Edited transcription of an interview by John Carico for The Fifth Column, published November 10, 2015.
(Excerpts: entire post may be found here.)
By the mid 1990s, I had already recognized that this culture is inherently destructive, but the “salvage rider” was still a big lesson for me. In ’95, activists all over the country had been able to shut down the Forest Service timber sales using the appeal process. Basically, if you could show the timber sales were breaking the law, you could appeal to have them stopped. Then they would have to produce a new document. Then you would stop them again by showing where they violated the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, etc. We were successful enough that Congress passed the salvage rider, wherein any timber sales that they wanted would be exempt from environmental regulations. The lesson was that any time you win using their rules to stop the injustice and stop the destruction, they will change the rules on you. There is really no substitute for learning this lesson yourself.
I would also ask young people to think about the linkages. A solar cell may be really groovy and you can power your pot grow but where did the solar cell come from? It required mining. It required global infrastructure. Even climate activists ignore these linkages. I heard one activist say, “Solar power has no costs, only benefits.” Tell that to the lake in Bhatu, China, who is now completely dead as a result of rare earth mining. Tell that to the people, human and nonhuman, who no longer can sustain themselves from the lake or from the land poisoned all around it.
A friend of mine says, “A lot of environmentalists start by wanting to protect one specific piece of land, and move on to questioning the entire culture of western civilization.” Once you start asking the questions, they don’t stop. “Why are they trying to destroy this piece of land?” leads to, “Why do they want to destroy other pieces of land?” Then you ask, “Why do we have an economic system based on destroying land? What is the history of this economic system? What happens when it runs out of frontiers? What happens when you have overshoot?” It’s important for young activists never to stop asking those questions.
I’ve been saying for fifteen years that if space aliens came down to earth and were doing what industrial civilization is doing to the planet, we would put in place Decisive Ecological Warfare. We would destroy their infrastructure. This is an important point. We can make a very strong argument that World War II was won by the Allies, primarily in the killing fields of Russia. But I would argue that either first or second most important was the destruction of German industrial capacity. Similarly, the North won the Civil War not just because they had better generals, but because they destroyed the South’s capacity to wage war.
I had a conversation a couple years ago with a very famous, dedicated anarchist who has some critiques of anarchism, but didn’t want me to use his name because he knows if he says anything critical about anarchism he will get death threats. One of the big problems is that anarchism is open membership, in that anyone can become an anarchist simply by identifying as an anarchist. He says many who call themselves anarchist, aren’t; they are just antisocial and have found an ideological excuse for their bad behavior. He says anarchists have a long tradition of fighting for the eight-hour work day, or fighting against fascism as in Spain. He says there needs to be a way to kick out people who are simply sociopaths who call themselves anarchists. I mean, here’s a quote by an anarchist/queer theorist: “Smashing the institutions of patriarchal racist capitalism goes hand in hand with being a repulsive perverted freak.” Seriously? We’re supposed to put this person in the same category as Goldman or Kropotkin? Are we going to let that person in, even if they are just a prick? Any group will have nutjobs: Republicans, Democrats, stamp collectors. But anarchism is so small, so vocal, and so open that the nut jobs really stand out and can discredit the larger group.
I have become convinced that the single most important invention of the dominant culture, which has allowed it to destroy the planet, is the top-down bureaucratic military style organization. I’m not saying we need to model our organizations after this, but it is really effective. It is how this culture was able to murder the Native Americans. They had one big army. In my experience, people can generally be very contentious. It’s really hard to get together on the same page.
My friend Jeanette Armstrong, an indigenous activist and writer, told me once, “We, in our community, have just as many squabbles as white people do. The difference is I know my great-grandchild might marry your great-grandchild, so we figure out how to get along.” I really like that. I think we just have to ask “What are we really trying to do?”