peoples have developed agriculture and permanent settlements right alongside colonizers – then you don’t know much about indigenous peoples. But why should you? You’re probably still working to understand what indigenous people, with their mysterious ways, may wish to communicate to you. Hey, keep fighting the good fight.

All these problems demonstrate why it’s so crucial to integrate feminist and anti-racist work into environmentalism. This is exactly what Vandana Shiva does in Soil Not Oil, a book that, like What We Leave Behind, explores globalization’s disastrous effects on the environment. Shiva doesn’t feel the need to fill her argument with embellishments and defensive posturing, though; she lets the facts speak for themselves. Exploring the root causes of food insecurity, climate change, and peak oil, she explains in meticulous detail what exactly capitalism is doing to Global South peoples and the natural world, covering the bogus system of carbon credit trading, the banning of rickshaws (a healthy and sustainable form of transportation) in Indian cities to make room for cars, violent land-grabs that allow transnational corporations to produce nonrenewable biofuels, privatization of commons like the atmosphere, and the destructive effects of monocultures, among other issues. She explains why each solution to environmental destruction offered by capitalists is doomed to failure (biofuels, for example, require more energy to make than they themselves produce, but are pretty great for short-term profit), and argues that the only way to reverse these destructive trends is for wealthy nations to drastically reduce our consumption of energy. Not the wrong kinds of energy – all energy. Like Jensen and McBay, she even explores some philosophical concepts, but the difference is that when she discusses satvik, rajsik, and taamsik and their relationship to Shakti, she explicitly ties them into hands-on environmental justice work.

In short, activists like Jensen and McBay could learn a lot from activists like Vandana Shiva. When the privileged refuse to loosen their grip on the environmental movement, you get dippy passages about mystical women and wise brown people. When those living on the front lines speak, you get insightful analysis and firsthand knowledge of real movement-making.

Like I said, though, What We Leave Behind still has plenty of merits. One particularly arresting passage is the story of a developer who, after an author’s neighbors pave a road, demands access to the forest behind their homes. What follows is a heartbreaking series of legal battles between the people who live on the land and the people who want to make money off the land. The developers coerce the county into giving them an permit. A biologist is hired to deny that protected species are living there. The developers lie, trespass, threaten, twist words, find loopholes, and generally do all manner of illegal activities to gain access to the forest. The most telling moment in the story is when the judge turns to the residents and assures them that “You have an interest in what happens on this land,” and then turns to the developers and says, “And we can all see that you certainly have an interest in what happens on this land.” For those of you who identify as pro-capitalist feminists – this is an example of what happens when people without much capital do everything right. They worked within the system. They took it to court. They remained steadfastly nonviolent. But when profits are valued over people, people lose.

The penultimate chapter, “Fighting Back,” is also strong, although it’s too vague to be of much immediate practical use. Some examples of successful contemporary movements, or a list of organizations and resources, would have been helpful. Still, like many parts of the book, it does a great job of explaining the problems with industrial civilization and then presenting alternative relationships with nature.

So if you’re interested, by all means, give it a shot. You’ll have to wade through all the pomposity, but it’s comprehensive, and you’ll learn something. When you’re ready to take action, though, you’ll find books like Soil Not Oil to be much more useful.

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29 Responses to Leaving Us Behind

  1. Lauren says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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. 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 says:

    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 says:

    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 http://www.kathleeninthewoods.com/ (won’t mention exact title of book as it might get the comment rejected)

  9. Medea says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

    Just think, the end of BSG…

  19. Raincitygirl says:

    Just think, the end of BSG…

    Um, do we HAVE to?

  20. Entomologista says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    “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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

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

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