“I’m not sure how the third world war will be fought, but the forth will be fought with sticks and stones.” Albert Einstein
I have been avoiding reading Derrick Jensen for some years, now. I don’t mean thinking about it and just not being in the mood, but actually, consciously choosing not to read some thing that I know is applicable to issues with which I am very much concerned. I’ve said as much to friends that share my passions.
Ostensibly, the reason is pretty simple to understand. Over the years of getting to know people on line, meeting them in person, becoming friends and endlessly discussing issues, philosophies, scientific principles and our own personal stories, there has been a recurring incidence of running into fanatical(read: intense, impassioned, certain) DJ fans that want to debate “blowing up dams.” Don’t get me wrong, I know with absolute certainty that these are only a small demographic in Jensen’s fan base and I would never suggest otherwise… but as these debates have developed, repeatedly, the theme has been “we must take violence to the man or else we are merely hypocrites talking shit.” No matter how much I or anyone else try to point out the necessary difficulties and potential backlashes involved in violence action, the accusation in response is simple: we’re assumed to be moralizing and/or afraid. Eventually the conversation thread is closed or, occasionally it simply looses stem, and everyone involved is left feeling frustrated.
A couple weeks ago, I picked up A Language Older than Words at the library. And for over two weeks it sat on my coffee table staring at me, but still I resisted. Two nights ago, I stopped. I picked it up. I finally began reading. I finished it last night.
First thing, as I knew already, Derrick is a fabulous writer… a write with something to say. I knew that already, having read a number of his essays over the years. The book merely confirmed this impression.
Next, I am very glad that I waited this long to read it. The experiences I have had over the last two years, the ways I have grown and changed, the different place my head is at these days: all these things created a much greater connection between the story Derrick was relating and my own. I understood it in a way I never could have three years ago. And at the same time, I was strong enough to push back (mentally) when I felt he pressed a point too far. I didn’t get caught in the intensity of his words as I might have in another place time.
Third, I think Derrick stopped short of the answers he was looking for: it’s all there, in the book, but he never quite came out and said it.
A Language Older Then Words is a meandering story: it flows in much the way his own healing process flowed: in fits and starts of passion and activity, with always a story to come back to. He writes of clearcut forests, decimated species, genocide, ecocide, rape, child abuse, domestic abuse, and power. He relates all of these things to the terror of his own childhood at the hands of his own father: a well respected, wealthy lawyer that could not seem to keep his hands, his fists or his dick to himself. It is gripping and devastating, both, to follow his meandering course.
Albert Einstein once said that “the significant problems of the world cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness at which they are created.” I think he’s right. I believe Carl Jung was onto much the same thing when he wrote “All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsoluble… They can never be solved only outgrown. This ‘outgrowing’ proved on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening of his or her outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.” ( A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen, Chelsea Green, 2000. p326)
When we imprison another we must also place one of our own in prison as a guard. Likewise when we imprison a part of ourselves, other parts must move into that same dungeon. Prisons — whether made of steel, razor wire, floodlamps, and observation posts, or a steel will holding emotions and flesh in check – consumes a tremendous amount of energy. When as a child I vowed to no longer feel anger, to no longer feel anything, not only did I lose access to banished feelings but I also lost the energy it took to keep them at bay. Where id those emotions go, what did they do? They did not vanish into the psychic equivalent of thin air. How did they twist and turn to find their way out, as ultimately they must? How do frustrated emotions make clear their need for expression, and how, in the end are they expressed?( A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen, Chelsea Green, 2000. p320)
The people of our culture exhibit all of the characteristics of trauma victims: from denial that trauma occurred, or glossing over the seriousness of the trauma, and refusal to speak of it to suppressed emotions, transference and, ultimately, violence enacted on down the line. Whether we speak of clear cutting a forest, genocide, or a middle class suburbanite spraying poison on his lawn, we choose to be blind deaf and dumb to the fact that as a culture we kill everything that is not us. Our economic system, predicated on the needs of production, relegates the needs of life to a secondary concern. A tree is not a tree: it is a certain amount of board feet. A cow is not a cow, it is so much meat, and a person is not a person if they stand in the way of production or “progress.” If you don’t believe that to be true, ask the next (Indians of Hispaniola?) you meet… oh, that’s right, you can’t. They’re all dead. But you can read the book, as Derrick delivers case after case after case to support this view.
But this is not the point. The inspiration from Derrick that I found is not the fact of our own degradation and damage, but rather the path to the Fifth World©. I have know so many people that have read his work and taken from it that violence is an acceptable and appropriate response to the violence of civilization. I don’t disagree from a moralistic perspective, rather I disagree that it is useful, effective or in any way a path to healing. So the question becomes this: “What is the path to healing, as individuals, as a society, as a species?
I think Derrick answers that, without ever quite being read to say it: if an individual afflicted with trauma is to find resolution, some semblance of peace, something like a healthy, happy life, the only way to do so is a long process of self deconstruction and rebirth. So first let’s look at the symptoms typical of a trauma survivor from psychologist Judith Herman:
- Survivors are fearful, jumpy, irritable, have trouble sleeping, are quick to anger. So far this could describe everyone who is unhappy. But they also are prone to nightmares and flashbacks reliving their experiences and they have triggers that they may or may not even understand.
At the same time, survivors are also prone to shut down their emotions entirely. So while they might have moments of emotional intensity, the rest of the time they may feel little or nothing at all.
There is a loss of identity, self respect, autonomy, a breaking of social ties leading to isolation and an identification with the source of their trauma, the source of the coercion. They lose the ability to trust, the sense of belonging and empathy, an unnatural passivity about their own lives and situation. There is an inability to form intimate relationships because intimate relationships, first and foremost, require mutuality – an interaction between rough equals.
So how does one recover from trauma? The beginning of healing occurs when the victim is ready to, and does, tell their story. The process of putting the trauma into perspective in your mind, making something like sense out of it and then finding the strength, and trust, to share that story with others releases many of the pent up emotions relating to the trauma. The victim also needs to rebuild relationships, and began to look once more to the future; to know they have a future and the possibility of a happy, fulfilling life.
When looking at this from the perspective of our broken culture and the trauma it induces in each of us, I think what we need is roughly the same. We need to look honestly at ourselves and our culture, acknowledge the part we play while also releasing the guilt we feel over things that we honestly could not control, recognize the coercion, the way we have come to be the person we are and let go of the parts that are holding us back from becoming the person we want to be, and then sharing the story of our lives with others. Then we need to build honest, open relationships with others, human and non-human alike: relationships devoid of coercion, of violence, of pretense or lies. Of course, in reality, both the storytelling and the relationship building are part of an ongoing process, one that we can pass on to our children and our grandchildren and beyond: because it is in future generations that we will find healthy, untraumatized individuals truly ready to create healthy cultures in a post-collapse world. All we can do is to stop the cycle of abuse that our culture represents – by not passing it on.
Granted, this will not protect that forest from developers, it won’t bring back the great auk, it won’t stop the extinctions happening every day. But in the long run it may save the salmon, the grizzly bear, the giant sequoia. At very least, when the collapse comes, it will give humans a chance to rejoin the community of life.
In the aftermath of terror many survivors find themselves much clearer and more daring about going after what they want in life, and in relationships. They straighten things out with their families and lovers and friends, and they often say ‘This is the kind of closeness I want and this is the kind of stuff I don’t want.’ When people are sensitized to the dynamics of exploitation, they are able to say ‘I don’t want this in my life.’ And they often become courageous about speaking truth to power.( A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen, Chelsea Green, 2000. p360)