Monday, 16 April 2012

Deep Resistance to Deep Green Resistance

Have had a really interesting fortnight in my head.  I have for some time known about Derrick Jensen  through his books "Endgame" but I innocently happened upon a tweet from Dark Optimism about the film 2010 film End:Civ which features Jensen and the ideas generated by the Deep Green Resistance Movement (DGR). Their underlying philosophy is encapsulated by Lierre Keith:

 "The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems."

End:Civ is a deeply disturbing film about the effects of our continuing and continual destruction of the planet, literally in order to fuel our inexorable industrialisation.  It pulls no punches at the scale of the destruction and at how environmentalists (Bright Greens) are deluding themselves that the world will voluntarily change in order to save the planet.  The only alternative is to "Occupy the Machine" and dismantle it either non-violently (through occupation) or, if necessary, guerrilla warfare.  Jensen wants us to destroy industrial civilisation - and possibly civilisation itself. 

The argument is compelling. The film changes tone two-thirds through as the advocation of violence becomes more strident and the condemnation of sell-out liberal middle-class pacifist idealism emerges. It is this that Jensen also blames for the consistent blasting of the planet: that the Bright Greens have helped to commercialise environmentalism which has allowed sociopathic corporations to keep cashing in thus contributing nothing to halt the decimation.  Finally he suggests that non-violence has never led to change and that such an ideology only pacifies resistance to power and that we must do a great deal more than 'like' a Facebook page or sign an online petition - all further sops to protect the powerful.

What am I to think about this? I  love the planet, but do not advocate violence - gawd I'm not even a proper activist, I just own a bookshop!!  Well, I do what everyone does.  I process according to the interpretative structures I have available and what a journey it has been!

First came the Anonymous, tweet.  A harmless graze along my Twitter feed and there it was: 

"whatever your activism is, keep it local, keep it focused and beware of egotists telling you what to do".

...and then an initially unrelated surf brought me to this very contentious article about the anti-civilsation movement in the Anarchist News . Interestingly it had this in its introduction:

It seems as though new ideologists haven't learned from the mistakes of the past, as we're witnessing the dawn of a new generation of “green-robed priests”.

It went on to say that the anti-civ movement was repeating past (Marxist) mistakes insofar as it was disaffecting other groups and movements by assuming that its premise is correct (when it is just a premise; a position).  Further,  that it was attempting to take control of the argument by the 'fuck patience' imperative, using some sort of emergency critique to force 'act now' scenarios thereby eliminating the opportunity for others to work through the consequences and impact of anti-civ action. 

Then another then...

What sort of coincidence is it that I am also reading "Mercurious" by the splendid Patrick Harpur? More to the question is why is it that a book on the art of Alchemy could speak in any way to this issue and help me process it? 

"Mercurious" has a dual narrative.  It is about the work of a modern alchemist priest (Smith) in the 1950s whose work (Magnum Opus) has been uncovered by a female intellectual/anthropologist, Eileen, who rents the vicarage in the present day.  She is herself a Jungian and interprets Smith's work for us by unfolding the principles of Alchemical Art as it became intertwined with the mythologies and psyches that are part of the human condition. Two relevant things have emerged from it.

Firstly,  human beings indulge in a process of dual classification.  In certain contexts we tend to characterise the world in terms of black/white, bad/good, heaven/hell, above/below, live/die.  This is to oversimplify a little, but the making of myths is all about these dual classifications.  Furthermore, although we are rational beings, in extremis we employ dual classification as part of our persuasively emotive toolkit to generate action. This is presumably because we have less time to think.

An example of how dual classification would work in this latter respect is:  so.. either do this (for this desireable outcome) or that, (the undesireable outcome), will happen.  A straight oppositional either/or. Yet rarely do things work out in the way we expect them to - good or bad. The 'options' are never straightforward. Usually we work things out in media res, as we are doing now whilst in the middle of this context of environmental change.   It is no doubt likely that our civilisation may be coming to an end but it  may also be fair to say that as with all civilisations, this is just a precursor to the next.  There's an alchemical process taking place here and now - a painful transition perhaps, but one which will eventually lead to transformation.   

Secondly, Eileen was also a follower of the famous French anthropologist and structuralist Levi-Strauss.  He understood that humans have a dichotomous relationship with their environment.  We know that we are 'of' nature but we also set ourselves 'apart' from nature. All societies struggle with the transition from Nature to Culture and in his study of tribes (and he produced many works on this, fascinated by our sharing of 'universal' mythologies), he sees that all civilisations  (and the question obviously needs to be begged about what a civilisation is) initially formed through fire (the transformative alchemical agent, by the way).  Fire allowed communities to domesticate, by enabling the process of cooking.  Fire is the driving force behind our ability to make culture - (stealing fire is also a major myth trope).  It is what made power structures in the first place: those owning the fire held the power.

And in the 20/21 century cue the oil companies, media moguls, politicians and oil corporations who have the resources to make our plastics,  our cars and to keep our domestic fires burning.  Interestingly, it would also be the produce of fire - explosives - that would be used by the anti-civ movement.  Then who would have the power, I wonder?  And what will be the 'new fire' once the oil has run out? Who would control it?  Getting  Promethean now.

So where has this go me?  Have I merely  rationalised a difficult message?  Perhaps.  But I do think I've travelled quite far - in my head anyway.   The alembic world is literally being 'cooked' and slowly transformed.  Despite the film, I don't believe the planet is dead or dying.  This is an arrogant 'apart from' assertion.  It has survived warming at orders of magnitude beyond conception long before we had anything to do with it.  

I do believe that civilised life as we know it may die out.   However, it is to me a question of transition. Impatience ruins years of alchemical work and there are many resurrectional (to use another myth) brightnesses  appearing  which gives hope for a future in which we can live in a right relationship with the planet. 

So am going to keep solid with my own local, focused and non-egotistical networks - and others like them in a larger scale, who are , Levi-Strausslike, engaging in the possibility of new structures because they are imagining them.  It's hard to see what sort of world the DGR imagines after the end of civilisation.

Fuck impatience.


The books referred to in this article are available from the Radishwebstore here:

Endgame Vol 2: (Resistance) by Derrick Jensen
Mercurious by Patrick Harpur


  1. I just finished reading the Deep Green Resistance book. I am glad I did, I think their plan is very well thought out. I think that everyone, no matter what we do, has a place in the movement. I hope you do read the book, even if you disagree with some parts. I do think local work is the most important. Your bookstore sounds interesting, too bad you aren't anywhere near me.

    (note, I found your blog in a search of blogs, to see if anyone was talking about the book)

  2. Hi Desert Dreamer!

    Yeah, I've not read the book cover to cover. I don't have an oppositional personality which I think comes through in spades in the book itself, particularly in the Lierre Keith section - and after watching EndCiv didn't really want to get wound up by it all again.

    LK would have no time for the likes of me - would see me as part of the problem and I'm not convinced she believes that everyone has a place in the movement. In fact she anticipates opposition from 'the left' and though she deplores the metaconversations people have when trying to reach a suitable structure for consensus ('immature') I think this will be replaced by managing the disapprobation of members of other ecological groups. This will in itself prove a distraction - or a war on two fronts.

    The time may come for an authoriarian manifesto such as this. I think it unlikely.

    Still keeping it local, focused and free of egotists.

    Thanks for commenting! (Glad you like the sound of the bookshop).