Saturday, May 8, 2010

Derrick Jensen Quotes

I offer these quotes not to convince anyone of anything, or to start arguments.  I offer them simply as a collection of words from an anti-civilization authour whom I found at an important time in my life, and whose writing has had a profound impact on the way I think and live and look at the world around me. 

"So many indigenous people have said to me that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners generally view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is. Trees and rocks and rivers really do have things to say to us." -Derrick Jensen

"I have heard people suggest that because humans are natural that everything humans do or create is natural. Chainsaws are natural. Nuclear bombs are natural. Our economics is natural. Sex slavery is natural. Asphalt is natural. Cars are natural. Polluted water is natural. A devastated world is natural. A devasted phyche is natural. Unbridled exploitation is natural. Pure objectification is natural. This is, of course, nonsense. We are embedded in the natural world. We evolved as social creatures in this natural world. We require clean water to drink, or we die. We require clean air to breathe, or we die. We require food, or we die. We require love, affection, social contact in order to become our full selves. It is part of our evolutionary legacy as social creatures. Anything that helps us to understand all of this is natural: Any ritual, artifact, process, action is natural, to the degree that it reinforces our understanding of our embeddedness in the natural world, and any ritual, artifact, process, action is unnatural, to the degree that it does not"-Derrick Jensen

"To reverse the effects of civilization would destroy the dreams of a lot of people. There's no way around it. We can talk all we want about sustainability, but there's a sense in which it doesn't matter that these people's dreams are based on, embedded in, intertwined with, and formed by an inherently destructive economic and social system. Their dreams are still their dreams. What right do I -- or does anyone else -- have to destroy them.

At the same time, what right do they have to destroy the world?"-Derrick Jensen

"Grades are a problem. On the most general level, they're an explicit acknowledgment that what you're doing is insufficiently interesting or rewarding for you to do it on your own. Nobody ever gave you a grade for learning how to play, how to ride a bicycle, or how to kiss. One of the best ways to destroy love for any of these activities would be through the use of grades, and the coercion and judgment they represent. Grades are a cudgel to bludgeon the unwilling into doing what they don't want to do, an important instrument in inculcating children into a lifelong subservience to whatever authority happens to be thrust over them."-Derrick Jensen

"That’s one of the great things about everything being so fucked up, that no matter where you look there’s great work to be done." -Derrick Jensen



  1. love the quote about everything humans do/create being "natural." I've heard that so many times, and it makes me want to scream!! The other day my sister's boyfriend was trying to argue that plastic is natural, because it's base materials occur on this planet... okay, sure, then show me the tree that grows plastic bottles :)

  2. Idzie - this was my last post to read before I head out - it was great! Thanks for sharing these quotes :)

  3. I love the one about grades. I'm still trying to understand what "anti-civilization" is. I think perhaps we define "anarchy" differently? For me, it means "no rulers" (the word's literal meaning). Is that what it means for you, or does it mean "no civilization"? I certainly think human beings can work together in a civilized way to better the world. I'll have to do some more reading of Jensen. Intriguing, as always. :-)

  4. @Alison: I know! I've heard that a bunch too, and find it sooo frustrating.

    @Deb(bie Debbie Doo): I'm really glad you enjoyed it! ;-)

    @Cheryl: No, anarchy and anti-civilizationism are separate things. However, MOST (I've come across a very few who don't) anti-civilizationists consider themselves to be anarchists as well (against rulers & hierarchy), and anti-civilization anarchist, who often refer to themselves as green anarchists, eco anarchists, or anarcho-primitivists, are considered to be a sub-group of anarchists. The same way anarcho-syndicalists or anarcho-capitalists are sub-groups in anarchism... Does that make sense lol? Not sure how clearly I said that.

    Also, did you ever read the article I posted a while ago, called An Introduction to Anti-Civilization Anarchist Thought and Practice? If not, you might be interested:

  5. just to clarify, what do you define as "civilization"? while i agree with much of what you've written, is there perhaps a balance? i love being in the woods wholeheartedly, yet i certainly appreciate coming home to a wood stove and a hot shower. i would say the current set-up of our society certainly has its problems, but i don't see society itself as bad. do you think it's possible for a large group of people to function positively in a global setting?

  6. @Grace: Here are a couple different definitions, both of which are applicable:

    "Green anarchists tend to view civilization as the logic, institutions, and physical apparatus of domestication, control, and domination. While different individuals and groups prioritize distinct aspects of civilization (i.e. primitivists typically focus on the question of origins, feminists primarily focus on the roots and manifestations of patriarchy, and insurrectionary anarchists mainly focus on the destruction of contemporary institutions of control), most green anarchists agree that it is the underlying problem or root of oppression, and it needs to be dismantled." -From the above article I suggested that Cheryl might like to read, and:

    "A culture--that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts--that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities, with cities being defined--so as to distinguish from camps, villages, and so on--as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life." -Derrick Jensen

    I think the big way that anti-civ folks differ from others is that they (including me) believe that our current way of life is fundamentally harmful and unsustainable. That things can't be fixed just by tweaking this or that aspect. That the whole shebang is built on and sustained by violence, oppression, and exploitation. I'd also like to point out that I consider "civilization" and "society" to be two entirely separate things.

    And no, I don't think I believe that a large group of people can function positively in a global setting. I think that radical decentralization, and autonomous, reasonably small, truly sustainable communities is the way to go.

  7. From which of Jensen's books did the "Grades are a problem" quote come from?

    My 14 y/o daughters are Unschoolers, and I hope that they will read your blog. Keep up the good work, the world needs people like you.

  8. Good quotes! About halfway through the second volume of 'Endgame' right now, so I recognize a few of those.

    And Uranium IS Natural... when it's miles and miles underground, that is. We humans just can't take a hint!

    I'm not -quite- an animist. I think in metaphors more than I'm sure Derrick would advocate. But at the end of the day, how much does internal mindset really matter, as long as the *actions* we take benefit the landbase and our fellow people?

    Glad you found your cat.

  9. I personally have to disagree with the 'natural' quote. The actions of species considered 'lesser' by humans are called natural. Imagine if we were being watched by a higher culture, one who had observed countless other evolving intelligences. The ruination of our planet may be considered a 'natural' phase for developing industrial species. The definition of natural depends highly on perspective, and that has to be taken into account.

    Of course, none of this means that our actions as humanity are morally correct. Just that it may be a regular state. We don't have any similarly developed societies to compare our actions to.

  10. Thanks for sharing those Idzie, very thought provoking.
    much love

  11. Every time I come to your blog, I read something interesting. :) Thanks for this article. I've been thinking along these lines on my own for a while, and I'm glad to see that there are other like-minded people further down the path than me. I'll try to check out this author you mention. My unschooled children are pretty young (6 & 4), but I look forward to mentioning some of these concepts to them as I learn more.

  12. Lots of interesting talk going on. I haven't read any of Jensen's books yet because of The Man's domination of my time- but I hugely want to. I like the quote on grades; have you heard Chomsky talking about education?

  13. "Trees and rocks and rivers really do have things to say to us." -Derrick Jensen

    Yes and so much wisdom! I feel more comfortable, welcomed and love around trees and rocks that people sometimes. The land - akki - has great and infinite wisdom. This is a worldview I hold as a Native person. The land is a part of me and I am a part of the land. The conundrum is that I have to walk in these two worlds - Native and Western culture - in a balance. Sometimes being attacked by Western culture for having a worldview that is more about the Earth. I stand strong in who I am now in a peaceful, truthful and healing way. The land is me and I stand for it, always.

    Great quotes! :)