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Pondering Derrick Jensen/Life vs. Productivity: "What Would You Live and Die to Protect?"

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Jensen does not advocate the use of violence as a means toward taking control of, or even overthrowing, the US government. Instead, he encourages small groups of people to do what their government has failed to do. For example, he asks, "What would happen if police started enforcing cancer free zones, or rape free zones, or toxics free zones?" He goes on to answer his rhetorical question, "We could start putting together forces that say, "You will not toxify this land and we will stop you. If people came into our homes and started to pour poison down our throats, we would stop them."

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In Oakland, California, in the 1960s, police brutality against African-Americans was rampant. But when the Black Panthers decided to arm themselves, load into cars and trail the police, beatings of African-Americans decreased dramatically.

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A modern-day example is The Pink Sari Gang, a group of women in India who wear pink saris and train in the martial arts. "If they see a man abusing a woman, they beat the crap out of him," Jensen says, "If they see the police abusing the poor, they step in. This dramatically reduces domestic violence."

Jensen is not the first person to suggest the use of violence against those in power. Malcolm X also took on the establishment in the 1960s by indicting white America in the harshest of terms for its crimes against blacks, and he remains one of the most influential African-Americans in history.

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"We declare our right on this earth ... to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary," is perhaps his most famous quote. While he was clear about only using violence in self-defense, Malcolm X was also clear on the issue of nonviolence: "It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself, when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks," he said.

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Could these tactics succeed in the United States today?

Assassinations, sabotage and other violent acts geared toward stopping the corporate capitalist system might remove some corporate CEOs and temporarily slow ecological destruction, but the CEOs would immediately be replaced and the violence and sabotage would most certainly be used to justify draconian measures applied to the general public, thus, making further resistance more challenging.

The US government response to armed resistance in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in National Guardsmen killing unarmed anti-war protesters on college campuses and the FBI assassination of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Chicago. Government spying and surveillance of resistance leaders was rampant, as was exposed by the COINTELPRO files being made public.

Arendt was critical of the tactics of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers for advocating violence, along with being critical of other groups in the 1960s in the US who did the same, like the Weathermen who carried out dozens of bombings of government targets in response to the war in Vietnam. Arendt wrote, "In a head-on clash between violence [military] and [collective nonviolent resistance] power, the outcome is hardly in doubt."

Yet, her critique of the failure of governments' use of violence to quell nonviolent movements is equally harsh: "Nowhere is the self-defeating factor in the victory of violence over [collective nonviolent] power more evident than in the use of terror to maintain domination, about whose weird successes and eventual failures we know perhaps more than any generation before us."

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Arendt could easily count the failing US empire project among her "eventual failures" in this analysis. Indeed, one can argue that the US empire project, which is essentially run by a corporate, capitalist, hegemonic ideology, is being crushed under its own weight. This is evidenced by the ongoing global financial crisis and the escalating human-made climate change.

Hailing the religions of infinite growth and perpetual profit within the confines of a finite plane is truly an example of the proverbial snake eating its own tail. So, why not leave it to eat itself, then rebuild and reconfigure ourselves to live closer to the land after the juggernaut collapses?

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DAHR JAMAIL He is author of the book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Jamail's work has been featured on National Public Radio, the Guardian, The Nation, and The Progressive. He has received many (more...)

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Pondering Derrick Jensen/Life vs. Productivity: "What Would You Live and Die to Protect?"