Taking the long view
Endless economic growth has turned into a global economic crash. What will the next hundred years bring?
Students of history know that all civilizations eventually come to an end. The ancient Mayans, the dynasties of China, and the mighty Roman Empire, as long-lived and powerful as they were, could not escape this inevitability. The same goes for the culture we call Western Civilization.
The causes underlying the collapse of civilizations can be traced to overuse of resources. As your eyes move across this screen, the world is reeling: economic chaos, peak oil, climate change, environmental degradation, and political turmoil. Every day, newspaper headlines re-hash stories of scandal, government corruption and betrayal of the public trust. We don’t have to make outraged demands for the end of the current global system — it seems to be coming apart on its own.
But acts of courage, compassion and altruism abound, even in the most damaged places. By documenting the resilience of the people hit hardest by war and repression, and the heroism of those coming forward to confront the crisis head-on, END:CIV illuminates a way out of this all-consuming madness and into a saner future.
In our lifetimes, we will bear witness to planet-wide environmental destruction and catastrophic economic failures. But this crisis is also an opportunity to unravel the delusions that got us into this mess.
Few understand the extent to which our economy relies on violence and coercion, overt and implied. Most of it is exported and therefore invisible to North Americans. Chinese sweatshops, Thai brothels, low-wage Indian call centers, poisoned rivers and exterminated species are just a few examples of the hidden ugliness of this economy. Derrick Jensen points out there is more slavery worldwide now than ever before. For too long, the privileged have had the luxury of ignoring the marks of violence and rationalizing that Western Civilization is the most peaceful, plentiful and benevolent culture in human history. Right now, half the world is at war and a billion people are hungry. We can no longer afford that luxury.
“Do you believe that our culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?” asks Derrick Jensen.
“For the last several years I’ve taken to asking people this question, at talks and rallies, in libraries, on buses, in airplanes, at the grocery store, the hardware store. Everywhere. The answers range from emphatic ‘No’s’ to laughter. No one answers in the affirmative. One fellow at one talk did raise his hand, and when everyone looked at him, he dropped his hand, then said, sheepishly, ‘Oh, voluntary? No, of course not.’
“My next question: how will this understanding — that this culture will not voluntarily stop destroying the natural world, eliminating indigenous cultures, exploiting the poor, and killing those who resist —shift our strategy and tactics?
“The answer? Nobody knows, because we never talk about it: we’re too busy pretending the culture will undergo a magical transformation.”
Jensen asserts what millions around the world can corroborate — systematic abuse of the poor and helpless leaves lasting scars on entire generations. He compares this culture to an abusive family, where violence is a constant threat and the victims feel helpless and dependent on the abuser. He writes, “Civilization and the civilized continue to create a world of wounds.”
“From birth on — and probably from conception, but I’m not sure how I’d make the case — we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes — and our bodies — to be poisoned.”
Franklin López‘s story
For decades, the US Navy tested bombs and other weapons at Vieques, a picturesque island off the coast of Puerto Rico, not far from where I was born. In 1980, my father brought me to Vieques on my first fishing trip with some local fisherpeople. Suddenly the earth shook and bombs began exploding down the shore. Then came the ear-splitting screams of two Navy F15 jets as they flashed by overhead. I stood frozen in terror as a local man raised his fist toward the departing jets and cursed the United States for bombing his fish.
Many years later, around the time the Navy was ending its target practice on the island, I heard Derrick Jensen speak on the topic of his book Endgame. Jensen explained why he considers this civilization a curse.
“I walk clear cuts that wrap around mountains, drop into valleys and climb ridges to fragment watershed after watershed. And I’ve sat silent near empty streams that two generations ago were lashed into whiteness by uncountable salmon coming home to spawn and die.”
As Jensen spoke, my mind flashed back to the childhood fishing trip at Vieques, and then forward to the latest reports about the fallout from the Navy’s bombing range. How the fish were decimated and polluted. How the population of the island still has an abnormally high rate of cancer. I saw the faces of the people there, and their courage and determination over the years as they planned, organized, and finally evicted the Navy from the island. This was no abstract exercise – it was as real as the knot in my stomach or the sweat and fear on the old fisherman’s face. I felt a shift in my world, like the jolt of a tectonic plate.
On my last visit to Vieques, everyone I spoke to knew someone living with cancer or dead from it. My friends fought the Navy and won. But what did they win?
Every day, we hear stories like Vieques. Sometimes it’s the military that’s responsible, sometimes the corporations. Jensen insists that we bear witness to these accounts without flinching. He demands that we recognize the kind of strength and heroism we will all need to take action for the future of the planet and humanity.
The situation is urgent. Apathy is not an option. “Give me a threshold,” Jensen pleads, “give me a specific point at which you’ll finally take a stand. If you can’t or won’t give me that threshold, why not?” SOURCE