Event Recording – Collapse: Climate, Ecology and Civilization

Event Recording – Collapse: Climate, Ecology and Civilization

On November 19th, Deep Green Resistance hosted a special 3-hour live streaming event, “Collapse: Climate, Ecology, and Civilization” featuring Derrick Jensen, Saba Malik, Max Wilbert, Robert Jensen, Lierre Keith, and a variety of other grassroots activists from four continents. The recording of the event has been released. The fundraiser and auction still continues. Auction will end on Wednesday.

Our way of life doesn’t need to be saved. The planet needs to be saved from our way of life. Right now civilization is causing the extinction of 200 species a day. It is drawing down the Earth’s capacity to support life. Ultimately, we are talking about the future of all generations being sacrificed.

Deep Green Resistance is the movement that is dedicated to stopping this. We are some of the people that are willing to be honest about what’s going on here and dedicate our lives to stopping this culture of empire. DGR keeps the natural world at the center of all our strategies and tactics. We are working not just to stop one bad law, or one bad corporation, or one bad government. We are working to fundamentally transform this entire culture.

There is nothing more important in this entire world than the health of the world. The only thing that will save this planet is for industrial civilization to stop. Whatever you love, it is under assault. Love is a verb. We’ve got to let our love call us to action.

In this video:

  • 02:00 Introduction by Max Wilbert
  • 07:47 Keynote by Lierre Keith
  • 24:14 Keynote by Saba Malik
  • 49:55 Activist report-backs
  • 1:28:43 Keynote by Robert Jensen
  • 1:41:26 Keynote by Derrick Jensen

We would like to thank all our supporters for their constant support. Your help goes a long way in making possible all that we do.

A crease in apocalyptic time by Will Falk

The apocalypse doesn’t care about weekends. But, on some Sunday afternoons, especially when the November northern California clouds part and the redwoods are draped in their gold, emerald, and ebony robes, I need a break. I take my cup of tea and notebook to the front porch and wait for the light to change.
It doesn’t happen every time. It doesn’t even happen most of the time. But, every once in a while, ravens fly across my vision, brushing the sky clean, and pulling the world’s sharpest knife across the air to cut a fine crease in Time, herself.
My perception slows as the veil falls away and I slip into a long, amber moment. The sun kisses my brow. Shadows cup my head. And, natural warmth holds me closer than any human lover. I know if I could just find this embrace, even if only every once in a while, I’d be strong enough to fight the apocalypse.
But everyday eventually fades. Moments must pass to exist. Moments must exist for light to move. And, light must move to hold me like this.
The sun slips away on Earth’s autumnal slants and I am cold again. Time stitches close the crease the ravens cut. Long, amber moments become simple tick-tocking seconds again, marching tirelessly into the dark future.
A chainsaw keens in the distance. Planes vandalize the sunset. A muffler pops like gun shots. And, the redwoods – naked in the dusk now – know that soon it will be too hot to live here, to live anywhere, anymore.
I don’t know where the ravens will take their knife, then. I don’t know where the shadows will dance. And, I don’t know who will protect me from this apocalypse.


Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance. 

The Green Flame is a Deep Green Resistance podcast that brings you revolutionary analysis, practical skills, and artistic expression from the grassroots movement to dismantle global industrial civilization. The show was launched in 2019.

Listen now on your preferred platform:


Live Streaming Event — Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization

Live Streaming Event — Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization

Today, November 19th, Deep Green Resistance is hosting a live online event on the topic of collapse. The event will start at 3 PM Pacific Time (11pm / 23:00 UTC) and will be hosted on Givebutter and Facebook.

This live event will explore issues of collapse (ecological, climatic, and civilizational) with a focus on organized, political resistance to slow and mitigate the worst aspects of collapse and accelerate the positive impacts. There will be opportunities to ask questions and participate in dialogue.

The event is also a fundraiser. The raised funds will go to fund a national speaking tour, community-led land defense in the Philippines, campaigns addressing mining and biodiversity, training programs for activists around the world, and other organizational work.

Keynote speakers

Lierre Keith

Lierre Keith, a founding member of Deep Green Resistance, is an American writer, radical feminist, food activist, and environmentalist. Lierre is the author of the novels Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel. Her non-fiction works include the highly acclaimed The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. She is coauthor, with Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (Seven Stories Press, 2011) and she’s the editor of The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution (Seven Stories Press, 2012).

Saba Malik

liveSaba, also a founding member of Deep Green Resistance, is a longtime radical feminist, environmentalist, and anti-racist organizer. She studies herbal medicine and loves to spend time in the forest with her children.



Robert Jensen

Robert JensenRobert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He collaborates with New Perennials Publishing and the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College. Jensen is associate producer and host of Podcast from the Prairie, with Wes Jackson.





Derrick Jensen

Derrick JensenDerrick Jensen is an American ecophilosopher, writer, author, teacher and environmentalist. Utne Reader named Jensen among “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World” in 2008, and Democracy Now! says that he “has been called the poet-philosopher of the ecology movement”.


Other features

Activist Report Back

In this segment, DGR members share their experiences regarding what the different organizing work that they have been involved in.

Silent auction

The silent auction will features items (paintings, books, etc) donated by members of DGR. The auction will open with the event and will remain open till Wednesday. You can find the auction here.


  • 3pm – Live Event begins
  • 3:10pm – Lierre Keith
  • 3:25pm – Saba Malik
  • 3:35pm – Activist report-backs
  • 3:50pm – Intermission
  • 4pm – Robert Jensen
  • 4:25pm – Derrick Jensen
  • 5pm – Event ends

You can watch the event here: Givebutter

Collapse: Ecology, Climate and Civilization [Event Announcement]

Collapse: Ecology, Climate and Civilization [Event Announcement]

The Deep Green Resistance Fall Fundraiser Event

Our way of life — industrial civilization — is destroying the planet.

From coral reefs to the great forests, the last strongholds of the wild are falling. The climate is destabilizing. And we are entering the 6th mass extinction of life on Earth. Ecological collapse is here.

This unprecedented crisis demands extraordinary solutions. And yet, governments and mainstream environmental groups are failing to chart a path towards a livable future. What is to be done?

This November 19th, join the philosopher poet of the deep ecology movement Derrick Jensen, radical eco-feminist author and strategist Lierre Kieth, and special guests Saba Malik, Robert Jensen and Dahr Jamail for a special 3-hour live streaming event, Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization starting at 3pm Pacific Time and hosted by Deep Green Resistance.

This event will explore issues of collapse (ecological, climatic, and civilizational) with a focus on organized, political resistance to slow and mitigate the worst aspects of collapse and accelerate the positive impacts. There will be opportunities to ask questions and participate in dialogue.

This event is also a fundraiser, because the mainstream environmental movement is funded mainly by foundations which don’t want foundational or revolutionary change. Radical organizations like Deep Green Resistance rely on individual donors to support our work.

We are raising $25,000 to fund a national speaking tour, a community-led hydropower dam resistance campaign in the Philippines, land-defense campaigns addressing mining and biodiversity, training programs for activists around the world, and other organizational work.

Whether or not you are in a financial position to donate, we hope you will join us this November 19th for this special event!

You can view the event live on Givebutter or on Facebook.

Warrior Woman by Will Falk
I was surrounded and about to surrender
when she broke the battle
and carried me from the frontlines.
When, at last, we were safe and alone,
she cradled me in her arms,
warmed me by the fire in her breast
and let the starlight falling
from her smile shine away
the horrors of the night.
She offered to bathe my wounds there
in that kind gaze pouring from her eyes.
They were the color of brown stones
dancing in the dappling sunshine
under the pure, precontact currents
of strong, clean Alaskan streams.
I must have flinched there
at the fierceness of her generosity
because she asked me if
I was still afraid.
It was too selfish to say
“I fear you’ll push me away
from your bright radiance
back into the black combat
you pulled me from.”
No matter what I really wanted,
I could not ask her to hold me there
forever. Or, even for the rest of my life.
I could not ask her to do this
because I remembered
when she introduced herself,
there were eagles
and killer whales in her name.
I hate talons in chains,
and the sight of bloated bodies
floating belly up
in concrete prison pools in parks
that don’t amuse anyone anymore.
So, I told the whole truth.
I was afraid I would linger there
overlong, while all the streams were strangled,
the songbirds silenced, and the salmon starved.
I was afraid that if I shed my armor
to press my bare skin to hers
I’d never rise to fight again.
Her laugh was as gentle
as the first snowfall on
a transboundary bay.
Her kiss was as soothing
as the first sunshine on
a post-blizzard day.
She said: eagles leap from their nests,
killer whales kill,
warriors know when to make war,
and we will fight side by side,
my scared, tired man.
All my dams crashed down, then.
The sword fell from my hand.
And I learned I could
make love and make war
with this true warrior woman
Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance.
Robert Jensen: Why Feminism Matters for Men

Robert Jensen: Why Feminism Matters for Men

Editor’s note: Feminism is often seen as a “woman issue” and thus as something secondary or unimportant compared to issues of class or ecology. But in this piece, Robert Jensen reminds us that “White supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism have never existed without patriarchy.” Some historians even see patriarchy as the “original oppression” — the template which has led to the world we now find ourselves in.

From the psychology of domination to overpopulation, patriarchy is a powerful, subtle force in our world. If you are concerned about human rights or ecology, as we are, women’s oppression is essential to understand and undermine. Why are we a radical feminist organization? Because this is essential to justice and sustainability.

By Robert Jensen

Begin with the body.

In an analysis of pornography and prostitution in a patriarchal society, it’s crucial not to lose sight of basic biology. A coherent feminist analysis of the ideology and practice of patriarchy starts with human bodies.

We are all Homo sapiens. Genus Homo, species sapiens. We are primates. We are mammals. We are part of the animal kingdom.

We are organic entities, carbon-based creatures of flesh and blood. Whatever one thinks about the concepts of soul and mind—and I assume that in any diverse group there will be widely varying ideas—we are animals, which means we are bodies. The kind of animal that we are reproduces sexually, the interaction of bodies that are either male or female (with a very small percentage of people born intersex, who have anomalies that may complicate reproductive status).

Every one of us—and every human who has ever lived—is the product of the union of an egg produced by a female human and a sperm produced by a male human. Although it also can be accomplished with technology, in the vast majority of cases the fertilization of an egg by a sperm happens through the act of sexual intercourse, which in addition to its role in reproduction is potentially pleasurable.

I emphasize these elementary facts not to reduce the rich complexity of human interaction to a story about nothing but bodies, but if we are to understand sex/gender politics, we can’t ignore our bodies. That may seem self-evident, but some postmodern-inflected theories that float through some academic spaces, intellectual salons, and political movements these days seem to have detached from that reality.

If we take evolutionary biology seriously, we should recognize the centrality of reproduction to all living things and the importance of sexuality to a species that reproduces sexually, such as Homo sapiens. Reproduction and sexuality involve our bodies.

Female and male are stable biological categories. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here. But femininity and masculinity are not stable social categories. Ideas about what male and female mean—what meaning we attach to those differences in our bodies—vary from culture to culture and change over time.

That brings us to patriarchy, radical feminism, a radical feminist critique of the sexual-exploitation industries in patriarchy, and why all of this is important, not only for women but for men. I’m here as a man to make a pitch to men: Radical feminism is especially important for us.


Patriarchy—an idea about sex differences that institutionalizes male dominance throughout a society—has a history. Though many assume that humans have always lived with male dominance, such systems became widespread only a few thousand years ago, coming after the invention of agriculture and a dramatic shift in humans’ relationship with the larger living world. Historian Gerda Lerner argues that patriarchy began when “men discovered how to turn ‘difference’ into dominance” and “laid the ideological foundation for all systems of hierarchy, inequality, and exploitation” (Lerner, 1997, p. 133). Patriarchy takes different forms depending on time and place, but it reserves for men most of the power in the institutions of society and limits women’s access to such power. However, Lerner reminds us, “It does not imply that women are either totally powerless or totally deprived of rights, influence and resources” (Lerner, 1986, p. 239). The world is complicated, but we identify patterns to help us understand that complexity.

Patriarchy is not the only hierarchical system that enhances the power of some and limits the life chances of others—it exists alongside white supremacy, legally enforced or informal; various unjust and inhumane economic systems, including capitalism; and imperialism and colonialism, including the past 500 years of exploitation primarily by Europe and its offshoots such as the United States.

Because of those systems, all women do not have the same experience in patriarchy, but the pattern of women’s relative disadvantage vis-à-vis men is clear. As historian Judith Bennett writes, “Almost every girl born today will face more constraints and restrictions than will be encountered by a boy who is born today into the same social circumstances as that girl.” (Bennett, 2006, p. 10).

Over thousands of years, patriarchal societies have developed justifications, both theological and secular, to maintain this inequality and make it seem to be common sense, “just the way the world is.” Patriarchy has proved tenacious, at times conceding to challenges but blocking women from reaching full equality to men. Women’s status can change over time, and there are differences in status accorded to women depending on other variables. But Bennett argues that these ups and downs have not transformed women as a group in relationship to men—societies operate within a “patriarchal equilibrium,” in which only privileged men can lay claim to that full humanity, defined as the ability to develop fully their human potential (Bennett, 2009). Men with less privilege must settle for less, and some will even be accorded less status than some women (especially men who lack race and/or class privilege). But in this kind of dynamically stable system of power, women are never safe and can always be made “less than,” especially by men willing to wield threats, coercion, and violence.

Although all the systems based on domination cause immense suffering and are difficult to dislodge, patriarchy has been part of human experience longer and is deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life. We should remember: White supremacy has never existed without patriarchy. Capitalism has never existed without patriarchy. Imperialism has never existed without patriarchy. From patriarchy’s claim that male domination and female subordination are natural and inevitable have emerged other illegitimate hierarchies that also rest on attempts to naturalize, and hence render invisible, other domination/subordination dynamics.

Radical Feminism

Feminism, at its most basic, challenges patriarchy. However as with any human endeavor, including movements for social justice, there are different intellectual and political strands. What in the United States is typically called “second wave” feminism, that emerged out of the social ferment of the 1960s and ‘70s, produced competing frameworks: radical, Marxist, socialist, liberal, psychoanalytical, existential, postmodern, eco-feminist. When non-white women challenged the white character of early second-wave feminism, movements struggled to correct the distortions; some women of color choose to identify as womanist rather than feminist. Radical lesbian feminists challenged the overwhelmingly heterosexual character of liberal feminism, and different feminisms went in varying directions as other challenges arose concerning every-thing from global politics to disability.

Since my first serious engagement with feminism in the late 1980s, I have found radical feminist analyses to be a source of inspiration. Radical feminism highlights men’s violence and coercion—rape, child sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment—and the routine nature of this abuse for women, children, and vulnerable men in patriarchy. In patriarchal societies, men claim a right to own or control women’s reproductive power and women’s sexuality, with that threat of violence and coercion always in the background. In the harshest forms of patriarchy, men own wives and their children, and men can claim women’s bodies for sex constrained only by agreements with other men. In contemporary liberal societies, men’s dominance takes more subtle forms.

Radical feminism forces us to think about male and female bodies, about how men use, abuse, and exploit women in the realms of reproduction and sexuality. But in the contemporary United States, the radical approach has been eclipsed by the more common liberal (in mainstream politics) and postmodern (in academic and activist circles) strands of feminism. A liberal approach focuses on gaining equality for women within existing political, legal, and economic institutions. While notoriously difficult to define, postmodernism challenges the stability and coherence not only of existing institutions but of the very concepts that we use within them and tends to focus on language and performance as key to identity and experience. Liberalism and postmodernism come out of very different sets of assumptions but are similar in their practical commitment to individualism in politics, tending to evaluate a proposal based on whether it maximizes choices for individual women rather than whether it resists patriarchy’s hierarchy and challenges the power of men as a class. On issues such as pornography and prostitution, both liberal and postmodern feminism avoid or downplay a critique of the patriarchal system and reduce the issue to support for women’s choices, sometimes even claiming that women can be empowered through the sexual-exploitation industries.

Radical feminism’s ultimate goal is the end of patriarchy’s gender system, not merely expanding women’s choices within patriarchy. But radical feminism also recognizes the larger problem of hierarchy and the domination/subordination dynamics in other arenas of human life. While not sufficient by itself, the end of patriarchy is a necessary condition for liberation more generally.

Today there’s a broad consensus that any form of feminism must be “intersectional,” Kimberlé Crenshaw’s (1989) term to describe about how black women could be marginalized by movements for both racial and gender justice when their concerns did not conform to either group’s ideology or strategy. While the term is fairly new, the idea goes back further. For example, the statement of the Combahee River Collective, a group of black lesbian feminists in the late 1970s, named not only sexism and racism but also capitalism and imperialism as forces constraining their lives:

[W]e are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives (Combahee River Collective, 2000, p. 264).

Intersectional approaches like these help us better understand the complex results of what radical feminists argue is a central feature of patriarchy: Men’s efforts to control women’s reproductive power and sexuality. As philosopher Marilyn Frye puts it:

For females to be subordinated and subjugated to males on a global scale, and for males to organize themselves and each other as they do, billions of female individuals, virtually all who see life on this planet, must be reduced to a more-or-less willing toleration of subordination and servitude to men. The primary sites of this reduction are the sites of heterosexual relation and encounter—courtship and marriage-arrangement, romance, sexual liaisons, fucking, marriage, prostitution, the normative family, incest and child sexual assault. It is on this terrain of heterosexual connection that girls and women are habituated to abuse, insult, degradation, that girls are reduced to women—to wives, to whores, to mistresses, to sex slaves, to clerical workers and textile workers, to the mothers of men’s children (Frye, 1992, p. 130).

This analysis doesn’t suggest that every man treats every woman as a sex slave, of course. Each individual man in patriarchy is not at every moment actively engaged in the oppression of women, but men routinely act in ways that perpetuate patriarchy and harm women. It’s also true that patriarchy’s obsession with hierarchy, including a harsh system of ranking men, means that most men lose out in the game to acquire significant wealth and power. Complex systems produce complex results, and still there are identifiable patterns. Patriarchy is a system that delivers material benefits to men—unequally depending on men’s other attributes (such as race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, immigration status) and on men’s willingness to embrace, or at least adapt to, patriarchal values. But patriarchy constrains all women. The physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering endured by women varies widely, again depending on other attributes and sometimes just on the luck of the draw, but no woman escapes some level of that suffering. And at the core of that system is men’s assertion of a right to control women’s reproductive power and sexuality.

The Radical Feminist Critique of the Sexual-Exploitation Industries

I use the term “sexual-exploitation industries” to include prostitution, pornography, stripping, massage parlors, escort services—all the ways that men routinely buy and sell objectified female bodies for sexual pleasure. Boys and vulnerable men are also exploited in these industries, but the majority of these businesses are about men buying women and girls.

Not all feminists or progressive people critique this exploitation, and in some feminist circles—especially those rooted in liberalism or postmodernism—so-called “sex work” is celebrated as empowering for women. Let’s start with simple questions for those who claim to want to end sexism and foster sex/gender justice:

  1. Is it possible to imagine any society achieving a meaningful level of any kind of justice if people from one sex/gender class could be routinely bought and sold for sexual services by people from another sex/gender class?
  2. Is justice possible when the most intimate spaces of the bodies of people in one group can be purchased by people in another group?
  3. If our goal is to maintain stable, decent human societies defined by mutuality rather than dominance, do the sexual-exploitation industries foster or impede our efforts?
  4. If we were creating a just society from the ground up, is it likely that anyone would say, “Let’s make sure that men have ready access to the bodies of women in commercial transactions”?

These questions are both moral and political. Radical feminists reject dominance, and the violence and coercion that comes with a domination/subordination dynamic, out of moral commitments to human dignity, solidarity, and equality. But nothing I’ve said is moralistic, in the sense of imposing a narrow, subjective conception of sexuality on others. Rejecting the sexual-exploitation industries isn’t about constraining people’s sexual expression, but rather is part of the struggle to create the conditions for meaningful sexual freedom.

So why is this radical feminist critique, which has proved so accurate in its assessment of the consequences of mainstreaming the commercial sex industry, so often denounced not only by men who embrace patriarchy but also by liberal and left men, and in recent years even by feminists in the liberal and postmodern camps?

Take the issue I know best, pornography. Starting in the 1970s, women such as Andrea Dworkin (2002) argued that the appeal of pornography was not just explicit sex but sex presented in the context of that domination/subordination dynamic. Since Dworkin’s articulation of that critique (1979), the abuse and exploitation of women in the industry has been more thoroughly documented. The content of pornography has become more overtly cruel and degrading to women and more overtly racist. Pornography’s role in promoting corrosive sexual practices, especially among young people, is more evident. As the power of the radical feminist critique has become clearer, why is the critique more marginalized today than when it was first articulated?

Part of the answer is that the radical feminist critique of pornography goes to the heart of the claim of men in patriarchy to own or control women’s sexuality. Feminism won some gains for women in public, such as more expansive access to education and a place in politics. But like any system of social control, patriarchy does not quietly accept change, pushing back against women’s struggle for sexual autonomy. Sociologist Kathleen Barry describes this process:

[W]hen women achieve the potential for economic independence, men are threatened with loss of control over women as their legal and economic property in marriage. To regain control, patriarchal domination reconfigures around sex by producing a social and public condition of sexual sub-ordination that follows women into the public world (Barry, 1995, p. 53).

Why Should Men Care?

Barry is not suggesting that men got together to plot such a strategy. Rather, it’s in the nature of patriarchy to respond to challenges to male power with new strategies. That’s how systems of illegitimate authority, including white supremacy and capitalism, have always operated.

Men can no longer claim outright ownership of women, as they once did. Men cannot always assert control over women using old tactics. But they can mark women as always available for men’s sexual pleasure. They can reduce women’s sexuality—and therefore can reduce women—to a commodity that can be bought and sold. They can try to regain an experience of power lost in the public realm in a more private arena.

This analysis challenges the liberal/postmodern individualist story that says women’s rights are enhanced when a society allows them to choose sex work. Almost every word in that sentence should be in scare-quotes, to mark the libertarian illusions on which the argument depends. I’m not suggesting that no woman in the sexual-exploitation industries ever makes a real choice but am merely pointing out the complexity of those choices, which typically are made under conditions of considerable constraint and reduced opportunities. And whatever the motivation of any one woman, the validation and normalization of the sexual-exploitation industries continues to reduce women and girls to objectified female bodies available to men for sexual pleasure.

If we men really believe in the values most of us claim to hold—dignity, solidarity, and equality—that is reason enough to embrace radical feminism. That’s the argument from justice. Radical feminists have shown how the sexual-exploitation industries harm women, children, and vulnerable men used in the industry. But if men need additional motivation, do it not only for women and girls. Do it for yourself. Recognize an argument from self-interest.

Radical feminism is essential for any man who wants to move beyond “being a man” in patriarchy and seeks to live the values of dignity, solidarity, and equality as fully as possible (Jensen, 2019). Radical feminism’s critique of masculinity in patriarchy is often assumed to be a challenge to men’s self-esteem but just the opposite is true—it’s essential for men’s self-esteem.

Consider a claim that men sometimes make when asked if they have ever used a woman being prostituted. “I’ve never had to pay for it,” a man will say, implying that he is skilled enough in procuring sex from women that money is unnecessary. In other situations, a man might brag about having sex with a woman being prostituted, especially if that woman is seen as a high-class “call girl” or is somehow “exotic,” or if the exploitation of women takes place in a male-bonding activity such as a bachelor party.

All these responses are patriarchal, and all reveal men’s fear of vulnerability and hence of intimacy. That’s why pornography is so popular. It offers men quick-and-easy sexual pleasure with no risk, no need to be a real person in the presence of another real person who might see through the sad chest-puffing pretense of masculinity in patriarchy.

One of the most common questions I get after public presentations from women is “why do men like pornography?” We can put aside the inane explanations designed to avoid the feminist challenge, such as “Men are just more sexual than women” or “Men are more stimulated visually than women.” I think the real answer is more disturbing: In patriarchy, men are often so intensely socialized to run from the vulnerability that comes with intimacy that they find comfort in the illusory control over women that pornography offers. Pornography may give men a sense of power over women temporarily, but it does not provide what men—what all people—need, which is human connection. The pornographers play on men’s fears—not a fear of women so much as a fear of facing the fragility of our lives in patriarchy.

When we assert masculinity in patriarchy—when we desperately try to “be a man”—we are valuing dominance over mutuality, choosing empty pleasure over intimacy, seeking control to avoid vulnerability. When we assert masculinity in patriarchy, we make the world more dangerous for women and children, and in the process deny ourselves the chance to be fully human.

Robert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He collaborates with New Perennials Publishing and the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College.

Jensen is the co-author, with Wes Jackson, of An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity, which will be published in September 2022 by the University of Notre Dame Press. He is also the host of “Podcast from the Prairie” with Jackson.

Jensen is the author of The Restless and Relentless Mind of Wes Jackson: Searching for Sustainability (University Press of Kansas, 2021); The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men (2017); Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (2015); Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (2001).

Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Follow him on Twitter: @jensenrobertw


This article draws on The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men (Jensen, 2017). Special thanks to Renate Klein and Susan Hawthorne of Spinifex Press. An edited version of this article was recorded for presentation at the online Canadian Sexual Exploitation Summit hosted by Defend Dignity, May 6-7, 2021. Dignity thanks the following people for their time and expertise to review this article: Lisa Thompson, Vice President of Research and Education, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, USA; and Andrea Heinz, exited woman and activist, Canada.


Jensen, Robert. (2021). Getting radical: Feminism, patriarchy, and the sexual-exploitation industries. Dignity: A Journal of Sexual Exploitation and Violence. Vol. 6, Issue 2, Article 6. https://doi.org/10.23860/dignity.2021.06.02.06
Available at http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/dignity/vol6/iss2/6


Barry, Kathleen. (1995). The prostitution of sexuality. New York University Press.

Bennett, Judith M. (2009, March 29). “History matters: The grand finale.” The Adventures of Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar. http://girlscholar.blogspot.com/2009/03/history-matters-grand-finale-guest-post.html

Bennett, Judith M. (2006). History matters: Patriarchy and the challenge of feminism. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Combahee River Collective. (2000). The Combahee River Collective statement. In Barbara Smith (Ed.), Home girls: A black feminist anthology (pp. 264-274). Rutgers University Press.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. (1989). “Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1, 139-167.

Dworkin, Andrea. (2002). Heartbreak: The political memoir of a feminist militant. Basic Books.

Dworkin, Andrea. (1979). Pornography: Men possessing women. Perigee.

Frye, Marilyn. (1992). Willful virgin: Essays in feminism 1976-1992. Crossing Press.

Jensen, Robert. (2019, fall). Radical feminism: A gift to men. Voice Male. https://voicemalemagazine.org/radical-feminism-a-gift-to-men/

Jensen, Robert. (2017). The end of patriarchy: Radical feminism for men. Spinifex.

Lerner, Gerda (1997). Why history matters: Life and thought. Oxford University Press.

Lerner, Gerda (1986). The creation of patriarchy. Oxford University Press.

This essay was originally published in Dignity: A Journal of Sexual Exploitation and Violence in March, 2021.
Robert Jensen: For a Practical Radical Politics

Robert Jensen: For a Practical Radical Politics

Editor’s note: It is far too easy for radicals with a systemic analysis to become paralyzed at the scope of necessary change. At its best, radical analysis informs strategic actions in the here-and-now that helps us create a better future. At worst, it enables a nihilistic resignation that prevents people from taking action. We advocate for the middle ground: using radical analysis to inform a practical radical politics in the here and now.

But lest we become tempted to engage in tepid reformism, we must remember that practicality does not mean compromising on fundamental issues. When it comes to ecology, for example, any conflict between the ecologically necessary and politically feasible must be settled in favor of the ecologically necessary. However, the ecologically necessary will not spontaneously evolve; we must work for it, starting here and now.

This piece from pro-feminist and environmental activist Robert Jensen dives into this thorny balance, and challenges each us: what can you begin doing now that is based in a radical understanding of the problems we face, and also is practical and effective in the context of a profoundly conservative society? We welcome discussion in the comments section.

by Robert Jensen / February 4, 2022

We need to be practical when it comes to politics, to work for policies that we can enact today, inadequate though they may be to answer calls for social justice and ecological sustainability. We also need to maintain a relentlessly radical analysis, to highlight the failures of systems and structures of power, aware that policies we might enact today won’t resolve existing crises or stave off collapse. Both things are true, and both things are relevant to the choices we make.

Politics is the art of the possible, and politics also is the pursuit of goals that are impossible. We can pursue reforms today, knowing them to be inadequate, with revolutionary aims for tomorrow, knowing that the transformation needed will likely come too late. These two obligations pull us in different directions, often generating anger and anxiety. But it is easier—or, at least, should be easier—to handle that tension as we get older. Aging provides more experience with frustration, along with greater capacity for equanimity. Frustration is inevitable given our collective failure, our inability as a species to confront problems in ways that lead to meaningful progress toward real solutions. Equanimity allows us to live with that failure and remember our moral obligation to continue struggling. Frustration reminds us that we care about the ideals that make life meaningful. Equanimity makes living possible as we fall short of those ideals.

If these sound like the ramblings of an old person, well, this past year I got old. Not necessarily in years, because not everyone would consider sixty-three to be old. Not in health, because I’m holding up fairly well. But I am old in outlook, in my current balance of frustration and equanimity. For me, getting old has meant no longer seeing much distinction between righteous indignation and self-righteous indignation. I have let go of any sense of moral superiority that I felt in the past, but at the same time I have grown more confident in the soundness of the framework of analysis I use to understand the world. I also am more aware that offering what I believe to be a compelling analysis doesn’t always matter much to others. I have not given up, but I have given over more to the reality of limits, both of humans and the biophysical limits of the ecosphere. With age, I have gotten more practical while my analysis has gotten more radical.

In this essay I want to present a case for a practical radical politics—holding onto radical analyses while making decisions based on our best reading of the threats and opportunities in the moment. This requires consistency in analysis (which is always a good thing) while being wary of dogmatism in strategy (which is almost always a bad thing). My plan is to articulate the values on which my worldview is based; identify the hierarchical systems within the human family that undermine those values; and describe the history of the ecological break between the human family and the larger living world. From the analytical, I will offer thoughts on coping with the specific political moment of 2022 in the United States and with long-term global ecological realities. I have no grand strategy to propose, but instead will try to face my fears about the tenuous nature of life today politically and the even more tenuous nature of what lies ahead ecologically.

Working for what is possible requires commitment. Recognizing what is not possible requires humility. All of it requires us to embrace the anguish that is inevitable if we face the future without illusions.


Dignity, Solidarity, Equality

In a multicultural world, we should expect conflict over differences in value judgments. But at the level of basic values—not judgments about how to live those values, but the principles we hold dear—there is considerable unanimity. No matter what religious or secular philosophical system one invokes, it’s common for people to agree on the (1) inherent dignity of all people, (2) importance of solidarity for healthy community life, and (3) need for a level of equality that makes dignity and solidarity possible. Most conflicts over public policy emerge from the many devils lurking in the details, but we can at least be clearer about those conflicts if we articulate basic principles on which most people agree.

The dignity of all people is an easy one. If someone were to say “People in my nation/religion/ethnic group have greater intrinsic value than others,” most of us would treat that person as a threat to the body politic. People may believe that their nation embodies special political virtues, or that their religion has cornered the market on spiritual insights, or that their ethnic group is a source of pride. But very few will actually say that they believe that their children are born with a greater claim to dignity than children born at some other spot on Earth.

Solidarity is an easy one, too. Except for the rare eccentric, we all seek a sense of connection in community with others. Humans are social animals, even “ultrasocial” according to some scholars. We may value our privacy and sometimes seek refuge from others in a harried world, but more important than occasional solitude is our need for a sense of belonging. Today, that solidarity need not be limited to people who look like me, talk like me, act like me. Solidarity in diversity—connecting across differences—is exciting and enriching.

Equality may seem more contentious, given the political wrangling over taxing wealth and providing a social safety net. But there is ample evidence that greater equality makes social groups stronger and more cohesive, leading to better lives for everyone. Hoarding wealth is a feature of the many societies since the invention of agriculture (more on that later), but even people with a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth acknowledge the corrosive effects of such dramatic disparities and support higher taxes on the rich.

That’s why some version of the “ethic of reciprocity”—the claim that we should treat others as we would like to be treated—shows up in so many religious and secular philosophical systems. In the first century BCE, the Jewish scholar Hillel was challenged by a man to “teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Hillel’s response: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.” In Christianity, Jesus phrased it this way in the Sermon on the Mount: “So whatever you wish that someone would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). In Islam, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s central teachings was, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself” (Hadith 13). In secular Western philosophy, Kant’s categorical imperative is a touchstone: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Rooted in this ethic, it’s not a big leap to Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” which is why a third of respondents to a US survey identified the phrase as coming from the US Constitution and another third said they weren’t sure.

Acknowledging these common values doesn’t magically resolve conflicts over public policy or bridge cultural divides. Fear, arrogance, and greed can lead people to ignore their values. But asking people to affirm these values, which most of us claim to hold, creates a foundation for public dialogue about the hierarchies we see all around us.

Against Hierarchy

If everyone took those values seriously, everyone would reject the violence, exploitation, and oppression that defines so much of the modern world. Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths—people incapable of empathy, who are not disturbed by cruel and oppressive behavior. So, a critique of the suffering that hierarchies produce should resonate with most people and lead to widespread resistance. Yet systems based on these domination/subordination dynamics endure, for reasons that are fairly simple to articulate:

+ Almost all of the systems and institutions in which we live are hierarchical.

+ Hierarchical systems and institutions deliver to those in a dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits, and a limited number of people in a subordinated class are allowed access to those same rewards.

+ People are typically hesitant to give up privileges, pleasures, and benefits that make us feel good.

+ But those benefits clearly come at the expense of the vast majority of those in a subordinated class.

+ Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions about what it means to be a decent person, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.

One of the most common arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are “natural”—immutable, inevitable, just the way things are. Even if we don’t like things this way, we have no choice but to accept it. Oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchies—and the disparities in wealth, status, and power that flow from them—are natural and beyond modification. If men are stronger in character with greater leadership ability than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable, even divinely commanded in some faith traditions. If the United States is the vehicle for extending modern democracy, then US domination of the world is inevitable and justifiable. If white people are smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. If rich people are smarter and harder working than poor people, then economic inequality is inevitable and justifiable.

All these claims require a denial of reality and an evasion of responsibility, and yet all these claims endure in the twenty-first century. The evidence presented for the natural dominance of some people is that those people are, on average, doing better and therefore must in some way be better. That works only if one believes that the wealth of the world should be distributed through a competitive system (a debatable point, if one takes those commitments to dignity, solidarity, and equality seriously) and that the existing “meritocracy” in which people compete is fair (a point that requires ignoring a tremendous amount of evidence about how the systems are rigged to perpetuate unearned privilege). This so-called evidence—that people who succeed in systems designed to advantage them are actually succeeding on their merit, which is proof they deserve it all—is one of the great shell games of history. That’s why it is crucial for unjust hierarchies to promote a belief in their naturalness; it’s essential to rationalizing the illegitimate authority exercised in them. Not surprisingly, people in a dominant class exercising that power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their control over key storytelling institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in a dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in a subordinate class to internalize the ideology.

Instead of accepting this, we can evaluate these hierarchal systems and acknowledge that they are inconsistent with the foundational values most of us claim to hold.


People—you, me, our ancestors, and our progeny—have not been, are not, and will not always be kind, fair, generous, or agreeable. Human nature includes empathy and compassion, along with the capacity for greed and violence. Attention to how different social systems channel our widely variable species propensities is important. Because in all social systems people have been capable of doing bad things to others, we impose penalties on people who violate norms, whether through unwritten rules or formal laws. For most of human history prior to agriculture, in our gathering-and-hunting past, egalitarian values were the norm and band-level societies developed effective customs for maintaining those norms of cooperation and sharing. As societies grew in size and complexity, those customary methods became less effective, and hierarchies emerged and hardened.

To challenge the pathologies behind the routine violence, exploitation, and oppression that define the modern world, we have to understand how contemporary systems of power work to naturalize hierarchies. Listed in order from the oldest in human history to the most recent, the key systems are patriarchy, states and their imperial ambitions, white supremacy, and capitalism.


Systems of institutionalized male dominance emerged several thousand years ago, after the beginning of agriculture, which changed so much in the world. Men turned the observable physiological differences between male and female—which had been the basis for different reproductive and social roles but generally with egalitarian norms—into a system of dominance, laying the foundation for the other hierarchical systems that would follow. Within families, men asserted control over women’s bodies, especially their sexual and reproductive capacities, and eventually extended male dominance over women in all of society.

As with any human practice, the specific forms such control take has varied depending on place and changed over time. Men’s exploitation of women continues today in rape, battering, and other forms of sexual coercion and harassment; the sexual-exploitation industries that sell objectified female bodies to men for sexual pleasure, including prostitution and pornography; denial of reproductive rights, including contraception and abortion; destructive beauty practices; and constraints on women’s economic and political opportunities. In some places, women remain feudal property of fathers and husbands. In other places, women are a commodity in capitalism who can be purchased by any man.

Some of these practices are legal and embraced by the culture. Some practices are illegal but socially condoned and rarely punished. Men along the political continuum, from reactionary right to radical left, engage in abusive and controlling behaviors that are either openly endorsed or quietly ignored. Feminist organizing projects have opened some paths to justice for some women, but success on one front can go forward while ground is lost elsewhere. After decades of organizing work, the anti-rape movement has raised awareness of men’s violence at the same time that the sexual-exploitation industries are more accepted than ever in the dominant culture.

No project for global justice in the twenty-first century is meaningful without a feminist challenge to patriarchy.

States and Imperialism

Around the same time that men’s domination of women was creating patriarchy, the ability of elites to store and control agricultural surpluses led to the formation of hierarchical states and then empires. Surplus-and-hierarchy predate agriculture in a few resource-rich places, but the domestication of plants and animals triggered the spread of hierarchy and a domination/subordination dynamic across the globe.

Historians debate why states emerged in the first place, but once such forms of political organization existed they became a primary vehicle for the concentration of wealth and conquest. States maintain their power by force and ideology, using violence and the threat of violence as well as propaganda and persuasion.

States have taken many different forms: the early empires of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China; the Greek city-states and Roman Republic-turned-Empire; Mesoamerican empires such as the Maya and Mexica/Aztec; feudal states; modern nation-states with various forms of governance; and today’s liberal democracies. Levels of wealth concentration and brutality, toward both domestic and foreign populations, have varied depending on place and changed over time. But even in contemporary democracies, the majority of the population has a limited role in decision-making. And some of the modern states that developed democratic institutions—including, but not limited to, Great Britain, France, and the United States—have been as brutal in imperial conquest as any ancient empire. European states’ world conquest over the past five hundred years, first accomplished through violence, continues in the form of economic domination in the postcolonial period. When imperial armies go home, private firms continue to exploit resources and labor, typically with local elites as collaborators.

In the first half of its existence, the United States focused on continental conquest to expand the land base of the country, resulting in the almost complete extermination of indigenous people. After that, US policymakers in the past century turned their attention to global expansion, achieving dominance in the post-World War II era.

Global justice in the twenty-first century requires acknowledging that the First World’s wealth is tied to the immiseration of the Third World. The power concentrated in states should be turned to undo the crimes of states.

White Supremacy

While human beings have always had notions of in-group and outsiders, we have not always categorized each other on the basis of what we today call race. The creation of modern notions of whiteness grew out of Europeans’ desire to justify the brutality of imperialism—conquest is easier when the people being conquered are seen as inferior. Racial categories later become central to the divide-and-conquer strategies that elites throughout history have used to control the majority of a population and maintain an unequal distribution of wealth and power.

In the early years of the British colonies in North America, rigid racial categories had not yet been created; there were no clear laws around slavery; and personal relationships and alliances between indentured servants and African slaves were not uncommon. When white workers began to demand better conditions, the planter elite’s solution was to increase the use of African slaves and separate them from poor European workers by giving whites a higher status with more opportunities, without disturbing the basic hierarchical distribution of wealth and power. This undermined alliances among the disenfranchised, leading white workers to identify more with wealthy whites while blacks were increasingly associated with the degradation inherent in slavery.

Not all white people are living in luxury, of course. But all other social factors being equal, non-white people face more hostile behaviors—from racist violence to being taken less seriously in a business meeting, from discrimination in hiring to subtle exclusion in social settings. While all people, including whites, experience unpleasant interactions with others, white people do not carry the burden of negative racial stereotypes into those interactions.

The limited benefits that elites bestowed on white workers have been referred to as “the wages of whiteness,” which is in large part psychological. White workers in this system get to think of themselves as superior to non-whites, especially black and indigenous people, no matter how impoverished they may be or how wide the gap between their lives and the lives of wealthy white people.

Although race is only one component of how wealth and power are distributed in hierarchical economies today, global justice is impossible without the end of white supremacy.


Patriarchy, imperialism, and white supremacy obviously are hierarchical systems, and it has become increasingly difficult for people to make moral arguments for them. But capitalism’s supporters assert that a so-called free-market system is the essence of freedom, allowing everyone to make uncoerced individual choices. That’s true, but only in textbooks and the fantasies of economists.

First, what is capitalism? Economists debate exactly what makes an economy capitalist, but in the real world we use it to identify a system in which (1) most property, including the capital assets necessary for production, is owned and controlled by private persons; (2) most people must rent themselves for money wages to survive; (3) the means of production and labor are manipulated by capitalists using amoral calculations to maximize profit; and (4) most exchanges of goods and services occur through markets. I did not say “free markets” because all markets in modern society are constructed through law (rules about contracts, currency, use of publicly funded infrastructure), which inevitably will advantage some and disadvantage others. Some disadvantages, such as living near manufacturing facilities that produce toxic waste, are what economists call “externalities,” the consequences of transactions that affect other people or ecosystems but aren’t reflected in the prices of goods or services. The term externality converts a moral outrage into the cost of doing business, borne mostly by poor people and non-human life.

“Industrial capitalism”—made possible by discoveries of new energy sources, sweeping technological changes, and concentrations of capital in empires such as Great Britain—was marked by the development of the factory system and greater labor specialization and exploitation. The term “finance capitalism” is used to mark a shift to a system in which the accumulation of profits in a financial system becomes dominant over the production processes. This financialization has led not only to intensified inequality but also to greater economic instability, most recently in the collapse of the housing market that sparked the financial crisis of 2007-08.

Today in the United States, most people understand capitalism through the experience of wage labor (renting oneself to an employer for money) and mass consumption (access to unprecedented levels of goods and services that are cheap enough to be affordable for ordinary people and not just elites). In such a world, everyone and everything is a commodity in the market.

This ideology of market fundamentalism is often referred to as “neoliberalism,” the new version of an economic definition of “liberal” from the nineteenth century that advocated minimal interference of government in markets. These fundamentalists assume that the most extensive use of markets possible, along with privatization of many publicly owned assets and the shrinking of public services, will unleash maximal competition and result in the greatest good—and that all this is inherently just, no matter what the results. If such a system creates a world in which most people live near or below the poverty line, that is taken not as evidence of a problem with market fundamentalism but evidence that fundamentalist principles have not been imposed with sufficient vigor. It is an article of faith that the “invisible hand” of the market always provides the preferred result, no matter how awful the consequences may be for large numbers of people and ecosystems.

Capitalism’s failures are easy to catalog: It is fundamentally inhuman (it not only allows but depends on the immiseration of a substantial portion of the world’s population to generate wealth), anti-democratic (the concentration of that wealth results in the concentration of power and undermines broad public participation), and unsustainable (the level of consumption threatens the stability of the ecosphere).

Capitalism is not the only unjust and unsustainable economic system in human history, of course. But global justice and ecological sustainability are impossible to imagine if we do not transcend capitalism and the fantasy of endless growth.


The domination/subordination dynamic that is prevalent within the human family also defines the relationship between the human family and the larger living world today. That doesn’t mean that every person or every cultural tradition seeks to dominate and control the non-human world; there is considerable variation based on geography, history, and technological development. But today, virtually everyone—with varying levels of complicity, of course—is caught up in economic relationships that degrade ecosystems and undermine the ability of the ecosphere to sustain large-scale human life for much longer.

The idea that we humans, rather than the ecospheric forces, control the world emerged about ten thousand years ago at a key fault line in human history, the invention of agriculture, when soil erosion and degradation began the drawdown of the ecological capital of ecosystems beyond replacement levels. This destruction was intensified about five thousand years ago when people learned to smelt metals and started exhausting the carbon of forests in the Bronze and Iron ages. The Industrial Revolution and fossil fuels ramped up the assault on the larger living world, further intensified with the dramatic expansion of the petrochemical industries in the second half of the twentieth century. This history brings us to the brink of global ecological breakdown.

Today we face not only the longstanding problems of exhausted soils, but also chemical contamination of ecosystems and our own bodies; species extinction and loss of biodiversity; and potentially catastrophic climate disruption. Scientists warn that we have transgressed some planetary boundaries and are dangerously close to others, risking abrupt and potentially irreversible ecological change that could eliminate “a safe operating space for humanity.” All of these crises are a derivative of the overarching problem of overshoot, which occurs when a species uses biological resources beyond an ecosystem’s ability to regenerate and pollutes beyond an ecosystem’s capacity to absorb waste. The human species’ overshoot is not confined to specific ecosystems but is global, a threat at the planetary level.

How did we get here? Another look at human history is necessary to understand our predicament and the centrality of agriculture.

Like all organisms, gathering-and-hunting humans had to take from their environment to survive, but that taking was rarely so destructive that it undermined the stability of ecosystems or eliminated other species. Foraging humans were not angels—they were, after all, human like us, capable of being mean-spirited and violent. But they were limited in their destructive capacity by the amount of energy they could extract from ecosystems. Their existence did not depend on subordinating other humans or dominating the larger living world.

That changed with the domestication of plants and animals, especially annual grains such as wheat. Not all farming is equally destructive; differences in geography, climate, and environmental conditions have dictated different trajectories of development in different parts of the world. But the universal driver of this process is human-carbon nature: the quest for energy, the imperative of all life to seek out energy-rich carbon. Humans play that energy-seeking game armed with an expansive cognitive capacity and a species propensity to cooperate—that is, we are smart and know how to coordinate our activities to leverage our smarts. That makes humans dangerous, especially when we began to believe that we do not just live in the world but could own the world.

This deep history reminds us of the depth of our predicament. Capitalism is a problem but even if we replaced it with a more humane and democratic system, most people either are accustomed to a high-energy life or aspire to it. White supremacy is morally repugnant but achieving racial justice will not change people’s expectations for material comfort. The power of states, especially to extract wealth from other places, is dangerous, but constraining state power does not guarantee ecosphere stability. Transcending the foundational hierarchy of patriarchy, as liberating as that would be, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for social transformation.

Achieving greater levels of justice in the cultural, political, and economic arenas does not change the fact that the aggregate consumption of nearly eight billion people is unsustainable. In the past one hundred years, the population had doubled twice because of the dense energy of fossil fuels and the technology made possible by that energy. We will not be able to maintain this way of living much longer.

Today we know that continuing that fossil-fueled spending spree will lead to climate-change dystopias. Despite the fantasies of the technological fundamentalists, no combination of renewable energy sources can meet the material expectations of today’s human population. No advanced technology can change the laws of physics and chemistry. The future will be marked by a down-powering, either through rational planning or ecospheric forces that are more powerful than human desires. The slogan for a sustainable human future must be “fewer and less”: fewer people consuming far less energy and material resources.

I have no plan to achieve that result. No one else does either. No one has a plan that will make that transition easy or painless. There likely is no transition possible without disruption, dislocation, and death beyond our capacity to imagine. Our task is to continue trying without taking refuge in wishful thinking or succumbing to nihilism.


The worldview I have outlined presents a consistent critique of not only the abuses of the powerful but the abusive nature of hierarchical systems. In a world built on hierarchies, there will never be permanent solutions to the injustice within the human family or to the unsustainable relationship between the human family and the larger living world.

This argues for a radical politics that is not afraid to articulate big goals and focus on long-term change. Not everyone with left/progressive politics will agree on every aspect of my analysis, nor is it possible to get widespread agreement on specific strategies for change—the left is full of contentious people who have substantive disagreements. However, people with radical politics usually agree on the depth of the changes needed over the long haul. But a long-term commitment to social and ecological transformation does not mean that today’s less ambitious political struggles are irrelevant. If a policy change that can be made today lessens human suffering or slightly reduces ecological destruction, that’s all to the good. Even better is when those small changes help set the stage for real transformation.

In some historical moments, the immediate threats to an existing democratic system that is flawed but functioning require special focus. A retrenchment of democracy would not only increase human suffering and ecological degradation but also make the longer and deeper struggles to change the system more difficult. The United States in 2022 faces such a threat.

My Political Life and Our Moment in History

In my political life as an adult, the two-party system in the United States has offered few attractive choices for the left. I reached voting age in 1976, about the time that the mainstream of the Democratic Party started shifting to the center/right and the mainstream of the Republican Party began moving from the center/right to more reactionary stances on most issues. The New Deal consensus that had defined post-World War II politics broke down, the radical energy of the 1960s dissipated, and left-wing critiques of economic policy were pushed to the margins.

But US society was changed for the better in many ways by that radical activism, most notably on issues of race, sex, and sexuality—civil rights, women’s rights, and lesbian/gay rights. Activists also won more breathing room to advocate for radical ideas free from most overt state repression. Many progressive people and ideas found their way into higher education and media institutions, even if the power structures in government and the economy didn’t change much. But that didn’t stop the ascendancy of neoliberalism, marked by the election of Margaret Thatcher as UK prime minister in 1979 and Ronald Reagan as US president in 1980.

When I became politically active in the 1990s, radical organizing focused on those power structures and hierarchical systems. We saw our work as not only fighting right-wing reactionary policies championed by the Republican Party but also challenging the moderates who controlled the Democratic Party. The epitome of that corporate-friendly politics was the 1996 presidential race, pitting Bill Clinton against Bob Dole, an election in which it was easy to understand why so many on the left claimed there wasn’t “a dime’s worth of difference” between the two candidates. (We always should be careful, however, given the parties’ different positions on rights for people of color, women, and lesbians and gay men, and also because that phrase came in the 1968 presidential campaign of former Alabama Governor George Wallace, hardly a progressive.)

In our organizing, we had no illusions that a radical politics would catch fire immediately, but the patient work of articulating a radical agenda and organizing people outside the electoral system seemed sensible. I continued to vote in every election, but like many on the left I was fond of an Emma Goldman quote (sometimes attributed to Mark Twain): “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

Today, the assault on representative democracy from the right may leave us with voting that is legal but irrelevant in what is now called an “illiberal democracy.” No matter what the limits of our attenuated democratic system, its de facto death at the hands of authoritarianism would be a disaster.

Solidarity against the Right

The political terrain is in some ways unchanged—the dominant forces in the United States remain committed to capitalism and US domination of the global economy. But democratic socialist electoral and organizing successes in the past decade have created new opportunities within the Democratic Party, demonstrated most visibly by the unexpected strength of Bernie Sanders in the presidential primaries in 2016 and 2020, and the election to the US House of Representatives of the “squad” of progressive women of color. Building popular movements together with electoral campaigns has demonstrated that the left can press the moderate leadership of the Democratic Party from the outside and inside.

But in that same period, a new threat has emerged: the erosion of the central norms of liberal democracy from a right-wing populist movement that found a charismatic authoritarian leader in Donald Trump. Whatever the limits of liberal democracy in capitalism, that system provides the foundation from which radical political activity can go forward. This new threat is serious, and unprecedented in my lifetime.

The two democratic norms most unstable at the moment are the peaceful transfer of power based on acceptance of results from open, competitive elections; and rational political engagement based on shared intellectual principles about truth-seeking. A significant segment of the Republican Party, including many of the most visible party leaders, have abandoned the core principle of democracy and the core principle of modern intellectual life that makes democracy possible.

None of this suggests there was a mythical golden age of US politics when the democratic system produced deep democracy. The John Birch Society and Ku Klux Klan were authentic manifestations of US culture, just as labor organizing and the civil rights movement were. Concentrations of wealth have always distorted democracy, and hierarchies have always intentionally marginalized some people. But a political system based on a peaceful transfer of power after rational engagement—no matter how imperfectly it may work at times—is better than a political system that abandons those principles.

Today, a functional two-party system no longer exists. Whatever the failures of the Democratic Party to deliver on rhetoric about freedom and justice, it remains committed to those democratic and intellectual principles. The Republican Party of today is a rogue operation, openly thuggish and ready to abandon minimal democratic protocols after abandoning minimal intellectual standards. A majority of Republicans believe that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump without being able to produce any credible evidence, and a majority are likely to make the same claim if the 2024 presidential election is won by a Democrat. Almost all Republican politicians either endorse these positions or are afraid to challenge them in public for fear of alienating a significant number of core Republican voters.

Where will this lead? The direst warnings suggest a coming civil war. The best-case scenario is years of struggle over power that bring simmering social and ecological crises to full boil. I am not in the prediction business and do not know if the worst can be averted. But for now, a practical radical politics should put aside ideological differences with the moderate wing of the Democratic Party and do whatever is necessary to repel the threat to liberal democracy from the Republican Party. The difference between the two parties can no longer be measured in dimes and is now about decibels: The destructive rhetoric of the anti-democratic forces on the right is threatening to drown out any possibility of rational engagement, endangering the peaceful transfer of power in future elections.

Some on the left will counter with “the lesser of two evils is still evil.” This is a dangerous sentiment for two reasons. First, is it accurate to cast political opponents as evil? I strongly support national health insurance to provide the same basic care for everyone. Are people who reject that policy evil? I strongly opposed the US invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Are people who supported those military actions evil? We need not settle on a single definition of what constitutes evil—philosophers and theologians have been fussing with that for millennia—to agree that the term is unhelpful in parsing most contemporary policy debates. Second, what if there were a case in which competing political forces both deserved the term evil but there was a meaningful distinction in the intensity of the evil, and the distinction meant saving lives. Wouldn’t we want to side with the lesser? Hypotheticals are of little value, given the complexity of such decisions in the real world. But to suggest that it is morally superior to never make such calculations is simplistic and irresponsible.

A practical radical politics requires collaboration with forces that can challenge the intensified reactionary politics of the Republican Party while we pursue projects to expand and deepen social justice. One organizer has called for a “block and build” strategy—block the white nationalists, theocrats, and corporate oligarchs, while building practices that support multiracial democracy in all our projects.

Debate within the Left

As we participate in a united front against authoritarianism, minimizing for the time being the serious disagreements with mainstream Democrats and rational Republicans, we should reflect on the intellectual traps in which the left finds itself ensnared. On social justice, there is not enough critical self-reflection. On ecological sustainability, there is too much magical thinking.

I don’t want to get bogged down in the debate over “cancel culture,” the banishment or shunning of anyone who breaks from a group’s doctrine. The term has been so successfully commandeered by the right-wing that it has become an impediment to productive conversation. Simply proclaiming a commitment to freedom of expression doesn’t resolve the problem, since there is no simple, obvious analysis of that freedom that can easily resolve policy disputes. “It’s complicated” may be a cliché, but it applies here.

For purposes of this essay, I will offer what should not be controversial: On matters that are long settled in both moral and scientific realms, such as the equality of racial groups, the left need not spend time on debate. On matters that are not settled in either realm, such as the definition and etiology of transgenderism, respectful debate should be encouraged. And on matters of public policy—how we can best ensure dignity, solidarity, and equality—any reasonable proposal offered in good faith should get a hearing.

After three decades of participation in a variety of left and feminist movements, I would also highlight the need to guard against expressions of intellectual superiority and assumptions of moral superiority. I offer this with painful awareness of my own failings in the past, and with a pledge to work toward greater humility. This is crucial for two reasons. The principled reason is simply that everyone can be wrong, has been wrong, and will be wrong again sometime. Adopting a posture of certainty ignores our capacity for failure. The practical reason is that no one likes arrogant people who think they are always right and always better than everyone else. Haughty and smug people make ineffective political organizers, which I know from my own failures.

I am not arguing that people on the left are uniquely subject to these traps, but rather that people on the left are people and, like everyone, capable of haughtiness and smugness. This is of particular concern on college campuses, one of the sites where the left is strongest. In thirty years of work in universities, I saw how intellectual and moral posturing on the left undermined a healthy intellectual culture and drove away those well-intentioned centrist and conservative people who were willing to debate in good faith but did not want to be hectored.

Leftists tend to think of themselves as critically minded, and so this call for greater critical self-reflection and humility will no doubt bristle. So will the suggestion that the left’s ecological program is based on magical thinking. But the major progressive environmental proposal, the Green New Deal, shows that the left is prone to reality-denial on ecological matters and can get caught up in technological fundamentalism. That faith-based embrace of the idea that the use of evermore advanced technology is always a good thing—even to solve the problems caused by the unintended consequences of previous advanced technology—is perhaps the most dangerous fundamentalism in the world today.

Human-carbon nature makes it difficult to move toward a dramatically lower population with dramatically less consumption; it’s easy to understand why a call for limits isn’t popular. But rather than talk about the need for “fewer and less,” most of the left places the ecological crises exclusively at capitalism’s door. The Green New Deal and similar proposals seem to assume that once the corporations profiting from exploitation are tamed or eliminated, a more democratic distribution of political power will lead to the renewable technologies that will allow high-energy lifestyles to continue. This illusion shows up in the promotional video “A Message from the Future” that features U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading progressive voice in Congress. This seven-and-a-half minute video elegantly combines political analysis with engaging storytelling and beautiful visuals to make a case for the Green New Deal. But one sentence reveals the fatal flaw of the analysis: “We knew that we needed to save the planet and that we had all the technology to do it [in 2019].” First, talk of saving the planet is misguided. As many have pointed out in response to such rhetoric, the Earth will continue with or without humans. Charitably, we can interpret that phrase to mean “reducing the damage that humans do to the ecosphere and creating a livable future for humans.”

The problem is that we don’t have all the technology to do that, and if we insist that better gadgets can accomplish that we will fail. Overly optimistic assessments of renewable energy and energy-saving technologies promote the false hope that we have the means to maintain existing living arrangements. The problem is not just that the concentration of wealth leads to so much wasteful consumption and so many wasted resources, but that the infrastructure of our world was built by the dense energy of fossil fuels that renewables cannot replace. Without that dense energy, a smaller human population is going to live in dramatically different fashion. The Green New Deal would be a step toward ecological sustainability if it included a call to take population reduction seriously along with a commitment to lowering consumption. Neither is part of the standard progressive pitch. For example, instead of advocating the end of car culture and a dramatic reduction in travel overall, progressives typically double down on electric cars, largely ignoring the destructive ecological costs of mining and production required for such vehicles and their batteries.

Reactionary and right-wing political movements defend current systems and peddle the illusion that no change is needed in how we live. Centrist and moderate political movements peddle the illusion that a kinder-and-gentler capitalism will keep modern society afloat. Progressive and left political movements peddle the illusion that a democratic socialist system will suddenly make an unsustainable level of consumption sustainable. Those on the left who reject the business-as-usual pseudo-solutions of the right and center are themselves embracing a version of business-pretty-much-as-usual that would slow the mad rush to collapse but does not set us on a new course.


In this essay I have tried to be analytical, evaluating evidence and presenting my assessments to others, who can use the same intellectual tools to reach their own conclusions. But we humans are more than rational calculating machines, of course. Our capacity for reason can guide our actions, but we all are driven by emotion, passion, and the non-rational aspects of our psychology.

One of those very human emotions is fear. Franklin D. Roosevelt is remembered for taking on fear in his first inaugural address in 1933: “[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Whatever the value of that stirring rhetoric to a nation stuck in the Great Depression in 1933, many of the fears of today are not nameless, unreasoning, or unjustified. While the threats we face in the economic and political arenas are not new in human history, the ecological crises are unprecedented in scale and scope, and heightened fear is appropriate. We are not facing discrete environmental problems that have solutions but rather multiple cascading ecological crises that have no solutions, if we demand solutions that allow us to maintain existing living arrangements. Prediction is a fool’s game, but even more foolish is to pretend that economic growth and the existing world population can continue indefinitely.

We should encourage people to be honest about these easy-to-name, reasonable, and justified fears that produce real anguish for many of us. It’s increasingly common for people to speak of grief in the face of such immense human suffering and ecospheric destruction, but I think the term anguish better captures the range of emotions—distress, dread, depression—and the degree of psychological pain and anxiety that comes with those feelings.

To update FDR: The main thing we have to fear is our fear of naming reasonable and justified fears. When people feel that anguish, it is counterproductive to tell them to ignore it. Asking people to deny what they know to be true and to suppress the emotions generated by that knowledge is a losing game. “Don’t worry, be happy” makes for a catchy song but a lousy approach to politics.

There’s no algorithm that can tell us when the structural trends that create these unjust and unstable conditions will result in the kind of dramatic changes that warrant the term collapse. Triggering events are unpredictable; the speed with which systems collapse will vary; and the suffering will not be spread evenly or equitably around the world. But when that process intensifies, we can expect a loss of social resilience, the capacity of a society to cooperate effectively to achieve shared goals. In the past, there also have been benefits when hierarchical and ecologically destructive societies collapsed—many people on the bottom of a society may live freer without those hierarchies, and the larger living world has more options for regenerating when human overshoot is finally checked. But today it’s hard to imagine anyone committed to dignity, solidarity, and equality applauding collapse. Still, collapse appears inevitable. But how we react to those changes is not set in stone. Whatever the future holds and wherever one sits in the social hierarchies, fear of what is coming makes sense—intellectually and emotionally. That fear is based on a rational assessment of reality and an awareness of the role of emotion in our lives. Given the magnitude of the threats, it’s not surprising that many people turn away. But to be fully alive today is to face those fears and live with anguish, not for one’s own condition in the world but for the condition of all of humanity and the larger living world, for a world that in some places is in collapse and is everywhere else on the brink.

A practical approach to decisions we must make today, informed by radical analyses that help us understand the potential for tomorrow, will not magically allay our fears or alleviate our anguish. No honest account of the world can do that. James Baldwin offered good advice about dealing with terror: “If you’ve got any sense, you realize you’d better not run. Ain’t no place to run. So, you walk toward it. At least that way you’ll know what hit you.” Our task is not to run from our fears but embrace them, not to ignore our anguish but share it with others.

Robert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He collaborates with New Perennials Publishing and the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College.

Jensen is the co-author, with Wes Jackson, of An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity, which will be published in September 2022 by the University of Notre Dame Press. He is also the host of “Podcast from the Prairie” with Jackson.

Jensen is the author of The Restless and Relentless Mind of Wes Jackson: Searching for Sustainability (University Press of Kansas, 2021); The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men (2017); Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (2015); Arguing for Our Lives: A User’s Guide to Constructive Dialogue (2013); All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path to the Prophetic Voice, (2009); Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (2001).

Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Follow him on Twitter: @jensenrobertw

Originally published in Counterpunch.

Photo by Tania Malréchauffé on Unsplash