You are on page 1of 4

UFPPC ( — Digging Deeper LXXXIII June 1, 2009, 7:00 p.m.

Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, What We Leave Behind (New York: Seven
Stories Press, 2009).

[Thesis: That the planet is in crisis and problem of toilet paper (21-23). “The
the future of life is at stake: “This culture most important question of all: does our
is killing the planet” (99) largely because presence and do our actions help or harm
it is infinitely narcissistic. Jensen and . . . the land on whom our own survival
McBay speak for life on earth, against ultimately depends?” (23).
civilization, against humanity if need be.
Philosophically, they argue for the Garbage. The history of garbage: it
primacy of nature over culture, not, as is became a problem only with the rise of
common in contemporary thought, vice cities (25-28). Four garbage disposal
versa.] strategies: dumps; organic recycling
(animals & composting); burning;
Preface. “Industrial civilization is recycling (28-32; 41-49). Personal
incompatible with life. It is experiences with chickens as consumers
systematically destroying life on this of waste; dumpster diving (32-35; 37-38).
planet, undercutting its very basis. This Dumpster diving is “political” and
culture is, to put it bluntly, murdering the “sustainable” only in a limited sense (35-
earth. Unless it’s stopped—whether we 37). The evolution of urban waste in the
intentionally stop it or the natural world past century (38-41). People who work
does, through ecological collapse or with waste are often socially stigmatized
other means—it will kill every living (49-53).
being” (vii). Four previous books (vii).
This book is two books (one on Sustainability. Without an ethic of
excrement and death, and one on responsibility in both the predator-prey
sustainability and life), but they cannot relationship and the consumption-waste
be separated; rather, it is a book “about relationship, communities “do not
the spaces in between those topics” survive” (55). Sustainability means that
(viii). Style: “I” can refer to either author an action and all necessary associated
(let the reader figure it out) (ix). actions can be performed indefinitely,
Interdependence of thought, perception, and must always be considered with
and behavior [cognitive behavioral respect to the “landbase” (56-60).
therapy model; not identified] (ix-x).
Sustainability™. A reluctant attack on
PART I architect William McDonough [co-author
of Cradle to Cradle, which goes
Decay. Lifelong fascination with decay unmentioned here] (and,
(3-4). Shit and shitting (5-8). Pertinent synecdochically, Paul Hawken, Amory
etymologies (8-9). The concept of waste Lovins, Al Gore, etc.—see also 201-03) as
involves utility and destruction (9-10). a false priest of sustainability, criticized
What happens to excrement in nature for seeking to continue rather than end
(10-13). Roots nourish bacteria (13-15). the industrialization that is killing the
planet (61-79; 405-11). McDonough’s
Waste. “[F]rom a long-term perspective fundamental error is to pretend that
. . . industrial civilization is essentially a culture rather than nature is primary
complicated way of turning land into (71). Discussion of ideological
waste” (18; 17-18). Plastic bags (18-19). confrontations in activist settings and the
Waste is of different kinds (20-21). The “about 700 pieces of hate mail,” almost
entirely “horizontal hostility” “from those Taking It Personally. Anger; vow of
whom I would have thought would have resistance (179-83).
been allies” (74-77).
Morality Revisited. Epigraph quotes
Compartmentalization and Its Whitehead: morality is the opinion of the
Opposite. Critique of the culture’s majority (185). Abusers generally have
commitment to “compartmentalization” “a distorted sense of right and wrong”
and “linear thought” (81-94). Analyzing (quoting Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He
shit, and Crohn’s disease, illustrates the Do That?) (185-88). Indictment of “this
unreality of compartimentalization (94- culture” (188). Each person has a sense
97). of internal and external morality (188-
Plastic. Plastic is poisoning the planet
and our bodies (99-102; 108-18). History Legacy. The strength, resiliency, and
of plastic (102-04). Our attachment to diversity of life on earth (or “healthy
plastic is linked to our vain pursuit of landbases”) is the fundamental moral
immortality (105-08). good by which all action should be
evaluated (191-97; cf. “I’m sorry I have
Mining. Cyanide gold mining to be the one to break the news, but the
exemplifies our culture’s relation to Earth planet is more important than this
(119-27). fucking culture” [204]). Sequel to the
Red Cloud development story (197-98).
Medicine. Medical waste (129-37).
The Real World. If one believes the
Toxic Gifts. Embalming and Western earth would be better off if we had never
burial (139-43). PCBs and the other 700 been born, the first option is denial,
chemical contaminants that can be found distraction, and forgetting (199-209).
in the average body (143-46).
Taking It Personally, Volume II.
Bodies. Life is based on reciprocity, not Another option: attack the messenger
domination (147-48). We live in denial of (211). Next option: “pretend that the
or indifference to the fact that our culture damage isn’t real damage” (211-18).
is “killing the planet” : “Après nous le
deluge” (148-50) Magical Thinking. Another option:
revert to “magical thinking” (i.e. taking
PART II thought for action) and willing that
everything work out—many varieties of
Morality. “[I]f you’re not caught, it this tendency are listed, and those
doesn’t count” is a “fundamental guiding redolent of “new age bullshit” are
principle” of many of our culture’s denounced with particular (and
“decision-making processes” (153-55). occasionally mordant) ferocity (219-36).
Tale of Dale Smith of Red Cloud, a lying
developer of property at Elk Creek, as Complexity. We should regard the
cultural exemplar (156-77; these names complexity of natural communities with
could not be corroborated). Appeal to humility and not expect to understand
the Declaration of Independence (174). them scientifically in terms of cause and
The legal system is “primarily about effect (237-41). Indigenous cultures’
maintaining the current social order” magic may have been efficacious in ways
(176). beyond our understanding (241-48).
Despair. To conquer despair, we must Governmental solutions are unconvincing
decolonize our own minds to overcome (333-38).
our self-identification with our culture
and pursue not just resistance but Technotopia: Industry. Industrial =
“effective resistance” (251, emphasis in machine-based (339-41). Technotopian
original; 249-56). solutions are implausible because history
shows they won’t be implemented even
Powerlessness. Five reasons that living if they exist; “corporations need to be
simply is an inadequate response to the eliminated” (349; 342-51). Criticism of
present situation (257-60). “Our civilized Buckminster Fuller as too anthropocentric
selves must die” (260). Our culture is (352-54). High-tech fantasies (354-58).
responsible for our inability to grow out
of our “infantile cravings,” which also Collapse. Final scenario, guided by
infect our activism (260-65). Joseph A. Tainter’s The Collapse of
Complex Societies (date of publication
Growing Up. Rallying call to put aside given as 2003 rather than 1988) (359-
infantilism and overcome “fashionable 69). The prospect of war (370-74).
nihilism” and act “such that the world is Economics as a factor in the collapse of
a better place because I was born, the Roman Empire (374-76). But in our
because I lived, and because I died” society there has been a dearth of action
(276; 279; 267-79). in response to the danger of collapse
Fighting Back. Instead of a list of
The Future: Business as Usual. The things the reader can do as a consumer,
future: a “business as usual” scenario: a an appeal to the reader as a person (379-
world overwhelmed with waste (283-97). 82). “Fighting back means doing what is
appropriate”; violence not ruled out (383;
Technotopia. Another scenario—“an 382-85). Needed: an “effective
‘ideal’ society driven primarily by strategy,” “a collective recognition of the
technological innovation and marked by real systemic roots of the problem,” “a
a generally high quality of life”— culture of resistance” (385-88).
critiqued, especially the notion of green Government counterinsurgency
plastics or bioplastics (300; 299-306). operations, state reprisals, even fascism
The planet has a limited capacity for are to be expected in response (388-95).
photosynthesis (306-09). Technology’s Action should not wait upon majority
effort to overcome decay is self- consensus (395-97). Need for “long-term
defeating: the world needs decay (309- thinking” (397). Need for individuals to
14). Depleted uranium (314-18). evaluate their own risks and needs (397-
Fluoride (318-20). Pollution is not just “a 98).
new nutrient” (320-22). Technotopia
would allow species extinction to The Living. The reader is urged to
continue (322-23). “[A] belief in “reidentify with the living, with life, with
technotopia is essentially a form of the real, physical world. And to live your
magical thinking” (323). life and to give your life for the benefit of
the living, the benefit of those who give
Technotopia: Producing Waste. life to you and those you love” (400; 399-
Needs are invented and products sold to 401). A call to fight “[u]ntil this culture
satisfy them; e.g. “feminine hygiene,” collapses” (401).
expendable plastics (327-32).
Notes. 22 pages.
“industrial civilization” that conflates
Bibliography. 43 books, 103 articles, capitalism and science as “omnicide”
35 websites, 13 documents, 1 M.A. (259) while turning a blind eye to things
thesis, 1 video. like medical progress and excrement as a
. carrier of disease; (3) unconcern for the
Index. 17 pp. human suffering these ideas would cause
if put into practice (one thinks of Pol Pot’s
About the Authors. Jensen an ideology—on page 251 of Endgame Vol.
“[a]ctivist, philosopher, teacher, and 1 [2006] Jensen dismisses a critic who
leading voice of uncompromising makes this comparison); (4) reification of
dissent” (453). McBay is a “[w]riter, hyperbolical metaphors (“our culture” is
activist, and small-scale organic farmer” “killing the planet”), making ideological
(453). imperatives seem like ethical ones and
causing those who oppose them
[Additional information. Derrick ideologically to appear culpably “insane”
Jensen was born on Dec. 19, 1960. He (204; 354; “It’s simply true that right
lives in Crescent City, CA. He holds a now, living in and with a world being
B.S. in mineral engineering physics from killed, we all have knives in our chests”
the Colorado School of Mines and an [213])—the authors respond to this
M.F.A. from Eastern Washington critique rhetorically, though not
University. He is also the author of substantively or effectively, insisting
Listening to the Land (1995), A Language dramatically and indeed fanatically that
Older than Words (2000), The Culture of there is no difference between the
Make Believe (2002), Walking on Water: murder or torture of one’s daughter or
Reading, Writing, and Revolution (2005), son and the “murder” of the planet (217,
Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of emphasis in original; 213-18); (5) at the
Civilization (2006), Endgame, Vol. 2: sociological level, especially with respect
Resistance (2006), How Shall I Live My to institutions, the analysis is not serious;
Life?: On Liberating the Earth from in particular, the problem of “the
Civilization (2008), and Songs of the unanticipated consequences of social
Dead (2009), and the co-author of action” (Robert K. Merton) is not
Railroads and Clearcuts: Legacy of considered; (6) the authors are self-
Congress’s 1864 Northern Pacific righteous, denouncing the “cowardice”
Railroad Land Grant (1995), Strangely (230) of those who reject their reasoning
Like War: The Global Assault on Forests and repeating some of the worst traits of
(2003), Welcome to the Machine: the culture they say they are dedicating
Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of to ending. — Cf. the epigraph to
Control (2004), Thought to Exist in the Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind (1953;
Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of trans. 1955), by “an old Jew of Galicia:
Zoos (2007), and As the World Burns: 50 “When someone is honestly 55% right,
Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial that’s very good and there’s no use
(2007). His philosophy has been labeled wrangling. And if someone is 60% right,
“anarcho-primitivist”; his writing style it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him
has been called “conversational.”] thank God. But what’s to be said about
75% right? Wise people say this is
[Critique. Weaknesses in the argument: suspicious. Well, and what about 100%
(1) a simplistic concept of culture as right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a
something that one can “get rid of” fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of
(194); (2) a simplistic concept of rascal.”]