Resistance Against Empire on Political Media Review
by Simon Czerwinskyj
Political Media Review
July 21, 2010
Derrick Jensen just won’t quit, that’s for sure. The word “prolific” doesn’t really do Jensen’s output justice; this guy is like an anarcho-primitivist version of Stephen King. And much like Stephen King, he’s constantly finding new ways to evoke a feeling of terror in his readers. While King is constantly giving his readers the willies by way of fictional monsters and horrifying situations, Jensen shocks his readers by asking them to look in the mirror and examine how their lifestyles effect the Earth. And the conclusion is always the same: industrial civilization is killing the planet. Scary.
In recent years, Jensen has begun soliciting other socially conscious individuals for their opinions and testimony on where we’re headed as a species. Resistance Against Empire is his third collection of interviews with a broad range of activists, teachers, organizers, and advocates. While most of these talks are almost ten years old, the content is still extremely relevant. Jensen’s interviewees tackle modern slavery, US food aid to foreign nations, consumerism, privacy issues, military spending, nuclear proliferation, the US prison industrial complex, and much of what exists in between these issues.
The book begins with economist J.W. Smith. Smith talks about the economic exploitation of other countries by the US: for labor, for resources, and for the general buoyancy of our culture of convenience. Jensen’s style of interview is effective in that he lets his subjects talk; his questions are simple, his comments are concise, and he plays the soft-pedaling devil’s advocate to explore each side of the issue, eliciting answers to the well-worn “Well, isn’t it good for their economy?” arguments and other old mainstream media chestnuts. J.W. Smith lays out our strategy for US land monopolization in other countries: “At first by conquest, and then by inequality continually being restructured into law.” This theme runs through the book; by dispossessing people of their land, and thus their ability to grow their own food and be self-sufficient, they are left with few choices but the ones we provide them.
Anuradha Mittal claims “Destroying local agricultural infrastructures is a central function of food aid”. International loan sharks such as the IMF and WTO effectively undercut local farmers in foreign nations in order to foist our cheap, imported food product on the population, who are then beholden to the economic will of these organizations. Author of The Politics of Heroin Alfred McCoy details the CIA’s role in enabling and supporting local warlords in Southeast Asia; the consequence of this support was the nurturing and expansion of the international drug trade by way of warlords turned drug lords. Subsequently, political power and gainful employment became entirely dependent on drug production and trafficking (again, the land and its people are co-opted by the “needs” of industrialized European and western nations). In essence, the drug war creates new, circuitous markets; as the myopic, media-savvy authorities stamp out one large drug trade for publicity’s sake, they’re blind to all the other resourceful drug lords springing up in the periphery. Prohibition increases production.
Modern slavery also thrives and depends on the needs and machinations of industrialized nations. Countries with higher international debts have higher incidence of slavery, as gutted local economies are rife with desperate unemployed. The exploited are put in impossible situations, saddled with a debt they will never be able to pay (their work is merely collateral, and does not go towards lessening the initial debt), laboring in perpetuity under debts as small as $50 US dollars. Contract slaves sign a piece of paper they many times cannot read, which forgoes their rights and traps them in endless “jobs” (such as prostitution). According to Kevin Bales, due to a population explosion and economic and social vulnerability, 27 million slaves exist globally as of the year 2000. And currently, slaves are a lot cheaper: a slave in the 1850s was typically $50,000, while a slave today ranges from $50-60.
Privacy advocate Katherine Abrecht asks “How does our society get us to replace acute, healthy outrage with a chronic, there’s-nothing-we-can-do-about-it, soul-killing ache?” Resistance Against Empire makes an attempt to enrage its readers into action through education, and will embolden sympathetic readers, while it probably will not change your average CEO’s mind (I wonder if Jensen has ever considering infiltrating CEO book clubs? Do CEOs read books? Or are they too busy eating babies?). However, there is a surfeit of viable solutions to alleviate the overwhelming amount of grim details, with each interview ending with a mere morsel of potential future progress. That said, Jensen has compiled an ambitious compendium of truly important issues, and the book is an eye-opening and educational read.