Interview with Derrick Jensen

October 1st, 2009

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"We need to bring down civilization, because it's killing the planet," says our guest, author and activist Derrick Jensen.

Formerly a college professor and a commercial beekeeper, Jensen's prolific career as an author has given us A Language Older Than Words, The Culture of Make Believe, Endgame, Listening to the Land, Strangely Like War and Walking on Water. He also co-authored Railroads & Clearcuts and Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control. He has written for The New York Times magazine, The Sun, Audubon, and many other publications.

In 2008 Derrick Jensen was named one of Utne Reader's "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World."

We talked about:

Preparation for truth-telling ● Above ground and below ground activism ● The only language destroyers understand ● The essence of Derrick's philosophy and passion ● Normalizing insane behavior ● Reform or revolution? ● What do we need to do? ● Living in the culture of make-believe ● The relationship between eroticism and violence ● Collapse and the shape of things to come ● Hypocrisy in the environmental movement ● Owning prejudices and shifting alliances ● Do we need to harden our hearts or to open them? ● Discernment, compassion, compliance and fierce love

Visit: derrickjensen.org

Enjoy the show! (The interview is about 52 minutes.)

Listen at your convenience!

Click through to buy some of Derrick's books on Amazon right from this site in the sidebar to the left.

This podcast episode contains explicit language.

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  • anthony dimichele

    Jensen ~ Hurrah! The truth about the urgency of our times is so evident… so many of us speak about issues this way in cafes and small gatherings… but as soon as we step into the world of work/survival… we are surrounded by forces of conformity to the status quo. I for one love hearing/reading Jensen’s words and ideas, because it encourages what is best in me. I think my record of being fired for “backtalk” and objecting to policies, in the field of social work, is a testament to standing up against the lies we are forced to live with. I hope many more people can be inspired to live in a way that is informed with honesty and knowledge about the planetary crises we are creating and confronting. I recommend reading Jensen’s 2 vol. book: Endgame.

    Oct 1, 2009 at 6:06 pm
  • jari

    Derrick Jensen is a hero because he suffers no fools and pulls no punches. He has been willing to put his foot down and show everyone what an unequivocal NO sounds like.

    It was you, Anthony, who first brought Jensen’s work to my attention when you commented on the Morris Berman interviw. Thank you so very much for that and for continuing to listen and be in touch.

    Oct 6, 2009 at 9:16 am
  • kib

    I’ll start by saying that I am a firm supporter of many of Derrick Jensen’s ideas regarding the salvation of the whole through the destruction of what we call “civilization.” By and large I nodded empatically along with you and Derrick. Thank you for making this interview publicly available.

    One area in which I understand but disagree and I occasionally feel Jensen has been blinded is his unwavering hostility toward ‘the enemy’. “Compassion” does not mean compliance. To comprehend the depth and origins of an attacker’s behavior is not to condone it; it is to have a weapon against the behavior that might save both attacked and attacker. There are times for force against the attacker, but that doesn’t preclude an acknowledgement of the attacker’s damage as a painful burden on the attacker as well as the victim.

    Nov 8, 2009 at 7:51 pm
  • jari

    Kib, Thanks for contributing to the site. The issue you raised is the same one I raised with Derrick towards the end of the interview.

    And so I wonder: did you listen all the way through?

    Human beings really don’t know what to do about abusers, predators, invaders. Again and again they come stomping in to have their way with whatever they currently want for themselves.

    You can lock them up, disable them, kill them; you can go through all kinds of therapy and cathartic work in an effort to mitigate against the damage, but all in all psychopaths and egomaniacs are the single most insidious problem on this planet.

    Nov 9, 2009 at 8:29 am
  • kib

    Well, I did listen all the way through and I felt D just ran roughshod over you at the end, because he has so much passionate hate in him based on his own past. He’s like a reformed alcoholic who spends a lot of time Not-Drinking. Derrick spends a lot of time Not-Being-Abused. Like I said, I think this is totally understandable, but maybe it’s also a blind spot.

    I was thinking about the advice “harden our hearts”. I *think* I understand what she meant. Consider someone like Gandhi - or at least the ideal he represents. To me, his internal strength was the secret. You could call it a ‘hardened heart’. “I understand why you want to do this, yes, it’s very understandable given your starting point (that’s the compassion part) and NO, I’m not going to let you. Period.” Seeing oneself as the parent figure, rather than the powerless abused, and backing it up. I do think there is a place for force, the ‘machine guns’, but I view it as something that can coexist with compassion. “I am sorry that you have made this necessary, but you WILL NOT be allowed to perform this rape.” “Compassion” doesn’t necessarily have to mean compromise.

    Nov 9, 2009 at 10:58 am
  • kib

    Gandhi probably wasn’t the best example, because he was entirely non-violent. Passive resistance hasn’t proven very effective against some forms of abuse; I have no starry-eyed illusions about that. I’m not sure Who my hero would be, only that their actions, even if occasionally pushed to the necessity for violence, would be based on a powerful, peacefully certain heart, not terrified rage. Perhaps there’s a place for both.

    Nov 9, 2009 at 11:11 am
  • Ted Howard

    Hi Jari Great interview, and thanks for allowing Derrick to clear up your understanding of compassion and where it needs to be directed!

    There are human beings out there who know how to deal with abusers. They are from indigenous cultures who have known for some time that the dominant culture of this civilisation is pathologically suicidally insane. They know most of it’s members are unreachable. The Wetiko disease runs deep!

    It’s time we ‘civilised’ face up to the fact that there is nothing wrong with humans as a species, or human nature, but with the insane culture that fills our ‘civilised’ view points wherever we look. ‘We’ are like fish in water, the last to discover it, swimming through unconscious of it.

    You said: “all in all psychopaths and egomaniacs are the single most insidious problem on this planet.” Put the word “civilised” in after “all in all” and I’m in complete agreement with you!

    Nov 17, 2009 at 2:17 am
  • jari

    This answer addresses points recently brought up here by both Kib and Ted.

    Regarding the idea of hardening our hearts and learning to kill, it is simply not possible to “root out” this metastasizing illness that has as its keynote symptoms: conquest, exploitation, intimidation, shortsightedness, and includes the whole dominator disease profile, by killing or disabling some abusers. You could just keep lining legions of people up and “taking them out;” and the disease would continue to spring up like weeds or cancer cells in yet another crop of new flesh. In fact, the incessant language of fighting everything: Fight cancer! Combat climate change! – can’t we see it’s just all more of the same? It’s like trying to deal with your diabetes by pouring on some more chocolate sauce and then, saying oh no, maybe I should be using caramel sauce instead, oh gosh no-no that didn’t work out, pass me the raspberry sauce.

    Another metaphor: you can smash out all the lightbulbs, but the electricity is still right there in the plug for the next set of lamps.

    All this foolishness. Most of what goes on in the halls of argument and the great fields of dispute is just more bombastic dust in the wind. So, what would be the wise place to put our limited time and resources? This isn’t the place for me to go into this but, to say the least, it has much more to do with cessation than with the next colloquium or “solution.”

    Something far more brilliant and creative than “the mental and physical illnessness of humankind” will be orchestrated by the great reality from which we all spring. If the people alive now who claim to think and care deeply would only cease and desist from feeding the addictive system more of its toxic fixes today (that’s shorthand for a lot of stuff being bought, eaten, used, driven and flown) we would see some healthy use of power. But no, they want to fly around and yack about it or create the next package, the next pitch for save the trees written on yet another pile of paper . . . it’s all so full of that electricity, that hypocrisy, that me! look at me! pass the money over to me! Meanwhile, not only people, but all life on this planet will continue to be dismayed, baffled, maimed, outraged and endangered.

    Nov 17, 2009 at 9:51 am
  • Stella

    I find the suggestion that Jensen’s points are somehow less relevant or legitimate because he is a survivor of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse offensive, and a bit of a cop-out.

    He - like all of us - has plenty of reasons to be angry quite irrespective of his own personal background. That experience only makes his understanding of systemic violence and oppression more profound, in my opinion.

    Nov 18, 2009 at 9:24 am
  • jari

    Good point; I agree with you there, Stella. I’m so glad you brought this up.

    Sometimes people get very squirmy about authors, or any authority for that matter, revealing the more intimate experiences that provoked their investigations or fuel their passion. But there are these motivators and I believe it is an important part of our healing to be prepared, willing, and able to reveal the “hidden history,” to quote Morris Berman’s subtitle from his Coming to Our Senses. I applaud those who bring the intimate, the emotional, the holistic real into their gifts to humanity, for what is a book but a gift to our fellow humans, come what may?

    Nov 18, 2009 at 10:04 am