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

By       Message Dahr Jamail     Permalink
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In April 2004, I watched local Iraqis in Fallujah, armed with Kalashnikov machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers, repel the most powerful military machine on the globe when US occupation forces attempted to invade their city. In 2006, during the Israeli attack of Lebanon, I saw Hezbollah, using little more than what the Iraqis used in Fallujah, repel an invasion by the Israeli military - a military defeat Israeli smart weapons, sophisticated US-made fighter jets and drones could do nothing to prevent.

"History provides many examples of successful resistance, as do current events," writes Jensen, who maintains a regular column for Orion magazine called "Upping the Stakes." In the March/April issue he wrote, "The Irish nationalists, the abolitionists, the suffragettes - I could fill the rest of this column with examples. Recently, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has, through attacks on oil pipelines and the kidnapping of oil workers, disabled as much as 40 percent of the oil industry's output from Nigeria and some oil companies have even considered pulling out of the region. If those of us who are the primary beneficiaries of this global system of exploitation had 1 percent of their courage and commitment to the land and community, we could be equally effective if not more so. We have vastly more resources at our disposal and the best we can come up with is, what, compost piles? The world is being killed and many environmentalists still think that riding bikes is some sort of answer?"

Jensen told me that MEND was, for a long time, nonviolent, but after one of their leaders was killed, they moved toward using sabotage, then finally to violent resistance.

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Jensen adds in his column, "MEND has said to the oil industry: 'It must be clear that the Nigerian government cannot protect your workers or assets. Leave our land while you can or die in it.' There is more courage, integrity, intelligence and pragmatism in that statement from MEND than in any statement I have ever read by any American environmentalist, including myself. We need to accept the fact that making this type of statement (and being prepared to act on it) might be necessary to preserve a living planet. Some people may be willing to give up on life on this planet without resisting. I'm not one of them."

Jensen urges people to "think for themselves," as he feels this is the most important first step toward true freedom.

"I want them to decolonize their hearts and minds," he explains. "That means to recognize that this culture is not the only way to live. This is one culture. To recognize that technological progress is not progress. It is escalation. It improves the ability of those in power to make matter and energy jump through hoops on command. If sea turtles were developing all kinds of technology that was killing the planet, we would not call it progress."

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For all of us who are or want to be actively involved in work that might shape a better future for the planet, it is imperative we know what we love and care about most. Given the vast number of issues (climate change, militarism, corporate capitalism etc.) that need our immediate attention, coupled with the severity of crisis many of them encompass, it is easy to be overwhelmed.

"What would you live and die to protect?" Jensen suggests we ask ourselves. "Fight by any means, whether that be by a lawsuit or a gun? Is it your family, survivors of domestic violence, salmon, the Rio Grande River? What is it you love enough that you would fight to defend?"

Apathy and learned helplessness are now endemic in the US. The massive anti-war demonstrations on February 15, 2003, that preceded the Iraq war were ignored by the Bush administration. That administration went on to shred the US Constitution, openly advocate torture and enrich war-profiteering companies like Halliburton, Dyncorp and Bechtel in Iraq. People felt as though nothing could be done.

When tens of millions of US citizens voted in Barack Obama as president, they hoped real change for the better was upon them. Many of those people now feel betrayed by his broken promises. Guantanamo Bay, that he promised to close, remains open. The US occupation of Iraq, that he promised to end, continues with no real end in sight. Rather than acting as the peace president many hoped he would be, President Obama has tripled the number of soldiers in Afghanistan since he took office. It's a long list. Millions of US citizens now feel they are at a loss.

"Do you believe that our culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?" asks 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.'

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"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 acculturated 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."

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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?"