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Derrick Jensen has Inspired Me to Question Civilization

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I rode my horse out through the woods the other day. It was a beautiful Autumn afternoon as golden light filtered through the trees. My horse was keen to graze in an open meadow, so we found a spot where he could forage for some greenery among the late season grasses.

How Shall I Live My Life?

On my ride out, I had been thinking about the widening gulf between the natural world and contemporary civilization. I had recently read Derrick Jensen’s anthology, How Shall I Live My Life: On Liberating the Earth from Civilization. In this collection of interviews, Jensen discusses the destructive dominant culture with various people who have devoted their lives to trying to re-vision it.

In the meadow, it seemed as if I were surrounded by the natural world.

There were birds, rabbits, deer, trees, grasses, insects and even a dried up creek bed. I could hear my horse snorting softly, with satisfaction, as he munched.

But, I also heard the sounds of the dominant culture’s industrialization — the railroad, the highway, chainsaws, lawn mowers, motorcycles, backhoes, leaf blowers, motorized children’s toys. All vestiges of our current civilization.

It didn’t have to go this way. We could have built a civilization that harmonized with our home, the Earth. But we didn’t. Instead, we built a civilization that revolved around money. And, as Marx said, money is dead. So, if we’ve built a culture around something that is dead, we will soon become dead ourselves. And kill the whole planet in the process.

As we begin to notice this, we can challenge the idea that a life motivated by desire for personal gain is either necessary or desirable. We can point to things like the collapse of the environment, suffering of the Third World, alienation, the harried style in which we live and the reductionistic values of most of Western culture.

To be fully human requires experiencing the spectacular formations of the planet: mountains, rivers, rock structures, wooded groves. We no longer do this as a matter of course. We don’t experience, in our day to day lives, the natural world surrounding us. We deny ourselves our deepest delight by not participating in the dawn, the dusk, the solstice, the night sky.

All that is left to most of us these days is the possibility of gaining a kind of romantic fulfillment in going to the lake or to the mountains, or in traversing wilderness areas. In our workaday existence, we no longer see trees as other beings with whom to commune. We live in a world of concrete and steel, of wires and wheels and mechanisms.

This is the tragedy that we pass on to our children. They don’t see the stars because of light pollution, they play on grass poisoned with pesticides, they can’t hear the insects because of noise from machines, they experience the world as circumscribed by so much human-made material.

Before civilization, humans lived in harmony with the natural world — as a part of it, not separate from it. Humans knew that the planet naturally produced, and naturally renewed itself. The planet is still trying to do this — but we are getting in its way. The Earth wants to offer itself to us not only for food, but in the sense of supplying awe and wonder. Yet we’re not willing to accept the gift.

As the sun began to set in the meadow, I experienced the lack of separation of the sacred and the secular in the natural world, as both spiritual and physical well-being were present at the same time.

My horse had eaten his fill and was ready to amble homeward. I left the meadow renewed, but with a question gnawing in my gut: can we ever undo the damage that our civilization has done? And, if not, to quote Derrick Jensen, just how should I live my life?

— Sherry Ackerman, Transition Voice

29 Comments on "Derrick Jensen has Inspired Me to Question Civilization"

  1. makati1 on Fri, 23rd Oct 2015 7:32 pm 

    Many Americans have NEVER experienced nature in it’s most beautiful forms. No, I will amend that and say that MOST Americans have never been out in the truly wild. I have and it is beautiful! Quiet? Quiet is when the only sound you hear is a snowflake hitting the ground. Yes, you can hear it if…

    Problem is, there is less and less wild in the developed world and even the undeveloped world is losing that magic. I am glad I now live where silence is still possible. The farm is totally quiet. No industry, roads, trains, vehicle traffic, nor money for weed wackers or lawn mowers, or loud music. Monkeys in the trees occasionally, birds, other animals, the wind and rain. The sounds of living. Heaven.

  2. GregT on Fri, 23rd Oct 2015 8:06 pm 

    I read years back that some 20% of the people in Vancouver would never leave the city limits in their entire life times. It’s no wonder that there is such a huge disconnect from reality. Many people don’t have the slightest idea what life is really like in their natural environment. Sad really.

  3. penury on Fri, 23rd Oct 2015 8:17 pm 

    In the U.S. the majority of the people have no real connection to nature. By this I mean they have never experience the beauties or terrors of real nature. I heard that millenials do not want to even visit zoos, they have a picture of all the animals so do not need to see them, I suppose the same will be true of parks and mountains shortly.

  4. Plantagenet on Fri, 23rd Oct 2015 8:46 pm 

    Another dimwit article, this time by Ms. Ackerman. Marx never said “Money is dead”. He said “Money is dead LABOUR.”

    Marx was mainly interested in the relationship between labor and capital. He really never thought about ecology or the environment, and its silly to misquote him in a lame attempt to transmogrify what he actually said into some kind of ecological screed.


  5. GregT on Fri, 23rd Oct 2015 10:24 pm 

    Actually plant, what Marx said was “‘If money comes into the world with a congenital blood stain on one cheek,’ he says, then ‘capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt’.

    Blood from the working class, and dirt from the earth. He also said ‘capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks’.

    He did not say that “Money is dead labour.” You are once again confused.

  6. Richard Ralph Roehl on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 12:12 am 

    How do we live our lives amid the madness?

    One day at a time… and be at peace as we breath deep the gathering gloom.

  7. dave thompson on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 2:48 am 

    Ackerman makes some great points and once again Plant makes a great point also by pointing out how f******g much of an a*****e Plant is.

  8. GregT on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 3:02 am 

    At some point you would think that planter might stop and think, but after several years of constant nonsense, this is clearly not possible.

  9. apneaman on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 3:25 am 

    I think planty’s husband writes some of her comments.

  10. GregT on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 3:46 am 

    That would partially explain the convoluted behaviour, but in all honesty, I’m having a difficult time believing that two people living together could be so equally messed up.

    Not impossible, but extremely unlikely. Stranger things happen though, daily.

  11. rockman on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 8:56 am 

    And the obvious: if the vast majority of Americans decided to commune with nature on a regular basis do you think the rider would still have access to such a nice ISOLATED pasture?

    Anyone here ever sit in line for hours to get into any of our national parks during the high seasons? As has been said before: be careful what you wish for…you might get it. LOL.

  12. Davy on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 9:33 am 

    Rock, typical anti-American bullshit. I agree many Americans do not get out into nature but saying most is a hyper generalization typical of the anti-Americans. I live out in nature as does so much of the rural American population. Many smaller urban areas are near natural areas. The US has a 60Mil rural population. Many large urban areas are dispersed throughout the country. The Front Range of Colorado is a case in point. This urban areas along that Front Range corridor are surrounded by wilderness that the people access significantly. American mega population areas are a different story. Some people never leave these areas but this is true worldwide. Why target Americans?

  13. rockman on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 11:35 am 

    Davy – Exactly. When someone is walking down a street in Mamhatten they are in “nature”. And if it’s -20F with 35 mpg wind driven snow they really are communing with “nature”. A sh*t load of f*cking nature:..just ask them. LOL.

    Just as I communed with Mother Earth when in college on a geology field trip in the Great Smoky Mountains: in a canvess tent with a typical New Orleans sleeping bag (1/4″ cotton) with a temp of 5F. A very long night while most of the other students were in a motel room having a pizza party while I tried to heat a can of Dinty Moore beef stew over a Coleman latern. There’s sharing Mother’s wonders and then there is Mother kicking your ass. LOL.

  14. John Orr on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 12:21 pm 

    The trouble with the majority of man is, he has a brain to look out side the natural box.

    Looking at nature, it is beautiful, but nature reminds me of the early and even todays calculators, they only do what they are programmed to do, day after day after day after day….

    What tomorrows calculators do could be another story….artificial intelligence is on it’s way….or will nature have AI in our life time that surprises us all….

  15. rockman on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 1:06 pm 

    Some of “nature” is beautiful. And some of “nature” is ugly and horrifying to many. Just a question of which portion you’re communing with. If one hasn’t seen the great level of pain and suffering Mother Earth can bring forward they are truly blessed. Beautiful sunsets and killer whales eating baby seals alive is all part of the same “nature”.

  16. makati1 on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 8:07 pm 

    Some here claim to have lived in nature because they do not live in a town or city. Bullshit! That’s like claiming to have visited the African Savannah because they went to the zoo and saw the lions.

    All I can say is, when you wake up in a rock overhang with a layer of powdered snow on your sleeping bag, and hear the sound of large snowflakes hitting the ground nearby. You know you are in the wilderness.

    When you look out and see a bull moose shaking the snow off his back as he stands up 50 feet away, you know you are not in a city park.

    When you see grizzly claw raking marks 15 feet up a pine and it is seeping fresh sap, you know you are not in the zoo.

    I had the good fortune to have experienced all of that in the Tetons and West Yellowstone many yeas ago. THAT is nature.

  17. Davy on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 8:16 pm 

    Wow, listen to tough guy brag.

  18. apneaman on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 8:23 pm 

    Apes are 100% natural and so is everything they do. Evolved through natural processes right here on the good earth to be exactly the way they are. No plan, just chance. Yeast are natural and so are cancers that grow suicidaly. War, genocide and extinction – more completely natural processes that have been repeated millions of times on this planet and probably others. The only things unnatural, are ape concepts like what’s natural or not and even that is natural.

  19. Davy on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 8:29 pm 

    Yeap, Ape Man, we think we have free choice but really we are just natural.

  20. apneaman on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 9:06 pm 

    And we just naturally except our new self inflicted normal’s with a shrug and carry on with the cancer project.

    Indonesia readies warships for haze evacuation
    The government has decided to send ships to haze affected provinces to evacuate victims, especially children and women, if necessary.

    Houston Residents Told to Avoid Traveling; Texas Roads, Interstates Closed

  21. GregT on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 9:27 pm 

    We may be natural, but we do have a choice as to how much we consume, and whether or not we destroy the Earth’s natural ecosystems. Or at least we did have a choice.

  22. GregT on Sat, 24th Oct 2015 11:33 pm 

    “I had the good fortune to have experienced all of that in the Tetons and West Yellowstone many yeas ago. THAT is nature.”

    Completely agree Mak. Most people don’t have a clue anymore. Many of the places that they could have gained that same experience and wisdom from, are long since gone.

    Don’t stop at bragging about it, write a book. If our species manages to make it through this bottleneck, your experiences, and others’ like yours, may very well be all that is left to pass on to future generations.

  23. Davy on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 7:16 am 

    Greg, nothing wrong with bragging when it is legitimate and it is NOT an asshole effort to put others down. Which is better? “Look how tough I am you weak shit” or “I have climbed the highest mountain let me show you how” We know which one Mak is. We hear it all the time on this board. Mak has an attitude problem why enable?

    I have been an outdoor enthusiast my whole life. When I was younger I canoe camped, bike camped, backpacked, and airplane camped. I did this every chance I could to get out of the shitty. I have thousands of dollars in equipment still. I have it now for prep reasons just in case I need to become a refugee. In the mean time when the kids are ready I am going to teach them how to live outdoors with little.

  24. Davy on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 7:32 am 

    Greg, yes and no on choice. This has been an age old philosophical and theological battle. My thoughts are we no longer have an effective choice as a species. We are locked into overconsumption and overpopulation from the degree of overshoot we find ourselves in. Our choice in these areas at group level appears to end when we grow above the size of small communities of tribes and industrialize.

    When the commons become fair game in competition our species loses control of our collective manners of stewardship. As individuals we definitely have choices but even then we are influenced by the group and our own hardwired tendencies. Psychopaths can’t help being selfish and predatory. When a society and an economic system becomes psychopathic like global capitalism then all hope is lost. That is what we have today. It is all too apparent that those who are hyper successful today have psychopathic tendencies. Society is promoting these tendencies. Success at any cost is psychopathic.

  25. GregT on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 11:32 am 

    Greg, yes and no on choice. This has been an age old philosophical and theological battle.

    Yes Davy, I am well aware of this. Some believe in predestiney, that even the choices that we make have already been predetermined. While I completely understand this concept, and admit that it might be true, or not, I prefer to believe in free will, to some extent at least.

  26. GregT on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 11:41 am 


    You are reading far more into what mak has written than I do. Taking what he wrote at face value, I would have to agree with him. What he wrote rings true for me because I have experienced the same things. Your experiences may be completely different. IDK?

  27. joe on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 11:44 am 

    Psychotics are the guys you want on your side in a scrape. When the rest of us duck and cover, they stand up, just to look at the view….
    Sadly psychotics will never know, how much we love them 🙂

  28. Davy on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 11:46 am 

    Fair enough Greg. Obviously I have a severe dislike for the creep and that obviously makes me judgmental on anything he says.

  29. Sissyfuss on Sun, 25th Oct 2015 9:14 pm 

    Planetgstring, you transmogrify my package when your verbal inter course is so abstruse.

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