This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Lierre Keith. Lierre Keith is the author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years. This is part 2 of an episode of the Green Flame. Part 1 where Max interviews Michel Jacobi was release a while ago. You can find it here.
Max: Okay I’m here today with Lierre Keith. Lierre is a writer, a radical-feminist, food activist and environmentalist. She’s the author of novels including Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel, and her non-fiction books include The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability, which is a fantastic book. It’s been called the most important ecological book of this generation. She’s the co-author of Deep Green Resistance: A Strategy to Save the Planet, the editor of the Derrick Jensen reader and co-author of the forthcoming book Bright Green Lies which she co-wrote with Derrick Jensen and myself.
So Lierre, thank you so much for being on the show. How are you doing today?
Lierre: I’m good and it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
Max: Glad to have you here. So I want to focus today on collapse and on the food system, I know food is something that has been a big focus of your work for a long time. Years ago, I read some of your more obscure interviews that were diving into the topic of collapse. I’m wondering if we can start by looking at collapse as you see it.
Is collapse an event or is it a process or is it both? Some people like to think of collapse as this sort of discrete thing that will happen one day where everything will just change, or will it be more of a slow process over generations and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how you see collapse playing out today and in the future.
Lierre: Yeah I’m definitely in the process camp. I don’t think there will be one day when things are sort of normal and then the next day everything is different. There’s no food. There’s barbarians at the gate. These things take a long time to come about. So every civilisation that’s ever existed, and I think there have been 3-4 total, have all ended in collapse because they’re based on drawdown and overshoot. This is what agriculture is and it’s what agriculture does.
You’ve got huge chunks of land that are just taken over to grow humans on. Nobody else can live there: none of the plants or animals that once called that place home get to live there. First of all, that’s just mass extinction. Over time, the soil is degraded. There’s no way to do this process that doesn’t involve soil degradation. That’s how civilisations end: their soil just gives out. They’re constantly conquering their neighbors because they have to get more stuff: the food, the water, the energy. They have to come from somewhere else since the city has used up its own.
That’s what a city is. It’s people living in those concentrations so high you just don’t have enough stuff. After a certain point it’s all just concrete. There’s literally nothing else that can be done on that land. So you have to go out and get it. And there’s nobody who wants to give up that stuff. Everybody wants their rivers and their fish and their trees so you have to conquer those people. That’s the pattern of civilisation. It’s drawdown and overshoot so it produces way more people than can be supported so you keep conquering and eventually you would reach the sort of automatic limit.
Then, of course, along came fossil fuel and that was just a huge accelerant on this whole process. Regardless of that, this is where civilisations end. They use up all the stuff and there’s no more food or water or energy. Then there’s a slow decline. We are now facing this on an absolutely vast global scale because the whole thing has gone global. And, we have added that incredible accelerant of fossil fuel particularly in terms of food. This is where stuff gets really scary.
There were six billion less people here. Because of fossil fuel, scientists learned this thing called the Haber-Bosch process. It was originally used for making bombs because they need a source of nitrogen. After WW2, it got turned to “peacetime” uses. All those bomb factories were turned into fertiliser factories. That was the beginning of the so-called green revolution and the human population quadrupled in response.
By adding gas and oil to the food supply, they were able to make various grains like rice and wheat that grew really short. The stuff we don’t want got shorter, we don’t eat the cellulose, but the grain head. The part which we do eat got really big. They were able to grow plants that would do that if they had the correct inputs and the inputs, of course, are chemical fertilisers.
So that happened. They pushed those plants to their absolute limit and created an absolute mountain of surplus grain. The human population responded the way that it does when there’s a lot of food, it quadrupled. So it didn’t actually solve any of the problems it just made them four times worse. That’s where we are now, this civilisation is going to end the same way that they all do. It is inevitable. You can’t fight physical reality. I get called all kinds of names for pointing this out which is honestly shooting the messenger. It’s not like I take any pleasure in pointing this out. We are in a really grim situation. That is the reality.
There’s a quote from James Howard Kunstler that I have always loved. He says that our planet needs reality based adults. That’s really where this has to start. We need to face reality. We need to face how bad this is. That’s the only hope we have of the best possible outcome for this situation.
A soft landing on the other side of this collapse, if humans as a whole, as a global population take charge of this situation we could support everyone’s human rights, redistribute what there is and repair the planet while we do that. We wouldn’t have to end in these grim, dystopian kind of scenarios that we all imagine and that popular culture has long since decided was the way this was going to go. We’ve all seen the Mad Max movies. We even know what we’re going to be wearing.
But the problem is I don’t see anyone, like the institutions in charge, headed in the right direction. I’m afraid that where we’re headed is exactly into those kinds of dystopian failed state scenarios. None of this is going to happen overnight. I think there’s a lot of people out there who do think that like one day, there’s going to be this thing called the collapse, and there’ll be a before and after. That’s not really how it goes. It’s a slow erosive process over time, over usually many generations. In the archaeological record you see there’s more and more signs of hunger, more and more signs of chronic malnutrition, people get shorter and shorter, their bones get more and more brittle. And then, at the very end of it, the last proteins in the cooking pots are human so they’ve turned to cannibalism because there’s nothing left to eat.
That’s the end then. There’s no more sign of them. And we just scratch our heads and go, “Wow! Couldn’t they figure out something better?” Clearly not. Here we are, are we going to figure out something better? Well I don’t know but I’m still hoping we do it anyway. No, I think this is going to take a long time and we’re seeing a taste of this right now. We’ve got the coronavirus pandemic. People are on lockdown and here we are. I live in the United States. Pretty much everybody who listens to this is probably going to be mostly English-speaking first world people. I’m glad you’ve got listenership that is more diverse than that but I know mostly who’s going to be hearing this. We have not really experienced those kinds of shortages – not most of us in our lives.
Even if we didn’t have money we knew we could go to the store and get stuff. I think it’s a little bit of an eye opener for a lot of people my age and younger who really haven’t experienced war in the United States. My family background certainly went through vast amounts of these kinds of traumas in World War II. But I was born safely in America. I’ve never seen anything like this. I know it’s certainly possible. I’ve heard the stories but it’s different when you go to the store for the first time and you see everything’s empty. All the good stuff is gone. You think “Wow! all of this is really coming true like it really could be any time.”
We are utterly dependent on six corporations who control the food supply. Who thought that was a good idea?
Well obviously they did.
They’re the ones with all the power. Rest of us – I mean some of us have been out here fighting this.
I don’t think most people really get involved until their lives are directly impacted. As hard as this is on people, I’m always trying to think what can we do as a political movement to use this experience to help people understand the layers of power that are controlling our lives and ways to fight back. I don’t find that a lot of the doomers are the preppers. I don’t know that they necessarily are. I don’t find them politically viable. It’s all about, “How am I gonna save my family, help myself?” Which is fine. We’re all going to have those reactions too. But the broader perspective is what are we going to do to make the world healthier as a planet and then also, more just for everyone, and for that we obviously need those political movements.
So how do we get from here to there? This is an opportunity. As usual, is the left gonna use this or are we gonna blow it one more time and not build that movement? Because I see the right be incredibly successful with their political program right now. They’ve got people storming the state house in Michigan with guns. They’re getting stuff done, at least from their perspective. It’s horrible. It makes my skin crawl, but they’re doing it. You have to have a little respect for the fact that they’re able to mobilise people in these times. We just don’t seem able to do it on our end of the spectrum. So that’s really my question: how do we use these, because these moments are going to become more and more frequent. We’re going to have more droughts. We’re going to have more horrible fires. There’s going to be times when the electric grid starts going down. How do we make use of that to get people to understand what the real problem is right now on the planet, and then what are the real solutions to it. Because this way of life is over. It was only going to last two or three generations and then the fossil fuel was going to be out. It always had a time limit on it. Can we get people who have lived very comfortable lives to understand what that was based on?
Max: A few interesting thoughts: I’m just reading about the Haber-Bosch process. There are a couple of the pretty stunning facts in this piece I’m reading. Nearly 50% of the nitrogen found in human tissues originates from the Haber-Bosch process which means that 50% of the nitrogen in our bodies is directly from mostly natural gas
Lierre: Yeah it’s just absolutely horrifying when you start reading about it. I get called like all these terrible names. This is the accusation always: “You want to kill six billion people. Of course, I don’t want to kill six billion people. It’s just absurd. Like, it’s just insane that I even have to answer that kind of thing. But that’s the point we have to face if we’re gonna find a way out of our dilemma. And that’s really all I’m asking for. Could we at least talk about it? Think about it like, try to imagine how we’re gonna get out of this mess because we’re backed up against the cliff now both as a planet and as a species. Whoever thought this could go on? Oil doesn’t reproduce! When it’s gone, it’s gonna be gone. And we’re already over the peak and we’re using more and more every day. It’s not like we’ve even slowed down using it. It just keeps accelerating. So you know like, what are we going to do folks? And it starts with a proper diagnosis which is that this way of life always had that time limit on it.
Max: It seems like so much of this, so many problems in the world really comes down to really simple ethics. It’s easy to get very complicated. You’re talking about being accused of wanting to kill six billion people. It’s making me think of another simple ethical way of looking at the natural world which leads into the next question.
And I’m looking out the window right now and I live in Oak Savannah – Oak Woodland habitat in the southern part of the Willamette Valley. I’m lucky to live in this forest of black oak and white oak trees who are beautiful long-lived native trees who produce abundant amount of acorns which can be a staple food source for humans and for a huge variety of other creatures. So this sort of oak forest habitat is one of the most biodiverse type of forests around.
And I’m contrasting this with further north in the Willamette Valley where you have industrial agriculture covering pretty much the entirety of the valley bottom. That’s the reason why around 97 or 98 percent of this Oak Savannah has been destroyed because the trees were cut down, the wetlands were drained, and it was all turned into agricultural fields.
And it seems to me there’s a pretty stark and simple contrast between an ecological ethic based on sharing versus one based on a fundamental selfishness where we take everything for ourselves. This is really a major topic of your book The Vegetarian Myth. Could you talk a little bit about comparing and contrasting those different ecological models of how we get our food?
Lierre: I live in a similar climate to you in the Pacific Northwest. In a climate like this, it would take about a square mile to support one human as a hunter-gatherer. Now you can compare that with an agriculturalist where it only takes one acre or two to support a human and you might think “oh wow what a better use of the land you can get way more people.” But like you’re saying, that’s just completely the wrong side of values. Why is the goal to maximize the number of humans you can support on a piece of land, especially when supporting that human is only temporary? You’re going to destroy that land by doing that. Ultimately, you might get more humans out of it but they’re all going to die. Like at the end, that’s where it’s going to. That’s where this story, that’s the conclusions of it there. Everybody there is going to die unless they expand and take somebody else’s land. It doesn’t even really work to say, “oh but you can get more humans.” Yeah you can temporarily but it’s not a way of life that can go on. It’s going to have its limits.
But the point is that when you are living in that hunter-gatherer way, which is what we did for 2 million years, all of our progenitors leading up to humans. That’s what we were doing. You’re sharing that land with millions of other species. You’ve got the ones you can see visibly. That’s the trees and the megafauna and the little animals and birds and reptiles and all those little guys. But then, there’s all the bacteria: the tiny little microscopic things that we can’t even see. Those are the creatures that do the basic work of life because they’re breaking down. As the plant or animal bodies die and bacterial bodies, as well, as everything dies, it needs to be be broken apart and then those nutrients made available again to the cycle of life. It’s those microscopic creatures – the bacteria of the soil – who do that work. And none of the rest of us can do it. Without them none of us are here. We can’t even see them now. Mostly where they live is in the soil.
When we destroy the soil that’s what we’re destroying. We’re destroying those basic processes of life. By doing that, we are making it near impossible for our own survival to continue. If you’re going to share the land, you can do it selflessly because we’re all going to die if we don’t. You could do it in a way that is – like with all on thanksgiving – respectful, in a humble way that says, “Wow! I’m a tiny little part of something so vast that has been going on for so long and am I not lucky to be here? All of what’s gone before me, all of what is happening in this moment, makes my life possible. I wouldn’t be here without any of it and that’s just a miraculous thing.:
You get this one life and I get to see the green leaves on the trees and there’s a little rabbit outside right now, I get to see this absolutely adorable little bunny rabbit. There’s fish in the stream and everything’s blooming because it’s May and how could I not be just utterly thankful that I get to experience this moment by moment.
It all depends on that dense web of relationships from the tiny little creatures on up to the really magnificent megafauna that we all enjoy that strike awe in our hearts. When we see an elk leaping or we see a wolf running or you know those just incredible animals but the little ones too have their own majesty and we are utterly dependent on all of that for our lives.
And it’s just amazing to me that we’ve had these cultures now around the globe that forget that and that make a point to destroy it all. They create a totally different religion that usually involves a sky god of some sort. You know god is a disembodied principle not a moment-to-moment experience of that wholeness and participation.
These are really our options, you can either participate in that cycle. That does involve death which is always a hard moment and I’m not going to make it pretty. There’s a lot of death going on as I look outside my window. But that’s what it is and we have to accept that as humans. I have no idea what other living creatures think about that. I don’t know what they experience. Do they dread it the way that we do? I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way to know.
I know that we tend to dread it, so we have to accept it if we’re going to do it well. It’s really our only option. That is to participate in that cycle, such that the cycle itself is stronger. That’s really all we’ve got and that means being a participant and not a dominator because the other model, that agricultural model, the civilized model, is about domination. You’re taking a piece of land, you’re clearing every living being off it down to the bacteria and then you’re just using it for humans for that brief period of time that it can sustain the humans and then you leave a desert in your wake.
So pretty much those are our options. We can do it well or we can dominate and do it terribly. There’s a price to pay. As a planet, we’re going to be paying that price really soon. We’ve used it all and now we’ve used up all the fossil fuels. There’s not really any way to extend it. We are going to have to face these facts. As grim as they feel at first, there’s hope on the other end. I am not someone who has given up. I think that nature can still, in really miraculous ways, restore this. But it needs our help and the number one thing we can do is stop destroying.
Max: Yeah this brings up an interesting question which is pretty nuanced. I feel like when people attack proponents of deep ecology or biocentrism or whatever you want to call our worldview, they often seem to take this approach that humans are inherently destructive, that everything we do is going to destroy the land and so therefore the best thing humans can do is disappear. This leads to those sort of accusations of eco-fascism like you were talking about wanting to kill six billion people. They assume that just because civilization is destructive to the land, that if we want that to stop, then we want humans to stop existing entirely.
And it gets to this more nuanced question, which I think maybe those people wouldn’t understand even or wouldn’t be prepared to engage in a discussion on. It’s sort of about the role of humans as a large mammal, as an apex predator, as a being that’s naturally evolved to fill ecological niches and like wolves coming into a natural community for the first time, are going to cause disruptions to almost everybody else in some way. They’re going to cause a lot of change.
And it’s an ethic that I wonder about myself because, for example, I’m not really a gardener. I kind of suck at gardening. I also have ethical questions about it because I don’t like the process of tearing up some of this beautiful native grass to expose bare soil so that I can grow tomatoes or whatever. I would rather just let the grass grow and eat one of the deer who eats the grass. Or acorns from the trees or what have you.
But it’s an interesting question to me regardless. You’ve probably heard of the book Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson right?
Lierre: Oh yeah
Max: Classic book looking at indigenous people in California and how they impacted and interacted with the land around them and how there are plants in what’s now California whose populations are fading or going towards endangered status because humans aren’t interacting with them as much. And here, where I live this type of oak Savannah and oak woodland was largely maintained by fires set intentionally by the Kalapuya and other indigenous peoples going back for thousands upon thousands of years, probably pretty much to the last ice age.
So what you had here when the first Europeans showed up or hundreds of years before that, or thousands of years before was a human – I was almost going to say human dominated but it wasn’t human dominated it was human sculpted as a better term – a human sculpted landscape. There, you had thicker denser Douglas fir, Ponderosa, maple forests in the riparian corridors on the moist north facing slopes where the fire couldn’t get to. But pretty much everywhere else in the Willamette valley and much of the coast range was this open meadow that was maintained by burning.
People were doing a lot of impact with fire which is a destructive force. I’m sure that that was killing a lot of creatures, a lot of plants and yet what they created was the oak Savannah ,which is as I said one of the most biodiverse habitats in the region. Now the oak Savannah is is struggling. So much of it has been destroyed for urban developments and agriculture and so on. Now a lot of those species who are dependent on the oaks are struggling.
I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on this sort of complex balance, or this nuance between the fact that we don’t want to be this destructive civilizational force imposing agriculture across entire landscapes and cutting down entire forests, plowing up entire grasslands to convert them to just feed human beings. There’s also this nuance that human beings like other creatures can create some level of disturbance in natural communities that’s beneficial to biodiversity, that can create greater flourishing of life. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Lierre: I have had opinions across that scale for a long time. And I’m not sure I’m a hundred percent settled on what I think about it all. I tend to agree with what you’re saying at this point. I might change my mind with more information. A few things that I keep in mind is that all creatures have an impact on the place they live. Predators affect the prey species. The prey species have an impact on the plant species. The plant species interact with each other. It really is a very complicated a web where everybody is affecting each other.
So are we doing that in a way that’s okay? Are we helping there to be more life? Or is it slowly draining away because it’s being done badly? I think about what happened at Yellowstone National Park where they introduced the wolves. I think it was almost 20 years ago now, or maybe 15. There hadn’t been wolves at Yellowstone for a long time. A lot of the area was degraded because there was nobody to keep the ruminants moving. The elk and others would just stand and eat wherever they wanted. The places they really like to be is along the raparian corridors because it’s really juicy there and there’s easy water. There was no reason for them not to be there. They’re all going to hang out there. But it meant that they were completely destroying the riverbanks. There weren’t any cottonwoods or willow trees or anything coming up because all the seedlings were being eaten. It was just eroding slowly, year by year. This is a phenomenon you’ll see everywhere where there are not apex predators. The animals that are eating the grasses or the either browsers or grazers don’t naturally behave well. None of us actually are who we should be if we are taken out of our community. If the full cohort isn’t there, everything tends to just go crazy bit by bit. They’re destroying the place because there’s nobody to move them along. Then they introduced the wolves and overnight everything changed. The phrase they used is that it created “an ecology of fear” which doesn’t sound very nice but it did do that. Now you have elk and deer that are afraid that the wolves could come at any minute and try to eat them. So, they’re moving along. That’s the point. They’re tightly bunched. They’re moving quickly. Within a year, all of those riparian zones had repaired. You have way more plant diversity which, of course, means way more animal diversity. Now you’ve got all these birds that are able to nest there once more. They had all been driven out because there was no habitat for them. The waters themselves are way cleaner because there’s plants that are holding the soil in place. Now you’ve got all kinds of fish that weren’t there before.
The whole place comes back to life in a really short amount of time by simply introducing the correct apex predator. We all evolved together. That’s the thing. You can’t take out a species and hope that the web holds. There’s a hole now in that web. There’s a thread that’s been broken. The whole thing starts to unravel. We have that role too. That’s the thing about humans. We are also those apex predators. When we say apex, I just want people to understand that there’s a tropic pyramid where energy condenses. That’s all that apex means. It doesn’t mean we’re the best. It doesn’t mean we’re the smartest. It doesn’t mean we are worth more. It just means that energy condenses up that pyramid. You’ve got animals that eat plants and then animals that eat animals and that’s where we are. We’re at the end of that so all of that solar energy condenses up until you get to us. Eventually we all die too. We get recycled back into the soil. It’s not like we’re somehow not a prey. We are prey just not to other animals. Usually it’s bacteria or viruses that get us.
Regardless I see that that’s true in nature that apex predators play an absolutely crucial role. This of course is part of the problem with the way that people are doing grazing around the world with whatever pastoral kind of methods they may have. If the animals aren’t being bunched and moved quickly, you have all kinds of degraded landscapes. This is the work of people like Allan Savory or the different people who are trying to do this with cattle. They’ve had extraordinary results . They just act like the predators were supposed to be which is to keep the cattle tightly bunched and quickly moving. Everything gets better. You can’t remove ruminants from the land especially in grasslands areas where they’re needed. The grasslands will turn to deserts without the action of ruminants. Without the actions of predators, of course, you have the same problem. They will over graze. We all need each other to be properly behaved.
When I see that out in the world, I think that that is the place of humans. It’s not terrible that we do the things that we do because we definitely have a role. We all evolved together. Our role is to keep the animals moving. Then, you’ve got this issue of fire which humans have been using for what 500,000 years or something. You have landscapes that evolved with that and, like you said, that need it. There’s a lot of species like where I live in the West. There’s a lot of species that the seeds won’t open unless they’ve been through a fire. By suppressing the fires across the West, there aren’t any young trees to come as the old trees are leaving. All of these areas are just devoid of what should be here because there hasn’t been a fire in too long. Right now humans are suppressing those fires when we used to make them. There’s plants that evolved with that and they need the fire to release their seeds. That’s the thing people have done and it’s a thing people have done around the world. It’s a very common tool. It’s the first tool that humans really used on a broad scale.
I remember reading one article about England. It’s a very temperate kind of region. There’s a lot of rain. The basic tree is the oak. Oaks live 800 years. That’s about the age of an oak tree. What they found looking archaeologically in the levels of the soil was that every 800 years there was a fire. There’s no way that that’s just “natural.” It would be random if it was just lightning strikes which are also hard to start. I’s hard for lightnings to start a fire in a wet environment. Clearly people were setting them. It’s just fascinating to me that people understood how long an oak tree lives and that every 800 years would be about the right time to set a fire in this area of our territory. They were exactly right about the age of an oak tree. There is evidence of that kind of wisdom in the archaeological record that people figured out how to do this. It releases nutrients. It releases those seeds. There’s all this incredibly new green growth, very lush, easy things to eat. All the animals now have a lot to eat. They reproduce really fast. They get fat and happy really quickly. You’ve got ground-dwelling birds, and you’ve got deer. Whoever is there, they come in droves. They make that their place. They have lots of babies. There’s lots of food for people. It seems to work for everyone.
Without the fire, it’s not like creatures wouldn’t live there. They will but it’s going to be a different mix. It’s going to be a different mix of trees and a different mix of animals and different populations of animals and that’s where I start to go like, “I don’t know, is it okay that we’ve done this?” It’s still an open question for me. Where I’m not really sure is if there were no humans, what would it be like there? Is it better or worse? Is this even a moral judgment, As long as the cycle of life is continuing and it seems good and lush and diverse and lots of creatures are there and they’re building top soil and nobody’s being driven extinct?
It’s just like the natural kind of way that evolution prunes the tree is fine. That’s just what life is. But, us humans are accelerating that process. Then we’ve got a problem. I end up having to say yes that that’s a good thing because humans have managed to do it in ways that do increase diversity and that do make the web stronger. That’s sort of my moral. That’s where I’ll plant my flag. That seems to be the values that are the good values because it’s not about destroying everything. It’s about making it all better and stronger and more diverse. That should be the touchstone for all of this.
I’m left feeling uncomfortable by it too because a lot of anti-environmentalists will use it as an argument. They’ll take anything that anybody did around the globe as an indigenous person or prehistorically and say, “Well they did it so it’s okay that we do it. They cut down forest, so we should be able to do it.” Well they didn’t really cut them down, they used fire which is actually a really different tool. It was used for a very different reason and actually had the opposite effect of destroying the forest because it did make the forest stronger. So, I’m not really sure that it’s the best argument you can make, but people make those arguments all the time. It just leaves me kind of uneasy.
Like beavers, they’re a keystone species. This continent was entirely different when there were beaver here. They’re mostly gone. They were hunted to death both for agriculture and for the fur trade. They had a huge impact and still do when they’re allowed to come back on the places that they live. As a keystone species, they build dams. They stop rivers from moving very quickly. The water still flows but it’s at a much much slower rate. What they create is wetlands and wetlands are the most species dense habitat on the planet. By making these disturbances, by slowing down rivers, they actually make a whole bunch more life available to the entire cycle and that’s pretty cool that they do that. It’s like the same thing. They have an impact that’s pretty dramatic across entire landscapes. I don’t think it’s bad that humans can also do that as long as we’re sort of following the beaver model and making more life not less life. It’s just like, doesn’t it have to be a good thing. I hope so,because here we are as a species. Clearly it’s a role that we’ve played. If we could just get get back to doing it, it would probably be alright. Beavers do it, so we should be able to to play our role as well and have that be a good thing, not a destructive thing.
I’ve heard people say, “Oh well beavers make dams so why can’t we make dams?” Because when we make dams, we leave deserts behind. When they make dams, they leave wetlands behind which are fabulous places to be. It’s just a little interesting to think about what this continent looked like when all the beavers were here. Anywhere where there’s water – there’s free-flowing streams and little creeks and then larger rivers – none of that water would have been free-flowing. There would have been a beaver dam. There were apparently cities of beaver dams that would go on for like 100 miles. So it’s just incredible that they had that much impact.
We are living on a continent that is severely degraded in ways that we’re not even aware of. It seems natural to me to have tons of trees and fast flowing water and streams. That’s not what it would have looked like 500 years ago. There would have been a lot fewer trees along those riverbanks because the beavers would have taken some. It would have been a more dappled shade, not a deep shade. The water itself would have been very slow-moving. It would have been spread out because it would have been a wetland not a free-falling stream. It’s just amazing to think those millions of miles of streams would have looked completely different than what we have now. That’s probably what the world wants to be if we stopped destroying it and let the beavers come home. That’s what it would look like again. They are nature’s architects and that’s what they evolved doing. I have to assume that all the plants and animals around them would respond in a good way. They’re right now missing their architects because we killed them all. I’m all for it. Where I live, we were trying to get the beavers to come back. Of course people fucked it up as usual. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. It would be amazing to see that process in living color.
Max: So you organized to try and get some beavers in the area?
Lierre: Well it’s actually bigger than that. It wasn’t even me. There were people here who were trying to restore a local stream. The stream actually ends right at the Pacific Ocean.It literally empties into the ocean. The first few miles part of that runs through my neighbor’s land and a little bit through my land. There were attempts by the local environmental groups to try to repair it all because it was pretty well trashed. They had done a really good job. They had seen some fish and there were other animals coming back as well and different birds. It looked like it was the time for beavers. The habitat can now support it.
What happened instead, and of course this is that level upon level of human tragedy, was that whole area where it opens out into the ocean, it runs behind a big supermarket. That whole area got taken over by the local homeless people. What’s back there now is essentially meth addicts and schizophrenics who clearly need help and they’re not getting any because there’s no money put to mental health issues. It’s just entrenched poverty and mental illness. All the horrors of modern day America are right there. They utterly trash the place. There’s no conceivable way now that the beavers are coming back anytime soon. Not until the human problem is fixed is the beaver problem going to be fixed.
It’s just tragic because the people who really were working on it to try to get the beavers back, they’ve just had to back away from it because they’re not getting any help. It’s all the reasons that nobody’s going to help the homeless people. So no beavers, it’s really sad.
Max: This is actually a good lead into the next question. Some people often argue that we should just have a single issue focus with any any sort of organizing, that we should just focus on one very discreet topic, get as broad a coalition of people together as possible and work on that issue. That is an approach that you see a lot of organizations doing effectively. I’m sure probably a lot of the environmental groups, like the ones you were just talking about, are doing that. I know in my community groups like the Watershed Council have a very specific focus and they just stick to that. It does allow them to build these broader coalitions. My response to that approach is always that it’s gonna work for surface level issues but when you start to get towards the deeper manifestations, everything becomes so interlinked. We can see that with the example you just gave. Relatedly, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about patriarchy and feminism and how those fit into everything that we’re talking about so far.
Lierre: It’s huge, and this is what we’re up against. Ten thousands years ago, people started to live this totally different way of life that involves agriculture. It involves cities and growing militarism and genocide and all slavery. All these horrors started on the planet that hadn’t been there before. One of the things that got very firmly entrenched is the system called patriarchy, which is essentially men ruling over women and owning women as property. Particularly it starts then because it’s about men having to control reproduction. Until you have the concept of private property, there’s not really a need for men to know or particularly care who their biological children are.
People may have to wrap their minds around this: for most of our time on this planet, in our history as humans, the basic unit of every culture was the mother child dyad. That was the most important relationship. Everything else was about supporting that relationship. Everything else was about helping the mother child. Humans are dependent for so long. We are what’s called a super social species because we are born premature. Our brains are so big, we would never get out otherwise. That’s why babies spend the first three or four months sleeping and not much else. That’s because we’re not really mature yet. You can compare humans to pretty much any other creature like horses or whatever. They’re on their feet and moving within the first hour. How long it takes a human baby to get to that stage?
So it takes a lot to raise a baby to become a self-sufficient adult. We need each other to do that. You need a whole collection of people to get that job done. Hence, we’ve always lived in these small groups can – very kin-based groups of maybe 75 to 100 people. That would be like your clan or your tribe or whatever word you want to use for it. And, at the center of it was that mother baby relationship. The adults in that child’s life would have been organized around that. Think about your own mother, her sisters and her brothers. The male role models in your life would have been your uncles, your mother’s brothers.
Her sexual partner, the the guy that either she married or she didn’t and a lot of cultures don’t even have marriage, but the biological father was not that of an important figure in that world. Nobody really expected those relationships to last. It’s generally called a walking marriage in the anthropological literature. When they got tired of each other, if the woman got sick of him, she would roll up his blanket put it outside the door and then he would walk back to his mother’s lodge which was really his home like for all important ceremonies and any big event. That was where he belonged, with his mother’s people. He was always there anyway, but he would sometimes spend the night over with his partner. But when they got tired of each other, it was just over. He would walk back. That’s why, it’s called a walking marriage.
Nobody put a lot of importance on that relationship. Romantic relationships just aren’t that stable compared to the mother bond dyad. Then, the bond between siblings were the important ones. These were the people you grew up with. Think about your brothers and sisters. Your sisters’ children are the ones that you would have been involved with raising. Not your romantic partner particularly, but those would have been like your family. That would have been the core of your family. That would have been your responsibility. The kids that you fed and the people that you raised to adulthood – they would take care of you when you were old. That’s how it went.
It’s completely different when you get to patriarchy now. It’s about private property. You have this concept that we have to inherit something. Men don’t really know who their children are. For women, there’s no way not to know because you gave birth to that baby. You know you did that. With men, it’s like “Well I don’t know. Who knows? She could have slept with somebody else.” It’s just that you can’t know. So women go into lockdown essentially as men’s property so that they can know for sure who’s going to inherit the property. With this comes all these restrictions on women’s bodies, women’s freedom of movement. Women essentially become their chattel property. They’re like broodmares.
That’s a huge switch from being the very center of the culture to being essentially a reproductive slave. That’s what patriarchy is. It’s women’s bodies, women’s labor used as some kind of resource for men. Any a good definition of patriarchy would probably start there. That’s where all of these civilized – the cultures based on agriculture and cities – ends. It may take a few thousand years to get there. It doesn’t happen overnight but that’s the inevitable end of that whole process.
Now here we are and there’s way more people than the planet could ever sustain. It’s still true that the key to all of this is about women and girls. You bring up the issue of there being too many people and immediately along come those same complaints that you’re a racist or an eco-fascist or any of those things. A lot of people, I think, are now afraid to even bring it up as a topic because it’s so fraught. It can be so difficult and so emotional. Friendships can end over it. We’ve all seen how destructive that can be.
But I don’t think that we really need to be afraid of this because the answer to any of it is honestly quite simple. This is an issue that really has been studied pretty thoroughly. The number one thing that drops the population, the one action you can take, the number one action is you teach a girl to read. Literally, that action alone is enough to drop the birth rate. It’s because when you give women and girls even the tiniest bit of power over their lives, they will choose to have fewer children.
I find this interesting for a lot of reasons. The first one is that we have this vague concept that people just keep multiplying because it’s what people do. There’s that sort of Malthusian ethic out there, but it’s not really true. When people honestly have some control over it, when they’re able to make a decision a rational decision about what they want to do with their lives, it turns out that most couples have about two children. That’s replacement levels. Actually most of us don’t choose to have ten, twelve, fourteen kids. There’s always going to be a few people who want to have really large families. That’s fine because there’s a lot of us who don’t want to do it at all. That balances out. The average ends up being about two children which is fine. That would not overpopulate the world if we had just stuck to that. It would have all been fine and it was for two and a half million years. In fact, humans didn’t do that to the planet. We were very good at keeping a very sustainable level of the human population
I’m not going to say that that was always fun. Like you read in the literature the kinds of things that people had to do for that. Most hunter-gatherers are very well aware of the ratio that you have to have between productive adults and dependents. If you’re having too many babies, you have to do something about it. I’m not saying that those are fun things, but everybody knew it was your responsibility. Then, there’s all kinds of other interesting things that people have done around the globe. Like, in a lot of places, if a woman has a baby then she doesn’t have sex again for three or four years. Everybody knows that it’s not a thing that you that you do after you have a baby, because: A, you don’t have the nutritional resources for it, your body has to build back; B, it’s not really the best emotional environment that you really need to be giving a lot of care to the very dependent young that you do have; and C, it’s just you’re gonna end up with too many kids. So, they know that that’s a thing that is very open in a lot of cultures. From hunter-gatherer places, all of that is a way to keep the population in a way that’s sustainable. Otherwise, everybody understands if there’s too many people we’re all going to be hungry very quickly. We’re going to destroy what’s here. There won’t be enough food. That’s not a taboo thing to talk about. Everybody gets that there are limits on nature. We just can’t have more of us. Everybody knows what the magic number is.
Then, you enter this whole other world where we’re doing drawdown and overshoot. It becomes like a symbol of men’s masculinity to have more children. Of course, they’re going to want to have more. Then, you have this high rate of infant mortality. Now you have to keep producing more children in order that some of them will live to be adults. For the last ten thousand years what’s happened. The countryside provides the population. The cities were actually a population sink. Here you are out in the country and you’re doing agriculture which is back breaking labor. You want as many laborers as you can get. You’re having more and more children to just to do the work. Then the problem is you can’t actually divide that plot of land up any smaller. It’s only so many times you can divide it in half before there’s nothing left. What happened until very recently is that most of those second third fourth sons would leave and head to the city to make their fortunes. They would join the army and a lot of them got killed so that took care of the excess males. They would go to the city and die. The average time that somebody would live when they arrived in the city across Europe was 18 months because there were so many diseases. There was no sanitation. People didn’t understand that. You would just die from smallpox or typhoid or whatever was going around. So it was a population sink. That all changed in the 19th century with better medication. Absolutely the public health methods too get better: sewage control and all that. They were able to put a stop to all of that. Then, of course, the population starts to grow. So, it’s still kind of a problem that we have.
My main point here is that if we give women and girls a little bit more power over their lives, if we fight back against that sort of patriarchal ethos, immediately the problem gets better. The countries where they have done that, it’s been actually really interesting to watch because they can do it really quickly. All you have to do is give everybody the information and then access to different kinds of birth control and information about it and they all want it. People want it. In fact, men will get vasectomies. They will line up to do it because as it turns out they don’t really want to have twelve children either. They don’t have any way to provide for that many children. They’re looking at a life of drudgery trying to do it. Most of them don’t want to do it either. So if you give people what they need, which is basic food, basic medical care and some information about what birth control is and how to get it and you let them get it, then, in fact, the population will drop. The reproductive rate will drop really quickly.
Again, as I said earlier, it’s really interesting that two kids seem to be about what people want, all things being equal. That’s kind of the average. That’s not an issue like we’re not just going to multiply like rabbits if on our own. That’s not actually a thing that people do. It takes a quite amount of political pressure to get that rise in population. That’s really the problem. All the political institutions and the economics of the situation are all headed in the wrong direction. There are all these pressures on both women and men to do that. If you take those pressures away, which means remove the ability of the rich to steal from the poor and remove the ability of men to exploit women, in a very good way the population will drop. We should be supporting the rights of women and girls anyway. As it turns out, that is the only way we’re going to save our planet. It was never people versus planet. It was always people plus planet. We belong here too. It’s okay but if we give everybody full human rights and everybody has basic food and basically medical care, then that’s what happens, just naturally and normally. That, in fact, fulfills people’s desires to reproduce and it’s not overshoot. It actually turns out that it’s a really reasonable amount of children that people want. We can do that, but it means we’re going to have to fight the Catholic Church. We’re going to have to fight capitalism. We’re going to have to fight all kinds of religious regimes around the world. We’re going to have to fight patriarchy. We’ve got our work it out for us.
Max: Thank you for that Lierre! Practically speaking, how can people start to reintegrate themselves into relationship with the natural world? In other words, if we turn away from the philosophical side of this and get down to the nitty-gritty, how can people start to build these relationships and change the dynamics of how we interact with and live with the rest of the beings on this planet?
Lierre: I think it depends on what your interests are, what your passion is, if you have a little bit of land. There’s all kinds of amazing things people are doing to rewild their land. There’s an amazing book that came out of England called Wilding that I highly recommend if you need a shot of hope. These people (obviously wealthy) inherited a huge ancestral estate. I think it’s 12,000 acres or something. It’s just absolutely gigantic and it was dying. They didn’t know why. The book starts with them. They have these beautiful ancient oak trees on their land. One by one the oak trees are dying. They don’t know why. So, they call an ancient oak expert. These people are experts now because there’s so few old growth oaks that it’s an incredibly rarefied job. This guy takes care of the ancient oaks that are on Queensland. So, he’s the best in the country. He makes an appointment to come see their oaks.
He says the reason these oaks are dying is, frankly, because there’s been agriculture here for centuries. Especially the very toxic chemical agriculture that’s been done here for the last 50 years killed the microbial networks in the soil. There’s nothing helping these trees. They don’t exist without that network. They are part of a community and the community has been destroyed. That’s why, the oak trees are dying. Of course, they’re horrified. They love these old oaks. They don’t know what to do. They start researching as fast as they can. Then they realize that this agriculture thing is kind of a nightmare – what we have been doing.
They start reintroducing plants and animals that will help. Then, they just let it all take over. It’s an amazing journey through those first few years when they do this. Everything comes back to life including the oak trees. They’ve had species there that haven’t been seen for 100 years. They have found their way home on their own. There’s mushrooms there that nobody’s seen. There’s giant birds that have come back. There’s eagles that have come back. These incredible creatures, from really small to really huge, have found their way back. They just did that by 1) stopping the destruction and, 2) helping a little bit. That’s really all any of us have to do. If you have a little bit of land, just do those things. It means like researching some and trying to figure out what’s the best way, but it’s not actually a hard process. You’re working with life now you’re not fighting against it. You’re not fighting that war anymore.
A lot of this is going to involve ruminants. If you have an open grassy area, the best way to make that place stronger and better is to let it be grazed. Then, you have to be the apex predator and move it along. There’s plenty of people who can teach you how to do that. If you don’t have land, one of the best things you can do is figure out who is doing it well. Find the places in your area where there are farms that are grass-based farms.
The thing about grass-based farming, why this is so important is that it hits every high note in what has to happen. Number one, it repairs habitat. In a regular grassland, you should have something like 25 different plants per square meter, which is a lot of diversity. That’s what you’ll have in a functioning prairie. Anybody who’s doing this should have that. They should be able to reproduce that pretty quickly. The reason that you need ruminants is that it’s ruminants that are the ones who carry the bacteria that’s needed to break down the cellulose of the grass. Grasses without ruminants, honestly, it just degrades to desert because they need to be grazed. Grass evolved to be eaten. They did come about together in time. They come through evolution at the same moment. That’s why they need each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Inside the ruminant is the bacteria that can actually digest the cellulose. Without that, there’s not anybody to actually break down the bodies of the grass. Somebody has to do that work. That’s the ruminant grass dyad that has to happen.
Of course, those plants are very deeply rooted. What that means is rain has a way to now enter the soil again. Without those roots, it really can’t do it. There’s not a physical way for rain to get in. This is important. It recharges the water table. This is something that happens where we can’t see it but it’s absolutely crucial for essentially every living thing. During the summer when there’s no rain, it’s that huge sponge underground that is storing that water. Bit by bit, either the trees or the grasses will draw up that water and they make life available to the rest of the community. You and I can’t get moisture out of soil, but plants can. We can eat plants, or we can eat animals that eat plants so that we have moisture. That’s basically what’s going on. They’re storing it long term and then bringing it back up as needed. Without those deeply rooted perennials, there’s no way to store it. The rain does not penetrate in.
That’s another thing that is very much a part of grass-based farming: recharging that water table. Right now things are so bad in parts of this country, that they’re using oil drilling equipment to pump out the last of these ancient aquifers to grow wheat and corn and whatnot. When that water is gone, there’s not really going to be any getting it back. Again this is one of those draw down things that we don’t even hear about. It really is a massive emergency. Help people to repair those perennial plants and restore the water table. It is absolutely crucial for life on earth.
When you do that, of course, you’ve made habitat. Almost overnight, you’re gonna see all those creatures now have a home. They will find their way back. There’ll be reptiles and amphibians and birds and small mammals and even larger mammals. They all have a home again. You’re letting them come back. I just don’t understand why people don’t want that. How do you not miss all the animals? It just feels so lonely to me knowing that they’re gone. It’s just an emotional thing that I don’t know why that doesn’t trip the wire for everyone. Honestly, since I was four years old, that’s all I ever wanted. I could not understand why people made cities. I couldn’t understand why there was cement anywhere. I just wanted deer and wolves. That’s all I wanted. I just can’t understand this human impulse to kill at all. It just will never make any sense to me. But you can get them all back. That’s the thing. It’s not actually that hard. It’s not even that much work for humans. The plants do it. Then they call the animals to them. The animals know what they need to find a home. They know the plants they need to make nests. They know how to make burrows. They know the food. They need to eat. They will find it. They will come back. All of that comes back to life and pretty quickly.
In your area find the farms where this is happening. Find where they’re doing grass-based farming. Buy your food from them if you can. If you can’t, that’s fine too. Ask your local store to carry that food. find the other people who are doing that. In your area you can bet there are people who are working on this politically. There’s so much that we have to do on a larger scale: we have to fight the food bill, the farm bill. every year, it’s giving money to all the wrong people. It’s giving money to those six corporations that control the food supply. Those are our tax dollars. They are subsidizing the worst possible food for the environment, the worst possible food for the planet. There’s just nothing good about it.
In the meantime, there are farmers out there who really want to do it well. They don’t know how to do it. they’re being paid to do all this really destructive stuff, like corn and soy. If we could just get a little more money put toward training and restoration work, they can see how fast it happens, that they’re able to make a living by raising things like grass-based beef or bison. It happens really fast. It’s not a hard sell. They just need help doing it.
This is the stuff that the subsidies of the local agricultural extension funded by the federal government should be going for. They’re not. They’re just going toward the usual kinds of destruction and all of that. These are all battles you can fight, either locally on the state level, or on a national level on a federal level. There’s room for everybody in there. Even if you just take your food dollars and try to support the right people, you’re doing a huge thing. The final thing, of course, is that all of this sequesters an amazing amount of carbon. There’s been research now that’s around the world because there’s millions of acres under this restoration. It’s really the only hope we have to get the carbon out of the atmosphere. Just let the grasses and the ruminants take care of it. And they will. It’s not too late. So if we can put even our own food dollars toward the people doing that repair, it will make a huge difference.
Max: Thank you for that Lierre! I’m wondering, we’ve got these two elements here. So much of your work has been focused on shifting to these grass-based pasture-based restorative relational ways of eating. The other theme in your work has been about serious resistance. It seems like you’re painting a picture here of a movement that has two wings or two main elements essentially: an element that is doing the restoration of the land or at least getting out of the way and helping the land to restore itself, and then the more serious resistance side of the movement resisting the industrial systems that are destroying the planet. Could you talk about this a little bit?
Lierre: I like that sort of conceptualization that there’s two wings of this. I think a lot of people aren’t cut out for being on the front line of a resistance. That’s absolutely fine. Not everybody has to do that. It’s not up to me to tell people what their political work is. Whatever your passion is, that’s what your work is. Nobody else can tell you what that is. That’s between you and your soul, what you’re called to do. We all have that calling. For some people, it is going to be frontline. Some of us just do have that – a spirit – and other people don’t. There’s also a lot of reasons that people can’t do it that are about our other responsibilities. If you have children or you have family members that need your support, you can’t risk getting arrested. You have to be there providing. That’s good. That’s wholesome. That’s the thing you did when you signed up to be a parent. You need to take that seriously. There’s lots of people who can’t take risks for all kinds of reasons. and that’s perfectly legitimate. But you can do those other things. You can help be part of the repair.
You can help repair the human communities. They have to be repaired as well, because right now all the models are about domination and exploitation and just constantly causing pain to each other. We’re not taking care of each other. That’s what needs to be repaired too. We need better models. We need to be experimenting with ways to have that democratic culture where we know what the process is for making decisions and for settling disputes and for making sure that there’s justice and that everybody’s taken care of. That’s a lot of repair to the culture because we live in a very adversarial hierarchical culture. I know there’s places on the planet that are way worse. I’m not unaware of that. It could be a lot worse than it is here. But there’s still so much bad. That’s happening.
I think on any local level, those are things that people should be thinking about and trying to get started wherever they are, because the end of this is inevitable. If we don’t do something better, it will devolve. Essentially the biggest bullies are going to be local warlords. And we’re all going to be under their boot. That’s a lot of times where this ends and it’s ugly. I don’t think any of us want that. So we need to start preparing for all of that. That’s work anybody can do. Getting to know your neighbors and figuring out how you’re going to make decisions is the thing that anybody can do. here’s really good models about people doing this around the world on a more political scale, on a more, not informally, but on a more formal scale too. I think that’s all for the good.
But then there’s the people who really do want to do those direct confrontations with power. If we understand that industrial civilization is a war against the living planet, then how are we going to respond? Because it’s not enough to just educate. It’s not enough to just hope. We have to have a plan for how we’re going to fight on behalf of everything that we love. This isn’t even just that the people we love are being hurt, it is every last living creature is now under assault. It’s under threat of extinction. If we’re going to take that seriously, what I’ve been arguing is that we at least need to think about other options. Because right now what we have been doing is clearly not working. Every year the carbon goes up. Every day 200 species go extinct. Nothing is getting better. There’s not a single biological indicator that’s headed in the right direction. We have not even slowed the rate of acceleration, like let alone the acceleration itself, let alone repaired anything. It’s grim out there. If we acknowledge that, then what’s next?
Well I mean the two main ways we have to confront power would be either some kind of organized civil disobedience or non-violent resistance and I love the ways that people have been able to use that throughout history. I think it’s a very elegant political technique if you understand it. The problem is it depends on a lot of people. And I just don’t know that we have the people. If this was not a time sensitive situation, I would say let’s just keep building for that movement. I think the results are better and I’m very queasy about the idea of using any kind of violence. It does not usually end well when people go there. But I’m not sure that we have any other options. I would like somebody to tell me what the other options are. Because if you see one I want to hear about it. I don’t know what it is. I feel like we’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked and time really is running out for life. so the only reason I’m willing to consider other things is because of that. It’s just the situation really is that dire.
So I don’t know that we want to unleash that, but I don’t see any other option when every last living thing is under threat. I don’t. I want somebody else to give me a better answer because I don’t have one. MEND is the best I can come up with. They did it. They were successful. It didn’t take a lot of people. I think this could be done with simply property destruction and no loss of human life. But are we willing? And that’s the thing. This infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable. We all know where the oil comes into the country. We all know where the coal lines are. This is what you’re trained to do in militaries around the world: how to take out the infrastructure? There’s entire manuals written about how to do it. It’s not like the information is something we have to develop. It’s there for learning. It’s there for reading. We should at least consider that this might be the last option that we have.
Max: This could be a whole another conversation. We could go down so many different paths. I have a lot of different thoughts on, for example, how the environmental movement is deceiving itself with the green technology, with the focus on saving civilization with re-powering the society with new energy sources and new types of devices, as if a solar powered chainsaw is any different or a solar powered combine harvester is going to do anything for the destruction that agriculture has wreaked upon the world and continues to do so. But that’s a whole another discussion. People can keep an eye out for our book coming up for that.
I want to wrap up this interview, Lierre. The final question that we like to ask people is about practical skills. It’s for the individuals who are listening to this show. We are living in these very serious, very dire times. There’s a lot of people who want to get involved. They want to contribute in some way but maybe they don’t feel like they have the skills or the knowledge necessary to do so.
One of the things I like to tell people is: look at every person who’s been involved in a revolution or a social uprising or a serious movement. I don’t think any of those people ever turned to their friends and said, ‘You know what? I feel perfectly prepared to meet this situation.” I think everyone’s unprepared. Yet we find ways to rise to the occasion. I’m wondering if you can speak for a moment about any takeaways you have from your experience in organizing over the years, in terms of skills given this future that we’re facing. What sort of skills or mindset or organizational structures do you think are the most important for people to be cultivating? What should people be doing and working on right now?
Lierre: Honestly, I think the most important things have to do with democracy and human rights. How do we make a culture on the left that understands the depth of the problem, as well as is an inviting place for people to live? I think a lot of us grit our teeth and do the work because there’s really no option. We have to keep fighting. But we’re not it. We’ve just made the left a really impossible place. It just feels like it’s gotten harder and harder in my lifetime.
This whole woke culture that’s taken over is so destructive, where you can’t even have a conversation with people. There’s no way to be friends through it. Everyone just throws up every conceivable insult and barrier to actual human connection now. It just let us down a really very dark and ugly rabbit hole. I don’t know how to fight it. The moment that you try to say this is a really destructive set of behaviors, you will then be called a racist or a misogynist or homophobic or like whatever the thing is, classist, ableist. They’re going to throw something at you, usually out of left field. There’s no way out of it. The moment that’s been laid down, you have to just admit to original sin: mea culpa. And that’s it.
You never get anywhere with this. It’s been a very very destructive decade or two here. We drove out all the good people. The only ones left are, honestly, just abusive, little emotional sadists who get off on it, and then a bunch of really grim people who keep moving forward. I want it to be a better place again. It wasn’t this bad when I was young. Maybe I was just more naive or hopeful and I didn’t feel it as much. But it really feels like things have gotten a lot worse.
We need a resistance movement that’s built on what are called strong ties, not weak ties. Strong ties are relationships that are long-lasting, where you’ve known people and you’ve seen each other through a whole bunch of hard stuff. And you still like each other and care for each other. You’re in it for the long haul. All we have now are weak ties, which are the kinds of ties that social media are only ever going to make. You’re never really going to be in each other’s lives. It’s completely disembodied. Weak ties are never going to be enough to make the glue that holds social movements together. We really need to be in person. We need to be friends. We need to treat each other well. It just seems like we’ve forgotten how to do all of that. That is sort of the basis of it.
It’s this same impulse that makes us long for human rights and human justice, because we care about each other. We know that when somebody cries, it’s because they hurt. We all know what that feels like. We want to make it better. It’s such a simple thing. But why did we let this happen to all our movements? It’s just become so ugly and so destructive, when the human impulse to care is so basic to all of us. It really is our first. Unless you’re a sociopath it really is. It really is how we feel about each other at the end of the day. We want to help other people and in our best moments, that’s who we are. Every time there’s a disaster, that’s the first thing that happens. Everybody says, “How can I help?” That’s a noted phenomenon around the world. People will give all kinds of things. They’ll give money, and they’ll give food, and they’ll take people into their homes. We really do want to care for each other. That’s a really basic thing about being a super social species. We have those impulses.
But I just feel like we’ve just been led so astray by all of this, I don’t know what the answer is. I have literally no idea how we’re going to get our movement back from this destructive framework that’s been laid on top of it. But we have to find a way. We do. The human technologies are the ones that we need, ways to have democracy and human rights and conflict resolution that are accessible to everyone, and that are understandable, and that are really about human care and connection. That’s what we have to do.
There’s definitely things that are more nuts and bolts. Like if you have a backyard or you have a little land, I’ve so enjoyed having things like goats and chickens. I have dogs and the kinds of repairs that I’ve done to my land here have been. I’ve just felt incredibly rewarding to see rare species here. It just gives me such a thrill knowing that there’s coho salmon in the stream. We have pacific giant salamanders and all kinds of creatures. I mean we have mountain lions on my land. How many people get to have apex predators next to them? Every day, it’s really incredible. All that’s important too but I just feel like if we don’t make it possible to have a real connected movement, a movement of people that are in it for the long haul with each other, then we don’t have a chance in hell. We just don’t. So that has to be some priority. I just wish I had better ideas about it. I just know what’s gone wrong. I’m not sure how to make it right. Sorry I didn’t end on a happy note. Make food. Make food for everyone in your life. That’s like a really good thing to do. Making food really helps people.
Max: It’s good to not sugarcoat this situation for people. I think people like to have this idea that everything’s going to be wonderful and we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to have fun at the same time. It’s going to be all these different things. I don’t think that that’s quite realistic. Not that that’s not important. We all need that. I say this as somebody who just spent the weekend out in the wilderness for three days, because I needed to get the hell away from screens and do some reconnection and spend some time just breathing and just being a human being and not thinking about anything political beyond what was right in front of me at that moment. But you know we need to do the hard work side as well.
Lierre: There’s a really good article that’s probably a decade old now. It was in the New Yorker. It’s called small change. It’s all about strong ties and weak ties in political movements. I refer back to it all the time because it really really explains why this is so important. The example that he uses is the very first guys who did the very first sit-in at the lunch counter in, I think it was, Greensboro, North Carolina. There were four of them. The interesting thing about them is that they were all 18 years old. They were really young guys but they had all known each other since they were kids. They’d gone to the same college together. They were hanging out in somebody’s room and there was all this talk about the civil rights movement. They were all engaged and super excited to be part of it. The world is really starting to bubble up for them. “We can do this. We can change history. We’re going to be part of something that is going to be incredible.” Then they realize like they actually have to do it. In the article, he talks about how the four of them sat there all night long going, “Well, somebody else will do it. We don’t actually have to go to lunch counter and sit down. And they’re like, “I think it has to be us.” They went back and forth and back and forth: being afraid and then somebody would say, “Well, we have to do it.” This went on for hours. It was because they knew each other. It was because they were friends and they cared about each other that they could have that conversation and give each other that kind of encouragement, where they finally just came to the conclusion, “Tomorrow morning, we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna go in there as a group and we’re gonna sit down at lunch counter and we’ll see what happens. They kicked it off but it was about strong ties. People who didn’t know each other couldn’t have that kind of conversation or give each other that kind of real courage. It was because they knew each other and loved each other that they were able to make a group that could face down the horror of what was probably coming at them.
Max: Look at what that kicked off in the end.
Lierre: Yeah they did a great thing.
Featured image: Mad Max / Fly, Fly Away by Stefans02 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
On November 19th, Deep Green Resistance hosted a special 3-hour live streaming event, “Collapse: Climate, Ecology, and Civilization” including a keynote speech by Lierre Keith. If you have missed it, you can view it here. The audio version of the event is also available on various podcast platforms.
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On this urgent episode of the Green Flame, Lierre Keith comments on a new development in the war on women. That development is Biden’s executive order on gender identity, an order signed the day of his inauguration which will eviscerate women’s rights. Lierre Keith is the founder of the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF). She is a WoLF board member, a radical feminist for over 40 years and author of six books including the novel Skyler Gabriel, Conditions of War and The Vegetarian Myth: Food Justice and Sustainability.
You can view the video of the interview here.
Jennifer Murnan – Thank you so much Lierre for joining us for this urgent Green Flame. We will be getting this episode out as soon as possible. It is the 22nd and yesterday Biden
Lierre Keith – Two days ago.
JM – Two days ago now, okay…
LK – Two days since the inauguration.
JM – Oh, my god.
LK – He wasn’t even president five hours. Yeah, he did it immediately.
JM – So five hours into his presidency, he issued an executive order that begins to initiate some of the equality and completely circumvents the legislative kind of procedure around those kind of laws. Please explain this to us, what does an executive order do and what did this one do.
LK – Okay. So executive orders are legal. They have been ruled legal by the Supreme Court a long time ago, 100 years ago, a long time. This is a feature of the powers that the president has, that the executive branch holds and they can be very controversial. The way that the government is set up in the United States we’re supposed to have three branches of government. We have the executive, the legislative and we have the Supreme Court, the judicial branch, and they’re supposed to work, by providing checks and balances. We all learn this in first grade, right? The legislature is supposed to make the law, it’s literally what legislature means, that’s their job and the president isn’t really supposed to make the law, that’s not what he does or she does. So, you know of course they find workarounds, that’s what power does, so many, many presidents have done made executive orders. I mean, they have pretty much have all done it for 100 years like very famously Truman, president Truman, desegregated the US military using an executive order. So that’s, I mean, as far as the military goes, that’s for good. He just declared that there was not going to be segregation anymore in the armed forces. And a year or two later it was done. I mean, it’s just with the military they know how to follow orders and they did it. So that was the first major U.S. institution that was desegregated and it went very smoothly and before you know it, black people were ordering white people around and nobody thought anything of it because it was the military. So, there are reasons sometimes that they do this, but you know the downside is that it does circumvent the democratic process. We have a way to pass laws in this country and this is not it so, especially when you’re taking on something that is bound to be controversial, that’s going to change a whole bunch of stuff for a whole bunch of people you want that to happen in the light of day.
Every president does this and then the other side always says, well, this it is executive overreach, it’s this, it’s that. There are always contentious things that happen so I’m not blaming any particular president because, like I said, they all do it. This isn’t like a new evil thing that Biden came up with, but obviously this is one that women are going, we’re going to be hurting from this one. So the promise was that they were going to pass this piece of legislation that was called the Equality Act and that at least would have gone through the proper channels. It would have been in Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives, there would have been debate. We all would all have had time to present our view on it; the way that laws are supposed to be passed and they didn’t do that so we’ve got this instead.
All right, so what does the executive order actually say? Well, it’s fairly short, you can read it. It’s online it’s been posted up, you can go to the White House website and look at it. It starts with a decision that happened last year from the Supreme Court that was called the Bostock Decision. Now, the Bostock Decision was three separate cases that were collapsed into one and part of it ruled that gay and lesbian Americans could not be discriminated against due to sexual orientation. That’s fine, nobody has a problem with that, the problem was this another case, the Amy Stephens case. This was a man who decided he was a woman one day and this could have gone two ways. You could have a man who says I would prefer to wear the women’s professional clothes to work instead of the men’s clothes, I’m a man but I want to wear these clothes. That would be a very different argument but that was not what Amy Stevens argued, he argued that he was a woman and therefore he should be wearing the women’s uniform. He worked at a funeral home, the funeral home really didn’t like this, I mean, you’ve got people coming who are in the worst grief of their lives and this was just not something that they wanted anybody to have to deal with. From a feminist perspective it’s just very simple: men cannot be women. Clothing in the United States, for employment purposes, employers are legally allowed to have separate dress codes for men and women. That is, I think, a problem but he’s not addressing that problem. He’s not saying “Well, we shouldn’t have separate dress codes”. I think that women could certainly make that argument, but the courts have ruled that is legal as long as it doesn’t put an undue burden on anybody, as long as they cost basically the same and whatever, don’t do this or that, you’re allowed to have those, still, in the United States it’s not illegal to have a separate dress code. Instead of trying to address that, to say actually anybody should be able to wear professional clothes in a professional environment, he instead argued “No, I’m a woman.” The real kicker here is that he demanded access to the women’s bathroom. His employer said no, so that was what the case was about. The Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, [which is really all we have in the United States to protect a whole bunch of our civil rights], they ruled that it should include gender identity. This is a disaster for women.
In 1964 this didn’t exist as a concept. Gender identity was certainly not included under the category of sex. The people who wrote that legislation certainly didn’t intend that in any way, there’s no evidence that they did. It has protected women. Women have used the Civil Rights Act more than any other group in the United States and there’s a lot of interesting history there, but we don’t really have time to get into it, but anyway The Civil Rights Act is pretty much what we’ve got. In The Bill of Rights that we have there’s a series of what are called negative freedoms. The Bill of Rights restricts the reach of the Federal Government. So we don’t actually have a proactive right to speech under the First Amendment. What we have is a right not to be interfered with . So “the government shall make no laws…” That’s what the first ten amendments really are about. It’s trying to keep the government out of what are people’s sort of natural human rights. If you look back in history what you had at the founding of this country is you’ve got the rising mercantile class and what they’re fighting is essentially an older system which involved a king, hereditary power. The rising mercantile class was fighting them and saying “No, we have rights and we don’t want you to rule over us, we’re going to rule over ourselves.”
So what you had was a bunch of very rich, essentially white men, saying, “I won’t interfere with you, you don’t interfere with me and we’re going to call that freedom.” Now, as far as that goes it’s certainly been helpful, I’m glad we have a First Amendment but that’s as far as it ever went.
Regardless, here we are today, so what Biden has done, taking this Bostock Decision instead of sex, we’re going to have gender identity. So every place in the law that was protecting women as a group, as a class based on our biology, will now they’re going to instead say “gender identity.” They can’t define gender identity. It’s not in this executive order. There’s literally no definition. A few states that have tried to have definitions; I mean, in New Jersey “a gender identity is a gender-related identity” and I’m not making that up. It’s completely circular and this is because it’s complete nonsense. I know we all keep using the Emperor’s New Clothes as our big metaphor but I don’t have a better one. It’s just complete nonsense, it means nothing. Yeah, “a circle is a thing we call a circle,” great! Does not tell you what a circle is! The most ridiculous thing is that we all know what a man is and what a woman is. This isn’t actually up for debate. We have sexually dimorphic species for 500 million years on this planet. There’s just men and there’s women. This is actually not very complicated. They have made it complicated, but it is not complicated. We all know who can bear the babies and who doesn’t. For the whole history of Patriarchy, they’ve never had a problem figuring out who the women were: who was going to be sold as a child bride, was going to have her genitals mutilated, who was gonna have her feet bound, who wasn’t allowed to vote. I mean, in 1976 when my mother divorced my father she couldn’t get a credit card in her name, she couldn’t get a bank account. That didn’t happen to my father! We all know who that happened to and why we have a feminist movement.
So Bostock has now come to fruition. We saw this in the ruling. Anybody can read it all, this information is public. That’s what they said, that “transgender status” defined a discreet group of people. Again, they never defined it because it’s not definable, it’s simply an internal feeling and it has nothing to do with physical reality. So this executive order, all the federal anti-discrimination statutes that cover sex discrimination, now they’re going to prohibit discrimination on the basis of “gender identity”. This involves all the Federal Civil Rights offices across the country which are now going to have to enforce this. This is where you used to go if you felt like there was workplace discrimination or something that was one of the legal remedies that you had. Women aren’t going to have that remedy anymore. Men will.
JM – That was definitely my question, what does this do to United States women immediately?
LK – Women are now going to be the people who are the problem, right? Men are going to come and say, “Women aren’t letting me do X, Y and Z.” “I’m not allowed in the women’s bathroom, I’m not allowed to take a woman’s job that’s been reserved for women”– and that’s discrimination. So women are going to have to give way. We are now the problem that has to be solved rather than the people who are being hurt, systematically hurt. It’s completely the opposite now–, we are the boundary that has to be broken. So, this is every federal agency. They’ve been directed to do comprehensive assessment of all their regulations and they have one hundred days to plan how they are going to now insert gender identity in the place of sex. How they’re going to interpret all this through the lens of gender identity? So this includes all American employers, it includes all the institutions and indeed eventually all the individuals. So you think about all the federal agencies, well that immediately includes housing and urban development (HUD) and they are the people who run all the, you know, (all the notreligious homeless shelters but) all the public homeless shelters. So now you’ve got an incredibly vulnerable group of women who are not going to be able to keep men out. There have already been cases where women have been sexually assaulted in homeless shelters.
There’s a case that’s still ongoing from Sacramento, California, where [thank God, women were able to find a lawyer but they have terrible experiences of how] a man was forced into the homeless shelter with them and they had to shower and share rooms with him and how terrifying this was and the things he did to them.
JM – Of course prisons, any federal prison.
LK – Yes, all the prisons now, and again there are already cases rolling. There’s Illinois, in there’s Texas, there’s Washington. I just want everybody to feel the horror of this; you are a woman locked in a 10 by 10 cell and now we have a man who’s very likely a violent offender, could be a sexual offender, is now put in your cell with you. You have literally no way to escape and this is what they’re going to do to women around the country. They’re already doing it, we just haven’t been able to get any press about it.
In UK, they had mister Karen White who insisted he was a woman and was put in a woman’s prison. He sexually assaulted women and it was all over the news and it really helped them in their fight it broke through into the mainstream. We have not been able to do that here and we have just as many horrifying cases here and nobody wants to hear it., The press is just the a great wall of silence at this point. What’s happening to the most vulnerable women? We know why women end up in prison. We know that they have been abused as children, battered as adults, that they’re in for economic crimes because they’re living in poverty, a lot of them are survivors of prostitution. They’re the women who have been hurt the most by this system and now they’re going to be locked in cells with men, with male predators. The left is who’s pushing this. The Democrats are supposed to be, you know, the side that’s anti-racist and the side that’s for progress, that’s for unity. That’s who’s bringing this. It wasn’t the Republicans who did this to women.
JM – What does this do to children in school systems?
LK – In school? So that’s the next thing.
JM – The federal level of control in this executive order is one of the most horrifying aspects to me about replacing gender identity with sex.
LK – The entire public school system, so anybody who gets federal money is going to have to absolutely give into this. Every school girl will not have a bathroom that she can use in school safely… * dog barks * Hang on one second, this is my dog.
JM – Hi, sweetie!
LK – Yeah, I don’t know why she thinks we’re in danger, we’re not in any danger.
JM – Actually, I think that it’s in our voices, we are in danger, we, really, really are, she knows she’s got sensible animal instincts, yeah. If you’d like to repeat that because we had the barking in the background.
LK – This is every single public school, that’s where the federal money goes. A private school, if you’re not getting federal money, you might not have to give in to this right away. But all the public schools are going to have to do it. Human rights groups around the world will tell you the number one thing that keeps girls out of school is a lack of safe toileting facilities. This is a huge human rights issue in poorer countries. It’s true when girls are very young but especially when they start to get their periods, when they hit adolescence it’s over. Girls just drop out in droves because they don’t have a safe place to attend to their menstrual needs. And for some reason we’re just gonna decide that girls in the United States don’t need this. The girls in India need it and girls in Sri Lanka need it and girls in Iran need it and girls in the Congo need it, but girls in the United States somehow it’s different. We have a different kind of man or boy here who would never hurt women and girls and women are perfectly fine to just drop their clothes and pee wherever they want. We all know this is not true. We all know that it is exactly the same here. We deal with predators every day as women and girls. We’ve already got stories of the girls who won’t pee all day long at school and are getting bladder infections and nobody cares.
JM – And then also I know that there was some headway, at least I thought, around the issue of women’s and girls’ sports in schools being totally eliminated because of this.
LK – There’s been push back for whatever reason. That’s an issue that has gotten more coverage. It’s gotten just a little bit, we’ve got a little more purchase on that one. I’m not sure why the sports one, I don’t care, you just take an issue and move. Yeah, there are big cases in Connecticut, there’s three girls, high school girls, who are on the track team and of course a boy joined and they just say there’s no point in running. You just can beaten them by a mile. So we all know this about men and women. W, we have different bodies, women have a bigger pelvis, it takes a half a second more every time we walk, just to take a step because we’re kind of making a right-hand turn there, a right angle, and there’s just no way that women are ever gonna run as fast as men. The fastest women in the world are just barely up to mediocre men. I remember when we had this amazing women’s soccer team in the United States that went to the Olympics and they played a game against high school boys and they lost. These are the best women in the world. We have physical differences, the lung size, the oxygenation, the heart size, muscle size, the strength of the joints, justdown the list. We all know that men and women have different bodies.
Infants are born with a template. They can tell the difference between a male and a female face. We all can do this. I don’t know why they have made this so complicated. , Well, I do know why, but I don’t know why everybody’s falling for it. Okay, we’ve got the prisons, the housing, the battered women’s shelters … Can you imagine being a battered woman escaping your batterer and now he can say, “Oh, I’m a woman, take me into the shelter!” You think men aren’t gonna do that? You’ve ever dealt with a stalker, a batterer? Oh, they’re gonna do it., We know what these men are like. They’re gonna do it. That’s gonna happen and now the schools, it’s every girl in the nation is not gonna have a safe place, and we’re gonna lose sports. It’s a grim day. I mean, Trump was a nightmare and I think we’re all glad he’s was gone.Hhe did a lot to hurt this country and to really sort of degrade our democratic processes such as they are, but it just went from one to the other. We knew this was coming, Biden had promised it and he did it.
JM – And the left is a horrible nightmare in the war against women.
LK – Yeah, an absolute nightmare. The way that Eric Weinstein encapsulates it: we have MAGAstan on one side and we have Wokenstan on the other side.
JM – No…
LK – That’s it, right? Those are our choices in the United States. In terms of employment law, a man now can’t be fired for claiming to be a woman, but a woman can be fired for pointing out that he’s a man.
LK – There’s gonna be a lot of compelled speech coming down at us. Right now it’s sort of behind the scenes. There are articles in the law journals in which the lefty, Wokenstan people are horrified that court documents don’t refer to people using their “preferred pronouns.” This has already happened in England. I don’t know if you followed Maria Mclaughlin’s case, but she was assaulted by a man who thinks he’s a woman at a public talk. He punched her in the face and broke her camera. He assaulted her. She was told by the judge that she had to call him ‘her.’She was compelled to use female pronouns for a man who assaulted her. Now, I want you to picture you’ve got a rape victim in court and she’s being told that she has to refer to this man as a woman, “His female penis did this to me…”
JM – And the consequences of not following that compelled speech are fines?
LK – Contempt.
JM – You can be in contempt, of course.
LK – You could be thrown in prison for contempt of court.
JM – You can be thrown in prison.
LK – Absolutely.
JM – For non-compliance.
LK – That would be me, I’m not going to comply to this. But it you’re asking the average woman to have to stand up to this while she’s on trial after the worst trauma of her life, she’s going to have to refer to a man as a woman, I mean, my head is just kind of exploding here. This is where we are. And the outside influence of the United States is always… this is going to go everywhere now. It’s not just us. It’s going to go around the world. So it’s bad and we can’t get any public debate. We can’t get any news analysis., There’s no mainstream coverage of this. This has been the problem for, well, over a decade, where we just cannot get anybody to pay attention to it. We get a little bit of right-wing coverage but that’s it. The mainstream news they won’t touch it and it’s for the same reason, it’s institutional capture., They’ve already been captured. There are journalists terrified of losing their jobs, We hear from them all the time, they know the truth of this, but they can’t say it because they’ve got mortgages to pay, so I don’t know what’s going to break through, what’s it gonna take. Somebody’s gonna haveJM – You would think, of all the places where biological reality would still hold, it would be in health and health care and it’s not.
LK – No, it’s not.
DM – And the consequences of not having that, that’s one of the things where my head just explodes, frankly.
LK – Yeah, and there’s an even bigger problem. The actual doctors and nurses may well be compelled to perform these surgeries and provide these really dangerous drugs. Because what’s already been done legally, the argument is that if you already provide mastectomies for women with cancer or hysterectomies for women who have uterine cancer or other you know polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or whatever conditions, endometriosis, where you might actually have a medical need to have your uterus removed. If you do those procedures, you can’t make a distinction between somebody with a disease, you know, a medical problem and somebody who actually just wants it electively. You are not allowed to make that distinction. If someone calls themselves trans, you then have to provide the same care even though it’s a completely different situation. There’s nothing wrong with their bodies, their bodies are perfectly healthy. But the law will be they’re forcing doctors and nurses to have to do this these procedures. The law will be forcing insurance companies to have to pay for it. This just seems like the ‘right of conscience’ thing for doctors, I mean, they take an oath to do no harm and some of these patients people are just they’re children. We’re talking about 13-year-old girls having mastectomies here in California and in Oregon, that’s madness! You can’t drink, you can’t drive, you can’t vote, you can’t pierce your ears, but you can have your uterus removed, your breasts chopped off. When you’re a teenager you’re not thinking about whether you’re going to have children.
JM – No.
LK – So many people who never wanted children and then they turned 28 and fell in love. Then they had children, you know, found a partner, had have a baby and it just completely transformed their lives. It’s like the most incredible experience they’ve ever had, would do anything to protect those children. We know that having a baby can bring out the kind of love that brings out in people and it’s utterly life-altering. You can’t make that decision when you’re 12 or 13, you can’t make it when you’re 17. You have no idea what’s coming in your life, you’re a totally different person when you’re 30.
JM – Yes.
LK – And we’re letting these kids just… they’re saturated in self-hatred. The porn industry has completely taken over the culture. I have nothing but sympathy for these poor girls. I know why they hate their bodies. They’ve been given their own story, you know, –in my generation, we did anorexia and cutting, that was how we did our self-hatred and it was for the same reasons. We’d all been molested, we were all looking at a culture that considered our bodies public property: ridiculous, insulting, worthy of contempt; they weren’t ours to inhabit, they belong to men, they didn’t belong to us. We all had these experiences of being harassed or groped or terrified or maybe outright raped. I understand, there’s no question why young girls feel this way as they become teenagers.
You hit 11, 12 years old and it’s just a completely different world walking down the street. It’s terrifying and you realize you’re never going to be safe again. So I get why they’re doing it, but they don’t have “gender dysphoria.” They have life in Patriarchy and the only solution is, honestly, Feminism, It’s a political movement that’s gonna change men’s behavior. But they’re not being told that. What they’re being told is that it’s personal to them. They just happen to have a special human essence that was born in a sadly female body, but we can attend to that: you can take dangerous drugs, you can have these horrible surgeries and try to live under the wire as a kind of a faux man, and that’s the option out. There’s already a whole generation of these girls. A lot of them are lesbians, a lot of them are autistic, they never fit, none of the roles seemed right. Well, it doesn’t for most of us, but especially I think for some women it’s probably a little bit harder. Now they’re 21 years old and they’ve been in medical menopause for four years. They have all the problems that you get when you’re 60 or 70, you know, things like urinary incontinence, a 20 year-old needs to deal with that? The surgeries they do on the young men, I don’t even have words, what they did to Jazz Jennings on television. Millions of people watch this young man have his genitals permanently removed and this was supposed to be some kind of liberatory practice. The hatred of the human animal here just blows my mind. That we don’t protect the young, instead we’re going to do this to them. It’s just beyond me.
JM – That blows my mind as a parent too and I’ve heard multiple parents with their hearts ripped out because they’re watching their children be devoured by this insane culture and what is like the antithesis of being biocentric: complete denial of basic biological reality and being eaten alive and they’re gutted emotionally and mentally by what’s happened to their children, that’s one of the most horrifying aspects of gender identity piece so….
LK – No one will help them. The people who should be helping us are the ones who are doing the damage. You’d think that doctors and therapists and school teachers and all these institutions that are supposed to be progressive and leftward leaning, that are supposed to care about human rights and are supposed to care about women and children and every last one of them has been captured. Now we have this executive order, that it’s just like nailing in more nails on the coffin here for these young people. I am not hopeless, we are not giving up, we are going to fight, but it is very hard. This is a hard week.
JM – WoLF has done spectacular work around fighting legislation or working that line of being able to be politically effective in the face of this and I know that it’s really hard, but I don’t know what to do with an executive order. Do you have any ideas about where we begin to fight back on them?
LK – Executive orders are not free from judicial oversight. They can be declared unconstitutional. The very first legal action that WOLF took was actually to try to sue the Obama Administration over the first time that this happened. That was when Obama did it at the end of his term, he went ahead and did these same executive orders. He made everything be ‘by gender identity’ instead of sex and that was the first lawsuit that we filed.
So, we need a few things. One is a whole bunch of money because none of this comes cheap. Which is sad, but it’s just reality. It can be millions of dollars to run a lawsuit. And then we need a plaintiff, you have to have somebody who would support this. It can’t happen right away. We have to find somebody, somewhere, who can say that this executive order has somehow infringed on her basic rights. Or it could be a man, too, I mean, it’s going to hurt young guys as well. We need somebody to come forward and help and be that person in the lawsuit. That’s a big ask because we know what happens to people who put their heads up above the parapet on this issue., We know it can destroy your life rather permanently at this point, but it has to be done. While we’re waiting to do that, we’ve got a bunch of other stuff sort of coming down the pipeline, but the main thing is that we can try to fight this in the courts. But it’s gonna take time, it’s not gonna happen overnight.
I want people to understand another thing about this as well, which is the reason that Obama did it, which is probably the same reason that Biden did it: in the United States, (people who don’t live here don’t get how bad some of this stuff is) first the Supreme Court, well over 100 years ago, ruled that corporations are people so they have the same rights as an actual human being would have. Then they ruled that included the First Amendment, so they have speech rights like you and I would have. Then, not that long ago they ruled that you can’t actually restrict the amount of money that people donate to political candidates because that’s a form of political speech. It’s a very important speech. You can’t put in any kind of line under it. So the floodgates opened and what was left of our political system was completely captured by the wealthy corporations. In people’s daily lives they don’t understand why things have gotten even worse and worse. In my lifetime, it has certainly happened, and that’s one of the main reasons. The magic trick is done completely above board because it’s not craft graft, it’s not paying bribes behind the scenes. It’s done completely openly and legally. The very wealthy– who aren’t even people, they are corporations– are allowed to simply ‘buy’ candidates. I’m not picking on Obama here, every last candidate you see running has these kind of backers. It’s the only way. They need millions of dollars to get their candidates and their candidacies up and running. To run a candidate for president, I don’t even want to think how much money that costs. The only way to do it is to get these backers. In terms of Obama, he’s from Illinois and one of the big big billionaire families out there is the Pritzkers and they’re a pharmaceutical company. This is all public information, they owned an airline, they own the Hyatt hotels, just on and on the amount of businesses churning money they made. Pharmaceuticals is huge for their wealth, and they’re billionaires and they bought him his first senate seat in Illinois. They put a bet on him and their horse won. Then they bought him his senate seat in Washington. Then he became, in the federal government, he was senator. Then they put more money on him. They got him into the White House. They’re not the only ones, there certainly were other corporate interests behind it. Again, I’m not picking on him., This is how the system works. It’s how the Court said it should work and it’s working fine for them, but this is what we’re up against. So Pritzkers put him in and then it was payback time and they also have a very famous member of their family: Jennifer Pritzker who I think was born, what was his original name? I don’t even remember, James, maybe, it started with a J. Jonathan, yeah, he’s a man who thinks he’s a woman. They’ have got a big trans in their family so that was the payoff. When it was his second term, two years in Obama went ahead and did all these executive orders. It was quite clearly just what they wanted so he gave it to them. That was the payoff.
JM – So, is this a replay?
LK – Yeah, it is because Penny Pritzker was a huge backer of Biden. She actually ran the fundraising for Biden. This is public information, I am not making this up and this is not, I just want to be really clear, this is not a crazy conspiracy. This is literally how the American political system works, okay? This is legally how it’s done above board, they just buy themselves candidates and that’s what they did. We are up against billionaires, the Pritzkers are billionaires and they wanted this legislation, they wanted these executive orders. How many of us are there? A few hundred? Okay, here’s my ten dollars. This is what we’re fighting.
We have truth, we have righteousness, we have our love for women, we have our love for the planet. I don’t want to instill more despair in anybody who’s listening. We are not giving up, I will not surrender and I don’t think any of you will either, but this is definitely David versus Goliath and this didn’t come out of nowhere. These men have been planning this for decades. They had an entire plan, it’s called the Yogyakarta Principles. They all got together in 2006 and made a list of what their demands were going to be. One by one they’ve done it. But they’re the billionaire class, they have all this money, they could do it. A lot of people are like, “Where did this all come from? It dropped out of nowhere.” It feels It may feel that way if you’re kind of ignoring it,but I’ll tell you as someone who’s been fighting this since the 80s: oh, no, it didn’t drop out of nowhere. They got billions of dollars. They had a political plan and they’ve gotten it done. Now here we are and all the women and girls in the United States are going to pay the price. So that’s where we are. We’re not going to lose,
We also have truth on our side. It is simply true that men cannot become women and no matter what kind of post-modern gobbledygook they want to put on, it can’t be done. You are the sex you are. You cannot be born in the wrong body, that’s like a prayer. As far as I’m concerned you have one body. It’s your one chance to be alive. You got to be born. How is that not enough? Just to be alive! And I understand all the things that happen to us that make us hate our physical embodiment, but it’s all we’ve got. It’s still a miracle every morning to breathe, to wake up, take that breath of air, look at the green trees and the yellow, the sun and feel the warmth and know that you’re loved and pet your dogs and hug your children. Every single, sensual moment of that is just a miracle! How did we lose sight of that to the point where we think our bodies are lego blocks so we can buy parts and remove them and slap them back on?, It’s a very poor simulacrum at best.
JM – It sounds like Mary Shelley’s nightmare.
LK – It is! She was on it! She was always saw it coming, she really did. She saw the arrogance of that scientific mind and what that had to do with male domination and the male violation imperative., She got it all, and she was just a teenager when she wrote that book., She saw it coming.
JM – It comes to you in dreams and it comes to you out of your heart. That’s so inspiring, Lierre, in the face of such a nightmare. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with listeners about where to look? Because you’re not going to stop fighting and we want to support you and we want to support all women everywhere in the United States. We’re going to have to grind through this and and defeat this nightmare. So where do we look? What do we look to? Who inspires you that you’d like to leave us with?
LK – A few things right away, We have a petition, if you go to the WoLF website you can sign the petition. More important: write a letter. Write a letter to the Biden administration., Write a letter to Kamala Harris. Write a letter to your legislatures. Call your senators on the phone. Tell them you’re upset about this. Explain to them what’s going on and then reach out to your state legislatures too, because this is going to be a state-by-state battle as well. It’s already a state-by-state battle. You’ve got to get involved and, I know it’s terrifying, I do know that. The people who come at us really mean it, they’re unhinged, they’re violent. They will destroy your life if they decide to. You will lose your job. You can lose your house. There’s not a woman I know who hasn’t had serious losses to this. Some of us have lost our careers entirely. I know people about to leave the country, it’s… I’m not gonna sugarcoat what you may be up against, to come out on this one. But it has to be done. So contact every single, you know, anybody who represents representative you have in any government at all, from the local to the to the federal level, reach out to them, talk to them, get your talking points ready, go with a friend. They have to see you if your you’re a constituent., That is your right. They have to let you come and talk to them. You may only be able to see staffers if they’re big people, but they still they have to take your information, they have to sit and listen to you. So, get yourselves together, practice beforehand, but do it. We have to learn how to engage with the political process. I think a lot of us who are more on the radical edge, we a lot of times spend our lives kind of rolling our eyes on at it because it just seems so reformist. But there are times and places where we have to engage and this is definitely one of them. Otherwise they win. If we don’t show up to do our part, they’re going to win. Because there’s no fight back and they have captured everything at this point. We’ve got to start pushing back. We’ve got to learn to do that. Go with a friend, just, you know, put on your your big girl’s shoes and just get it done. They’re just people, honestly. I’ve done it, I’ve lobbied, they’re just people like me and you and they don’t know more than we do either, especially not on this issue. It doesn’t matter whether you have democrats or republicans representing you, they all need to hear it. They have not heard a feminist analysis, they don’t understand how this is going to hurt women and girls. Everybody thinks it’s kind of gay plus and it’s not. It’s not anything like gay and lesbian rights, nothing like it at all. So we’ve just got to speak up. And then speak to everybody in your life about it. I know that’s hard. People are going to be very mad at you, but it has to be done. Whoever you are, if you’re listening to this you probably have really nice friends, you’ve got good family, they probably have really good hearts. They want what’s best for everyone. They need to understand how this is going to hurt women and girls and that you’re not helping young people who hate their bodies by letting them do permanent damage that they will regret in five years. So, anyway, all of that, you know, get yourselves together, but we’ve got to talk to people, our friends, our family, our neighbors and then everybody in a position of political power. Sign our petition, write a letter, and if you want to join WoLF, join, because we need help. We need volunteers in every single state. This is going to be massive and it’s going to take all of us. But never surrender.
JM – Never surrender.
LK – Never surrender.
JM – Never. Thank you, Lierre, for all of that thank you.
LK – Thank you.
LK – Thank you.
JM – Yeah, you are so welcome and I’m so glad that the Green flame is going to be able to put this out there with such an eloquent voice. We thank you so much for taking some time because I know you are working tirelessly for everybody, women and girls and the real world.
LK – A lot of us are, so join hands. We gotta do it.
JM – We will.