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?

We Are All Noah Now

We are all Noah now.

These words have been sounding in my head like a mantra these past few weeks, and this morning I woke from strong dreams of animals in trouble—a big lone fox, a frantically hopping toad—and felt the need to make my inchoate awareness of danger and responsibility more tangible by writing it down and sharing it with others.

Derrick Jensen asks with desperate, angry sadness how long it will take us to finally wake up and start resisting the accelerating extinction of species happening on our watch.

How can we love our pets so much (I ask with my purring cat on my lap and my snoring dog at my feet) and remain unmoved by the news that hundreds of sweet, innocent reptiles and amphibians, many of them from fragile, endangered species, were cruelly murdered by callous neglect last week, crushed into hot plastic tubs without food or water for days in a crate bound from Madagascar to the U.S. pet store market?



How can we continue to give our children adorable stuffed lions and tigers and bears to hug and cuddle (my own boys were devoted to their respective stuffed animal friends, a gray kitty and a green froggy) while turning a blind eye to the fact that all of the large animals on Earth are staring extinction in the face?

Indonesian palm oil plantation.  First the forest was bulldozed.  Never mind all the fragile species that called it home, including our primate cousins, the highly endangered orangutans.

Indonesian palm oil plantation. First the forest was bulldozed. Never mind all the fragile species that called it home, including our primate cousins, the highly endangered orangutans.

How can we blithely talk about international agreements like REDD and cap-and-trade markets, ignoring the fact that when these lofty agreements are translated into action on the ground in the remote tropical forests that most need protection, they too often result in the worst kinds of greedy destruction—for example, so-called protected forests being bulldozed, sprayed with herbicides and turned into palm oil plantations, but still sold as “protected forest” in the international carbon market.

Americans spend royally on landscaping around our own homes, but fail to appreciate that if we don’t snap out of our trance and start acting forcefully on behalf of the planet as a whole, the storms and droughts that are coming will make short work of all our careful planting and pruning.

Wake up people!  We are all Noah now.  The Ark that will help us weather the storms we have brought upon ourselves is the Mother Ship, sweet Gaia herself.

Headlands, Puerto Rico. Photo by Eric B. Hernandez

Headlands, Puerto Rico.
Photo by Eric B. Hernandez

It’s past time to start focusing on doing all we can to conserve the living beings on this planet—ours to protect, not to destroy.

We are all Noah now.

Moving beyond fear and denial, or: Whither Environmentalism?

I have been hearing two forms of gentle criticism from some of my readers.

One is: omigod, this is so depressing, can’t you write about something else???

The other is: okay, we get it, enough with the exhortations, start telling us WHAT TO DO about all this scary stuff you’re laying on us.

I have been pondering both these responses, wondering how use my time and energy in this blog most effectively.

My major goal is to awaken more people to:

a) the realities of climate change bearing down on us all;

b) the incredibly fast, harsh and irrevocable impact that human over-population and careless industry has been having on the flora & fauna of our world–the real 99%;

c) the way big corporate interests have a stranglehold on crucial areas of our political system, our media, and our food supply, and thus on our political, mental and physical health, as well as the ability to control what we see, what we think and how we think it;

d) the way our education system is falling into line and failing to rise to the challenges of educating young citizens who will be forces for positive change in this dismal scenario;

e) and yes, depressing as it may be to contemplate, the dire consequences that will ensue if enough of us fail to wake up and act now to shift human society and our interactions with the natural world (of which we are a part) in a very different, more life-enhancing direction.

So that brings us back around to this key question: what should we do?

Believe you me, if I knew, I’d be trumpeting it loud and clear on this blog.  I wish I could claim to be the next Messiah!

Times have changed since the Biblical days when Moses could part the waters and lead everyone to safety–although I do find myself thinking more, as the sea levels rise worldwide, about good old Noah and his ark.

Moses drew on metaphysical powers to help him through dark times, while Noah got out his hammer and used technology to weather the storm.

In our own time and place, we are busy looking for technological fixes; those who believe in divine intervention seem to be resigned to Apocalypse, preparing themselves for Armageddon and the ascent to another, nonphysical realm of existence.

I think I am beginning to get glimmers of a middle path.

Yes, we need to be applying ourselves to the collective task of using technology to enable us to survive climate change, but our technological efforts need to be driven by a new reverence for all life on this planet, out of which a new ethics can grow that will replace greed and selfishness as the driving forces of human industry.


In the latest issue of Orion Magazine, environmental activists Derrick Jensen and Paul Kingsnorth both express their frustrations with the current environmental movement.

Jensen takes movement organizers to task for their drift towards actions that are “fun and sexy.”  “The fact that so many people routinely call for environmentalism to be more fun and more sexy reveals not only the weakness of our movement but also the utter lack of seriousness with which even many activists approach the problems we face.  When it comes to stopping the murder of the planet, too many environmentalists act more like they’re planning a party than building a movement,” Jensen says bitterly.

This criticism speaks to the first category of comments about my blog–the “oh it’s too depressing to think about” crowd.  Let’s face it, this is a big crowd!  The environmentalist party-planners are trying to reach these folks, who were suckled from birth on cheery feel-good media, by presenting environmental action as fun and sexy, rather than as scary and angst-ridden.  It’s environmentalism on anti-depressants, and it fits a big swath of our population, who don’t want to dwell on anything sad or depressing, unless maybe it’s a movie that you know will ultimately have a happy ending.

Harriet Tubman

Jensen ends his column by invoking the spirits of Harriet Tubman, Tecumseh and the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, who were deadly serious in their resistance, and willing to do whatever it took to succeed.

People like to be inspired by memories of heroes past; one of my most popular blog posts has been “Let Your Life Be a Counter-Friction to Stop the Machine,” which recalled Thoreau’s famous refusal to pay taxes to support a government whose policies he did not believe in.

In all these cases individuals were inspired by moral outrage to stand up and resist the powers that be in order to change the status quo.

That is certainly what each of us needs to be doing, in our own spheres, in our daily lives.  We need to become more aware of what is going on around us; of our place in the ecological web, and how the small actions we take each day contribute to a huge assault on the natural world that will soon lead to a climate crisis that will force us, willy-nilly, to change.


It is January, 2012, and when I look out my window I see brown grass, not a speck of snow.  It was 54 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, for crying out loud!  You won’t find this story in the New York Times, but Brad Johnson’s recent report in  Alternet paints an unmistakeable portrait of serious climate change, not in the future, but right now:

“Fueled by billions of tons of greenhouse pollution, a surge of record warmth has flooded the United States, shattering records from southern California to North Dakota. “Temperatures have reached up to 40 degrees above early January averages in North Dakota,” the Weather Channel reports. Cities are seeing late-April temperatures at the start of January — Minot, ND hit 61 degrees, Aberdeen, SD hit 63 degrees, and Williston, ND hit 58 degrees, all-time record highs for the month of January.”

All very nice in midwinter, but what happens next summer, when temperatures are suddenly 40 degrees above average?  We won’t be laughing then, will we?

Which brings us back to the second criticism of my blog, that I only talk endlessly about the bad news, and exhort people to act, without giving any concrete suggestions for what to do.

Paul Kingsnorth

It also brings me to Paul Kingsnorth, whose long article in Orion, “Confessions of Recovering Environmentalist,” will be the subject of an open conference phone call on January 18.

Like Jensen, Kingsnorth is critical of the environmental movement–not for being too party-oriented, but for being too “utilitarian.”  Kingsnorth deplores environmentalists who have happily jumped on the technological fix bandwagon–the solar farm, wind farm, sustainable energy crowd–who are fixated on finding new ways to continue our same old depredation of the environment–just more sustainably.

“Today’s environmentalism,” he says,  “is…an adjunct to hypercapitalism: the catalytic converter on the silver SUV of the global economy. It is an engineering challenge: a problem-solving device for people to whom the sight of a wild Pennine hilltop on a clear winter day brings not feelings of transcendence but thoughts about the wasted potential for renewable energy. It is about saving civilization from the results of its own actions: a desperate attempt to prevent Gaia from hiccupping and wiping out our coffee shops and broadband connections. It is our last hope.”

Kingsnorth declares he wants nothing of this “soulless” form of environmentalism.  “What is to be done about this? Probably nothing. It was, perhaps, inevitable that a utilitarian society would generate a utilitarian environmentalism….But for me—well, this is no longer mine, that’s all. I can’t make my peace with people who cannibalize the land in the name of saving it. I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming.”

Disturbingly, Kingsnorth ends his article by telling us he’s turning his back on the environmental movement, and striking off on his own.  “I am leaving. I am going to go out walking.”

What he means is that he’s going to go and quietly reconnect with the land herself.  That’s important for all of us to do.  But I can’t advocate “going out walking” as a strategy for the urgent task of changing human relations with our planet.

More positively, Kingsnorth calls for a renewed “ecocentrism,” as opposed to the environmentalism that he sees as having become hollow and “plastic.”

“The “environment”—that distancing word, that empty concept—does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us.”

That is indeed the central message I have been trying to send in my blog posts about “the environment.”  We are part of the web of life on this planet, and every tree that falls, every bird that is poisoned, every tree frog that goes extinct, is a leaf on the great tree of life that includes us humans too.  Kill all the leaves, and the great tree will die.

Tree of Life--Guadalupe, by Jane Lafazio


What to do?  Don’t stand there asking what to do!  Look around, roll up your sleeves and get busy!  Offer your talents to the task.  If you can write, start writing and share your thoughts with ever wider circles of readers.  If you can farm, start an organic CSA.  If you are an engineer, you should be focusing on renewable energy.  If you are a chemical engineer, you should be calling out the Monsantos and the Dows, even if it costs you your job.

We all need to be working on overcoming our media addictions and our socially reinforced tendencies to pull the covers over our heads.  We need to be engaging, Occupy-style, with our political system, and sending a clear message that business as usual is no longer acceptable.

There is so much to do, and so little time.  Let’s get out there, each bearing our own gifts and energies, and turn this earthship around.

Call to Action in Dark Times

This time of year in New England is cold and dark: short days and long, starry nights.  As the planet wheels towards the winter solstice, human beings, for thousands of years, have huddled around fires and turned to storytelling as a bridge back to warmth and the coming of springtime.

It’s no different now, except that now most of us burn oil for our heat, and hang up strings of electric lights to symbolize the return to light.  We watch movies, read books or play video games instead of listening to clan storytellers.

In America, as in much of the world, the dominant religious stories of this time of year have to do with keeping hope and faith alive in dark times.  Jews remember, with the lighting of the Menorah candles, the preservation of their faith in the 2nd century BCE, after the destruction of the Second Temple; Christians celebrate miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer who would bring the word of God to the people.

All of the traditional religious stories document a continuing human saga of light against dark, with light representing life and good energy, while dark represents death and possible danger.

More contemporary mystics also point to human life as a struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Rudolf Steiner, for example, the influential psychic who reported many out-of-body experiences where he made direct contact with metaphysical beings, routinely talks about angels and demons in his copious writings, with angels representing the good forces of light and life, and demons being the dark forces of destruction.  Freud too, in a more secular register, described Eros and Thanatos as primal human drives that align along the same lines: light/life/love, dark/death/hatred.

Is there something to all this?

In a scientific age, it’s hard to write with a straight face about angels and demons.  We are trained to see them as figures of speech, metaphors for empirically definable natural phenomena.  To whit: Human beings tell stories about angels and miraculous births at the darkest time of year as a metaphorical way of talking about the winter solstice and the return to light.

Yes.  But there have always been persistent voices telling us that this is not just metaphorical.  That there really are forces of dark that are destructive and forces of light that represent goodness, and that human beings, as the most self-aware sentient beings on the planet, are able to recognize the grand struggle between Good and Evil playing out in our psyches, and on our battlefields.

For instance, take Derrick Jensen‘s latest book, Dreams, in which he talks about his growing belief that there are metaphysical realms that human beings access in dreams, and that in the dream world there are “sides”: the side of life and the side of death and destruction.  As humans, we have a choice, Jensen says; we can choose which gods to worship, those who represent the life-giving energies of the planet, or those who represent the blood-sucking zombies that are leading us down the capitalist/imperialist road to doom.

Even further out along the spectrum of contemporary metaphysical thinkers is Alex Kochkin, who has been sending out dispatches through email and Web for some time now, warning that the end times are coming.  One could mistake Kochkin for an Armageddon-spouting Christian fundamentalist, except that, like Jensen and Steiner, he has no religious scaffolding framing his ideas.

All of these thinkers agree with indigenous shamans the world over that there is much more to human beings than our physical bodies, and that we can interact with higher powers through individual psychic work–paying attention to our dreams, meditating, being open to the realms of human consciousness where, they say, we can connect with what Steiner called “higher worlds.”

Alex Kochkin: “”You” are the result of a portion of your larger being extending something of itself into this level of density. In this case, it is a human bio-vehicle that comes equipped with basic firmware and an operating system. Flawed as the whole package may be, it is still a viable and valuable way for individuations of The All of Creation to reach into its own deepest recesses, even those that have become overwhelmed by the disease of the Dark.”

Derrick Jensen gives the “disease of the Dark” more concrete names: capitalism, imperialism, and the science that justifies and extends the reach of these destructive ideologies that have, since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, been rapidly reducing bio-diversity and inexorably altering our eco-system.

Jensen recalls the Aztec sacrifices to their gods, and speculates that we too are unthinkingly making sacrifices to our contemporary gods of Science and Capitalism.

This is an idea that one of my mentors, Rigoberta Menchu, suggested years ago, talking about how destructive the Euramerican ideologies and technologies have been to the natural world and indigenous peoples: “I often wonder why people criticize the Aztecs for offering human sacrifices to their gods when they never mention how many sons of this America, Abia Yala, have been sacrificed over five hundred years to the god Capital,” Menchu said in her second testimonial, Crossing Borders.

Whether or not there are “higher powers” involved in the life-and-death battles we are seeing played out at ever-accelerating speed in these dark times, it is true that we human beings are the ones with the power to change the course of events we have set in motion.  The fish and the birds and the great bears cannot change what is happening to their environments because of human short-sightedness and greed.  The ancient forests that have stood for thousands of years cannot withstand the bulldozer and the chain saw.  The river that has flowed for eons cannot resist the concrete dam.

Only we have the power of reversing the “disease of the Dark.”  If there are higher powers involved, they are not going to do it for us–they will only work through us.

Which stories are we listening to now as we huddle around our mechanical fires?  The old stories of dominion and destruction, “manifest destiny” and technological prowess leading to “progress” have held sway long enough.  It’s time to listen to stories that are older and wiser than the Judeo-Christian myths, stories that remind us of our deep connection to the natural world that sustains us.

Let every candle lit this solstice season be a call to action on behalf of the life energies of this planet.  And then, let us act, before it’s too late.

What do Derrick Jensen and George Washington Have in Common?

Derrick Jensen was speaking to the Occupy Oakland and San Francisco folks today, and I had hoped to catch the livestream, but ended up missing it.  I did find, however, a video from about a month ago, when Jensen spoke to Occupy DC via Skype.

True to form, Jensen told the crowd that when people ask him whether he’s calling for the overthrow of the U.S. Government, ie, real revolution, he answers that “this question comes far too late.

“For the government was long since overthrown.  And those who overthrew it are known as Exxon Mobil, British Petroleum, Halliburton, Monsanto, ADM, WalMart, Massey, Goldman Sachs, Citibank.

“They are the real governors, and the United States Government is a wholly owned subsidiary brought to you by McDonalds, Pfizer and Lockheed Martin.

“So then you can ask, am I advocating the overthrow of the corporations?  Am I advocating the overthrow of the corporate state?

“To which I will say hell yes!”

For someone like me who came of age in the 1970s and 80s, it’s very hard to imagine a world without corporations.  How would we get our stuff?  What would I type on if there was no Apple?  How would we communicate without Google, Facebook or WordPress, not to mention Twitter?

And of course, how would any of these products see the light of day without the industrial supply lines that go from oil extraction to factory production to tanker ships to retail store?

Well, somehow for the vast majority of human history, your ancestors and mine managed to live and procreate and die just fine without any corporate help or interference.

I’m no Luddite: I love my computer, car, cell phone and dishwasher just as much as the next American.

But somewhere along the way to the bank, we ceded far too much power to these corporations. Derrick Jensen has it right when he says that “a government worth a good goddamn” should answer to human beings, not corporations.

And not just to human beings, but to all of the beings on our planet who are fading away day by day–at the rate of 200 extinctions a day, as Jensen never tires of reminding us.

Will we join the polar bears and the wolves and the rhinos in fading away quietly into the night when our time comes, as it surely will if we do nothing to stop the steamroll of oil-driven climate change?

Or will we stand up now and demand that our government obey its mandate to be of the people, by the people, and for the people, recognizing that what is good for the people is what is good for the earth as an ecological system?

Jensen closed his talk in DC on a positive and galvanizing note:

“When the government becomes destructive of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.  It is long past time we made full use of our rights.”

Just like our colonial-era forebears, we have the right to throw off the yoke of oppressive government to found a better system.

The Occupy movements are the advance guard of what needs to be a massive campaign of civil disobedience and relentless pressure on the government to listen to us, the people–not them, the corporations.

We celebrate those rabble-rousers, Washington and Jefferson, as national heroes.  Let’s get behind today’s rabble-rousers and turn the corner into a new era.  It can’t happen too soon.

Our planet, ourselves: we must wake up to the destruction, before it’s too late

First the honey bee population crashed.  Then it was the bats, dying by the millions in their caves during the winter hibernation, of a strange white fungal infection.

Now marine mammals, including walruses and ringed seals, are turning up dying on the beaches of Alaska and the far north.  Unidentified skin lesions and sores are the visible evidence of an unknown disease that is ravaging them.

Meanwhile, climate change is causing unprecedented surges in the populations of destructive insects like pine borers, which are killing off millions of acres of forests around the world.

I could go on, and on, and on.

Truly, Derrick Jensen is not exaggerating when he says that human civilization is killing our planet.

Last weekend I watched the new film “End:Civ,” by Franklin Lopez, based on Jensen’s book Endgame.  I had put off watching it for several weeks, because I knew it how upsetting it would be, and sure enough, it was disturbing, to say the least.

For me the hardest-hitting part of the film was about human beings’ casual tolerance of cruelty; our willingness to stand by, indifferent, as our fellow travelers on this planet are systematically hunted or poisoned or displaced to extinction.

Part of this detachment of ours may be rooted in the way we tell the stories of how these deaths occur.  We talk about “colony collapse disorder,” for example, rather than narrating the way that entire hives of bees–which are highly evolved, communicative insects–fail to return to the hive one day.

They get lost out there–maybe due to cell phone waves or other forms of chemical interference, we don’t really know–and never come home.  Imagine this happening on a global scale, a whole species of productive, social insects lost, one by one, by the million.

In the same way, it’s far easier to talk about “cancer victims” en masse than to live through the suffering death of your own loved one.  How many vibrant, creative, hardworking people have we lost to cancer the last ten years?  In the last year?  In the last month?  Wangari Maathai and Steve Jobs, to name two famous, very recent cancer victims.  The list goes on and on and on.

But still we remain passive.  We may mourn the disappearance of the honeybees or the songbirds, but we don’t make the effort to connect the dots and come to a true understanding of the extent to which our way of life has been poisoning our planet since the advent of industrialization, and especially since the beginning of the 20th century, which is when synthetic chemical production really took off.

Before she died of cancer, Rachel Carson managed to break through the wall of indifference and make the case against DDT.  Thanks to her efforts, the bald eagle and many other birds have rallied and come back from the brink of extinction.

It’s amazing how resilient life is.  If human civilization would just back off and give our natural systems on the planet a chance, they would heal themselves, and go back to providing the healthy ecological web that made our success as a species possible.

Our planet, ourselves.  We need to understand, in the deepest and most urgent possible terms, that we cannot dissociate ourselves from the poisoning and destruction that is being visited on the forests, oceans, swamps and grasslands of this planet.

The “Wall Street Awakening” cannot be only about jobs, about fixing a broken economy and continuing on our merry path of global domination and “resource extraction.”  The analysis has to go deeper than that, and the change has to be much more dramatic.

All the jobs in the world won’t bring back the walruses or the ringed seals or the polar bears.  What use will jobs be when the ocean is a giant dead zone, and industrial agriculture collapses?  Will we be worrying about jobs when the forests that provide our oxygen are all gone?

We need to focus on what’s important and go all the way this time.  As I keep saying, our future depends on it.  And I am not exaggerating.

Resisting the Zombies: At what point will we stop bearing witness to ecocide and begin to act?

My favorite chapter in Derrick Jensen’s new book Dreams is entitled “Zombies.”  Jensen describes the corporate elite as zombies, that is, as “flesh-eating…mindless monsters who are not only to be feared for their insatiability and ferocity, but because their sickness is highly contagious….Zombies eat human flesh, but they are also as relentlessly omnicidal as corporations.  They destroy forests, grasslands, rivers, oceans, mountain tops, and the mountains themselves.  They consume everything, and they shit out plastic” (367).

For Jensen, “zombie capitalists” are especially terrifying, because “on the one hand, they pursue their prey–I mean, profits–with an unfeeling, unrelenting, insatiable mindlessness, unheeding of all the pain and suffering they cause in their victims–I mean, in the resources they exploit (I mean, develop).  On the other hand, they fabricate extraordinarily complicated rationales for their zombie economics (or zombinomics) and for the further zombification of the world and all its inhabitants” (368).

Jensen imagines a “realistic zombie film” being made, in which “the remaining humans”–the ones who haven’t been consumed or infected yet by the zombies–are “refusing to resist, but instead hoping against reason that the zombies will stop on their own, that the zombies will undergo a miraculous awakening…or that if they personally could just live sustainably, then their shining examples will cause the zombies to suddenly stop, look at the torn flesh all around them, and say, ‘What have I done?  I need to make this right!’….In a realistic zombie movie,” Jensen says, “too many humans would try to stop the zombies by gardening, taking shorter showers, recycling, petitioning.  In a realistic zombie movie…many of those humans who opposed resistance would be revealed near the end to not really be on the side of the living but rather, unbeknownst even to them, already among the living dead” (369).

Unfortunately, all too often, even those who profess to be on the side of justice and environmental sanity are eventually shown to be soulless creatures of the corporate capitalist zombie machine.

It seems that the minute an authentic human leader arises who has the possibility of successfully resisting the zombies and making real change, s/he is either smeared and discredited; corrupted with financial payoffs; driven mad with frustration by repeated, humiliating obstructions; or simply imprisoned or killed off.

Thus we have watched with horror as our beloved Barack Obama, the young man we came to know and love in Dreams from my Father and The Audacity of Hope, has slowly had the soul sucked out of him by the zombification crucible of politics and media.  The face remains the same, but the eyes are hollow, and the spirit is clearly guttering.

Bill McKibben is still holding out valiantly against the zombies–maybe it’s that pure Vermont air that is keeping his head clear of contagion so far.  Derrick Jensen has some harsh questions for Bill, though, which I think are entirely reasonable.  Given the steady destruction of the planet by the zombie forces of corporate capitalism, Jensen asks, “Would McKibben ever countenance the physical dismantling of infrastructure in order to stop civilization from killing the planet?” Jensen’s question, “for McKibben and for everyone,” is: “What is your threshold?”  At what point will we stop bearing silent witness to ecocide, and begin to seriously resist?

The reason the Occupy Wall Street protests have so seized the American imagination is because the young people out there on the street are so clearly NOT ZOMBIES.  Not yet, anyway.  They have not been corrupted; their souls are intact.  That’s why they can see so clearly that what the zombie nation accepts as normal–the enrichment of the few on the backs of the masses–is not normal at all, and is neither just nor sustainable.

There is another up-and-coming activist who is right now wavering on the border between zombie and human.  His name is Van Jones, and he’s the man behind the Rebuild the American Dream movement.  Jones is all about developing “green-collar jobs”; in other words, rebooting the old American Dream in a new, more sustainable version.  Unlike Occupy Wall Street, Jones comes armed with a nice bullet-pointed list of “demands.”

Nothing wrong with his list.  But it’s just not radical or visionary enough to ignite the minds and hearts of the young people out in Liberty Park Plaza.  Even the way his website is presented, with red-white-and-blue stars and flashy campaign-style graphics, is very likely to turn a lot of the Occupy Wall Streeters off.  It reeks of zombification.

When you look into Jones’ bio, you see why: “Jones served as the green jobs advisor in the Obama White House in 2009 and is currently a senior policy advisor at Green For All. He also holds a joint appointment at Princeton University as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.”

I’m sorry, but once Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School get their hands on you, zombie contagion is almost assured.  You may not want to become one of them–the elite, the 1%–but like it or not, you will be beholden to them, and they will begin to mold you in ways you won’t even be aware of.

For example, contrast that slick Rebuild the Dream website, completely cleansed of its grassroots origins, to the Occupy Wall Street website, with its livestream coverage of the chaotic goings-on down on Liberty Square.  The livestream may be focusing on a dark corner, but you can hear people in the background singing together and talking in real human-speak–not the carefully crafted politician-speak of Rebuild the Dream’s “demands.”

I don’t like to dis Van Jones, any more than Derrick Jensen likes to dis Bill McKibben.  All of these men, including the old Barack Obama, are heroes for our time for having dared to at least try to resist.  Bill McKibben is still holding out, and we need to applaud him for it and help him in any way possible.

But most of all, we need to help those kids out in Liberty Square.  We need to make sure they know that what is best and most powerful about their nascent movement is the fact that it is not slick, not uber-organized, not hyper-networked.  It’s human, and I still dare to hope it will stay that way.  I still dare to hope that a real resistance to the zombie elite might just be getting underway.

SlutWalk, Occupy Wall Street and other sparks of resistance: let’s fan the flames!

Finally this morning The is paying some attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests.  But the tone is still highbrow and dismissive–Charles Blow, who really should know better, labels the protesters “hippies and hipsters” and the movement overall as “a spark set down on wet grass,” with “no where to go.”

He also finds space to inform us that “a New York Times/CBS News poll released two weeks ago found that a third of those who make $30,000 a year or less don’t believe that the government should raise taxes on the wealthy to lower the budget deficit.”

Could that be because those who are living on the edge are so beaten down by a variety of forces, including lousy education and the constant scorn this country shows the poor, that they could care less about “lowering the budget deficit”?

I bet that the pollsters would get quite a different response if the question were worded more directly, as in: Should the government raise taxes on the wealthy to help the poor get a better education, promote job growth and tighten the social safety net?  Hell yes! they’d say.

Meanwhile, up in Union Square, another protest is brewing today: SlutWalk, a new, international protest movement against “rape culture.”  In a rape culture like ours, the SlutWalkNYC site informs us, “sexual violence is made to be both invisible and inevitable; and these two practices are what normalizes rape, harassment and assault….The forces that normalize rape culture are not examined; rape is not seen as a culture or “practice” and if it is ever discussed, sexual violence is seen as an isolated act that occurs between individuals.”

SlutWalk began in Toronto last year, in response to an incident where a police officer told a rape victim that she had been “asking for it” because of the way she was dressed.  That the movement has caught on so quickly, especially among young women, is testament to the validity of its argument that no woman, no matter how she is dressed, is ever “asking” to be raped.

Both Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk are driven by young people who are frustrated with the status quo and know that a better world is possible.  Their elders should know better than to dismiss these young folks as idealistic dreamers.  Hasn’t all change in human society, both positive and negative, been driven by those who dare to dream differently?

Lately I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen‘s latest book, a huge tome called simply, Dreams.  In it he argues that one of Western civilization’s crucial fallacies is our collective tendency to ignore and dismiss our dreams, as well as the possibility that through our dreams we may connect with “supernatural” forces that we don’t understand and cannot control.

Derrick sides with indigenous cultures who believe that the natural world is alive (“animism”) and can communicate with us.  His big question in Dreams is a weighty one: why hasn’t the natural world fought back harder in the face of the sustained murderous onslaught of humanity?

I would not presume to speak for the natural world.  But this question can be applied to a lot of other contexts today.

Why has it taken so long for Americans to get out and protest the takeover of our country by the corporate elite?  Why has it taken two weeks for the New York Times to deign to notice this gadfly protest on the flanks of the giant Wall Street bull?  The New York unions are finally stirring and considering joining the protesters–why has it taken so long for the American working class to awaken?

I think it might have something to do with the way we in the U.S. are caught up in a media-induced waking dream/nightmare, with a storyline that repeats over and over the following all-pervasive mantra: c’est la vie, there’s nothing to be done about it.  No fundamental change is possible.  The contamination of our environment is inevitable, and necessary if we want to maintain our comfortable fossil-fuel-driven lifestyle. The ever-growing gap between rich and poor is inevitable, as natural and normal as rape culture–boys will be boys, and you can’t expect rich boys to care about the poor.


Someday analysts may look back on this period as one of remarkably successful mass indoctrination.  That is, if there are any shreds and shards left of our culture to examine after climate change is done with us.

To answer Derrick’s question, climate change is Nature fighting back.  Has anyone noticed that it’s been raining practically non-stop in New England for weeks now?  Here we are almost in leaf season, and our once-glorious maple trees are barely able to muster some mustardy brown color.  If this rain were snow, we’d be buried.  It may be an interesting winter season, to say the least.

However, resistance movements, both human and natural, are stirring all over the planet.  Like Occupy Wall Street, they may seem small, fragmented and disorganized to people who are accustomed to watching the huge, well-funded, tightly organized spectacles of mainstream political parties, or even mainstream-funded resistance movements like the Tea Party.

But it’s possible that dispersed, small-scale resistance may just what is called for under the present circumstances, when anything more obvious would simply be crushed by the iron fist of the corporate capitalist ruling class.

Resistance is happening when people take the time to relearn ancient human practices like small-scale biodynamic agriculture, bee-keeping, and storing food for the winter.  Resistance is happening when people refuse to let the dominant narratives ride rough-shod over their dreams of positive change.

Resistance is happening!  Let’s prove Charles Blow and the other naysayers wrong. It may be a rainy season, but let’s be the dry tinder for the spark of protest to fall on. It just takes one spark to start a wildfire, after all.

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