Battle Hymn from the Archaic Future: Mary Daly leads the way

Mary Daly

Mary Daly

Next week we are reading the fierce, lusty, self-proclaimed Pirate Crone Mary Daly in my Women Write the World class. It’s actually the first time I’ve ever dared to share Daly with students, partly because it took me a long time to get myself up on to her energetic wavelength. She talks about how important it is that “radical feminists” like her “magnetize” other women, in order to grow a movement for change—but unfortunately, until recently I felt so repelled by her Wild Woman energy that I could not bring myself to actually read her.

Then, at the end of last summer, something changed in me. I think it had to do with finishing my memoir and allowing myself to feel the rage (Daly would call it Righteous Rage) that I had suppressed over the past 20 years as my life rolled along with what have come to seem like entirely normal frustrations and disappointments: the mommy tracking at work, the lack of respect at home, the endlessly deferred pleasures that could have been mine if I had been properly compensated for my hard and excellent work as a scholar and teacher.

No one besides Daly, in my experience, had had the courage to call out our culture itself as a perpetrator in the on-going inequality and undermining of women like me. And she could do so using the Master’s Tools—no less than three doctorates (in religion, theology and philosophy) and decades of experience as a Boston College professor and scholar working in the heart of what she called the phallocracy. She chose to stay on at Boston College despite the administration’s repeated attempts to oust her, because she felt that her message was especially needed there. The problems she saw throughout her 33-year tenure there have only gotten worse as we’ve advanced into the 21st century.

Unknown-1It’s fascinating to read through Daly’s oeuvre and see how, over the years, she transformed the master’s tools of language and rhetoric to make them uniquely her own. She even created her own dictionary, the Wickedary, in which she retooled old words to make them serve her radical feminist purpose.

And what would that radical feminist purpose be? While Daly says that each of us will find our own path, what “radical feminists” have in common is that we serve as conduits for the creative energy of the universe, the life force she calls “biophilia.” Biophilia is the opposite of necrophilia, which preys violently on the planet and its denizens, sucking out and destroying life on Earth.

Daly’s cardinal crime is to Name (capitalization hers) patriarchal culture as the perpetrators of the ongoing violence against women, animals and other life forms on the planet, and to single out Wild Women (again, capitalization hers) as heroic resisters.

This stance has gotten her into a lot of trouble. Men don’t like to be called out on their patriarchal privilege, and excluded by virtue of their biological and cultural baggage from the ranks of heroic resisters that Daly is trying to conjure. I am curious to see how the young men in my class respond to Daly.

When I read her closely, it seems to me that although she does elevate Woman as a category, she is actually reinventing that word too. Not all women would deserve to be included in her radical feminist confederacy of Wild Women. And it’s possible that some men—feminist men—would be welcomed, although Daly herself remained a firm lesbian separatist to the end of her life (in one of her last books, Quintessence, she imagined herself traveling to a utopian “Lost and Found Continent” in the year 2048, which was fiercely and proudly all-female).

I think Daly, who died at the age of 81 in 2010, would have been pleased to see the militant environmental group Deep Green Resistance proclaiming itself a “radical feminist” organization. DGR was founded by two men and a woman (Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay and Lierre Keith) and in their guiding principles, right up there with respect for all life, is respect for women.


Here is DGR’s fifth guiding principle, in full:

  • Deep Green Resistance is a radical feminist organization. Men as a class are waging a war against women. Rape, battering, incest, prostitution, pornography, poverty, and gynocide are both the main weapons in this war and the conditions that create the sex-class women. Gender is not natural, not a choice, and not a feeling: it is the structure of women’s oppression. Attempts to create more “choices” within the sex-caste system only serve to reinforce the brutal realities of male power. As radicals, we intend to dismantle gender and the entire system of patriarchy which it embodies. The freedom of women as a class cannot be separated from the resistance to the dominant culture as a whole.

And here are principles one through four:

  • The soil, the air, the water, the climate, and the food we eat are created by complex communities of living creatures. The needs of those living communities are primary; individual and social morality must emerge from a humble relationship with the web of life.
  • Civilization, especially industrial civilization, is fundamentally destructive to life on earth. Our task is to create a life-centered resistance movement that will dismantle industrial civilization by any means necessary. Organized political resistance is the only hope for our planet.
  • Deep Green Resistance works to end abuse at the personal, organizational, and cultural levels. We also strive to eradicate domination and subordination from our private lives and sexual practices. Deep Green Resistance aligns itself with feminists and others who seek to eradicate all social domination and to promote solidarity between oppressed peoples.
  • When civilization ends, the living world will rejoice. We must be biophilic people in order to survive. Those of us who have forgotten how must learn again to live with the land and air and water and creatures around us in communities built on respect and thanksgiving. We welcome this future.

I can just hear the spirit of Mary Daly rejoicing at these fierce words from what she would call the “Archaic Future.”

She herself called for “even more than the ‘subversion’ of the present order and more than ‘dissolution’ of the whole existing social compact.” Truly changing the world, she said, “requires the Courage to participate Positively in bringing forth…many New Forms (political, social, philosophical, aesthetic) by multitudes of creators who do not necessarily know each other consciously” (Quintessence, 103).

It is this subterranean radical network of grassroots co-creators that I hope to tap into with blog posts like these.  Are you there?  Shall we create that joyous Archaic Future together?

Eco-terrorist? Or freedom fighter?

Well, as President Clinton famously put it, it depends what you mean by “eco-terrorist.”

One man’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter,” after all.

I didn’t need Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay and Lierre Keith to tell me that our planet was in trouble. As someone who has always been tuned into the natural world, I noticed when the dawn chorus of songbirds diminished to a few lone, defiant voices.  I noticed when the summer clouds of butterflies were reduced to single wanderers, here and there.  I noticed when the tree frogs stopped singing, and there were no longer any toads hiding in the damp leaves of the garden.

I noticed.

But I did not react.  Or if anything, I reacted with a kind of sad resignation.  I blamed some kind of faceless “Progress” for the loss of these dearly beloved fellow travelers on the planet; I did not take any kind of personal responsibility for their disappearance, and I did not see anything I might do to slow “Progress” or change its impact on the environment.

Giving money to environmental groups did not seem to make any difference.  Petitioning Congress–ditto.  And so there was just that kind of paralyzed melancholy, a sense of inexorable doom, that only increased as the full scale of our climate change crisis became apparent.

And then I started reading  Deep Green Resistance.  It was hardly my first foray into environmental manifestoes–I’d started with Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall, years ago, and kept up with Bill McKibben, Wangari Maathai, Julia Butterfly and many others.

But this book is different.  It is not only a call to action, but a manual for how to accomplish change–whether you are a middle-aged armchair activist like me, or a stalwart young guerilla resistance fighter.  There is a role for all of us, and it’s spelled out more clearly in this book than I have ever seen it done before.

What inspires me most about this vision of resistance is that it springs most profoundly from love.

“Whatever work you are called to do, the world can wait no longer,” Lierre Keith writes in the conclusion to the book.  “Power in all its versions–the arrogant, the sadistic, the stupid–is poised to kill every last living being.  If we falter, it will win.  Gather your heart and all its courage; fletch love into an arrow that will not bend; and take aim” (515).

“The carbon is swelling; the heat is rising; the rivers are fading and somewhere a black tern is giving up in exhaustion.  The same noose that took Ken Saro-Wiwo is tightening, and there is only time for one last breath.  Will you close your eyes and let the earth fall, with a sickening snap of species and forests and rivers?  Or will you fight?

“Whatever you love, it is under assault.  Love is a verb.  So take that final breath and fight” (495).

The question is, what form will my fighting take?

I don’t see myself as someone who blows up power plants or takes out dams.  Nor am I a computer hacker.

In DGR terms, I am an aboveground activist.  What I want to do more than anything is to awaken “my people,” that is, the privileged ones, the denizens of Park Avenue and Westchester County and Long Island, the ones whose grandparents and great-grands came to this country around the turn of the century and found a land of peace and plenty, and have ridden the 20th century wave of “Progress” to a life of luxury and comfort.

These are the people who need to understand that this lifestyle we have all enjoyed so much IS NO LONGER SUSTAINABLE.  In fact, it is what is driving our entire planet into climate ruin, from which, for us as a species at least, there will be no return.

It is frightening to think about going “back” to the kind of “primitive” lifestyle that we human beings lived for all those thousands of years before the advent of the industrial revolution.  We don’t want to go back to the time before antibiotics, before computers, before hot showers, before TV, before cars, before supermarkets.

But we have to think seriously about what all these “modern conveniences” and “advances” have really given us.  We have to weigh the pros and cons.

I want to believe I come from reasonable people.  I want to believe if the case is made for them in a reasonable way, they will be able to understand.

Understanding is not action, but it is a necessary first step.

Will you take that step with me?

Eco-terrorist from Park Avenue?

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches…

the fateful year of 2012 is on the horizon…

a hurricane rips up the East Coast, leaving 5 million without power, and billions of dollars worth of damage in its wake;

riots in London are quelled by force;

and dictators who have held sway for 30 years or more in the Middle East are run out of town.

As the debt crisis of the Western world continues, Exxon Mobil opens up new drilling potential in the Russian Arctic worth 500 billion dollars, of which almost nothing will be taxed, while schools lay off teachers, states lay off workers, and municipalities have trouble paying for basic services like road maintenance.

At least we have our iPads and iPhones!

For those able to connect the dots, it is no accident that a major hurricane hit the East Coast this week–given that the ocean is hotter than it’s ever been, thanks to global warming.  More storms like that, and worse, are on the way!  The question is, WILL WE CONNECT THE DOTS????

And more: Can we have a world in which we continue to enjoy our luxuries–a hot shower in the morning, easy internet access, refrigeration and supermarkets full of food–without having to pay any price?

Like anyone of my generation (I was born in 1962) I want to believe that the world I’ve always known will always be here for me.

But I am not so blind as to see that the very luxuries I have taken for granted as necessities are what has driven our entire ecosystem to its current precarious state.

I know this.

What am I going to do about it?

Mark Hertsgaard and others have said very clearly that individual sacrifice or change is not the answer for the planet.  The planet needs us to stand up and agitate for her, to take risks, to be bold.

Getting arrested in front of the White House is not a bad idea.

Lately I’ve been reading about even more radical steps one might take.  Our government might call these steps eco-terrorism.  I might call them standing up for what is right.

In Deep Green Resistance, Aric McBay, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith outline a full spectrum of productive resistance to the planet-killing powers that be, from “propaganda”–ie, what I’m doing now–to actually going out and blowing up dams or cell towers.  

I am reading on, taking it in.  Do I have it in me to become an eco-terrorist?  Me, a sheltered girl from Park Avenue?

We’ll see!  Tune in next week…..

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