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In and Out of Crisis Reviewed on MRR

MRR
By Stuart Schrader
August 2010
 
As Oi Polloi once asked, are we punx or mice? Is the economic crisis the result of stupidity, greed, deregulation, and derivatives—poxy pustules on an otherwise sound system? Or is it the result of structural contradictions of capitalism, contradictions whose management frequently takes the form of stupidity and greed, recently abetted by deregulation and derivatives? If you chose answer #2, collect a gluebag and proceed.


Around the time punk rockers first gobbed on the world, great changes in the capitalist world system were afoot. Punk rock was symptom, signal, and even accelerant of many of these changes. Today, the degree to which the economic crisis is engendering systemic changes remains unclear. Punk rock—ever persistent in its Weltzschmerz, bristles, studs and acne—need not be unprepared either to face a changing world or to aid in its change. Whether three chords, tartan trousers, and shoplifted malt liquor signal preparedness if up to you, but one essential addition to our arsenal is surely In and Out of Crisis by Greg Albo, Sam Gindin, and Leo Panitch.


After reading many accounts of the crisis, including some that are quite compelling page-turners (the best are Meltdown by Paul Mason and The Big Short by Michael Lewis), In and Out of Crisis is bracing. It dispenses with the moralistic platitudes and tendentiousness one finds in the mainstream and on the left, without giving the false impression that the system can be patched like a pair of crust pants and sent back out into the pit. It is rather a jargon-free, easy-to-read account that focuses neither too closely on the day-to-day details of what has been called “the great unraveling” from summer 2007 to fall 2008, nor gives such a long-distance view that the incompetence, cravenness, guile, and greed of the financiers and the Bush administration lose pertinence. Importantly, however, in these writers’ view, the groundwork for the crisis stretches back further than for most others’, to the turbulent late 60s/early 70s, when capitalists found their profit margins imperiled by working-class militancy and began to implement the changes that would be called “neoliberalism,” a set of policies and practices intended to restore lost capitalist class power and redirect wealth upwards. (Punk rock, I contend, was the knell whose tolling indicated the end and transformation of the militancies that were growing increasingly obsolescent as the object of their abhorrence—capitalist classes together with capitalist states—was evolving.)
The writers describe their framework as “radical political economy, and in particular its lineages in Marx and state theory,” which is accurate but somewhat coded, as many writers on the crisis whose books are much less useful will claim a similar mantle. Moreover, although aimed at a lay audience, this book is engaged in a debate with several strains of present-day Marxist thought. Nevertheless, following the critique of political economy launched by Marx, from my perspective, the most important aspect of Albo, Gindin, and Panitch’s book is its explosion of the usual dichotomous categories through which most understand the crisis: Wall St./Main St., public/private, state/market. Instead, the dichotomy—or, better put, dialectic—they use, both as a tool of analysis and as a call to political action, is capital/labor. In mainstream accounts of the crisis, an excessively permissive regulatory climate allowed financial firms to take great risks, including lending money to borrowers who would not be able to repay the loans.

Housing prices were increasing and thought to be a fool-proof investment, and as they increased, more and more people who were less and less qualified received first, second, and third mortgages. Like a bolt from the blue, borrowers started to be unable to repay their loans, which set off a cascade of delinquencies. In the days before this permissive regulatory climate, mortgages were held by local institutions mostly. Now, they were “sliced and diced,” packaged together as bonds that were bought and sold around the globe, with insurance taken out against these bonds—bonds which rating agencies gave perfect grades. The insurance was more lucrative than the rate of returns on the bonds themselves because it seemed so impossible that they would be worthless. Once individual mortgages within the bonds defaulted, the bonds themselves, due to the complex way they were constructed, began to lose value precipitously. Financial firms were exposed to great losses because they were over-leveraged due to regulatory changes, meaning that, for example, for every buck Bear Stearns had in its pocket, it owed $33 in debt. When the debt-collectors came calling—the other big financial firms—because they rightly feared their own mortality, Bear Stearns could not meet its debt obligations. And within several months, due to the highly interconnected world of finance, and despite rescue efforts by the US government, everything came crashing down.


Nothing in this account is untrue. But for Albo, Gindin, and Panitch, the order of causes, the time period in which the causes developed, and most importantly, the relationship between the players are flawed. For them, it is fallacious to construe the relationship between the state and the financial firms as one whereby the former protects the latter from their own avarice. Rather, the state and finance are interrelated pieces of a unitary system that is crisscrossed with contradictions but that ultimately uses each to the benefit of the expansion of global capitalism under the hegemonic aegis of the United States. Whereas some consider the state and its regulatory capacities to be akin to a traffic cop in the global financial architecture, a better analogy, in my view, would be to call the state the builder of the road on which the cop is perched, a road built in the most direct possible way between two ziggurats owned by hedge-fund managers. Oh yeah, the financing for the road’s construction? Provided by investors whose names appear in rolodexes on the top floors of those ziggurats. Workers? If they can avoid getting run over and catch a ride on that road, they’re lucky—and there’s no shortage of obstacles in the way, including all manner of security technologies and prisons to keep them from slowing down traffic. 
Back in the days just after the second world war, the state conceived its role as building a road that would enable workers to get to and from work, to the mutual benefit of labor and capital (of course there were huge gaps here for everyone who wasn’t a straight white male). The relationship between finance and the state was less chummy back then but it was still indispensable. What happened is that by the late 60s, just as women and nonwhites were achieving some measure of equality, the mutual benefit thing became a little too mutual in the eyes of capital, for a variety of reasons explained in this book. Two primary results were: first, repression of wages. Since the late 1960s, as you surely perceive, as the rich grew exponentially richer, wages have been essentially stagnant for the working class. The cost of living continually increases, but the size of your paycheck hasn’t kept pace. Second, as wages dropped and employment became more precarious (part-time, without benefits, non-union, etc.), capital had a problem generating demand for all the crap it was producing. A seemingly easy fix emerged (through a great deal of political struggle and legal reforms): give those who can’t afford to buy the crap ostensibly cheap and easy credit so they can afford it. The distance from here to derivatives, mortgage-backed securities, and credit-default swaps was not great. Albo, Gindin, and Panitch do not delve into great detail regarding the world-scale machinations that underwrote this system, with changes in interest rates, balance of payments, trade surpluses, etc., but they give you enough to make clear that these arcane processes, which occasionally leave the business pages and seem to enter everyday life, actually are deeply related to the tangible realities of our labor and our political landscape.


As this book is meant to be an introduction to the crisis, I cannot criticize it for oversimplifying, but I am uncomfortable with two aspects. First, there is too much focus on traditional, Rust Belt industry, like auto manufacturing. Given Albo’s former position in the Canadian Autoworkers’ Union, this emphasis is expected, but whereas the authors are actually quite admiring of the technological dynamism of capitalism (as was Marx), their focus on the auto industry, which in the US is so dreadfully stodgy, conservative, and cynical, gives them little space to analyze how this dynamism in other spheres of industry nevertheless relates to the overall crisis of capitalism. After all, less than 13% of the US populace is unionized today, and among those who are, government employment predominates. Books like Nice Work If You Can Get It by Andrew Ross focus on the ways technological dynamism is no solution to workers’ problems: similarly precarious labor conditions are shared by manual laborers and well-trained internet/information workers—some of whom are surely globe-trotting friends of yours.

Second, although the book is careful to mention that extending credit to the poor is not a new phenomenon and has always been conceived as a way to keep the poor in line, tacitly supporting capital’s needs as they struggle to make their monthly payments, a more acute analysis of the racialized and gendered dynamics of the lead-up to the crisis and its fallout is absolutely necessary if we are to organize against its recurrence. Nonetheless, this book is a start in diagnosing the problem, which to punx should be clear—capitalism!—and in explicating exactly what that vexed term has come to mean in our lifetimes.

What is to be done? This question is not so easily answered, but the book offers some guidance. One of the book’s answers, though still requiring more specifics, will be easily recognizable to readers of this magazine: do it ourselves, outside the logics of capital accumulation. True then, true now. Are we punx or mice?

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War and Civil Disobedience on PMR

disobedienceBy John Duerk
Political Media Review

November 4, 2010

For many, the work of academics like Howard Zinn is an invaluable resource because he manages to inform and inspire in a way that is accessible to anyone with a sympathetic ear. On this audio recording of a lecture from 2008, he explores the complex phenomena of war and how it relates to United States foreign policy. As one might expect, there are a handful of very important themes that he touches upon that do not receive adequate attention or analysis by everyday people or pundits in the mainstream media.

Referring to the conflict in Vietnam, Zinn explains how our political leaders often justify the necessity of fighting our adversaries. Using our fear as leverage, they convince us that if we do not take military action and maintain our resolve regardless of how bleak the situation might appear, then we risk a much worse outcome.

Next, Zinn points out that we should question the motivations of public officials and what they tell us is important to them. Not surprisingly, it is always possible that they will lie to the citizenry in pursuit of their agenda. He argues that this happens even in a democratic nation because political leaders do not want to lose their power and control.

Lastly, Zinn discusses the importance of understanding history. Why? Historical knowledge empowers people to recognize patterns of military aggression. Just consider the wars we have fought against other countries such as Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam, as well as our occupation of Cuba after the Spanish-American War – all of which he contends are evidence of a misdirected desire to expand. At different points in his lecture he also mentions both Iraq and Afghanistan. Beyond all of these notable examples, he personalizes this matter by sharing his own experience as a bombardier in World War II and explains how technology separates a person from the indiscriminate killing that occurs.

While there is great value in Zinn’s lecture, it has some serious flaws. First, in his pursuit of breadth he sacrifices depth, in that, he mentions a number of countries we have fought, but does not talk about any of the wars in detail. Highlighting a pattern in US foreign policy to make one’s argument is important, but sometimes it is better to do more with less during a short talk like this and elaborate on a couple of specific cases.

A second flaw is Zinn’s discussion of civil disobedience. Yes, he mentions some historical examples of protest, but this is not enough if he truly wants to stop war altogether. Here there needs to be more discussion as to what has worked in the past so people walk away with concrete ideas about how they can organize and resist. Both of these issues aside, the major themes in this lecture are definitely worth thinking about because they represent an important contribution to the discourse on war that you are not likely to get from many other sources.

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Demanding the Impossible on Powell's Books Review-a-Day

demandingAnarchy through the Ages

by Chris Faatz
Powells.com
March 12, 2011

Anarchism is usually belittled as hopelessly utopian or mindlessly violent, but, in reality, it's neither. Rather, it's a rich cauldron of social thought from which we've gleaned a lot historically and will likely continue to do so in the decades to come. Peter Marshall has written a tome worthy of this varied history. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism gives activists and scholars (as well as the merely curious) plenty to chew on.

There's no way to escape the obvious: Demanding the Impossible is a huge book (818 pages, including notes, bibliography, and index); the text is tiny, and the gist is serious, hard-hitting, and often dense. But one of the enjoyments of this book is that you don't have to sit down and read the whole thing cover to cover. It's easier to browse; read what intrigues, what interests you, in no particular order. Pick away at it.

It begins with anarchism in theory, and moves rapidly into chapters that argue that such worldviews as Buddhism and Taoism have their anarchist components. Marshall follows this train of thought through Christianity into the English Revolution and the Enlightenment. He then highlights individuals who, he asserts, include aspects of anarchist thinking in their approach. Among these are Nietzsche, John Stuart Mill, and Henry David Thoreau ("The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right"). The author then moves on to biographies of major anarchist thinkers and theorists: Emma Goldman, "the most dangerous woman"; William Godwin; Max Stirner, the apostle of radical egoism; Proudhon; the Russians Bakunin, Tolstoy, and Kropotkin and many more.

There are a number of lesser lights represented, as well, in chapters on the American individualist anarchist tradition, typified by Benjamin Tucker ("The Anarchists are simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats"), or in the chapter on German anarchists. A favorite of mine is the immensely cultured and principled Rudolf Rocker, who spent a great part of his life organizing Yiddish-speaking workers in London and whose works on anarcho-syndicalism are read to great benefit to this day.

In one section, Marshall calls Mohandas Gandhi an anarchist. He writes that "On several occasions he called himself a kind of anarchist and always opposed the centralized State and the violence it engendered." Take this as you will. I'm still not convinced, yet somehow that doesn't seem to be the point. This book is written to stimulate and arouse discussion, not necessarily solely to convince. It fulfills that task brilliantly.

The next section of the book is geographical. The fields of bygone glory are here, as in Spain and Russia where the black banner flew high -- but there's also fascinating reading on Asia, Latin America, and Northern Europe. Much of this information will prove new to even the most seasoned anarcho reader. Marshall's done a real service here, unearthing material that is germane and does so in gritty detail.

The last section of the book deals with contemporary anarchism. Noam Chomsky makes an unsurprising appearance. The anarcho-capitalism of Murray Rothbard and friends is included, as is Murray Bookchin, the founder of Social Ecology, the point at which anarchism and the environmental movement meet at their most constructive. Neolithic anarchy makes an appearance, as do the post-modern anarchos of the Temporary Autonomous Zone and other such radical breaks from anarchist tradition. The anti-globalization movement is here in all its splendor, as well as the Zapatistas and other indigenous movements for liberation.

Interestingly enough, it's with the Neolithic anarchists that Marshall apparently stands. He writes:

I would argue that in Europe, at least the initial stage of settled agriculture -- the first 3,000 years or so before the Bronze Age -- was not a decline but an actual improvement in the well-being of human beings. It was a creative period during which society was co-operative, egalitarian, creative and comparatively free.
Peter Marshall paints the reality of a global movement for radical, fundamental social change. It's not always a pretty picture -- sometimes anarchists seem to spend more time fighting among themselves then they do with their enemies -- but it's both exhilarating and, yes, inspiring. Thanks to Marshall for giving us a book as tool, as weapon, as spur to more deeply engage in the struggle for the maximum possible freedom and as reference to learn from the experiences of our forebears.


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Filmmaker David Sheen speaks at TEDxJohannesburg

In addition to authoring the scratch video The Red Pill (2003), David Sheen has been documenting, studying, designing, and building ecological housing since 2001. He apprenticed with Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley at the North American School of Natural Building, and at Michael Smith's Emerald Earth. He also learned biomimicry, the study of nature's design principles and its application to human habitats, with architect Eugene Tsui.

First Earth features curving art-poem dwellings in the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the US; thousand-year-old apartment-and-ladder architecture of Taos Pueblo; centuries-old and contemporary cob homes in England; classic round thatched huts in West Africa; bamboo-and-cob structures now on the rise in Thailand; and soaring Moorish-style earthen skyscrapers in Yemen. Featuring appearances by renowned cultural observers and activists Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Starhawk, Chellis Glendinning, and Mark Lakeman as well as  major natural building teachers Michael G. Smith, Becky Bee, Joseph Kennedy, Sunray Kelly, Janell Kapoor, Elke Cole, Ianto Evans, Bob Theis, and Stuart Cowan.

 

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The Nature of Human Brain Work on the Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
By Bruce Robison
February 27, 2011

In September 1868 Joseph Dietzgen, a self-educated master tanner from the Rhineland, sent Karl Marx a manuscript on the 'faculty of thought' asking for advice on whether to publish it. The following year there appeared The Nature of Human Brain Work – A Renewed Critique of Pure and Practical Reason (NHBW), now made available again in the original 1906 English translation by Ernst Untermann with a biographical sketch by Larry Garbone.

Dietzgen, who had long considered himself a follower of Marx, had been inspired to write a work on the basis of human thought and knowledge by both his 'longing for a consistent and systematic conception of the world' and by the political belief that only the working class could potentially understand the world independently of narrow class interests.

Today Dietzgen is generally a forgotten figure in Marxism. Having been described as everything from a positivist and empiricist to a forerunner of Western Marxism, an inconsistent materialist and a necessary supplement to Marx, one might conclude that Dietzgen was a hopelessly inconsistent philosopher. In fact, reading Dietzgen as a whole, a coherent, if not always consistently expressed, set of ideas emerges. NHBW is their first formulation.

Dietzgen begins by discussing the nature of philosophy and contrasting it to science. Speculative philosophy develops reason out of thought itself without reference to the material, sensuously experienced world. As science has advanced, the realm of speculation has diminished and, if philosophy is to be the most general of sciences, it has to concern itself not with idle speculation but with 'explain[ing] the general nature of the thought process' (16). At the same time, Dietzgen rejects one contemporary alternative to idealism in Germany, the reductionist materialism of Büchner, Vogt and Moleschott. He acknowledges that`thinking is a function of the brain and nerve centre just as writing is a function of the hand. But the study of the anatomy of the hand can no more solve the question: What is writing? than the physiological study of the brain can bring us nearer to the solution of the question: What is thought?' (17)Thought has to be explained in terms of the faculties of mind rather than brain function (thus 'brain work' in the title might be better translated as 'mental labour').

Dietzgen bases his analysis on a monist ontology in which the world is one interconnected whole, which is merely the most abstract and general form of existence. All our thoughts only deal with parts of this whole and are defined in a particular context: 'Perfectly true, perfectly universal is only the general existence, the universe... But the real world is absolutely relative, absolutely perishable. All truths are simply parts of this world, partial truths.' (42)

There is nothing else, no unknowable 'thing in itself' hiding behind the manifestations of general existence which we experience through our senses. 'Phenomena appear, that is all.' (36) Knowledge is never complete, yet has no a priori limits.

From this, Dietzgen derives a dialectic in which 'opposites are mutually relative' (43), that is, interdependent and contextually fluid, and investigates pairs such as truth and error, matter and mind, cause and effect, part and whole and means and ends. However on occasion, Dietzgen blurs important distinctions by asserting the identity of two concepts when they have a more complex relationship.

Thought has then for its object, without which it could not exist, the sense impressions given to the mind by 'the passing and manifold manifestations of nature and life'. (43) However they do not simply define the content of thought – as claimed by those who accuse Dietzgen of having a 'reflection theory' of consciousness. Rather they are 'raw material for our brain activity'. (36) Thought has an active role in forming the material supplied to the senses into forms of thought. Specifically, thought abstracts from the infinite interconnections of its object and generalises from the immediate and individual perceptions of the senses ('the concrete') into categories it uses for the purpose of understanding ('the general').

Different abstractions and generalisations are possible from a particular set of sense impressions. Dietzgen does not directly address the issue of how then shared and scientific concepts arise but points to the role of scientific method in distinguishing truth from error and notes in passing that 'science is as much as social matter as material production' (5-6) and that the 'truth of theory is manifested in practice' (36,5).

For Dietzgen, sense impressions are not merely that which is physically tangible, audible etc. Imperceptible forces such as gravity, magnetism and electricity are just as material. But Dietzgen more controversially claims that 'the intangible idea is also material and real. I perceive my idea of a desk just as plainly as the desk itself...' If there are objections to the word 'material', he continues, we can call mind real, 'as real as the tangible table, the visible light, as the audible sound.' (18-19)

Thought can thus take itself as its own object and this creates the possibility of speculative philosophy that cuts itself off from sense impressions. This move led Lenin (1972) to accuse Dietzgen of making concessions to idealism but he is rather seeking to explain how idealism can come about. Seeing thought as real also provides an important corrective to the vulgar materialists and empiricists. ‘The idealist regards reason alone as the source of all understanding, while the materialist looks upon the world of sense impressions in the same way. Nothing is required for a solution of this contradiction but the comprehension of the relative interdependence of these two sources of understanding.’ (69)

The transformation of sense impressions into forms of thought enables Dietzgen to arrive at a unity in which thought is both active in ordering the world and creating our ideas while being based in a material reality. This would later lead to Dietzgen coining the term `dialectical materialism’ to describe his philosophy.

In the last two chapters of NHBW Dietzgen uses this worldview as a basis for critique in the fields of natural science and of ethics and morality. He criticises scientists who, once they stray outside their own field of science fall prey to all sorts of philosophical errors. He does this by examining dialectically the three relationships between matter and mind, cause and effect and force and matter.

Dietzgen then seeks to contextualise those ideas presented as eternal moral truths. He here uses a historical materialist method, tying morality to human needs expressed differently in different times and contexts and thus arrives at a class definition of morality : 'the Russian noble considers serfdom a rational institution and the English bourgeois the so-called liberty of his wage worker, both of these institutions are not absolutely rational, but only relatively in a more or less limited circle.' (84) The basis of a false eternal morality lies in taking these historic forms as absolute. Dietzgen similarly derives a dialectical understanding of ends and means, asserting here what Ollman (2003) attributes to Dietzgen as a philosophy of internal relations: 'Things are what they are only within and by their interrelations. Circumstances alter cases.' (97)

NHBW is the first work in what can be broadly called Marxist philosophy not written by Marx and Engels. Engels (1990) later famously cited it as showing Dietzgen to have discovered 'materialist dialectic... independently of us' (not wholly accurately – Dietzgen had been familiar with several of Marx's writings and had discerned a philosophical element in Capital). Marx (1988) noted the strong influence of Feuerbach, with whom Dietzgen corresponded, in NHBW, while Dietzgen had stated that he had not read Hegel, which Marx saw as a weakness among 'much that was excellent' in NHBW. His account of the processes of conceptualisation is, from this viewpoint, incomplete. While his starting point is similar to Hegel’s, his dialectic does not form a system and skips some dialectical categories of importance to Marx.
NHBW thus perhaps indicates the possibilities and limits of a Marxist philosophy based on Feuerbach
rather than Hegel.

Dietzgen's ideas are sometimes expressed in somewhat clunky prose and he sometimes repeats himself. However NHBW should be read, firstly for its significance as the thought of an early Marxist, the first to develop philosophical ideas and to reach an independent understanding that was both dialectical and materialist. But it is of more than purely historic interest. There are several ideas in NHBW that are important in their own right. Firstly, Dietzgen's dialectical monism enables him to develop a theory of knowledge which he uses to attack the idea that there are aspects of the world that are unknowable. He later used this to critique the emerging neo-Kantian school in Germany. Secondly, his insistence on the need for a theory of mind as well as of brain activity points towards the need for a critical psychology at a time when that discipline did not even exist. His statement of the materiality of thought underpins this and enables him to give a materialist explanation of speculative thought. Finally, Dietzgen's account of the processes of abstraction and generalisation in the formation of concepts remains of wide application.

It finds echoes 60 years later in Vygotsky’s (1986) account of conceptualisation and has been applied today in fields as different as Marxology (Ollman, 2003) and information systems (Robinson, 1997).

The republication of NHBW is welcome and will hopefully lead to a revival of interest in Dietzgen's writings, few of which are readily available today.

References

    •    Engels, F. 1990. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. In: Marx and Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 26. (London: Lawrence and Wishart)
    •    Marx, K. and Engels, F. 1988. Letters 1868-70. Marx and Engels: Collected Works, Vol. 43. (London: Lawrence and Wishart)
    •    Lenin, V.I. 1972. Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, In: Collected Works, Vol. 14. (Moscow: Progress Publishers)
    •    Ollman, B. 2003. Dance of the Dialectic (Urbana: University of Illinois Press)
    •    Robinson, B. 1998. Dialectics and Modelling in Information Systems. Systemist, 20, 208-220.
    •    Vygotsky, L.S. 1986. Thought and Language (Cambridge: MIT Press)





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Don't Mourn, Balkanize! in the New York Journal of Books

New York Journal of Books
by Andrew Rosenbaum

When this writer worked in Kosovo, attempts to interview people from the small community of Serbs that remained there after the European Union took over the city almost invariably failed. The Serbs were afraid to talk. Even a well-known journalist just clammed up when asked about the future of the Serb community in an independent Kosovo.

So it is good, almost exactly three years after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in February 2008, to see this publication by a Serbian intellectual with very outspoken views on Serbia, Kosovo, and the Balkans in general. The book provides a vivid inside view of Balkan politics, and is clearly required reading for anyone interested in the region. The 35-year-old author, Andrej Grubačić, is a leftist social activist, and a founder of the World Social Forum, a kind of annual anti-globalization fest.

Mr. Grubačić is really interesting when he describes local politics, Belgrade intrigues, deals, corruption—all of the insider info that completes our understanding of Serbia and its neighbors. Mr. Grubačić is unbearably dull when he gets into macroeconomics, anti-globalization, and idealism. Whatever one’s position may be on issues like globalization, one has heard all that the author has to say on this subject before—been there, done that. . . .

Mr. Grubačić also proposes what he calls a “balkanization from below, a pluricultural concept in which, however, rejects that of the European Union.” In this idea, Balkan people need to “find the strength and orientation for a new politics for another Balkans. It should be a politics of a Balkan Federation. A participatory society, built from the bottom up, through struggles for the creation of an inclusive democratic awareness, participatory social experiments, and an emancipatory practice that would win the political imagination of all people in the region.”

If that kind of thing grabs your imagination, then you will find a wealth of it in this book. Perhaps the reader should consider, however, that until a few years ago, these people at the “bottom up” from which Grubačić’s new society would be built, had to be forcibly prevented from slaughtering each other.

NATO’s intervention in Kosovo—where it still maintains about 8,000 troops—is viewed by Mr. Grubačić as an aggression against Serbia (the incredibly silly preface to the book talks about “American colonialism,” apparently forgetting that Kosovo is administered by the European Union, although such commentators think the E.U. is just an extension of the U.S. . . .). In Kosovo alone, 6,000 ethnic Albanians were murdered by Serb forces. After the E.U. took over Kosovo, the Albanians “ethnically cleansed” about 1,000 Serbs. The Serbs also suffered in Croatia’s war of independence, in which vast numbers of Serbs were brutally executed. The atrocities of Serbs in the Bosnian war are well known.

This does not sound like the basis on which to form a new community based on social experiments in popular cooperation. The trendy citations included from the fascinating French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas are nice, but do nothing to advance Mr. Grubačić’s cause. Why drag him into this mess?

Fortunately, there is a lot more in the book than this idealistic blather. Where Mr. Grubačić is really good is when he is giving us the goods on the people and events that have shaped the Balkans.

The assassinated Prime Minister Zoran Djindjić is described as “a victim of his own alliances with organized crime.” When the vice president of the government declares, “Being a democracy, Serbia requires no opposition party,” Mr. Grubačić has a good laugh at him, and at the government’s shameful use of emergency powers. There is an extremely clear and detailed exposition of how former President Slobodan Milošević, who died in prison at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia Hague while being tried for crimes against humanity, consolidated his power in the country.

Here is Mr. Grubačić at his best: “The Serbian pharmaceutical factory Jugoremedija, from the town of Zrenjanin, was privatized in 2000, in such a way that 58% of the shares were given to the workers, and the state took 42%. In 2002, the state sold its shares to Jovica Stefanovic, an infamous local capitalist, who made his fortune smuggling cigarettes, and who was wanted by Interpol at the time he bought the shares of Jugoremedija. As with all the other buyers in Serbian privatization, Stefanovic was not even investigated for money laundering, because the Serbian government’s position at that time was (and still is), that it’s better to have dirty money in privatization, than to let workers manage the company, because that would ‘bring us back to the dark days of self-management.’”

You can learn a lot about the Balkans from this book, so it’s worth the slog through the banal anti-Americanism and knee-jerk leftist politics to get at it.

Incidentally, the word “Balkan,” according to the OED, started out by referring to the mountain range of that name, and later to the region defined by that mountain range. Only later did it begin to refer to the countries in that region, i.e. the “Balkan States” (Fortnightly Review, 1891). It has never been used to define a people; there are “Albanians” and “Slovenes,” but there are no “Balkanites.” Since everything in the region seems to be pulling in the direction of ethnic self-determination, the proposal to create a kind of spiritual Balkan union seems to us, in all humility, to be pure fantasy. But readers can surmise what they will.

Reviewer Andrew Rosenbaum has been a journalist for twenty years at Euromoney, TIME, and MSN Money, covering politics, business, and finance. He currently resides in France.




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Robert King in London, October 2011


Robert Hillary King, aka Robert King Wilkerson, is part of a trio of American political prisoners collectively known as The Angola Three.

King’s membership in the only prison-recognized chapter of the Black Panther Party, and his work organizing against prison injustices, resulted in his being targeted for retaliation by prison officials. Despite overwhelming evidence exonerating him, prison-snitch testimony alone convicted him and he received a life sentence for the death of a fellow inmate. King’s tenacity in proving his innocence came to fruition when a Federal Appeals Court finally adjured him “probably innocent.” In February 2001, after thirty-one years of imprisonment and twenty-nine continuous years of solitary confinement, King walked out of the gates of Angola a free man.

Upon his release King was quoted as saying, “I may be free from Angola, but Angola will never be free of me!”

by Marion Brown, former Black Panther and prison activist

You can also check out Robert King's website at http://www.kingsfreelines.com/

UK Tour Dates

Tuesday 4th - 7 pm: Frontline Club
Robert King in conversation with Clive Stafford Smith
www.frontlineclub.com/events

Wednesday 12th - 4 pm: John Moores University Liverpool
Screening followed by a discussion with Robert King
www.robertkingccseseminar.eventbrite.com

Thursday 13th - 6 pm: Grenadian Overseas Association
Screening followed by Q & A with Robert King
WNW.manchesterlandofthefree.eventbrite.com

Friday 14th - 6 pm: International Slavery Museum
Screening followed by Q & A with Robert King & Vadim Jean
www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/events/displayevent.aspx?eventID=6542&venue=10

Monday 17th - 6 pm: King's College London
Screening followed by Q & A with Robert King and Vadim Jean
www.robertkingkcl.eventbrite.com

Tuesday 18th - 630 pm: Oxford University
Screening followed by Q & A with Robert King & Vadim Jean
www.angola3oxford.wordpress.com/details-tickets

Wednesday 19th - 6 30 pm: University of London Union
Screening followed by Q & A with Robert King & Vadim Jean
www.//angola3ulu.eventbrite.com

The Film

In the Land of the Free... is a documentary feature narrated by Samuel L Jackson that examines the story of 3 extraordinary men known as the "Angola 3" who were targeted by the prison authorities for being members of the Black Panther party because they fought against the terrible conditions that were rife in the prison.

The "Angola 3": Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King, have spent almost a century between them in solitary confinement in Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Herman and Albert are still held in solitary confinement today after thirty eight years. How could this be? In America... In Obama's America...

www.inthelandofthefreefilm.com

The Book


From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography of Black Panther Robert Hillary King
by Robert Hillary King
Published: October 2008
ISBN: 978-1-60486-039-9
Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 224
Dimensions: 6 by 9
Subjects: Biography, Politics, Prison Abolition

$24.95

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. This is his story.

It begins at the beginning: born black, born poor, born in Louisiana in1942, King journeyed to Chicago as a hobo at the age of 15. He married and had a child, and briefly pursued a semi-pro boxing career to help provide for his family. Just a teenager when he entered the Louisiana penal system for the first time, King tells of his attempts to break out of this system, and his persistent pursuit of justice where there is none.

Yet this remains a story of inspiration and courage, and the triumph of the human spirit. The conditions in Angola almost defy description, yet King never gave up his humanity, or the work towards justice for all prisoners that he continues to do today. From the Bottom of the Heap, so simply and humbly told, strips bare the economic and social injustices inherent in our society, while continuing to be a powerful literary testimony to our own strength and capacity to overcome.

The Buzz:

"For a person to go through 29 years in one of the most brutal prisons in America and still maintain his sanity and humanity, that's what makes people want to listen to Robert."
—Malik Rahim, Co-Founder of Common Ground Collective

"Friendships are forged in strange places. My friendship with Robert King and the other two  Angola 3 men Herman Wallace and  Albert Woodfox is based on respect. These men, as Robert reveals in this stunning account of his life, have fought tirelessly to redress injustice, not only for themselves, but for others. This is a battle Robert is determined to win and we are  determined to help him."
—Gordon Roddick,  Co-founder of The Body Shop and activist

"When there is a train wreck, there is a public inquiry, to try to avoid it recurring. Robert King's conviction was a train wreck, and this book is perhaps the only way the world will get to understand why. There are more than 3,000 people serving life without the possibility of parole in Angola today, some as young as 14 when they were sent there, and many of them innocent but without the lawyer to prove it. We owe it to them, and others in a similar plight around the world, to read this book."
—Clive Stafford Smith, Director of Reprieve

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Read book reviews




Crossing the American Crises Tour Dates

Crossing

On September 15, 2008, the United States fell into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The same day, we set out on a trip around the country to ask the American people what they had to say about it. In 2010, we went back to see how things had changed. The financial forecasters say the recession is over, but the reality is otherwise.

Their stories reveal desperation, indignation, hope, dreams and a disastrous economic breakdown; chaos generated by a system of inequality. But the financial meltdown is just one of several human rights crises now shaking the United States—in housing, education, health care, etc. The solutions to “Crossing the American Crises” are in the hands of the people.

Featuring the Vermont Worker’s Center, LA's Bus Rider's Union, Santa Fe's local business Alliance, Oakland's Green Jobs Now, Baltimore’s United Workers, New York’s Poverty Initiative, the U.S. Social Forum, and American workers, truck drivers, farmers, homeless, ex-felons, minorities, natural disaster survivors, indigenous, immigrants, and residents from coast to coast—covering nearly forty states across the nation.



Tour Dates:

Lunes, Febrero 7, 2011, 1-3pm
Fundayacucho
Caracas, Venezuela

Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 7pm
Red Emma's
800 St. Paul St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
(410) 230-0450

Monday, February 21, 2011
SUNY New Paltz
New Paltz, New York
Time and Location, TBA

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Hampshire College
Amherst, Mass
Time and Location, TBA

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Boston, Mass
Time and Location, TBA

Saturday, February 26, 2011, 7pm
Vermont Workers' Center
294 N Winooski Avenue
Burlington VT 05401

Sunday, February 27, 2011, 6:30pm
Black Sheep Books
5 State Street, Montpelier, VT 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011, 7:30pm
The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets),
New York, NY
(212) 242-4201



END:CIV's Tour Dates


END:CIV showings with Franklin Lopez

The acclaimed film END:CIV: Resist or Die, recently released on a PM Press DVD, is currently touring throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. This screening will also feature a talk by director Franklin Lopez. Admission is free. Follow the link below for more information on the film, including a streaming clip. While attending this event, please stop by the PM table to peruse books by authors included in the film and a selection of our other DVDs.


Our planet is in crisis. Every ecosystem is collapsing. Another 120 species will go extinct today. And the carbon level keeps rising. For years, Derrick Jensen (author of the recently published Resistance Against Empire and Mischief in the Forest—click here for more info) has asked his audiences, "Do you think this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of life?" No one ever says yes. In END:CIV, based partly on the premises of Jensen's Endgame, explores Jensen's work and exposes the accelerating ecological and social disaster that is industrial civilization—and the environmental movement’s refusal to face the scale of the crisis. Through interviews with Jensen and other radical activists, END:CIV makes the case that industrial civilization is incompatible with life. Technology can't fix it, and shopping—no matter how green—won’t stop it. To save this planet, we need a serious resistance movement that can bring down the industrial economy. END: CIV is, finally, a call to act as if we truly love this planet.


END:CIV
features interviews with Paul Watson, Waziyatawin, Gord Hill (author of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, Michael Becker, Peter Gelderloos, Lierre Keith (author of The Vegetarian Myth), James Howard Kunstler, Stephanie McMillan, Qwatsinas, Rod Coronado, John Zerzan, Steven Best, Aric McBay, George Poitras, Shusli, Zoe Blunt, Dru Oja Jay, Maya Rolbin-Ghanie, Shannon Walsh, Macdonald Stainsby, and Mike Mercredi.


Dates:



When: Tuesday, February 15 2011 @ 06:30 PM - - 08:30PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: BSS Native Forum, Rm 162, BSS Bldg
16th and Union, HSU Campus
Arcata, CA

When: Thursday, February 17 2011 @ 07:00 PM - - 09:00PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Sugarplum Vegan Cafe
2315 K Street
Sacramento, CA

When: Friday, February 18 2011 @ 07:00 PM - - 09:30PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Humanist Hall
390 27th St.
Oakland, CA

When: Saturday, February 19 2011 @ 01:30 PM - - 05:30PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Artist Television Access
992 Valencia (at 21st St)
San Francisco, CA

When: Monday, February 21 2011 @ 07:00 PM - - 09:00PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Firehouse 51
410 James St
Modesto, CA

 

When: Tuesday, February 22 2011 @ 07:00 PM - - 09:00PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Cafe Fresno Infoshop
935 F St.
Fresno, CA

When: Saturday, February 26 2011 @ 07:00 PM - - 09:00PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Pitzer College
1050 North Mills Avenue
Claremont, CA

When: Monday, March 28 2011 @ 07:00 PM - - 09:00PM
Contact: http://endciv.com/
Where: Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Rd.
Boca Raton, FL

 
   
   
   


Buy DVD now | Back to Franklin Lopez's Page


A Conversation With Derrick Jensen

By Mickey Z.
Press Action.com
Sunday, January 23, 2011

'We Need to Stop This Culture Before It Kills the Planet'

A Conversation With Derrick Jensen

As you begin reading this interview, take a look at the nearest clock. Now, dig this: Since yesterday at the same exact time, 200,000 acres of rainforest have been destroyed, over 100 plant and animal species have gone extinct, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals were released across the globe, and 29,158 children under the age of five died from preventable causes.

Worst of all, there’s nothing unique about the past 24 hours. It’s business as usual, a daily reality—and no amount of CFL bulbs, recycled toilet paper, or Sierra Club donations will change it even a tiny bit.

As you do your best to convince yourself of the vast chasm between the two wings of America’s single corporate party, I suggest you listen carefully to hear if even one of the politicians mentions any of the following:

    •    Every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic
    •    Eighty-one tons of mercury is emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation 
    •    Every second, 10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the US
    •    Each year, Americans use 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides
    •    Ninety percent of the large fish in the ocean and 80 percent of the world’s forests are gone
    •    Every two seconds, a human being starves to death

This is just a minute sampling, folks, and sorry, but your hybrid ain’t helping. That reusable shopping bag you bring to the market has zero impact. Your home composting kit is not gonna start a revolution.

In fact, even if every single person in the US made every single change suggested in the movie An Inconvenient Truth, carbon emissions would fall by only 21%—in contrast to the 75% emissions decrease that scientific consensus believes must happen ... now.

None of this, of course, is news to Derrick Jensen. He is the author of essential works such as A Language Older Than Words and Endgame. His worldview has nothing to do with party politics, incremental reform, leftist in-fighting, corporate compromise, or anything that seeks to tweak but ultimately maintain the ongoing global crime we call civilization.

“My loyalty,” he told me, “is with the nonhuman and human victims (or targets) of this culture, and my work is toward stopping this culture’s assaults on nonhumans, on the land, on the planet itself, on women, on indigenous peoples, on the poor.”

If you’ve grown weary (and wary) of the entrenched Left and all the words left unspoken, you owe it to yourself to read the rest of our conversation below. Afterwards, you just might start realizing that you also owe it to the planet to get busy.

Our exchange took place during the week of January 17 and went a little something like this …
Mickey Z.: We’re starting this conversation as another MLK Day is observed. Not much of a chance that we’ll hear this Dr. King quote—“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be”—mentioned much by the corporate media, huh?

Derrick Jensen: Just today I read an article stating that, no surprise, industrial-induced global warming will be far worse than estimated, and if carbon emissions continue as expected, could render much of the planet uninhabitable within 100 years. Even now, 150-200 species are driven extinct every day. This culture extirpates indigenous peoples. The oceans are being murdered. And today I saw a study of rates of fire retardant in every fetus. And on and on. And yet those of us who are working to stop this planetary murder are sometimes characterized as extremists.

I think the real extremists are the people who value capitalism over life, the people who value civilization over life. I cannot think of any more extreme position than valuing this insane culture over life.
MZ: Not surprisingly, another major African-American figure from the 1960s—Malcolm X—had some positive words for extremism in the name of toppling that insane culture. Using Hamlet as a springboard,

Malcolm wrote:

“(Hamlet) was in doubt about something—whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—moderation—or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built with—is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth."

DJ: I think the key has to do with wanting to change this miserable condition.

I try to be fairly inclusive of the people I would work with, but I’ve realized over the past many years that I’m not working toward the same goals as many of the environmentalists who are explicitly working to save capitalism or to save civilization, rather than the real world. In talks and interviews I often ask what all of the so-called solutions to global warming or the murder of the oceans, or biodiversity crash, etc, all have in common. And what they all have in common is that they all take industrial capitalism as a given, and the natural world as that which must conform to industrial capitalism. That is literally insane, in terms of being out of touch with physical reality. I mean, look at Lester Brown’s Plan B 4.0 to Save Civilization. What does he want to save? Could he be any more explicit? He wants to save civilization. But civilization is killing the planet. It’s like writing a book about how to save a serial killer who is murdering so many people he’s running out of victims. We see this attitude all the time. When people, for example, ask how we can stop global warming, they’re not asking how we can stop global warming; they’re asking how we can stop global warming without changing the physical conditions (burning oil and gas, deforestation, industrial agriculture, and so on) that lead to global warming. And the answer to that question is that you can’t. Likewise, when they ask how we can save salmon, they aren’t really asking how we can save salmon, they’re asking how we can save salmon without removing dams, stopping industrial logging, stopping industrial agriculture, stopping industrial fishing, stopping the murder of the oceans, stopping global warming, and so on.

A question I keep asking is: with whom (or what) do you identify? Where is your loyalty? Whom, or what do you want to save? And if what you really want to save is this “miserable condition”—capitalism, civilization, what have you—at the expense of the planet, then we’re not really working toward the same goal, are we? My loyalty is with the nonhuman and human victims (or targets) of this culture, and my work is toward stopping this culture’s assaults on nonhumans, on the land, on the planet itself, on women, on indigenous peoples, on the poor.

MZ: It’s a testament to the power of propaganda how even well-meaning folks will choose the options—both public and private—that work against their own interests. Gay rights activists are currently applauding the alleged repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In the name of promoting diversity and inclusion, they are celebrating the ability to volunteer for an institution that exists to violently crush all diversity and inclusion.

The conditioning is so interwoven throughout every aspect of our culture that even respected Leftist thinkers simply cannot comprehend your comment, “civilization is killing the planet” and resort to retorts about “misanthropy.”

So, the question must be asked, Derrick: Can these people be reached with the message that we can’t have industrial capitalism as a given without all the murderous side effects?

DJ: There’s a great line by Upton Sinclair about how it’s hard to make a man [sic] understand something when his [sic] job depends on him not understanding it. I think that’s true even more for entitlement. It’s hard to make someone understand something when their entitlement, their privilege, their comforts and elegancies, their perceived ability to control and manage, depends on it.

So much nature writing, social change theory, and environmental philosophy are at best irrelevant, and more often harmful in that they do not question human supremacism (or for that matter white supremacism, or male supremacism). They often do not question imperialism, including ecological imperialism. So often I feel like so many of them still want the goodies that come from imperialism (including ecological imperialism and sexual imperialism) far more than they want for these forms of imperialism to stop. And since the violence of imperialism is structural—inherent to the process—you can’t realistically expect imperialism to stop being violent just because you call it “green” or just because you wish with all your might.

Here’s another way to say this: as I say in Endgame, any way of life that requires the importation of resources will a) never be sustainable and b) always be based on violence, because a) requiring importation of resources means you are using more of that resource than the landbase can provide, which is by definition not sustainable (and as your city grows you’ll need an ever larger area to harm); and b) trade will never be sufficiently reliable, because if you require some resource (e.g., oil) and the people who live with or control that resource won’t trade you for it, you will take it, because you need it. It’s inherent. One of the many implications of this is that if you don’t question imperialism itself, the solutions you present will be absurd, and either irrelevant or harmful.

Here’s a story. A couple of weeks ago a tree fell down in a storm and knocked down an electric wire in this neighborhood. My neighbor told me about it, and when I saw the downed tree I looked and looked and looked for the stump, to see where the tree came from. I couldn’t find it. I’ve looked again every time I’ve gone by that place. Well, today I was walking and I saw where it came from. The top of a big tree had broken off. It was really obvious when I looked up instead of down. Point being (instant aphorism): You can search as thoroughly as is possible, but you’ll never find what you’re looking for if you’re looking in the wrong place.

This applies to everything from personal happiness to solutions to global warming.

But the problem is worse than mere entitlement. RD Laing came up with the three rules of a dysfunctional family:

Rule A is don’t.
Rule A.1 is Rule A does not exist
Rule A.2 is Never discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, A.2

This is as true of dysfunctional cultures as dysfunctional families. So we cannot talk, for example, about the fact that this culture is only one way of living among many, that this way of living is based on conquest and the acquisition of power, that this way of life systematically destroys landbases, other cultures, and on and on. Systematically, functionally.

But it’s worse than this. In the 1960s a researcher attached electrodes to people’s eyeballs to track where they looked, and then showed them pictures. What the researcher found is that if the photo contained something that threatened the person’s worldview, the person’s eyes would not even track to it once: they would evidently see it out of the corners of their eyes, and know where not to look. So far too often you can make the point as reasonably as you can, and the person will have no idea what you are talking about.

MZ: Considering the glacial rate by which most humans—myself very much included—recognize and address destructive or self-destructive patterns in their personal life, it’s difficult to imagine a lot more humans allowing their eyeballs to focus in on global crises and their obscured causes. High Noon is approaching and it seems most of us don’t even know how to tell time.

Speaking of High Noon, I recently watched the classic 1952 film and found myself focused on the moment when Amy (Grace Kelly), the pacifist wife of Marshal Kane (Gary Cooper), shoots and kills a man to save her husband’s life. Earlier in the film, Amy had declared: “My father and my brother were killed by guns. They were on the right side but that didn’t help them any when the shooting started. My brother was nineteen. I watched him die. That’s when I became a Quaker. I don’t care who’s right or who’s wrong. There’s got to be some better way for people to live.”

However, she not only ends up shooting a man, she also fights off the main villain, which allows Marshal Kane to finish him. Now, before some readers run and tell Gandhi on me, what I’m proposing as the lesson is that when faced with the clarity a crisis can sometimes inspire, we can recognize that those clock hands are inching towards noon and surprise ourselves (as Grace Kelly’s character did) with our ability to take things to a new level.

If not, what chance do we (the animals, the trees, the eco-system, etc.) have?

DJ: Very little chance. Even if people don’t care about nonhumans, recent estimates are that billions, literally billions, of humans will die in what is beginning to be called a climate holocaust. This is if the temperature rises 4 degrees Celsius.

And the most recent estimates are revealing that global warming is far worse than previously believed (have you ever noticed how the previous estimates were always low?), and could go up 16 degrees C within 90 years, rendering much of the planet uninhabitable ("Science stunner: On our current emissions path, CO2 levels in 2100 will hit levels last seen when the Earth was 29°F (16°C) hotter—Paleoclimate data suggests CO2 ‘may have at least twice the effect on global temperatures than currently projected by computer models’"). This means that there are young people now who will die in this climate holocaust.

And there are too many people who prefer this wretched, destructive way of life over life on the planet, and literally over their own children. We need to stop this culture before it kills the planet.

MZ: Although I feel there’s way too much hand-holding in the realm of activism and far too many progressives sitting idle as they wait for a leader to give them direction, I must ask you this: What types of immediate direct action might you suggest to those reading this interview, in the name of stopping this culture before it kills the planet?

DJ: I think the important thing is that they start doing some form of activism. I can’t tell people what to do, because I don’t know what is important to them and I don’t know what their gifts are. But the important thing is that they start. Now. Today.

So how do you start? The problems are so huge! Well, the way I started as an activist was the result of the smartest thing I ever did. When I was in my mid-20s I realized I wasn’t paying enough for gasoline (in terms of including any of the ecological costs, etc), so for every dollar I spent on gas I would donate a dollar to an environmental organization (never a national or international organization, but rather local grassroots organizations), but since I didn’t have any money I would instead pay myself $5/hour to do activist work, whether it is writing letters to the editor or participating in demonstrations. My first demos were anti-fur demos and anti-circus demos. And don’t let your perceived ignorance stop you: I had no idea what exactly was wrong with circuses, but I knew they were exploitative of nonhuman animals and so I showed up, and other people handed me signs. If anyone asked me, What’s wrong with circuses? I just pointed them to the person standing next to me. I went from there to other forms of activism, including filing timber sale appeals, and so on. The point is that I started. At the time it cost $10 to fill my tank with gas, and if I filled it once a week, that meant two hours per week. And I started having so much fun with the activism that I stopped keeping track of how many hours I was doing activism, and just did it. But the important thing is that I got off my butt and started doing something.

It’s also important that when people do activism, that it not simply be personal stuff: environmentalism especially has gone down the dead end of lifestylism, where people think that changing their own life is sufficient. Just today I read an article that said, about water, “First of all, turn off the water when you don’t need it. It’s that simple. I don’t want to sound too preachy, but, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, lack of access to clean drinking water kills about 4,500 children per day. The water won’t magically travel from our taps to someone in need, but creating a mind-set of conservation will certainly help. There is absolutely no purpose served by letting water you are not using run down the drain.” This is just absurd. Yes, lack of access to clean water kills 4500 children per day, but it’s not because of my own water usage. 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. So all these environmental pleas for simple living are tremendous misdirection: these children (and what about the salmon children, and the sturgeon children, and so on) aren’t dying because I brushed my teeth: they’re dying because agriculture and industry are stealing the water. Just yesterday I read that Turkey is sacrificing all nature reserves to put in dams. This is not so people can have showers.

It’s for agriculture and industry.

I live pretty simply, but that’s because I’m a cheapskate. I turn off the water while I brush my teeth, too. Big fucking deal. That is not a political act. There are no personal solutions to social problems. None.

So when I say that people should do some activism, I mean do something good for your landbase. Stop destructive activities. Do rehabilitation. Or if your primary emergency is violence against women, then do work against domestic violence, or against pornography, or against the trafficking in women. Get started.
Like Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize.”

MZ: I like to tell people that we live in the best time ever to be an activist. We’re on the brink of economic, social, and environmental collapse. What a time to be alive. We can take part in the most important work humans have ever undertaken. How lucky are we? In this era of “hope and change,” I say action is always better than hope. Or, as Rita Mae Brown said, “Never hope more than you work."

DJ: Yes, I get so tired of people saying they hope salmon survive, or hope this or hope that. But what is hope? Hope is a longing for a future condition over which we have no agency. That’s how we use the word in every day language. I don’t say, “Gosh, I hope I put my shoes on before I go outside.” I just do it. On the other hand, the next time I get on a plane I hope it doesn’t crash. After I get on the plane I have no agency. Think of this: if a parent says to an eight-year-old child, “Please clean your room,” and the child says, “I hope it gets done,” we all know that’s ridiculous. I asked an eight-year-old what would happen if she said that to her parents, and she said, “Someone has to clean the room!”

That kid is smarter than a lot of environmentalists. It’s ridiculous to say we hope global warming doesn’t kill the planet when we can stop the oil economy that is causing global warming. I’m not interested in hope. I’m interested in agency, and I’m interested in people no longer waiting for some miracle to solve their problems. We need to do what is necessary.

MZ: When you first began writing and speaking about civilization and the eventual collapse, did you ever truly imagine that you’d be around to see things as bad as they are right now?

DJ: No. And even though I wrote in The Culture of Make Believe about the ways in which economic collapse can lead to more and more brownshirt-ism and fascism, I’m still kind of stunned at the way it is happening here. But more to the point, even though I’ve written something on the order of fifteen books about this culture’s insanity, I still cannot believe this isn’t all a bad dream, with this frenzied maintenance of this culture as the world is murdered. I keep wanting to wake up, but each time I awaken this culture is still killing the planet, and not many people care.

MZ: I’m sure you can’t even calculate how many times you’ve been interviewed but I’m wondering if there’s a question you always wished you’d been asked but so far, no one has done so. If so, by way of wrapping up, please feel free to ask and answer that question.

DJ: Four questions:

Q: You’ve said many times that you don’t believe that humans are particularly more sentient than other animals. Where do you draw the line?

A: I don’t draw the line at all. I don’t see any reason to believe anything other than that the universe is full of a wild symphony of wildly different voices, wildly different intelligences. Humans have human intelligence, which is no greater nor less than octopi intelligence, which is no greater nor less than redwood intelligence, which is no greater nor less than flu virus intelligence, which is no greater nor less than granite intelligence, which is no greater nor less than river intelligence, and so on.

Q: How did the world get to be such a beautiful and wonderful and fecund place in the first place?

A: By everyone making the world a more beautiful and wonderful and fecund place by living and dying.

By plants and animals and fungi and viruses and bacteria and rocks and rivers and so on making the world a better place. Salmon makes forests better places because of their existence. The Mississippi River makes that region a better place because of its existence. Bison make the Great Plains a better place because of their existence.

Civilized humans do not make the world a better place because of their existence. They are collectively and individually making the world a less beautiful and wonderful and fecund place. How can you make the world a better place? What can you do to make the landbase where you live more healthy, more beautiful, more fecund? And why aren’t you doing it?

Q: What will it take for the planet to survive?

A: The eradication of industrial civilization. Industrial civilization is functionally, systematically incompatible with life.

The good news is that industrial civilization is in the process of collapsing.

The bad news is that it is taking down too much of the planet with it.

Q: So if industrial civilization is collapsing, why shouldn’t we just hunker down and make our lifeboats and protect our own, and basically take care of our own precious little asses?

A: I would contrast the narcissism and cowardice of this attitude with that expressed by Henning von Tresckow, one of the members of the German resistance to Hitler in World War II. When the Allies invaded France in 1944, anybody paying any attention at all knew that the Nazis were going to lose: it was just a matter of time. So some members of the resistance suggested that they stop working to take down the Nazis, and instead just protect themselves until the war was over, basically hunker down and make their lifeboats and protect their own. Henning von Tresckow responded that every day the Nazis were killing 16,000 innocent civilians, so basically every day sooner they could bring down the Nazis would save 16,000 innocent civilians.

There is more courage and wisdom and integrity in that statement than in all the statements of all the craven lifeboatists put together.

Between 150 and 200 species went extinct today. They were my brothers and sisters. It is not sufficient to merely hunker down and wait for the horrors to stop. Salmon won’t survive that long. Sturgeon won’t survive that long. Delta smelt won’t survive that long.

Here’s another way to say all this. I would contrast the narcissism and cowardice of the lifeboatists with the attitude expressed by my dear friend, and the person who really got me started in environmentalism, John Osborn. He has devoted his life to saving as much of the wild as he can, through organized political resistance. When asked why he does this work, he always says, “We cannot predict the future. But as things become increasingly chaotic, I want to make sure that some doors remain open.” What he means by that is that if grizzly bears are around in 30 years they may be around in fifty. If they are gone in 30 they are gone forever. If he can keep this or that valley of old growth standing, it may be standing in 50 years. If it’s gone now, it will be gone for a long, long time, maybe forever.

As you said, Mickey Z, we are living at a time when we have perhaps more leverage than at many previous times. Any destructive activity we can halt now may protect that area until the collapse: people couldn’t realistically say that in the 1920s. I believe it was David Brower who said that every environmental victory was temporary while every loss was permanent. I think we are quickly reaching the point where every victory can be permanent.

One final thing: the single most effective recruiting tool for the French Resistance in WWII was D-Day, because the French realized once and for all that the Germans weren’t invincible. Knowing that this culture is collapsing should not lead us into narcissism and cowardice, but should give us courage, and should lead us to defend the victims of this culture.

For more about Derrick Jensen and his work, you can find him on the Web here.

Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, Mickey Z. can be found on a somewhat obscure website called Facebook.

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