This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
This is the first time ever that I'm writing a review without linking to the book in question. The book in question is Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, by Lierre Keith, Derrick Jensen, and Aric McBay. Lierre Keith is famous in the "paleo" community because she wrote The Vegetarian Myth. That book had some bad science and some questionable anti-man/anti-civilization ideas, but as a whole it was a book that had many good ideas.
A few years ago I went to see Derrick Jensen speak at University of Illinois. At that time I was involved with non-violent activism, so it was a shock to hear that we should engage in industrial sabotage and blow up dams because they are killing the Earth NOW and we need to stop them NOW. Derrick talked about how evil civilization is, but it was clear there was more at play here. He talked about having been sexually abused by his father as a child. It seemed this undeniably horrible act had warped him into a human that could see nothing good in anything but his chosen refuge, nature.
I knew Derrick was Lierre's best friend, but I didn't want to tar and feather her on my blog based on guilt by association. I quietly stopped linking to her book though. Now that this book is out, it's obviously she has gone off the deep end. It's ironic because in the book she blame carbohydrates for making people crazy. What then is responsible for her unhinged nearly-unreadable rant that bears alarming similarities to the diatribes of the Unabomber? I suspect she hasn't been making speaking appearances because at this point she's probably on the terrorist watch list.
Based on the Amazon review, Derrick and Lierre have successfully recruited many youths to their cause. Based on the book's military-like operations manual that advocates killing disloyal members of your cause, I'm sure they will troll this post and accuse me of being some sort of capitalist pig. Au contraire- I am the "withdrawal" sort of activist (a "New Agrarian" I suppose, the most famous of which are Joel Salatin and Wendell Berry), which also gets criticized in the book, but I suppose is not classified as being as evil as teh rich capitalists. According to DGR, the withdrawal folks have some good ideas about non-participation in a messed-up system, but we don't realize that it's too late for the Earth and civilization needs to stop now.
"The goal of DGR is to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. It also means defending and rebuilding just and sustainable human communities nestled inside repaired and restored landbases. This is a vast undertaking, but it can be done. Industrial civilization can be stopped." It's clear that it doesn't matter how many poor people die as long as the rich people die.
The authors take as explicitly manifest that
a. civilization is the greatest evil and non-civilization is much better
b. ecoterrorism or not, everyone is going to die because the planet's state is so dire
So from the outset we have some questionable premises. You also have to wonder why the book is $13.50 for Amazon Kindle (TM) and not being distributed free like the Unabomber's works. I suppose if you asked them why this is they would mumble something about being forced to live under evil capitalism until the revolution.
Now my own background is in environmental and development economics. I do agree that there are some disturbing things happening in the world to the environment and to people. But there are enough things getting better that it's hard for me to advocate giving up on civilization.
Derrick and Lierre both have angry rants about how men abuse women and children, as if somehow this is related to civilization. In my studies of foraging populations, I have come across behavior towards women and children that would make you blanch. The "semen cults" of Melanesia, for example, involving making boys into men by having them ingest semen from older men. Overall foraging societies are quite diverse in their treatment of women and children, but there is no reason to believe that the natural state of humans somehow precludes abuse. There is no evidence that such societies are as accepting of lesbians like Lierre as our society is.
I think Lierre and Derrick know this though. Lierre mentions that Inuit women were expected to kill all children under three years of age if their fathers died. Somehow in her twisted mind, our society is more abusive because we have evil things like pornography involving anal sex.
But in the end, while Derrick and Lierre may have gone carnivore, that an endangered seagull is more important to them than your brother. Time and time again they simply dismiss any objection to their plot with sentences like "200 species today are gone forever." Such questionable statistics are staples of the book, like Lierre's absurd claim that " The number one perpetrator of childhood sexual abuse is called 'Dad.'"
Apparently, even today, all women are being totally oppressed. I didn't get the memo. I don't feel oppressed...I have a lot more rights and freedoms than a hunter-gatherer woman as far as I know. Apparently
With male entitlement comes a violation imperative: men become men by breaking boundaries, whether it’s the sexual boundaries of women, the cultural boundaries of other peoples, the physical boundaries of other nations, the genetic boundaries of species, or the biological boundaries of ecosystems. For the entitled psyche, the only reason “No” exists is because it’s a sexual thrill to force past it.
Yikes. It seems that the authors in this book are incapable of viewing humans as individuals, probably because they believe humans, particularly men, are an oppressive pestilence on the Earth.
Lierre claims that "Gender is probably the ultimate example of power disguised as biology. " Yeah sure, that's why you quote Andrea Dworkin advocating that women buy guns to protect themselves. You don't need a gun Lierre, you just have to stop being so oppressed and then the strength differences between you and men would disappear!
The oppression meme is strong with this book. Everyone is being oppressed, they just don't know it. Another group that's being oppressed are people living in the slums. As I learned in The Coming Population Crash, these people don't know it either!
Some fear the slums. They can be dangerous places. The biggest causes of death among young people in São Paulo are traffic accidents and homicide. A Californian urban geographer, Mike Davis, has written a book called Planet of Slums, an apocalyptic take on the huge slums that dominate many megacities in the developing world. It is terrifying. But his image is not what I see when I go to slums. They have their gangs and drugs and open sewers and heartbreaking stories. But slums are at least as much places of hope and enterprise and innovation. That’s why people move to them. For every gun-toting gangster or terrorist, there are a hundred romantic would-be slumdog millionaires. Hormones aren’t all bad. Even male hormones. I went to Dharavi in Mumbai, where the movie’s fictional slumdog was brought up. Often called Asia’s largest slum (in fact, that dubious distinction goes to Orangi in Karachi), it has 600,000 people crammed into a maze of narrow lanes and shacks covering less than one square mile, about half the size of New York’s Central Park. It is “a vision of urban hell,” according to Smithsonian magazine. Visiting businessmen shiver at the thought that terrorists hiding in Dharavi could shoot down a plane taking off from Mumbai International Airport right over the back fence. The municipal government wants to bulldoze it and start again. As do real estate developers, who lust to replace it with a posh estate of high-rise apartment blocks, like the one just over the river. The inhabitants? They want to stay, because Dharavi is a thriving community, entirely unlike the terrifying image.
But Derrick insists that even if most of them die, the urban poor will be better of if civilization collapses. The mind boggles.
The horrifying miserable life of people in Brazil's slums. Yes, I'm aware that not all slums look like this, but the vast majority of people in slums have living standards higher than most rich people in 1800. For example, many people in the slums have cell phones. Often people chose to stay in slums because government oversight is lower and they are more free to run their businesses as they see fit.
Ironically it's ancient human tribal instincts that subvert participation in her ideas. For millions of years humans cared about their own tribe and their own land and nothing else. It's worth arguing that civilization has increased our "tribal bonds" by bonding us through commerce and information to other people across the world. If civilization collapses you bet most people (including admittedly myself) would start killing anyone that comes within a mile of their family's property, the same way the Sentinelese tribe does.
Regardless, besides a few people damaged by horrible families, most people aren't going to sacrifice the welfare of their friends and family to save an endangered snail. Call us selfish if you like.
Q: How do I know that civilization is not redeemable? Derrick Jensen: Look around. Ninety percent of the large fish in the oceans are gone. Salmon are collapsing. Passenger pigeons are gone. Eskimo curlews are gone. Ninety-eight percent of native forests are gone, 99 percent of wetlands, 99 percent of native grasslands. What standards do you need? What is the threshold at which you will finally acknowledge that it’s not redeemable?
The anti-civ folks want us to believe that because the snail dies out, that the whole planet is dying, which speaks to an overwhelming arrogance considering that if a caldera volcano like Yellowstone erupted it would take out far more species. And life on Earth would go on, just as it has when similar volcanoes have erupted in the past. The authors of DGR also claim that nuclear warheads would not be a danger as civilization collapses, one of many fantasies the authors seem to have based more on sci-fi novels than on facts (I find it absolutely hilarious that Lierre cribs the word Patronus from the evil capitalistic Harry Potter books, written by an evil rich woman). There is also plenty of evidence that tribal people have also caused extinctions, particularly of the megafauna in the Americas and Oceania.
That's not to deny that there are serious issues to the world today. But advocating that we wipe the slate clean would require better evidence. The authors go to great lengths to totally dismiss people who are doing ecosystem remediation, making solar cells more efficient, and other things they claim are "technofixes." I suppose that if you believe technology is evil, you have to dismiss these things despite their merits.
This is a disturbing book and I fear that we will see many terrorist attacks on our already-crumbling infrastructure in the near future. The tactics advocated in this book range from assassination to blowing up dams and powerlines.
Dismantle the critical physical infrastructure required for industrial civilization to function. Induce widespread industrial collapse, beyond any economic or political systems. Use continuing and coordinated actions to hamper repairs and replacement. Operations: Focus almost exclusively on decisive and sustaining operations. Organization: Requires well-developed militant underground networks.
I for one will no longer recommend any of Keith's books and my next post will include alternatives.
I've tangled with a lot of opinionated folks since I started this blog. But I never expected the response I got to my post on Lierre Keith. It reminds me that as much as vegans and animal rights activists irk me, we are all trying to make civilization a better place, even if our ultimate visions are different. Anti-civilization people see the injustices of the world and can only envision tearing everything down, which is sadly based on a vision of pre-civilization humans that is doubtful and the idea that the earth is dying, which is also doubtful. If we are to tear down civilization, I'd think we'd want our tenets to be based on ideas that are true beyond a reasonable doubt. Besides that, the overwhelming evidence is that places that descend into anarchy see resource degradation accelerate. For accounts of this, see Jared Diamond's Collapse.
Overwhelmingly, my regular readers were supportive, but apparently my post was posted on an anti-civilization forum and they sicced their cult on me (not an isolated event, certainly, as can be seen on any blog post critical of Jensen & co.) there were several very disturbing comments and I had to turn on moderation. At some point I became so busy that the moderation queue got out of hand and so I closed comments. At that point I started receiving some disturbing emails. My mother said I should pull the post, arguing that even though it may be true it wasn't worth antagonizing people who embrace violence. I felt a little like The Voracious Vegan. Like her, I absolutely refuse to delete my post, despite being threatened and called a corporate shill (and worse). Don't feel sorry for me: I welcome this. It only confirms my desire to see people in the paleo/ancestral health community educated about Lierre's true agenda. That said, this is a blog about paleo/ancestral health and from now on I will delete comments unless they are constructive. Their forum is kept under lock and key, I have no obligation to keep mine open.
I suppose this is what happens when your evidence for your absolute convinction that civilization is evil and much be destroyed consists of a pitiably small sample set of bones, tiny groups of surviving foraging people who have been influenced by civilizations, and great apes, who are also impacted by modernity. There are more controversies than sureties. If great apes are any indication, life in the paleolithic was probably quite varied. Some people were probably warlike, others peaceful. In the meantime, anthropologists will continue to argue about the the significance bones with arrow wounds from 50,000 years ago, totally unaware that people have taken some isolated pop-sci fiction anthropology works and turned them into terroristic manifestos. That's not to say that I reject the idea that civilization has been a devil's bargain, but there is no way to know what we have lost and whether or not going back would make things better.