Alec Perkins Phelan Seminar Weekly Paper 4.9.


In volume one of Endgame, Derrick Jensen has a style markedly different from that present in other writings we have read this semester. He comes off as overly critical and pessimistic about future prospects of the civilization, though his very point is that civilization itself is the problem. Jensen’s critique of civilization in its entirety puts him at risk of being dismissed as crazy or a kook, but he brings up issues not widely discussed. The claim that the very idea of civilization is unsustainable seems extreme at first, however he goes on to provide a definition of civilization that clarifies his argument, and, in some ways, makes a few of his presented premises almost common sense or obvious. Overall, his premises, personal anecdotes, and overall discussion shows that his problem is not with a specific attribute of industrial civilization, but rather that the concept of civilization creates conceptions of human’s place in the world that are used to justify abuses of the unsustainable ways of life. Jensen argues that previous ways of living, prior to the point 6,000 years ago considered the start of historyby his history teachers, are what our species needs to move back to. (My ownhistory classes have exhibited the same attitude, placing everything before that point as “pre-history.” Only geology classes have indicated that anything actually took place before then.) He then goes on to argue that “back” is not even the proper conception of it. Much like the advocating by Buckminster Fuller (whom he also is critical of) that with relation to the planet in and out should be used instead of up and down, Jensen suggests that instead of thinking about history as being linear, with society always moving “forward” and

“progressing,” we think about it as cyclical. In this way, the sustainable living that he argues for loses the idea that it is backward or less civilized, though he would argue less civilized is probably a good thing. Instead of the technological nostalgia approach of new being better than the old with progress being the goal, survival is the goal, with whether or not people can live being the main concern. Continuing the argument about perceptions, Jensen breaks down symptoms of abuse andapplies them to civilization, showing how civilization is abusive, its existence dependent on being able to abuse nature. This abuse include resources, and one of his premises is that few people willingly give up the resources they traditionally depend on, as well as a loss of diversity in language, which further limits possible diversity in perceptions toward the world. Another effect that according to Jensen is a result of any form of abuse is the internalizing of the responsibility for problems. This seems contradictory to his comment about placing blame elsewhere. However, his point is that people “need to dismantle the system responsible” (174). By internalizing the responsibility or assuming it is someone else’s problem, the focus is shifted away from the system, the actual cause and perpetuator of problems. Jensen presents this issue of perception as being one of the primary problems that civilization has created, which are contradictory to human nature, and that sustainable ways can be grown into, “if only the child is allowed to grow up within a culture that values sustainability, that lives by sustainability, that rewards sustainability, that tells itself stories reinforcing sustainability, and strictly disallows the sort of exploitation that would lead to unsustainability” (38). It is challenging to get around his almost ranting stylethat is rather disjointed, but its informality makes it more approachable, as opposed to Mumford’s much

greater density. Like Mumford, Jensen is critical of the idea of inevitability in “progress,” though he provides an alternative much more extreme than a shift to organic thinking. I am curious to see if Jensen provides a way to actualize his shift of perceptions on a wide scale, or he is simply content to let civilization itself be its own undoing in the distant future. The table of contents suggests he does in the second volume.