A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope, which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place. You realize that giving up on hope doesn't kill you, nor did it make you less effective. In fact it made you more effective, because you ceased relying on someone or something else to solve your problems - you ceased hoping your problems somehow get solved, through the magical assistance of God, the Great Mother, the Sierra Club, valiant tree-sitters, brave salmon, or even the Earth itself - and you just began doing what's necessary to solve your problems yourself.
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It's no wonder we don't defend the land where we live. We don't live here. We live in television programs and movies and books and with celebrities and in heaven and by rules and laws and abstractions created by people far away and we live anywhere and everywhere except in our particular bodies on this particular land at this particular moment in these particular circumstances.
When dams were erected on the Columbia, salmon battered themselves against the concrete, trying to return home. I expect no less from us. We too must hurl ourselves against and through the literal and metaphorical concrete that contains and constrains us, that keeps us from talking about what is most important to us, that keeps us from living the way our bones know we can, that bars us from our home. It only takes one person to bring down a dam.
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I am not a Buddhist. Yet there is a Buddhist story that I hold dear. A monk walks in a forest, and chances upon a tiger. The tiger chases him, and the monk runs until he comes to a cliff. With the tiger on his heels, the man grasps a vine and clambers down. Another tiger appears at the bottom. As the man hangs there, a mouse crawls from a crevice just beyond his reach and begins to gnaw the vine. Death above, death below, and death in between. He sees a big ripe strawberry near his mouth. It is delicious. In this moment, flying miles above the strawberry fields of California's San Joachin Valley, I think that I would change the ending of this story. Instead of giving the doomed man a strawberry, what if we leave him alone with the two tigers, the mouse, and the fraying vine? For the last time, his arms grow tired, he feels a familiar ache deep in his muscles. For the last time he catches his breath, feels a rasping in his throat and lungs. He feels this, and a thousand other things. It is all delicious.
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What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? What if the point of life, the primary reason for existence, is to lie naked with your lover in a shady grove of trees? What if the point is to taste each other's sweat and feel the delicate pressure of finger on chest, thigh on thigh, lip on cheek? What if the point is to stop, then, in your slow movements together, and listen to the birdsong, to watch the dragonflies hover, to look at your lover's face, then up at the undersides of leaves moving together in the breeze? What if the point is to invite these others into your movement, to bring trees, wind, grass, dragonflies into your family and in so doing abandon any attempt to control them? What if the point all along has been to get along, to relate, to experience things on their own terms? What if the point is to feel joy when joyous, love when loving, anger when angry, thoughtful when full of thought? What if the point from the beginning has been to simply be?
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So while this is a book about fighting back, in the end this is a book about love. The songbirds and the salmon need your heart, no matter how weary, because even a broken heart is still made of love. They need your heart because they are disappearing, slipping into that longest night of extinction, and the resistance is nowhere in sight. We will have to build that resistance from whatever comes to hand: whispers and prayers, history and dreams, from our bravest words and braver actions. It will be hard, there will be a cost, and in too many implacable dawns it will seem impossible. But we will have to do it anyway. So gather your heart and join with every living being. With love as our First Cause, how can we fail?
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This culture destroys landbases. That's what it does. When you think of Iraq, is the first thing that comes to mind cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touched the ground? One of the first written myths of this culture is about Gilgamesh deforesting the hills and valleys of Iraq to build a great city. The Arabian Peninsula used to be oak savannah. The Near East was heavily forested (we've all heard of the cedars of Lebanon). Greece was heavily forested. North Africa was heavily forested. We'll say it again: this culture destroys landbases. And it won't stop doing so because we ask nicely.
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Even if through simple living and rigorous recycling you stopped your own average Americans annual one ton of garbage production, your per capita share of the industrial waste produced in the US is still almost twenty-six tons. That's thirty-seven times as much waste as you were able to save by eliminating a full 100 percent of your personal waste. Industrialism itself is what has to stop.
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Surely by now there can be few here who still believe the purpose of government is to protect us from the destructive activities of corporations. At last most of us must understand that the opposite is true: that the primary purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens.
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I am in this same river. I can't much help it. I admit it: I'm racist. The other night I saw a group (or maybe a pack?) or white teenagers standing in a vacant lot, clustered around a 4x4, and I crossed the street to avoid them; had they been black, I probably would have taken another street entirely. And I'm misogynistic. I admit that, too. I'm a shitty cook, and a worse house cleaner, probably in great measure because I've internalized the notion that these are woman's work. Of course, I never admit that's why I don't do them: I always say I just don't much enjoy those activities (which is true enough; and it's true enough also that many women don't enjoy them either), and in any case, I've got better things to do, like write books and teach classes where I feel morally superior to pimps. And naturally I value money over life. Why else would I own a computer with a hard drive put together in Thailand by women dying of job-induced cancer? Why else would I own shirts mad in a sweatshop in Bangladesh, and shoes put together in Mexico? The truth is that, although many of my best friends are people of color (as the cliche goes), and other of my best friends are women, I am part of this river: I benefit from the exploitation of others, and I do not much want to sacrifice this privilege. I am, after all, civilized, and have gained a taste for "comforts and elegancies" which can be gained only through the coercion of slavery. The truth is that like most others who benefit from this deep and broad river, I would probably rather die (and maybe even kill, or better, have someone kill for me) than trade places with the men, women, and children who made my computer, my shirt, my shoes.
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A friend asked, "If increased awareness means less happiness, why bother?" No answer. Three or four nights later I had a dream. I was driving. To my right I saw baby cranes - blue-green, all legs, beak, and wings - standing in a field. They took off and crashed, took off and crashed. I stopped the car and got out. "That looks like it hurts. Why do you do it?" One of the cranes looked me square in the eye. "We may not fly very well yet, but at least we aren't walking." I awoke, happy. From that moment, there has been no turning back.
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One of the problems with all of this is that not all narratives are equal. Imagine, to take a silly example, that someone told you story after story extolling the virtues of eating dog shit. You've been told these stories since you were a child. You believe them. You eat dog shit hotdogs, dog shit ice cream, General Tso's dog shit. Sooner or later, if you are exposed to some other foods, you might figure out that dog shit really doesn't taste good. Or if you cling too tightly to these stories (or if your enculturation is so strong that dog shit actually does taste good to you), the diet might make you sick or kill you. To make this example a little less silly, substitute the word pesticides for dog shit. Or, for that matter, substitute Big Mac, Whopper, or Coca Cola.
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The fundamental metaphor of National Socialism as it related to the world around it was the garden, not the wild forest. One of the most important Nazi ideologists, R.W. Darre, made clear the relationship between gardening and genocide: 'He who leaves the plants in a garden to themselves will soon find to his surprise that the garden is overgrown by weeds and that even the basic character of the plants has changed. If therefore the garden is to remain the breeding ground for the plants, if, in other words, it is to lift itself above the harsh rule of natural forces, then the forming will of a gardener is necessary, a gardener who, by providing suitable conditions for growing, or by keeping harmful influences away, or by both together, carefully tends what needs tending and ruthlessly eliminates the weeds which would deprive the better plants of nutrition, air, light, and sun... Thus we are facing the realization that questions of breeding are not trivial for political thought, but that they have to be at the center of all considerations, and that their answers must follow from the spiritual, from the ideological attitude of a people. We must even assert that a people can only reach spiritual and moral equilibrium if a well-conceived breeding plan stands at the very center of its culture.
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To reverse the effects of civilization would destroy the dreams of a lot of people. There's no way around it. We can talk all we want about sustainability, but there's a sense in which it doesn't matter that these people's dreams are based on, embedded in, intertwined with, and formed by an inherently destructive economic and social system. Their dreams are still their dreams. What right do I - or does anyone else - have to destroy them. At the same time, what right do they have to destroy the world?
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A very poor kid came up to me after a talk and said 'I want to go blow up a factory.' I asked how old he was and he said 17. I said 'have you ever had sex?' He said 'no.' I said 'just remember if you get caught you aren't going to have sex for twenty years at least.' That's not saying that one person having sex is worth the salmon. I'm not saying it's a reason not to act, I'm saying don't be stupid.
I've since come to understand the reason school lasts thirteen years. It takes that long to sufficiently break a child's will. It is not easy to disconnect children's wills, to disconnect them from their own experiences of the world in preparation for the lives of painful employment they will have to endure.
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So many indigenous people have said to me that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners generally view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is. Trees and rocks and rivers really do have things to say to us.
We are members of the most destructive culture ever to exist. Our assault on the natural world, on indigenous and other cultures, on women, on children, on all of us through the possibility of nuclear suicide and other means--all these are unprecedented in their magnitude and ferocity.
The process of schooling does not give birth to human beings - as education should but never will so long as it springs from the collective consciousness of our culture - but instead it teaches us to value abstract rewards at the expense of our autonomy, curiosity, interior lives, and time.
All the mega corporations on the planet make their obscene profits off the labor and suffering of others, with complete disregard for the effects on the workers, environment, and future generations. We have a straightforward proposal: if they want public money, we want public control. It's that simple.
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Slavery was a central concern of governance form the time of the first nation-state. The Code of Hammurabi, the earliest know set of laws for governing an empire, prescribed death for anyone who harbored a fugitive or otherwise helped a slave to escape. The relationship between the law and bondage goes back even farther: Indeed, the oldest extant legal documents don't concern the sale of land, houses, or even animals, but slaves.
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The pretense that humans are superior to nonhumans is entirely unsupportable. I have seen no compelling evidence that humans are particularly more "intelligent" than any other creature. I have had long and fruitful relationshis with many nonhuman animals, both domesticated and wild, and have reveled in the bouquet of radically different intelligences - different forms, not different "quantities" that they have introduced to me, each in his or her own time, in his or her own way.
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If we hope to stem the mass destruction that inevitably attends our economic system (and to alter the sense of entitlement - the sense of contempt, the hatred - on which it is based), fundamental historical, social, economic, and technological forces need to be pondered, understood, and redirected. Behavior won't change much without a fundamental change in consciousness. The question becomes: How do we change consciousness?
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Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
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To be clear, civilization is not the same as society. Civilization is a specific, hierarchical organization based on 'power over.' Dismantling civilization, taking down that power structure, does not mean the end of all social order. It should ultimately mean more justice, more local control, more democracy, and more human rights, not less.
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