Transition Whatcom

I am curious if anyone else was at Derrick Jensen's talk on May 15th and what you thought. I found myself agreeing strongly with a lot of what he was saying, that drastic action needs to happen NOW to save the Earth, etc. But I was also really put off, offended, and-- to be perfectly honest-- quite scared by his rhetoric. His "us" versus "them" mentality and list of "enemies" made me think of the paranoid Richard Nixon, or George Bush's "you're either with us or against us." I don't think further polarizing people is helpful; I think it would shoot the environmental movement in the foot yet again. What do others think? Do you support the positive, inclusive, community-oriented Transition model, or the "any means necessary" Derrick Jensen model, or both? Any why? Thank you for your insights.

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I didn't go to the Jensen talk, because I would have had to drive to get there, and I decided that I won't go to these things unless I'm in town anyway, or if I can bicycle there. I'm familiar with militant environmentalism as a former associate of Earth First!
What has happened to EF! is that it is now a group of marginalized (but bless 'em) crust punks and their leaders, some old radicals with one foot in the mainstream and the other in the woods. EF! is a journal, and a good one.

Modern humans are programmed to believe in/be moved by the "Strong Father" archetype of leadership. The strong father makes the laws, enforces them, dictates policy... In the absence of the Strong Father, we are lost, ineffectual, without compass. And, this conditioning is so old that we aren't changing in it this generation.

"Without our king, decadence and vice shall rule the day."

Nowhere have I seen more done with more energy and discipline than in the military. So, an equal and opposite 'peace force' needs to exist in order to overcome war. The idea that a hierarchy of order and discipline is destructive is pure hogwash, because it is the only way we can function on a truly effective level! War is something that gives humans passion, meaning, drive... and those who've been through war have felt the highest and lowest emotions possible; through war. We need to take that energy and put it towards saving the Earth. I have traveled a lot, observed a great deal, served in the war machine, and talked to a great many people. I believe that the only way we will be able to slow (let alone stop) the juggernaut of capitalist-driven destruction is through the same kind of dedication that war fighters have, and this level of energy input does not exist without masculine energy (yang) leadership, which both women and men are capable of. The feminine has its place in our agenda, our purpose - and the masculine is how it gets done.
Don't blame me... blame the Cro-Magnons for exterminating the Neanderthals! This is a very old behavior set.

Part 1 of my Reply

In beginning a discussion like this, I think it's good to acknowledge one's biases at the beginning. I am currently biased towards the following priniciples that I think are relevant to this discussion.

The Principles of Transition. Principle #3 is Inclusion and Openness: "...It makes explicit the principle that there is no room for 'them and us' thinking in the challenge of energy descent planning." See my reply to Lynnette's blog posting on the Derrick Jensen event.

The Ethics and Principles of Permaculture. "Care of the Planet: We all came from the Earth. Protecting existing ecosystems and rehabilitating damaged areas is our top priority. Care of People: Humans are social organisms. Our minds, bodies and souls will benefit by developing positive communities & environments. A Careful Process: We must maintain a positive and cooperative attitude during the ongoing development of a mutually beneficial & regenerative relationship to the Earth." - Dave Boehnlein & Paul Kearsley

The Principles of Non-Violent Communication. "Social change is meaningful, effective and sustainable when the way we go about creating change patches our values and vision for the world so that our very acts to create change are the change." "Do you want to play the game of Who's Right or Let's Make Life More Wonderful."

The Principles of Integral Theory/Integral Sustainability/Integral Ecology. David Johnson (Transition PDX, Transition U.S.) wrote an interesting paper a couple of years ago on Ken Wilber. He said "For Wilber the environmental crises is in essence a spiritual one. The main problems affecting the planet are due to a, 'lack of mutual understanding and mutual agreement in the nooshpere about how to proceed.' (Wilber 2000). And "An all-quadrant, all-level map - one that includes both complex ecological systems and interior levels of human development - shows that it's not enough to be able to see the problem, one must also be at a moral stage where one is motivated to act upon it. Moreover, any activist has to build social consensus between people with different cultural contexts, economic backgrounds, behavioral patterns, and levels of interior development." (Integral Naked, 2005).

The Principles of Sacred Activism. Andrew Harvey, who "inspires us to face the world's pain directly, and to take the possibility of apocalypse seriously. But he also inspires awe and wonder at the divine power and possibilities available to us if only 'human beings could see how drastic the situation is--and could also see that the divine is here, and wanting to help, and trying to seep through every crack.' - Of Rumi and the Apocalypse

The Principles of Humanism (Erich Fromm). I recommend Fromm's essay on "The Ambiguity of hope" toward the end of his book "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness." He writes, "optimism is an alienated form of faith, pessimism is an alienated form of despair." "The position of this book is one of rational faith in man's capacity to extricate himself from what seems is the fatal web of circumstances that he has created. It is the position of those who are neither 'optimists' nor 'pessimists' but radicals who have rational faith in man's capacity to avoid the ultimate catastrophe. This humanist radicalism goes to the roots, and thus to the causes; it seeks to liberate man from the chains of illusion; it postulates that fundamental changes are necessary, not only in our economic and political structure but also in our values, in our concepts of man's aims, and in our personal conduct."

The Principles of an un-hyphenated Christian faith, which has been described as "an ultimate optimism founded upon an immediate pessimism."
Thank you both, Cameron and Senna, for your comments. I am trying to learn how to feel into this militant/ resistance mindset, because it seems important, yet it is so foreign to me. I know the metaphor of domestic violence is often used, which I guess would translate into environmentalists "hitting back" those in power, rather than letting the Earth take blows. Maybe it is like hitting back your abusive spouse in order to defend your children, who cannot stand up for themselves.

I am still stuck on the "us" vs. "them" rhetoric. Cameron, you say that "It's undoubtedly pretty clear... who the 'us' and 'them' are," but it is not clear to me. Am I, for instance, an "us" or an enemy? I drive my car to work some days when my chronic fatigue is acting up, and I bike to work on the days I have enough energy. I compost and grow some of my own food and study Permaculture, all of which Derrick disparaged in his talk. I felt personally frightened at Derrick's talk, like if I did not join Fertile Ground or whatever it is called, I could end up on somebody's hit list. The abused becomes the abuser; I see that pattern all the time in my work as a counselor. But becoming an abuser is not empowerment; it is staying trapped in the same power struggle. Hmmm, I guess I am not convinced yet!
Thank you for your comments, too, David. You must have been writing your reply while I was writing my reply so I hadn't read yours yet. I really appreciate you clarifying your philosophical background and biases. Maybe I will put some thought into what mine are and post those too.
Part 2

"I think it would shoot the environmental movement in the foot yet again. What do others think?"

Yes, I'm with you there Chris. The biggest problem I have with Jensen's approach is that I just don't see it as an effective strategy. I'm not a total pacifist, and would agree that the non-violent approach wouldn't have worked against Hitler and the Nazis. However, I don't see enough similarities to our current situation to make that analogy applicable.

1) The problem we're facing is not a clearly demarcated political and military force. I think Pogo had it right - "we have met the enemy, and he is us." It's all of us that are embedded in this culture who's actual, if not claimed, religion is capitalism, industrialism, and consumerism. We are the ones buying the Nestle' bottled water, burning oil from the tar sands of Canada, and using electricity from mountain top mined coal (yes, we use electricity from coal here in the northwest too).

If the enemy were named as Republicans, and they were all somehow removed from power, then who would fill that vacuum? Democrats? So if the enemy were named as Democrats, and they were all somehow removed from power, who would fill that vacuum? Would we then suddendly have support for the Green party, and would they then perform to our standards? If the enemy were named as Civilization, and civilization was brought down by followers of Jensen, then what would we have? Would this enforced rewilding of humans somehow be able to cope with the environmental effects of the collapsed infrastructure, and be in a place to help repair the planet?

2) How would followers of Jensen, using 'any means necessary', including acts such as blowing up dams, etc. be able to achieve anything close to a meaningful victory? Violent actions tend to lead to violent reactions, and the Cultural Resistance I imagine will foster a strong counter-resistance. Political positions will become more ingrained, and countervailing forces will dig their heels in. Those using the 'any means necessary' will likely be stopped before any meaningful change comes about, and their foes will likely spread the blame to all those who speak out in favor of the earth and its environment.

Consider those who bomb abortion clinics because of their passionate belief in their 'pro-life' cause. How successful has that been for their cause?
Hi Chris, thanks for sharing and initiating a lively discussion. I feel pretty much the same as David Marshak in his reply and I like how succinct he was. But I'd like to add a few thoughts too.

I think that each person has to follow their own heart and their clearest thinking to determine how they take action and where they put their energies for the great changes we're undergoing. If Transition Whatcom is open to anyone then we will have a wide spectrum of beliefs and stratagies amoung our membership. So how can we be unified at the same time include diverse even contradictory beliefs and viewpoints? I see an opportunity here to really find out what it means to prictice the 2nd principle in the transition model that of inclusion and moving beyond an us vs them posture. This is how I'm grappling with it: For me, it doesn't seem right to use violence to try to end the destruction of the earth. So when other people advocate that stratagy, I automatically think they are wrong. I recognize that this is my own form of 'I'm right they're wrong','us vs them' thinking.....It is where I am still participating in the dominator paradigm. Next I step back a bit and reframe: I embrace the nonviolent approach that feels right to me but for other people I will respect their right to listen to their hearts and remember that there are many right answers and actions. And it's not my job to judge others.

As for how can we also be unified and synergistic in our endeavors when we have diverse beliefs?......My trust is that TW will remain grounded in the core principles and mission as layed out by the founders of the Transition model. The mission and principles give it an identity that is distinct from the individual beliefs of it's members. If this identity is respected then each of us can participate together in the projects of change we decide to endertake and have autonomy in our personal thinking and choices as we go. What ever members do out side the scope of TW is their business and doesn't reflect TW as a whole, nor does it reflect on what other TW members believe or do.

Angela Macleod
Part 3

In the first part of Derrick's talk Friday night, the most important thing he said (from his own point of view - he repeated it several times and told the audience they should write it down) was, "The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible; the task of an activist is to confront and take down systems of oppressive power."

I found this statement troubling, and it did not make sense to me as a logical argument. If someone is willing to use any means necessary to attempt to take down systems of oppressive power, I would suggest the contrary - that they'd better make certain that they are acting with as much integrity as humanly possible. They'd better first extricate themselves from the ways their personal behavior supports the culture they're tying to bring down.

Jensen said "If you accept the definitiion of yourself as a consumer, the range of actions available to you is very limited - you can consume or not consume. As a citizen the range of options open to you is much greater...One of the crucial things we need to do is not accept that definition of ourselves (consumer)...whether I do or don't drive a car, or drink bottled's not going to drive Arrowhead (Nestle) out of business...the most important part of this discussion - is that it presumes that as consumers humans actually make a difference numerically...90 perecent of the water used by human beings is used by the agriculture industry...taking shorter showers will not make a difference....if you reduce your waste to zero, it's only 3%...industrial waste production is 97% of the total waste. The point is that we can make consumer choices and they are a very very very very very very small piece of the pie."

This statement seems to me to be completely missing the connections that exist between our personal behaviors and the activities of corporations that harm the earth. Corporations exist to make money for shareholders, and the way they do that is by supplying the demand of consumers. Consumers are not only responsible for 3% of personal household waste, they are also in many ways tied to and responsible for the 97% of the waste from industrial production. As I said in my previous post, We are the ones buying the Nestle' bottled water, burning oil from the tar sands of Canada, and using electricity from mountain top mined coal, and the statement above seems to be abdicating responsibility for that.

I agree that we need to start identifying ourselves primarily as human beings and citizens, not as consumers. The way to do that is by actually engaging in less consumerism, and become more engaged in life-supporting activities.

Now, I'm not wagging my finger here - changing habits is a process and sometimes a struggle, and I've got a long way to go myself, so I have no room to be judgemental. I also believe there's room for thinking about pragmatism vs. idealism - meaning we may decide, for example, to use fossil fuels in a transitional way as we try to set up better systems, or we may decide that on balance it may be OK to burn some extra fossil fuels as we drive to our environmental meetings or to see speakers like Derrick Jensen.

All I'm saying here is 1) let's be aware of how are personal actions are connected to what we see happening in the world, and 2) IF you're going to be any means necessary as a response to the planetary crisis, please consider starting first in your home and your personal actions.

You said:

"I found this statement troubling, and it did not make sense to me as a logical argument. If someone is willing to use any means necessary to attempt to take down systems of oppressive power, I would suggest the contrary - that they'd better make certain that they are acting with as much integrity as humanly possible. They'd better first extricate themselves from the ways their personal behavior supports the culture they're tying to bring down."

I'm wondering, if you suddenly woke up one night to see an ax-muderer standing over the person you love most, what would you do? Would you seek to first extricate yourself from the ways in which your personal behavior supports the culture that makes it possible for this ax-murderer to be standing over your bed? Or would you do whatever it takes to make sure that ax doesn't strike your loved one or yourself? If you're not insane, I assume you would choose the latter.

Yes, the ax-murderer metaphor is a simple metaphor for the huge and complex situation we are in. But it relates to our situation closely enough for myself and others to feel comfortable using it. Scientific consensus these days portrays a bleak future for both human and nonhuman life because of the activities of industrial civilization. Common knowledge is that we're close to reaching the tipping point--the point at which it would no longer matter if we were to halt all industrial activity. Positive feedback loops would cause continuous warming of the planet that could potentially wipe out almost all life on earth. We know this.

Members of Fertile Ground do not wish to risk the life or comfort of those who will come after simply based on skepticism around these scientific conclusions. The fact that we even have to have this discussion somewhat justifies the total dismantling of this system--no one should have to live in a world where there is even talk of our actions causing the suffering of many and the extinction of more, let alone those things really happening.

What Derrick said last Friday made complete sense. We need to stop the ax-murderer. We need to take down systems of oppressive power. Although changing one's own heart and mind is important, to waste time touting this as a solution is beneath contempt. Salmon would agree. Red-backed voles would agree. What remains of the old growth forests would agree. The remaining communities of wild humans would agree. Members of Fertile Ground agree. I agree.
Cameron wrote: "I hope that Transition Whatcom can recognize the sense of urgency that Fertile Ground brings to the community. We recognize your work as important, and hope you do the same for us. We're frankly tired of horizontal hostility between groups that should be encouraging each other's work."

Cameron, I'm hearing that you're feeling tired and I'm guessing frustrated because you're not getting the support and encouragement you want. What would that encouragement look like to you?

I'm curious as to what you're hearing that is coming across to you as horizontal hostility?
Wow! What a dialogue. I don't even know where to jump in. Well, here it goes . . .

David wrote: "All I'm saying here is 1) let's be aware of how are personal actions are connected to what we see happening in the world, and 2) IF you're going to be any means necessary as a response to the planetary crisis, please consider starting first in your home and your personal actions." I think that this is a great summary and I personally agee 100%. I think this way as well. I also hope we can accept people into this movement who would say that we consider starting with dismantling systems of power, and then looking at our personal actions. Derrick Jensen's work has helped me see the validity of this perspective as well. The important thing to me is that we have the same goal - a world where humans live sustainable rather than destroying the land base AND a way to get there that causes the least amount of damage. If someone is like me and wants to start at home, that is great. (Hopefully they will shop at Terra Organica too!) If they think that personal actions are secondary, then I also consider them an ally and I do my best not to judge them (easier said than done, but I try my best.) I know that the goal of Fertile Ground is to accept and embrace both these strategies. I am wondering if the "horizontal hostility" that Cameron feels is really a question as to whether or not his perspective is welcome here? I know that when I attended the Party Up for Power Down event I had a similar question - what is OK and what is not OK under the umbrella of Transition Whatcom? I really want to know if having people who are aligned with the resistance movement is going to help or hurt Transition Whatcom. Personally, I think it can only help, but the reality is that I have little invested in Transition Whatcom and that decision is not my call to make.

If nothing else, I appreciate a safe forum to listen and discuss these things. I am a firm believer that the ecological situation is so dire that we need to at least consider all options, even if we later reject some (or many) of them.
Thank you, Derrick and Chris, for bringing this discussion to the Transition Whatcom (TW) forum. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone who resonates with DJ’s message wouldn’t already be living more lightly on the planet. So likely we are more in agreement than not.

DJ inspires deep, passionate thinking on the subject. Like any good philosopher, Ken Wilber included, the depth of understanding of a complex issue has been carefully thought through. Could someone agree with DJ’s premises and not be concerned? He’s an in-your-face philosopher speaking of our critical situation.

I’m confident that TW can make a difference in our community by raising awareness of the “Triple Threat” of peak oil, climate change, and economic instability and forging a path forward. And I hope that Fertile Ground and other groups will complement these efforts, because in the end we all want the same thing and there is plenty to do. We are the "imaginal cells” of the caterpillar’s body.

Derrick’s belief that civilization is incompatible with a wild world is a hard message to hear. Through this awareness we have to face some difficult decisions on how to power down and live more sustainably. Through many years of educating me, it’s hard to ignore the real possibility and integrate what that means.

Real change will not occur quickly at the national or even the state level. Our minds change one at a time and shift takes place at the tipping point. A local focus to this global problem makes most sense. And I believe that our collective consciousness can innovatively create more healthy pathways to live. A friend recently sent some inspirational writings that you may find worthwhile.

I must be a part of this effort. I’m up for the challenge. Working toward connection through the Web of Life--a dazzling dance intricately choreographed in perfect balance.
I just want to say before anyone reads my post that I am merely trying to clear things up and not muddy things up with argumentativeness. There are things that we should think about before we use certain metaphors or allegories.

Sandy, thank you for your note. You wrote:

"We are the imaginal cells of the caterpillar's body."

Are you referring to the allegory popularized by Elisabet Sahtouris? I have heard this allegory used to describe the situation we are in now many times, especially in Bellingham, and I have a few concerns.

My first concern is with the creator of this allegory, Elisabet Sahtouris herself. I went to Sahtouris's website and found that she has given talks on such topics as, Why biology is good for business; How organic models can meet corporate needs; How quality of life and profits can improve together; and The Internet: self-organizing system and key to human evolution. To me, this is an attempt to naturalize industrialization: "business," "corporate needs," "profits," and "The Internet" are things that human beings (and especially the rest of the world) could do without. In fact, if we are going to have a livable planet, these are things we must do without.

My other concerns lie with the caterpillar allegory. This allegory has been used by many New Agers trying to naturalize--justify--this culture's destructive activities. The notion that cultural maturation will inevitably lead to some transformation into some greater state is imperialist, racist, and ignorant of ecological reality.

The allegory is imperialist because it refers to our culture, which is an ever-globalizing culture. Two impolite words for globalization are genocide and ecocide in that globalization is by definition a singular society across the entire world (which means it has eliminated significant cultural differences), and is by definition not based on place (which means it will never be sustainable). I have not come across an account from an indigenous person or people who praise globalization. I have come across accounts of indigenous people who emphasize their deep (and often violent) opposition to globalization. Point in fact:

The allegory is racist in that it states explicitly that this culture's consumption of the planet is natural. The metaphor's point is the notion that this culture's destructiveness is the necessary prelude to a transformation to some seemingly better state--which implies that traditional indigenous peoples are stuck in some primitive or immature caterpillar phase.

Again, this allegory is an attempt to naturalize industrialization--a caterpillar is voracious, so that means everything's okay, right? Using it to justify the activities of this culture is to be out of touch with physical reality. I could just as easily say that we should act like the white blood cells of the human body and attack the cancer that is civilization for all we're worth.

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