Archive for the ‘endgame’ Category

review: endgame volume 2 chapter 4

February 14, 2011

preamble to the review…

I’ve read through to the end of chapter 8. ( and as this review sat “In Progress” I read through to chapter 18. I’m more determined now to go chapter by chapter through this work. I don’t want to write a reductive reactionary review. What I’m after is an engaged reading so my plan now is to read both volumes and then with an over all picture of the work, go through it, developing my understanding of his argument.  Jensen’s work at times is personal to the point of confessional. This interests me, because I believe that the personal sphere is where we are most able to make changes. So in this idea of direct action Jensen and I are in complete agreement. The confessional also demands of an empathetic reviewer a certain higher level of respect.

This reminds me of a story. My son was kicking a soccer ball back and forth with another kid. My son was at the time at that age of very little control and the kid he was playing with was a few years younger. So my son would kick the ball as hard as he could at the smaller child, who would then cry. The other parent and I explained to my son that he should pass the ball a little easier. So my son tapped the ball very lightly, and the younger child incredulous says, “I’d rather get hit in the face then have you pass it like that!” What I’m getting at is that Jensen with his confessional would rather get hit in the face then have us take it easy on him.

And finally in this revising note: In radical movements there’s a general dislike of criticism. This dislike is warranted. Anyone working toward social change is constantly getting it from all sides. But this needs to be reformulated as a good thing. We need to be open to criticism. We need to reject censorship of both ourselves and others.)

I’m going to try to continue going through this book chapter by chapter. At this point the exercise is reminiscent of a chapter for chapter read through of Echkart Tolle’s Power of Now. This is some seriously flawed thinking. I feel the need, in this, (the Tolle reading was done with a real friend over email, so I didn’t need to publicly state anything) that I am consciously living for revolution. I am thinking, reading, acting and sometimes writing toward living the revolution everyday. I feel the need to state this in reply to Jensen’s tendency to paint every critic of his ideas as some sort of accomplice in the maintenance of the status quo.

I fell for the advertising surrounding this book. I looked at the book’s page and this description sold me. “Derrick Jensen is a force for the common good. His books are mandatory reading in the study of culture and social change. Derrick Jensen is a contemporary philosopher with his feet firmly on the ground.”

And maybe more than anything it was this bit of bait that hooked me. The book was called “a powerful argument that demands attention in the tradition of such important books as Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization…” I wish there was a contemporary writer working and generating discussion in the tradition of Marcuse.

Jensen is not a philosopher. And yes Marcuse’s books Eros and Civilization, One Dimensional Man, and his essays on Liberation, and on Repressive Tolerance should be read by anyone interested in social change. Endgame is more precisely described as of the tradition of abridged thought that philosophers like Marcuse were writing against.

Review of the chapter titled Identification.

The cultural critic is not happy with civilization, to which alone he owes his discontent. He speaks as if he represents unadulterated nature or a higher historical stage. Yet he is necessarily of the same essence as that to which he fancies himself superior.

This is Adorno from ‘Cultural Criticism and Society,’ the whole of which may be read in Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967), p.19.

This is a short little chapter, but there’s a lot happening here. I pulled that quote from Adorno, who writes in the same tradition as Marcuse. When you read the quote, you need to remember that Adorno is a cultural critic. Then you understand that he’s being self-critical here. Self-criticism is part of the philosophical tradition. I’ll come back to this later, in the next chapter on abusers.

Of course Adorno also reminds us that we need sometimes play the fool and speak that though we’ve got hold of it. We’ve got to do this to move it along. Thinkers knows that we can never really know, but to develop ideas and actions we must go forward as if we can.

If Seven Stories Press is going to claim the continuance of tradition to which Marcuse belonged, I think it fair that we discuss the tradition and Marcuse.

First in this Chapter, Jensen critiques our sense of self as unsustainable. But when he writes that how we perceive our self is how we act, he steps outside the tradition of critical theory, or critical social theory. The problem of self perception is already part of the discussion. Critical theorists are aware of the invisibility of ideology. We may not necessarily perceive ourselves as we act in the world. And that includes us.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Marcuse in a graduate class you’ll get what I’m saying, maybe not. Jensen writes that in our culture “We are also trained to lack imagination.” And I agree. Marcuse writes about the moronization of the population. (site) But in grad school, the students read that as other people, somehow they’ve managed to dodge this moronization. Grad students perceive themselves as bright, as having made the right choices, and as having been chosen. But it seems Jensen also seems to see himself as having skipped those lack of imagination training sessions.

Jensen, like you and me, is necessarily of the social he criticizes. He is clearly a mutilated individual who lacks imagination. Marcuse writes about this in the conclusion of One-Dimensional Man.

The mutilated individuals (mutilated also in their faculty of imagination) would organize and destroy even more than they are now permitted to do. Such release would be the unmitigated horror – not the catastrophe of culture, but the free sweep of its most repressive tendencies. Rational is the imagination which can become the a priori of the reconstruction and redirection, of the productive apparatus toward a pacified existence, a life without fear. And this can never be the imagination of those who are possessed by the images of domination and, death.

To liberate the imagination so that it can be given all its means of expression presupposes the repression of much that is now free and that perpetuates a repressive society. And such reversal is not a matter of psychology or ethics but of politics, in the sense in which this term has here been used; throughout: the practice in which the basic societal institutions are developed, defined, sustained, and changed. It is the practice of individuals, no matter how organized they may be. Thus the question once again must be faced: how can the administered individuals – who have made their mutilation into their own liberties and satisfactions, and thus reproduce it on an enlarged scale – liberate themselves from themselves as well as from their masters? How is it even thinkable that the vicious circle be broken?

Jensen has the facts. He is motivated by a material reality, but his response lacks imagination. As a product of a destructive culture, Jensen’s imagination leads him to the destruction of civilization. The fruit as they say doesn’t fall far from the tree. Marcuse proposes a “practice in which the basic societal institutions are developed, defined, sustained, and changed.”

Jensen writes:

It would be a mistake to think this culture clearcuts only forests. It clearcuts our psyche as well. It would be a mistake to think it dams only rivers. We ourselves are dammed (and damned)by it as well. It would be a mistake to think it creates dead zones only in the ocean. It creates dead zones in our hearts and minds. It would be a mistake to think it fragments only our habitat. We, too, are fragmented, split off, shredded, rent, torn.

But for some reason Jensen doesn’t perceive this lack of imagination, clearcut psyche, damnation, dead zones, and shredding of himself. Because after all of his analysis, and after we do some analyzing on our own, he writes, “we can proceed to tear something else apart.” The torn becomes the tearer. the bent becomes the bender

Imaginary Life Journey (September 13, 1923)

First a childhood, limitless and without
renunciation or goals. O unselfconscious joy.
Then suddenly terror, barriers, schools, drudgery,
and collapse into temptation and loss.

Defiance. The one bent becomes the bender,
and thrusts upon others that which it suffered.
Loved, feared, rescuer, fighter, winner
and conqueror, blow by blow.

And then alone in cold, light, open space,
yet still deep within the mature erected form,
a gasping for the clear air of the first one, the old one…

Then God leaps out from behind his hiding place.



Review: endgame volume 2 chapter 3

February 11, 2011

In the chapter entitled “Importance” we learn that Jensen doesn’t equate civilization with species. The argument he’s making is not fueled entirely by misanthropy or racism.

Reviewing a book chapter by chapter, sometimes this happens. I don’t really know what to make of this section. Is this just, and I say just, but the threat I’m sure is real, a way of shaking off the racists, windbags, nihilist people haters, conspiracy theorists who would be attracted to the idea of taking civilization down?

Because in prefering the indegenous over civilized, Jensen flirts with race. He flirts with eugenics. Because race isn’t just hatred of those outside, but the impure element within the race. Jensen has given talks, a lot of talks. I’ve been to enough to know, that someone in the crowd will stand up and criticize one race for breeding too much. Here he’s addressing, more dismissing, “do something, or shut the hell up” those who think the problem is breeding (racists).

It’s an interesting story about the racist who shuts the hell up. But it’s probably not a good idea to think the racists have been dealt with. We’re probably going to be discussing the problem again later.

Review: endgame volume 2 chapter 2

February 11, 2011

“The state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a concept of history that is in keeping with this insight.”

John Berger quotes Walter Benjamin in Hold Everything Dear.

The quote is clipped by Berger, so it’s presentation clipped is here more for discussion than argument. Because as Benjamin wrote it, (see number 8 (and here the translation is “emergency situation” )) we are to clearly realize that our task is to bring about a real state of emergency. And this is clearly what Jensen is trying to convince us to do.

Let’s not lose our heads. I’m riffing on the sense of urgency behind Jensen’s call to action. The picture pretty much speaks for itself. Jensen begins chapter 2 of volume 2 describing the scientific prediction of this news article. Our last date is 2100. And Jensen writes, “We also know that most of those who act will not do so with a level of urgency commensurate with the situation.” and he ends the section with the line “Civilization needs to be brought down.”

Jensen is older than I am. I mention this because I’m old enough to remember bomb drills. Sure this article is about the 50, but things didn’t improve in the 60, and in the 70 we were still getting under our desks to be prepared for the big one. Prince sang Ronnie talk to Russia, 1999. These songs didn’t come out of nowhere. During the the cold war we all lived in a state of emergency, that, maybe it was because I was young, but since 9/11, the state of emergency seem less threatening. The problem for revolutionaries is this need to create a real state of emergency, in this eternal “state of emergency”.

The problem with lines like “Civilization needs to be brought down.” at least for me, is I see this lone guy jumping on a squad of riot cops. Don’t be that guy. That’s not even advice, because if you are that guy you’re already gone.

For the book review part of this post Jensen tells us in this chapter that “This abandonment ( of autonomous moral responsibility) is central to everything that is wrong with this culture, and it is central to the explorations in this book.” And in this chapter Jensen tells us, “The solution is to reintegrate, to feel what we feel, to determine our own moralities (large and small scale) and to act on them.” So here in chapter 2 we’ve made it to the center of everything that is wrong with our culture, and we’ve got the solution.

He defines the terms strategy and tactic, so we can discuss the plan. But he also discusses violence, hate and dualisms. He also continues to do those things with the concepts I mentioned in chapter 1. And interestingly, coincidentally he defines rationalization in almost identical language to my definition of stupidity in the post on chapter 1. Rationalization he defines as “the deliberate elimination of information unnecessary to achieving an immediate task.”

At the end of the chapter we’re asked to put down the book and imagine the world we want. I should probably put a sketch of my imagined world down here. I desire the spread of autonomia; the development of complex relationships, through local councils, co-ops, community, love. I desire real direct democracy and free education. I think if we were more developed we’d be better able to solve our problems.

Review: Endgame Volume 2 Chapter 1

February 9, 2011

Frank Zappa observed, “It’s not getting any smarter out there. You have to come to terms with stupidity, and make it work for you.”

Oh no. Oh no.

It’s me, the disappointment is all mine. I’ve been on the lookout for a good and revolutionary plan of action for more than two decades. I’m an eternal optimist. I dive in with open expectations and in this case, in the case of Derrick Jensen‘s endgame, I feel the disappointment deeply. Jensen has come up, his name, that he’s the leading edge philosopher of the radical movement, has somehow, I’m sure the internet has something to do with it, come into my consciousness. Me. I want change, I want radical change, so when Jensen became a topic of discussion on VMC, when the possibility of a discussion of a radical call to action presented itself, because it is hard to talk about radical ideas, flipping through volume 2 of endgames, and I also flipped through 50 ways to stay in denial while the world burns, and this difficulty, this frustration of trying to connect with others at a radical level is something Jensen and I share, so yes when the possibility of a discussion presented itself I took it. I am taking it. This is it. This is the beginning of a long look at Jensen’s endgame.

I’m starting in the middle. It’s as good as any place to start. And I only have a copy of Volume 2. So I can’t start at the beginning. The sentence that stands out in the first chapter of the second volume comes immediately after the first break. Jensen writes “I am not stupid.” The act of writing that begs the question. Ok. Derrick. If you’re not stupid, who is? Me? Your reader? Because in eight pages, in the Chapter entitled “We Shall Destroy All Of Them” you’re presenting an argument/call to action that takes as its motto a telling line from the ethos guiding the actions that oppress us and the planet, and then ask us to take that motto on for ourselves, as a call to action to destroy our oppressors. There is a whole lot of stupidity here. Jensen has clearly been dismissed before as a stupid reactionary, part of his argument is spent dispensing with that dismissal.

Had I started at the beginning, I imagine, I can’t know for sure because I didn’t start at the beginning, but I imagine there would be much more basis for, or maybe not… I mean part of Jensen’s frustration is that he’s not really telling us anything we don’t already know. Everybody knows that deforestation, mining, milling, pulping, bleaching, cooling, fertilizing, pesticides, energy and manufacturing waste is threatening the health of every living thing, and yes, deniers included, the inconvenient truth of climate change has us all conscious of living in end times. It was in the 60’s that the Lorax gave us the word “UNLESS” and today no one, not a single person living in our civilization is unaware of the impending planetary doom of industrial growth.

Jensen has some concepts (being fair) and does some things with them that might come up later, but here in this review of the first chapter in the second volume I want to deal with stupidity. Here too, I’ll agree with Jensen that civilization, our civilization is the problem. We have been created in and by this civilization, so we are of it, and all his criticism of the civilization, that it is stupid, insane, and death-driven apply to us as well. Look at Jensen’s plan, in a nutshell to make war on the war-machine. It is stupid, insane and death-driven. The criticism, by extension applies to me and you. We are stupid, insane and death-driven. But here like I said, I’ll only deal with stupid.

Our civilized way of thinking is to dismiss the stupid, insane and death-driven, which is ourselves, and Jensen, he’s one of us. This dismissal preserves the self, maintains the stupid, insane, death-driven self and perpetuates civilization. So lets not be dismissive.

Let’s engage with Jensen. Let’s develop ourselves. Because the opposite of stupid is not smart. There are a lot of smart people doing the stupid, insane and death-driven actions that Jensen wants to destroy. We’re not really looking for an opposite, what we’re looking for is a way out of stupidity, which is a closed, limited way of thinking and acting on limited thought. What we want to do is develop, and that means incorporating everything, it means developing our ideas out in the open, with others, for good and revolutionary action.