This site is archived. For my brand new live site go to Struggle Forever!

08 July 2009

To 'Be the Change' or 'Fight the System'

This post is a response to Derrick Jensen's latest article on the Orion website "Forget Shorter Showers." Those of you who have read my blog for a while know that I like Derrick Jensen's writing, and have, at times, shared his point of view. My views now are perhaps slightly milder, but I'm glad to see his new column in the Orion, and all of the attention it has been garnering. His writing is provocative, and, though we may not always agree with him, those of us in the environmental movement need to engage his (and similar) ideas in order to continually renew our own vision and action.

That said, I realized while reading this new article that Jensen's "Industrial Civilization" (a term I've used many times myself) is a reification. He presents it as a thing, which can be opposed, attacked and eradicated like the kudzu vines that he sanctimoniously chops down in his back yard. What this view fails to recognize is that "Industrial Civilization" is really a complex set of relationships which we are all implicated within. This has been made apparent by some of the commenters who referred to the fact that, for example, golf courses wouldn't exist if individuals didn't play golf.
On the other hand, the 'be the change you wish to see' camp relies equally on the reification of Industry and Culture which can be affected by the pokes and prods of our wallets and personal examples. The resulting changes may or may not comply with the end vision sought by the individuals trying to enact the change (see green-washing and biofeuls). Indeed, in any complex system (such as industrial civilization), the actions of one part of the system (i.e. individuals engaging in personal change) can resonate through the system to bring about a system-wide change. But that change will be unpredictable and limited at best.
An example of the complexity with which we are faced can be expressed in the concept of power. Jensen decries the power structures which we must oppose, but ignores the fact that those power structures are composed of people. Without the person, the position doesn't exist. On the other hand, those positions of power often serve as nodes in the web of relationships where many different factors converge. As a result, those positions may provide focal points where various forms of action can be more effectively directed (this may have implications for his concept of leverage which is discussed in Endgame), and the particular individual in the position can have a great effect on the character of the office.
The take home message of the article and this response, I think, is that personal change is not enough. In saying this, Jensen confronts the dominant ideology of the environmental movement, and challenges us to renew our vision. We need to 'live simply,' but we also need to do more than that. We need to confront the system that is destroying the planet while recognizing that we are part of that system. Only then can we bring about a more holistic change. I leave you with a quote that sums up my position well (Thank you, again, Aldous Huxley!):

"Patriotism is not enough" But neither is anything else. Science is not enough, religion is not enough, art is not enough, politics and economics are not enough, nor is love, nor is duty, nor is action however disinterested, nor, however sublime, is contemplation. Nothing short of everything will really do.
-Aldous Huxley, Island

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails