Why ‘The Queerest Generation Ever’ Hasn’t Managed to Address Women’s Oppression

     by Meghan Murphy / Feminist Current

At The Establishment, Tori Truscheit asks, “How can the queerest generation ever still believe in gender roles?”

If that question seems jaw-droppingly lacking in self-awareness, congratulations: you have been paying attention. If, on the other hand, you’re scratching your head, trying to get to the bottom of why a society drowning in rainbows and glitter, with endless “genders” to choose from, remains so steadfastly misogynistic, you’ve probably spent too much time at Everyday Feminism and The Establishment

We have one problem to start: the word “queer,” which in the past (first as an insult, then reclaimed) referred more explicitly to gay and lesbian people, has recently come to mean pretty much anything. We have heterosexual women and men calling themselves “queer” because they claim to be “non-binary,” like “kinky” sex, or wear glittery makeup. In other words, today, “queer” and “gay” do not mean the same thing. And mushing together homosexuality with a variety of chosen identities or funky haircuts means that the question of why “the queerest generation” might not be progressive on the issue of women’s liberation is flawed from the start, because it’s unclear what the word “queer” even means in this context.

Either way, whether we are talking about gay men or those who identify as “queer,” there is one glaring reason why sexist gender roles have stuck around: being “queer” is not necessarily the same thing as being feminist. In fact, in many ways the queer movement has wholly rejected women’s liberation, as a political aim.

Truscheit is right on one thing: the gay marriage movement was not particularly feminist. Rather, this was a liberal effort that chose not to challenge the institution of marriage itself — which exists only because men wished to trade women as commodities, among themselves — and instead fought for inclusion in a heterosexist, patriarchal tradition. This is actually a useful demonstration of the difference between liberal feminism and radical feminism: one fights for equal access to already existing institutions, the other fights for a new system (and therefore new institutions) entirely.

Most (if not all) American liberals support gay marriage, unequivocally, but don’t necessarily have any vested interest in destroying male supremacy. (This is evidenced, for example, by liberal support for things like the porn industry and the legalization of brothels.) Liberals are capitalist, also, which means, again, they are invested in maintaining the systems already in place, but tweaking them a little, in order to offer an illusion of equality (i.e. if we all are allowed to make more money, get married, and own property, the world will be a better place.)

It is here that North American liberals tend to get lost on the question of feminism: they fail to understand that in order to achieve liberation for women and other oppressed groups, capitalism and patriarchy need more than a few tweaks.

Truscheit writes:

“More than half of high school students identify as something other than straight, 12 per cent of millennials are trans or gender nonconforming, and millennials overwhelmingly support gay marriage.

In a world where millennials are increasingly embracing marginalized groups, you’d think their accompanying views on gender would follow suit.”

But the thing is that none of the positions or identities listed here are necessarily anti-patriarchy. By and large, the male-led fight for “marriage equality” ignored the plight of women in its effort, meaning that the oppressive system behind homophobia remained intact, despite marriage rights. Gender identity discourse misunderstands how the system of gender works and that it exists to oppress women and legitimize male supremacy. And “embracing marginalized groups” doesn’t mean understanding or fighting the underlying systems that ensure certain groups are oppressed as a class. To liberals, “marginalization” doesn’t need to happen on a class basis — it can happen on an individual basis, which is why liberal societies keep digging themselves deeper into these pits of violence and vast inequality — because fighting structures of oppression can’t happen within an individualist framework.

Truscheit’s big mistake is to look towards yet another anti-feminist, liberal movement for a solution to patriarchy: queer politics.

Trans activist Mya Byrne at Pride San Fransisco, June 25, 2017.

While Truscheit blames “mainstream gays” for not “questioning gender,” she lets the trans movement off the hook — an odd blind spot considering that trans activism is largely responsible for re-popularizing the idea of gender itself. Whereas feminism has said gender, under patriarchy, is something we should reject, not embrace, today’s queer movement has positioned gender as fun and liberatory. Indeed, transgenderism itself can only exist so long as we have gender and believe gender roles are fine, so long as we choose them.

Truscheit says the “white male activists behind the marriage equality movement… sacrificed trans rights on the altar of their own desired outcome,” connecting this to what she perceives as a failure to “question gender.” But what she doesn’t realize is that an end to gender means an end to transgenderism — we can’t “identify” with gender roles if there are none to identify with. Indeed, if the gay rights movement had explicitly gone after gender, the result would not have been allyship with the transgender movement.

While I understand feeling let down by those around us who claim to want a more just, more equitable world, what feminists have learned over and over again in the past 150-odd years is that we can’t rely on male-centered movements. In order to liberate women, we need to put our energy into political activism and ideology that centers women and addresses the root of male supremacy.

Transgenderism isn’t going to save us from male dominance anymore than liberal gay men or male anarchists will. If we want real change, we need to look back, and take our cues from the women who broke ties with the men who sold them out and took matters into their own hands. From Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who, after being betrayed by their abolitionist allies, formed the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), which refused to support constitutional changes that did not enfranchise women; to the radical feminists of the late 1960s, who told the left to fuck off because “we’re starting our own movement;” to the black women involved in black militant politics who were expected to take a “traditional feminine role,” allowing men to lead the movement and hold positions of power within it — these women learned the lessons we should have memorized by now.

There is one answer to the question of patriarchy — there always has been. While queer politics may be more trendy (a result, in part, of its marketability and individualist ethos), feminism is the only political movement that can free women from the shackles of male domination.

Liberals like Truscheit and her colleagues at The Establishment will continue spinning their wheels until they decide to pick up where first and second wave radicals left off. We need to stop looking around, and asking ourselves who to turn to next: our sisters have the answer.

Sustainability is Destroying the Earth: The Green Economy vs. The Planet

by Kim Hill, Deep Green Resistance Australia

Don’t talk to me about sustainability. You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint? There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring. This monster is Industrial Civilization. I refuse to sustain the monster. If the Earth is to live, the monster must die. This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain? A living planet, or industrial civilization? Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles. When did this happen, and why? And how is it possible that no-one noticed? This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.

greenwashingThe sustainability movement says that our capacity to endure is the responsibility of individuals, who must make lifestyle choices within the existing structures of civilization. To achieve a truly sustainable culture by this means is impossible. Industrial infrastructure is incompatible with a living planet. If life on Earth is to survive, the global political and economic structures need to be dismantled.

Sustainability advocates tell us that reducing our impact, causing less harm to the Earth, is a good thing to do, and we should feel good about our actions. I disagree. Less harm is not good. Less harm is still a lot of harm. For as long as any harm is caused, by anyone, there can be no sustainability. Feeling good about small acts doesn’t help anyone.

Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals. The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations. Even if every one of us made every effort to reduce our ecological footprint, it would make little difference to overall consumption.

If the lifestyle actions advocated really do have the effect of keeping our culture around for longer than it would otherwise, then it will cause more harm to the natural world than if no such action had been taken. For the longer a destructive culture is sustained, the more destruction it causes. The title of this article isn’t just attention-grabbing and controversial, it is quite literally what’s going on.

When we frame the sustainability debate around the premise that individual lifestyle choices are the solution, then the enemy becomes other individuals who make different lifestyle choices, and those who don’t have the privilege of choice. Meanwhile the true enemy — the oppressive structures of civilization — are free to continue their destructive and murderous practices without question. This is hardly an effective way to create a meaningful social movement. Divide and be conquered.

Sustainability is popular with corporations, media and government because it fits perfectly with their aims. Maintain power. Grow. Make yourself out to be the good guy. Make people believe that they have power when they don’t. Tell everyone to keep calm and carry on shopping. Control the language that is used to debate the issues. By creating and reinforcing the belief that voting for minor changes and buying more stuff will solve all problems, those in power have a highly effective strategy for maintaining economic growth and corporate-controlled democracy.

Those in power keep people believing that the only way we can change anything is within the structures they’ve created. They build the structures in a way that people can never change anything from within them. Voting, petitions, and rallies all reinforce the power structures, and can never bring about significant change on their own. These tactics give corporations and governments a choice. We’re giving those in power a choice of whether to grant our request for minor reform. Animals suffering in factory farms don’t have a choice. Forests being destroyed in the name of progress don’t have a choice. Millions of people working in majority-world sweatshops don’t have a choice. The 200 species who became extinct today didn’t do so by choice. And yet we give those responsible for all this murder and suffering a choice. We’re granting the desires of a wealthy minority above the needs of life on Earth.

Most of the popular actions that advocates propose to achieve sustainability have no real effect, and some even cause more harm than good. The strategies include reducing electricity consumption, reducing water use, a green economy, recycling, sustainable building, renewables and energy efficiency. Let’s look at the effects of these actions.


We’re told to reduce our consumption of electricity, or obtain it from alternative sources. This will make zero difference to the sustainability of our culture as a whole, because the electricity grid is inherently unsustainable. No amount of reduction or so-called renewable energy sources will change this. Mining to make electrical wires, components, electrical devices, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, biomass furnaces, hydropower dams, and everything else that connects to the electricity grid, are all unsustainable. Manufacturing to make these things, with all the human exploitation, pollution, waste, health and social impacts, and corporate profits. Fossil fuels needed to keep all these processes going. Unsustainable. No amount of individual lifestyle choices about electricity use and generation will change any of this. Off grid electricity is no different – it needs batteries and inverters.

Water conservation

Shorter showers. Low-flow devices. Water restrictions. These are all claimed to Make A Difference. While the whole infrastructure that provides this water – large dams, long distance pipelines, pumps, sewers, drains – is all unsustainable.

Dams destroy the life of a whole watershed. It’s like blocking off an artery, preventing blood from flowing to your limbs. No-one can survive this. Rivers become dead when fish are prevented from travelling up and down the river. The whole of the natural community that these fish belong to is killed, both upstream and downstream of the dam.

Dams cause a lowering of the water table, making it impossible for tree roots to get to water. Floodplain ecologies depend on seasonal flooding, and collapse when a dam upstream prevents this. Downstream and coastal erosion results. Anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in dams releases methane to the atmosphere.

No matter how efficient with water you are, this infrastructure will never be sustainable. It needs to be destroyed, to allow these communities to regenerate.

The green economy

Green jobs. Green products. The sustainable economy. No. There’s no such thing. The whole of the global economy is unsustainable. The economy runs on the destruction of the natural world. The Earth is treated as nothing but fuel for economic growth. They call it natural resources. And a few people choosing to remove themselves from this economy makes no difference. For as long as this economy exists, there will be no sustainability.

For as long as any of these structures exist: electricity, mains water, global economy, industrial agriculture – there can be no sustainability. To achieve true sustainability, these structures need to be dismantled.

What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations?


We’re made to believe that buying a certain product is good because the packaging can be recycled. You can choose to put it in a brightly-coloured bin. Never mind that fragile ecosystems were destroyed, indigenous communities displaced, people in far away places required to work in slave conditions, and rivers polluted, just to make the package in the first place. Never mind that it will be recycled into another useless product which will then go to landfill. Never mind that to recycle it means transporting it far away, using machinery that run on electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution and waste. Never mind that if you put something else in the coloured bin, the whole load goes to landfill due to the contamination.

Sustainable building

Principles of sustainable building: build more houses, even though there are already enough perfectly good houses for everyone to live in. Clear land for houses, destroying every living thing in the natural communities that live there. Build with timber from plantation forests, which have required native forests to be wiped out so they can be replaced with a monoculture of pines where nothing else can live. Use building products that are slightly less harmful than other products. Convince everyone that all of this is beneficial to the Earth.

Solar power

Solar panels. The very latest in sustainability fashion. And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth. Where do these things come from? You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth. Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components. They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution. Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there. Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China. The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere. This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them. People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability. The panels are manufactured in China. The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick. Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution. These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing. Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers. They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down. They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill. More pollution, more waste. Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic. To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others. This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going. These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

Wind power

The processing of rare earth metals needed to make the magnets for wind turbines happens in China, where people in the surrounding villages struggle to breathe in the heavily polluted air. A five-mile-wide lake of toxic and radioactive sludge now takes the place of their farmland.

Whole mountain ranges are destroyed to extract the metals. Forests are bulldozed to erect wind turbines. Millions of birds and bats are killed by the blades. The health of people living close to turbines is affected by infrasound.

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed. As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2 than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines. Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice. Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

How about we improve energy efficiency? Won’t that reduce energy consumption and pollution? Well, no. Quite the opposite. Have you heard of Jevon’s paradox? Or the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate? These state that technological advances to increase efficiency lead to an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease. Efficiency causes more energy to be available for other purposes. The more efficient we become at consuming, the more we consume. The more efficiently we work, the more work gets done. And we’re working at efficiently digging ourselves into a hole.

The economics of supply and demand

Many actions taken in the name of sustainability can have the opposite effect. Here’s something to ponder: one person’s decision not to take flights, out of concern about climate change or sustainability, won’t have any impact. If a few people stop flying, airlines will reduce their prices, and amp up their marketing, and more people will take flights. And because they are doing it at lower prices, the airline needs to make more flights to make the profit it was before. More flights, more carbon emissions. And if the industry hit financial trouble as a result of lowered demand, it would get bailed out by governments. This “opt-out” strategy can’t win.

The decision not to fly isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted, it’s just not adding to it in this instance. And any small reduction in the amount of carbon being emitted does nothing to stop climate change.

To really have an impact on global climate, we’ll need to stop every aeroplane and every fossil-fuel burning machine from operating ever again. And stopping every fossil-fuel burning machine is nowhere near the impossible goal it may sound. It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable. And it’s not only desirable, but essential if life on this planet is to survive.

The same goes for any other destructive product we might choose not to buy. Factory-farmed meat, palm oil, rainforest timbers, processed foods. For as long as there is a product to sell, there will be buyers. Attempting to reduce the demand will have little, if any, effect. There will always be more products arriving on the market. Campaigns to reduce the demand of individual products will never be able to keep up. And with every new product, the belief that this one is a need, not a luxury, becomes ever stronger. Can I convince you not to buy a smartphone, a laptop, a coffee? I doubt it.

To stop the devastation, we need to permanently cut off the supply, of everything that production requires. And targeting individual companies or practices won’t have any impact on the global power structures that feed on the destruction of the Earth. The whole of the global economy needs to be brought to a halt.

What do you really want?

What’s more important – sustainable energy for you to watch TV, or the lives of the world’s rivers, forests, animals, and oceans? Would you sooner live without these, without Earth? Even if this was an option, if you weren’t tightly bound in the interconnected in the web of life, would you really prefer to have electricity for your lights, computers and appliances, rather than share the ecstasy of being with all of life on Earth? Is a lifeless world ruled by machines really what you want?

If getting what you want requires destroying everything you need – clean air and water, food, and natural communities – then you’re not going to last long, and neither will anyone else.

I know what I want. I want to live in a world that is becoming ever more alive. A world regenerating from the destruction, where every year there are more fish, birds, trees and diversity than the year before. A world where I can breathe the air, drink from the rivers and eat from the land. A world where humans live in community with all of life.

Industrial technology is not sustainable. The global economy is not sustainable. Valuing the Earth only as a resource for humans to exploit is not sustainable. Civilization is not sustainable. If civilization collapsed today, it would still be 400 years before human existence on the planet becomes truly sustainable. So if it’s genuine sustainability you want, then dismantle civilization today, and keep working at regenerating the Earth for 400 years. This is about how long it’s taken to create the destructive structures we live within today, so of course it will take at least that long to replace these structures with alternatives that benefit all of life on Earth, not just the wealthy minority. It won’t happen instantly, but that’s no reason not to start.

You might say let’s just walk away, build alternatives, and let the whole system just fall apart when no-one pays it any attention any more. I used to like this idea too. But it can’t work. Those in power use the weapons of fear and debt to maintain their control. The majority of the world’s people don’t have the option of walking away. Their fear and debt keeps them locked in the prison of civilization. Your walking away doesn’t help them. Your breaking down the prison structure does.

We don’t have time to wait for civilization to collapse. Ninety per cent of large fish in the oceans are gone. 99 per cent of the old growth forests have been destroyed. Every day 200 more species become extinct, forever. If we wait any longer, there will be no fish, no forests, no life left anywhere on Earth.

So what can you do?

Spread the word. Challenge the dominant beliefs. Share this article with everyone you know.

Listen to the Earth. Get to know your nonhuman neighbours. Look after each other. Act collectively, not individually. Build alternatives, like gift economies, polyculture food systems, alternative education and community governance. Create a culture of resistance.

Rather than attempting to reduce the demand for the products of a destructive system, cut off the supply. The economy is what’s destroying the planet, so stop the economy. The global economy is dependent on a constant supply of electricity, so stopping it is (almost) as easy as flicking a switch.

Governments and industry will never do this for us, no matter how nicely we ask, or how firmly we push. It’s up to us to defend the land that our lives depend on.

We can’t do this as consumers, or workers, or citizens. We need to act as humans, who value life more than consuming, working and complaining about the government.

Learn about and support Deep Green Resistance, a movement with a working strategy to save the planet. Together, we can fight for a world worth living in. Join us.

In the words of Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”

Do you agree with this analysis? If so,  we have three steps for you to take:

  1. Join more than 1500 others in signing and sharing the open letter to reclaim environmentalism
  2. Join our email list
  3. Consider becoming a member of Deep Green Resistance.



From Stories of Creative Ecology August 28, 2012

To repost this or other DGR original writings, please contact newsservice@deepgreenresistance.org

What If This Is a War? | Pray for Calamity

What If This Is a War? | Pray for Calamity

     by Pray for Calamity

The road to my land is one lane. It is gravel coated and there are no street lights, so in the late evening when I am driving home from a day in town, I cruise slowly, casually avoiding the potholes that have opened up with this winter’s heavy rains. In the darkness the world before me is a vignette painted by the dull yellow glow of my headlights. Beyond the borders of this halo stands of trees surround me on either side until I come to pass a neighbor’s house. Though it is not illuminated, I know that her lawn is to my right and her pond is to my left, but before me is just the thin gray road of crumbled limestone, and standing in the center of it, is a raven.

I slow down to a crawl, giving the bird time to move. He hops a bit, not off of the road to either side, but merely a few paces away from my Jeep. Creeping forward a few feet more, the raven repeats this, hopping on one leg but not leaving the road. He is hurt, I guess, and I momentarily wonder if I shouldn’t get out and try to pick him up, to help him in some way, before I realize that I would have no idea how to do so in any meaningful capacity.

We repeat our dance, me lurching forward a few feet in my car, the raven bounding back. He has plenty of space to leave the road if he would just hop into the grass on one side or the other. He has options. But he only moves forward in his path, and in mine.

Why doesn’t he just get out of the way?

As one day of abnormally warm February weather turned into two, then into a week, then into several weeks, I found myself outside more and more. On a Sunday we mucked our chicken and duck coops. Midweek I was repairing a fence line and laying wood chips on the paths in our garden. Today I spread grass seed in our orchard and planted flowers and bulbs with my daughter. We are not wearing jackets. I sweat in a T-shirt as frogs croak down by the pond and songbirds sing in the branches all around us. Walking by a raspberry cane I look down and notice the green buds sprouting up its entire length.

Of course, weather has variance. Growing up outside of Chicago I remember that we would have an odd winter day here and there where the temperature would spike into the fifties or sixties. Snow would vanish before our eyes and all of the neighborhood kids would be out on their bicycles and playing basketball in their driveways. When two days later the temperature had plummeted to a seasonally rational twenty degrees, we would despair the fact that winter had months left with which to pummel us with gray skies, ice, and the boredom of being trapped in our houses.

I acknowledge that such variance is normal. Walking around my land, absorbing the signals of spring six weeks before their time, I know that this is not normal. These are signs of change. Where the change takes us, how it will unfold over the coming seasons, and years, and decades, I cannot know. So I take notes with silent eyes, filing away the date of the first daffodil flowers and fruit blossoms. I hope to adapt, and I hope that enough of our fellow Earthlings across the taxonomic kingdoms can do the same.

Paul Kingsnorth asks us, “What if it is not a war?” in his recent essay on the Dark Mountain blog, where he explores how social movements and our general response to the predicaments of our age adopt war metaphors and terminology. Kingsnorth writes:

“War metaphors and enemy narratives are the first thing we turn to when we identify a problem, because they eliminate complexity and nuance, they allow us to be heroes in our own story, and they frame our personal aggression and anger in noble terms. The alternative is much harder: to accept our own complicity.”

Kingsnorth’s exploration is well worth the read and offers many good points for consideration. He culminates with the idea that perhaps, as poet Gary Snyder suggests, we are not in a war but a trial, a perhaps five-thousand year journey towards living well with ourselves and the planet. Such thought experiments can be helpful, as our language clearly shapes our perceptions and then guides our behavior. To be sure, consciously crafting our worldview allows for controlled and meaningful responses to the circumstances of our age. Kingsnorth proposes a worthwhile exercise when he invites us to think of the personal qualities that we would need to possess for an extended trial as opposed to a war.

But what if there is a war, and it is not one of our choosing? What if civilization itself is a war against the living planet, and no amount of ignoring it will make it stop? What if we were born into a war and it was so normalized by our culture, so entirely sewn into the fabric of our being that we could hardly see it, and when we did, everyone around us justified it and made it righteous?

Agriculture is destroying topsoil. The skin of the planet, home to a nearly unfathomable quantity of life, is being rendered sterile, sometimes toxic, before it is finally tilled into oblivion to blow away on the wind or drift off downstream. This is how civilization feeds itself a diet of an increasingly lower nutritive value. Forests, prairies, and wetlands are razed to continue this onslaught, species are wiped out, aquifers are drained, fossil fuels burned in massive quantities, and endocrine disrupting poisons are carelessly distributed into the ecosystem.

If I went to someone’s home and engaged in all of the above activities on their land, how would they describe it? If I abandon the language of assault, I am left with little else to lean on. There is killing upon killing upon killing. Nowhere in this activity that is central to civilization can we find a relationship that isn’t one-sided domination. It is not an eagerness to slander that with which I do not agree with that drives me to describe civilization and its process as an assault on life, but rather a complete lack of any other accurate language with which to speak on it. If civilization is not at war with life, is it at peace with life? Is there a truce between civilized man and the forests, oceans, and waterways? When we look around do we see the wild on the rebound? Do we see civilized man reducing the amount of destruction he metes upon the ecology of the world? Is the general course of civilized decision making to prioritize the ecological system over the economic system? Of course not.

Zyklon B was invented as a pesticide. The Haber-Bosch process was developed to supply nitrogen for munitions. If it is not war that civilization is waging, then what is it? And if civilization is at war with the living planet, then why does it make sense to pretend that it isn’t?

“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the Judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of a stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

– Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West

Kingsnorth says that we love war, though many of us pretend not to. Maybe he is right. For the westerner, it is so easy to avoid the overt wars of our culture, because they are fought far away by paid grunts, and their victims are demonized. We are happy that the media obliges the lies we tell ourselves by not running an endless stream of images showing the dead civilians in third world nations around the globe. Even better, they make it so easy for us to not see the less obvious war, to not know just how much killing and slave-making civilization engages in every day to keep the oil, and the food, and the consumer products flowing into the stores (and the trash flowing away from the neighborhoods.) Again, most people just call this “business” or “capitalism,” and they see in it nothing but the mundane transactions of commerce, but when it all can trace back to one group of people pointing guns, and tanks, and warplanes at another, are we not lying to ourselves if we say it is not war? What if it all traces back to dead primates, dead rivers, dead oceans, dead people?

Maybe we should embrace war, instead of hiding from it. Perhaps if we would stop pretending that there is no war, we could finally fight back in some meaningful way. Honestly, the fact that it is so difficult to know just how we could go about such a daunting task is likely why we never speak of it. To fight back against civilization is to risk the livelihoods of everyone we know, and everyone we don’t. There is not one cabal of people who if brought before tribunal or lined up against a wall and shot would unmake the machinations and complex systems, hundreds if not thousands of years in the making, that comprise the belts and pistons of civilization. If we were to try to stop this system from destroying our planet and our future by rising up against it, we would first have to have some inkling as to how that could be accomplished, and all the while we would know that the odds of success were infinitesimally small. Also, we would be risking everything we have while simultaneously inviting the scorn of almost all of humanity upon ourselves.

Put in such a way, I can see why most people work so hard to unsee the war that is civilization.

Ultimately, Kingsnorth is right about the fact that the language of war is a tool for the destruction of nuance, of gray tones, and uncertainty. This conundrum has existed throughout human history, as people of good heart and conscience always question the righteousness of their motives and actions, a process that often slows their reaction and mutes their response to forces of nihilism and destruction. Albert Camus laments as much in his essays, “Letters to a German Friend,” when he writes about the confused French response to Nazi invasion. Alternatively, civilization is not in possession of a conscience, the systems that are its make up having been so atomized and bureaucratized, splintered into an untold number of moving parts that no one actor can be held accountable for the actions of the whole. This is the great and dark promise of civilization; it will provide a bounty of material access while diluting and thus absolving every recipient of their guilt.

The good and decent bind themselves and blunt their effectiveness with questions of conscience, while those bent on conquest and power never do. Resistance fails to get its shoes on while civilization fells another forest, removes another mountain top, extirpates another species.

It is not my aim here to reduce the complexity and nuance of our situation into a simplified binary. In fact, if anything I would suggest that our times call for an almost contradictory way of thinking, embracing that in any given context we are both complicit in and victim to the war that civilization makes upon our planet. At different times and in different places we must make both peace and war. Humbly, I offer that when we sit in thought about how we are to respond to the great challenge of our time, that we try not to be only one thing, neither solely a warrior nor a monk, but at various times we are each. Language of war falls short of describing the healing that we must engage in as individuals and communities, whereas language of trial and endurance falls short of describing the fight that we are called to make upon the systems, infrastructure, and yes, individuals whose daily work threatens to drastically shorten the time we may have available to trial and endure.

The heart of Kingsnorth’s point seems to be that when we convince ourselves that we are at war, we break our world into allies and enemies, demanding conformity of the former and diminishing the humanity of the latter. Throughout history such reductionism has often had tragic results. If the war of civilization against the living world has us each playing enemy and ally at different times and in different contexts, we would be wise to caution ourselves against lining up behind eager executioners. However, we would be foolish to continually forgive and appease the people who use their social, political, and economic power to not only blind the public to the horrors of civilization, but to actively increase the breadth and scale of those horrors.

Language of war can, if we allow it, claim nuance as its first casualty. So can the language of peace, or trial, as it were. But let us ask ourselves, to whom do we do service when we refuse to speak of war? Are we doing service to our children and their chance of survival? Are we doing service to the ecosystems under threat of eradication? Or are we doing service to the bulldozer, the pipeline, the feedlot, the open-pit mine?

Accepting that civilization is a war and using the language of war to understand the gravity of its processes does not necessarily mean that we must assume a conventional posture of warfare in order to stand in opposition or to react in a meaningful way. This is to say, not all fights are won with open combat alone. To be always at war with the world is exhausting, especially when defeat looms. I understand the fear of losing everything, before we lose everything. The first challenge to overcome is to understand the existential nature of this war, that it is not necessarily individuals or groups who we must oppose, but the space between us, the relations and duties and notions and systems to which we all find ourselves often unwillingly subservient.

If we honestly want to observe and honor the complexity of this time and our circumstances, maybe it is not one side of the road or the other to which we must hop to avoid being run over. Maybe the clarity we seek will never come as the strands of all of our relations stretch and snap, context ever fluxing, all of us reacting, reacting, wounded and hobbled in the dark.

Waiting For Death: Ecopsychology as Human Supremacism

Waiting For Death: Ecopsychology as Human Supremacism

Featured image: Mauna Loa, night time view (Photo: Rustedstrings/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

     by Will Falk / Deep Green Resistance

So many indigenous people have told me that the levels of sustainability their traditional cultures achieved prior to the arrival of colonizers were based on lessons learned from non-humans. Implicit in these lessons is the truth that humans depend on non-humans. This dependence is not limited to the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. This dependence sinks into our very souls.

For many indigenous people I have listened to, the basic reality of human dependence demands that humans regard non-humans, regard life, regard the universe with deep humility.

If we simply learn to listen, we will hear non-humans demonstrating humility everywhere. Trees know they are nothing without soil, so they build forests as monuments to soil health – collecting, storing, and restoring nutrients to their life-giver. Salmon know they are nothing without forests to hold river banks together, so they swim deep into the cold oceans to feed, bring their bodies back upriver to die, and, in death, feed the forests. Phytoplankton know they are nothing without a climate that allows warm and cold ocean waters to mix, producing currents that bring them their food. So, phytoplankton feed the salmon that feed the forests that store carbon that has the potential to destroy the climate that feeds the phytoplankton.

Approach non-humans with humility, and you may find them willing to teach you.


It was the stars who put me in my place. I know this, locating myself in my memories of cold nights in the open air and my sleeping bag, watching the clear sky from the shoulders of sacred Mauna Kea in Hawai’i. I rest north to south. The Southern Cross sits low on the horizon, just above the outline of my toes warmly wrapped in down. I arch my back and look high above me where Polaris holds the sky steady. To my right, the sun pulled the darkness over like blankets on a bed and fell asleep. In the space between Venus and Orion’s Belt, there are more shooting stars than I have wishes. To my left, a faint anxiety grows. When the sun wakes, its siblings – the stars – will disappear.

“I” diminish in these moments. My mind quiets and and there are only the gifts the stars give.

Stars are so fundamental to our existence they give us the ability to contemplate the process that allows us to perceive them. Perhaps, this is why stars are so beautiful. When we view them, we see the beginning of everything.

Stars are the oldest nuclear reactors. The gases they burn produce energy at such great magnitudes they are visible on Earth from hundreds of thousands of lightyears away. They burn like this for time unfathomable until they die in great explosions. When stars explode, the violence alters hydrogen and helium to shower the universe with materials like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, and sulfur. These materials are the basis of life.

Stars give me the ability to experience. I can experience because I have a body. The elemental showers dying stars produce have organized- first as neutrons and protons, then as atoms, and finally as air, water, soil, stone, and flesh –  to form my body. But, stars don’t form only human bodies, they form bones, fur, and fins; skin, scales, and exoskeletons; mountains, oceans, and the sky.

Stars give the universe the first wisdom: For there to be life, there must be death. After a life spent in service as a sun, warming a community of planets, a star dies. It is a violent death – a death that destroys a solar system. But, it is a necessary death. A death that transforms the old into a possibility for the new.


My last essay in this ecopsychology series “The Destruction of Experience: How Ecopsychology Has Failed” generated some curious responses from, specifically, ecopsychologists and ecotherapists. Many of them were provoked to defensiveness, denial, or both by my words. In fact, one commentator Thomas J. Doherty, a psychotherapist, was moved to write an essay for the San Diego Free Press where he characterized my report of the failure of ecopsychology as “greatly exaggerated.”

The responses suggest that some of my readers felt like I was attacking their life’s work. Of course, I was. Ecopsychologists, however, need not feel alone in their failure. With the destruction of the planet intensifying at an ever-faster pace, we are all failing.

As I’ve sought to understand the responses I received, I’ve realized that many students of ecopsychology employ a different definition of “success” than I do. Quite simply, their definition is infected with human supremacism.

One way to understand the difference is to ask: Would extinct species characterize reports of the failure of ecopsychology as “greatly exaggerated?” Would Pinta Island Tortoises, Pyrenean Ibexes, Falklands Wolves, Rocky Mountain Lotuses, Great Auks, Passenger Pigeons or any of the 200 species that were pushed to extinction yesterday, the 200 species that were pushed to extinction today, or the 200 species that will be pushed to extinction tomorrow characterize reports of the failure of ecopsychology as “greatly exaggerated”?

Lonesome George Pinta giant tortoise Santa Cruz (Source: putneymark/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)


What is human supremacism?

In his 2016 book The Myth of Human Supremacy, Derrick Jensen coined the term “human supremacism” and gave human animals the analysis we so badly need to understand the murder of our non-human kin.

 Human supremacism is a system of power in which humans dominate non-humans to derive material benefit. Agriculture is a classic result of human supremacism Agriculture requires clearing the land of every living being in order to plant and harvest a single crop which is then used to feed humans.

Human supremacism makes the fossil fuel industry possible. To produce electricity, to fuel cars, planes, and ships, to produce fertilizers for their crops, humans poison water, rip the tops off mountains, carve scars into landscapes, and fundamentally alter the climate. Even so-called “green energy” is produced by humans dominating non-humans as fragile desert ecosystems are destroyed for wind farms, rivers are dammed for hydroelectricity, and the land is gutted for metals and minerals like copper and aluminum to be used in solar panels.

The power humans have gained over non-humans is rooted in human supremacists’ maintenance of a monopoly of the means of violence over non-humans and their human allies who dare to challenge human supremacism.

The history of wolf-hunting in civilized nations, as just one example, demonstrates this monopoly. Despite centuries of demonization, wolves pose little direct threat to humans. However, when agriculture encroaches on the homes of wolves’ traditional prey causing these species’ populations to collapse, wolves will eat domesticated animals. Human supremacists throughout history have responded with wolf extermination campaigns. The extinction of so many wolf species while many other wolf species tinker on the edge of extinction is testament to the wrath of human supremacism.

Deep ecologist, Neil Evernden, pointed out that scientists in vivisection labs cut the vocal cords of the animals they experiment on. If humans heard the screams of their non-human kin, they would not murder them. Human supremacism takes this practice to the psychological level. You can physically cut the vocal cords of individual non-humans you plan to torture. Or, you can achieve a total silencing of the non-human world if you convince whole human societies that non-humans are incapable of communicating, incapable of screaming, incapable, even, of feeling pain.

Human supremacism cuts the vocal cords of the non-human world, and achieves this silencing, by developing cultural myths teaching that non-humans are “resources” to be used by humans. Living forests are no longer living forests; they are so many square feet of board lumber. Wild rivers are no longer wild rivers; they are so many cubic meters of water. Old-growth prairies are no longer old-growth prairies, they are so many acres of tillable farmland.

Another myth human supremacism propagates is the notion that humans are superior to everyone else. Because humans are superior, human domination of non-humans is completely justified and natural.  Jensen shows how strongly humans cling to this sense of superiority.  He writes, “Human supremacists – at this point, almost everyone in this culture – have shown time and again that the maintenance of their belief in their own superiority, and the entitlement that springs from this belief, are more important to them than the well-being or existences of everyone else.”

Human supremacists cannot tolerate anyone who reminds them of the insanity of human supremacy. They systematically annihilate traditional cultures and indigenous peoples with sustainable cultures based on human humility. Despite their best efforts to silence the non-human world, on a fundamental level the task is impossible and human supremacists come to hate non-humans for refusing to die quietly. And no one dies quietly. Human supremacists hate the reminders, so they must destroy the reminders, and in the destruction they are reminded again. If we do not stop human supremacists, their vicious cycle will only end when there is total silence.


The responses I received for daring to suggest that ecopsychology has failed reveal that the maintenance of human supremacism is more important to many ecopsychologists than ensuring the survival of life on earth.

Let me be clear: There are positive trends within ecopsychology. At its best, ecopsychology uncovers the connection of human souls to the soul of the world, illustrates human dependence on the non-human, and demands effective action to protect the soul of the world and the non-humans we depend on. At its worst, ecopsychology privileges human psychological health at the expense of non-humans, seeks to use the natural world to promote false feelings of peace, becomes an anesthetic in the face of planetary collapse, and is infected with insidious human supremacy.

Ecopsychology’s human supremacist infection is as understandable as it is unforgivable. All of us born into the dominant culture have been indoctrinated to the central tenets of human supremacism. Radical psychologist R.D. Laing, who spent a brilliant career trying to understand how we arrived at a moment where humans were empowered to destroy the planet through forces like thermonuclear war, explained how deeply this indoctrination runs. He wrote, “Long before a thermonuclear war can come about, we have had to lay waste our own sanity. We begin with the children. It is imperative to catch them in time. Without the most thorough and rapid brainwashing their dirty minds would see through our dirty tricks. Children are not yet fools, but we shall turn them into imbeciles like ourselves with high I.Q.s if possible.”

Despite these high I.Q.s that even good-hearted ecopsychologists are equipped with, human supremacism is so entrenched that it is almost invisible. On his way to ripping the mask off human supremacism, Jensen wrote in his study of hatred The Culture of Make Believe that “hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion…” And, when ecopsychologists place the primacy of human mental, emotional, spiritual, and even, physical health over the continued existence of forests, mountains, rivers, non-human species, and the planet’s capacity to support life, we must extend Jensen’s idea to conclude: Hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, it feels like ecopsychology.

Too many ecopsychologists, ecotherapists, and so-called environmentalists spend the vast majority of their time devising means to promote human mental health and feelings of peace, hope and acceptance through phenomena like what Doherty calls in his essay “nature contacts.”

Reducing non-humans to “nature contacts” objectifies them. Human supremacist ecopsychologists view living forests as therapy tools. They view rivers as anti-depressants. When humans view forests and rivers as objects to use to gain mental health, they act like men who view women as objects to use for sexual gratification, and white people who view people of color as objects to use for economic benefit.

But, living forests and wild rivers live for themselves.The world is not filled with “nature contacts.” It is filled with aspen groves, great-horned owls, elk, black bears, pinyon-juniper forests, rainbow trout, this smooth blue pebble, that red rock canyon, a particular wisp of fog moving through sage brush. In short, the world is filled with living beings who exist for their own purposes that you and I may never understand.

Ecopsychologists demonstrate where their concern lies through their actions, or what they actually do in their day-to-day lives. When students of ecopsychology are more concerned with how the natural world improves human mental health than they are with the murder of the natural world, they are acting as human supremacists. When their day-to-day lives are spent leading “wilderness immersion trips” for the sake of healing human minds while that very wilderness is threatened with human-induced collapse, they are acting as human supremacists. When their day-to-day lives are spent in the clinic office helping clients “cope” and “adjust to” the insanity of civilized culture while that culture threatens the existence of life on earth, they are acting as human supremacists.


I am writing this series because I know there are students of ecopsychology who want to wield ecopsychology’s insights to make the environmental movement more effective, as I do. But to do this, we must be willing to take an honest assessment of ecopsychology that goes beyond human health, to the health of the natural world.

Exploring the different definitions of ecopsychological success helps us make this assessment. It is only possible to consider ecopsychology a success if you subscribe to a liberal, human supremacist worldview.

The human supremacist definition of success begins with what appears, at first glance, to be a series of obvious conclusions. First, human actions are causing planetary collapse. and humans actions flow from human psyches. So, it follows that changing human psyches is the path to stopping planetary collapse. For human supremacist ecopsychologists, planetary collapse is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy for the trauma it causes humans.

While I have no problem with the conclusion that human psyches need to change, I do have a problem with the means liberal ecopsychologists think will achieve this change. Most people on the Left attach positive connotations to “being liberal” and may be surprised by my criticism of the liberal worldview. Nevertheless, one reason planetary collapse is intensifying is the failure of the Left to forsake liberalism for a radical analysis.

The brilliant author Lierre Keith has devised an accurate articulation of the liberal worldview. She explains that, for liberals, the basic social unit is the individual. For liberals, individuals can be understood separate from the social environment constructing them. Liberals believe that attitudes are the sources and solutions of oppression, that pure human thought is the prime mover of social life, and, therefore, education and rational argument are the best engines for social change.

Liberal, human supremacist ecopsychology, because it embraces the notion that the basic social unit is the individual,  focuses on healing human psyches one individual at a time. Because liberal ecopsychologists obsess over human thought as the primary culprit in psychopathology, they insist that individual education and rational argument are the best ways to heal widespread, cultural psychopathology. The prevalence of ecotherapy, whether its the healing of individuals in the clinic office, on wilderness immersion trips, or simple talk-therapy sessions conducted outside, is the result of a liberal belief that individual education will save the world.

The liberal, human supremacist worldview allows for ecopsychological success to be achieved on a personal and individual level. For liberal ecopsychologists every person, who alleviates depression with walks in a forest, or engages in grief work to come to acceptance of mass extinction, or finds a personal sense of joy amidst the destruction, is a success.


My definition of success, on the other hand, is biocentric and radical. A biocentric definition of ecopsychological success recognizes that non-humans have souls, too, that human souls and non-human souls are expressions of Life’s soul. And, with these souls, comes a right to exist on their own terms. Humans are responsible for planetary collapse and changing human psyches is necessary to stop the collapse. But, the biocentric definition of success recognizes that the human psyche is fundamentally dependent on relationships with non-humans. So, the development of healthy human psyches requires, before anything else, a healthy biosphere.

My definition is also radical. Though most people misunderstand “radical” to mean “extreme,” radical simply means “getting to the roots.” For radicals, “getting to the roots” means understanding, and then dismantling, oppressive power structures on a global level. As part of this, radicals see groups and classes as the basic social unit. An individual’s group or class socially constructs the psyche. Most importantly, radicals understand that material power – the physical ability to coerce – is the prime mover of society. Social change, then, requires organized resistance geared at wielding power.

While I am very happy for individuals with access to existent natural communities who alleviate their mental illnesses through ecotherapy, these individual victories will be more and more difficult to come by so long as more and more natural communities are destroyed. As natural communities are destroyed, rates of human psychopathology will accelerate. Humans will become evermore insane while they cause ecological collapse and, causing ecological collapse, they ensure the impossibility of the physical survival of life.

Liberalism – with its individualism – and human supremacism – with the narcissism it facilitates in the human species – encourages ecopsychologists to ask “What can I do?” This question is no longer adequate. A biocentric, radical analysis pushes us beyond asking “What can I do?” to ask: “What needs to be done?”

More than just human individuals need to be saved. Human cultures where widespread psychopathology is impossible need to be created. To achieve these cultures requires dismantling the power structure causing ecological collapse, the power structure crushing sustainable cultures, and the power structure thwarting efforts to recreate sustainable cultures. Civilization – defined as a culture resulting from and producing humans living in populations so dense they require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life – is this power structure.

Civilization must be dismantled. This will not be achieved in the mind. Civilization is not an emotional state. It is not a misunderstanding. It will not be cured with rational argument.

Civilization is maintained by force. Men with guns and bombs ensure that business is conducted as usual. These guns and bombs give human supremacists power. They give human supremacists the ability to coerce everyone else. Human supremacists gain their guns and bombs, the physical force they require to protect civilization, through destruction of natural communities. Guns and bombs require mines, pipelines, and factories and the pollution mines, pipelines, and factories produce. To deprive human supremacists of their power requires depriving human supremacists of their physical ability to exploit natural communities. It requires dismantling mines, pipelines, and factories.

The question is, what are we waiting for?


In the end, we are waiting for death. This death can be psychological. We can let the misguided hope in ineffective tactics die. We can let the mistaken belief that human well-being on a collapsing planet is possible die. We can let the insane insistence that we are more valuable than non-humans die.

Or, all of us will die.

I return to the stars. The stars illuminate our radical dependence on the non-human world for our existence. The stars teach that death brings new life. Death can be painful. I’m sure the death of a star, and the incineration of a solar system, is incredibly painful. But, after the pain, after the death of the old, a new life begins. Human supremacism must die, so a new human humility can begin.


Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender. His first passion is poetry and his work is an effort to record the way the land is speaking. He feels the largest and most pressing issue confronting us today is the destruction of natural communities. He received a Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Chapter, 2016 Journalism award. He is currently living in Utah.

To repost this or other DGR original writings, please contact newsservice@deepgreenresistance.org

The Destruction of Experience: How Ecopsychology Has Failed

     by Will Falk / Deep Green Resistance

I do not remember the first time I saw my mother’s face, though I know she remembers the first time she saw mine. It was the very beginning of my life, my birth. I do not remember the first time I saw my mother’s face, but, I do remember the first time I saw my mother’s face at what would have been the end of my life after I tried to kill myself.

This is what I’m thinking about as I hold my fifteen-month-old baby nephew Thomas while he falls asleep.

A soft darkness blankets the room. The curtains are tied back on either side of the room’s only window and the night pours in. A wet snow falls with the starlight in a sprinkling of silver and gray. A few nights before full and the moon is strong. Shadows flicker on the floor below the window. A pine whispers outside where the wind brushes powder from her branches.

His head is nestled between my chest and shoulder. I lean back into a wide chair, careful not to let my elbow bump the armrest and jostle Thomas’ little head. Thomas’ eyes are open as he watches the snow fall with me. In the spaces between the clouds, the sky is revealed as a deep blue. The moon’s glow gently pulls the blue down where it settles as the same color in Thomas’ eyes.

The snow sets a contemplative rhythm. As the flakes grow and the snow slows, Thomas’ eyelids become heavier until his eyes no longer stay open. I cannot decide whose rest is more peaceful: Thomas’ or the snow’s. In the stillness, holding Thomas close, I feel two heartbeats. Mine is slower and heavier, while Thomas’ is gentler, quicker. Once in a while, the beats sync together and it feels like a chord plucked far away strikes us gently, runs through us, and echoes on.

Outside, the falling temperature is indicated by fog growing on the corners of the window. Inside, I feel the familiar warmth that grows in my chest whenever I hold Thomas. It’s not just Thomas’ small heat emanating through his pajamas and his favorite blanket into my body.

The warmth’s source is gratitude. Holding Thomas like this, listening to the smallness of his breaths and the gentleness of his heartbeat, I recognize the way Thomas is wholly dependent on those who love him for his life. First, his body was nurtured for nine months in his mother’s body. After his birth, he required his mother’s milk for sustenance. As he grows, he needs his mother, his father, and all those who love him to feed him, to clothe and bathe him, to provide shelter, to attend to any illness he experiences, and to make sure he has hands to fall into now that he climbs everything his strength will allow. Right now, he needs me to provide his nightly bottle, to hold him close and steady as he falls asleep, and then to lay him down in his crib.

Thomas teaches me about my own dependence. The warmth I experience holding Thomas bonds me to him. This connection makes threats to his well-being threats to my own. If he is hurt, I will be hurt, too. Feeling this warmth and understanding the connection forming, I feel I am participating in an ancient emotional ritual. One of the circles of life is completed in this experience. I know, now, what my mother must have felt holding me. The humility in the feeling is staggering.

I wish nothing would ever disturb this little creature asleep in my arms. I wish he could live his whole life laughing like he does when his hands find a new texture they’ve never experienced before. I wish he could live his whole life the way he dances in a style completely lacking self-consciousness anytime music becomes audible. I wish he could live his whole life confident that a loved one will envelop him in a sincere embrace whenever he reaches out for one.

There is horror in my wish. I know no one who has ever loved a child could guarantee the child’s total safety. But, in today’s world where we are poisoning our water, making our air nearly unbreathable, burning our soil at dizzying paces, and irreversibly altering our climate, children born today may find their homes unlivable when they reach my age. In fact, generations of children born in the colonies and sacrifice zones have already found their homes unlivable.

I think back to the worst two days of my life. They weren’t the two days I tried to kill myself. They were the two days after when I sat across from my mother, trying to meet the sky’s dusk blue in her eyes, while I explained to the woman who sacrificed so much to give me life why there was nothing more she could have done to prevent me from trying to take that life.

While I am holding Thomas, I cannot stop the visions of his future from forming. Feeling the love I feel for him right now, I cannot imagine the pain I would feel if he sat across from me, head bent under the invisible weight of despair, as he explained how there was nothing I could have done to stop the major depression he experiences. And in my memories of my mother and visions of Thomas’ potential future, I recognize the truth: Even if we succeed in keeping our children physically safe, in this time of ecological collapse we cannot shield their souls from the psychological effects of the destruction.

My nephew, Thomas. Photo by Paula Bradley.


We live in a hell where our very experience is being destroyed.

Ecopsychology was supposed to lead us out of this hell. It was going to do this by bringing together ecology and psychology to attack the illusion that we are fundamentally isolated from each other, the natural world, and ourselves. Theodore Roszak cites a 1990 conference held at the Harvard-based Center for Psychology and Social Change entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered” as one of the seminal events in the new ecopsychology movement. The ecopsychologists gathered there summed up one of ecopsychology’s defining goals: “if the self is expanded to include the natural world, behavior leading to destruction of this world will be experienced as self-destruction.”

A few years later, in 1995, the term “ecopsychology” entered the popular lexicon with the publication of a collection of writing by psychologists, deep ecologists, and environmental activists titled, “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind.” In what would become a foundational text in ecopsychology, Lester R. Brown, author and founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute, provided an introductory piece, “Ecopsychology and the Environmental Revolution: An Environmental Foreword.”

Brown’s excitement was so high, he predicted “a coming environmental revolution” and wrote, “Ecopsychologists…believe it is time for the environmental movement to file… a ‘psychological impact statement’. In practical political terms that means asking: are we being effective? Most obviously, we need to ask that question with respect to our impact on the public, whose hearts and minds we want to win over. The stakes are high and time is short.”

If we use the 1990 conference as a beginning, ecopsychology has had 27 years to teach “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.” It has had 27 years to answer Brown’s question, “are we being effective?” It has had 27 years to win over the hearts and minds of the public. And, the stakes are only higher, time is only shorter.

Ecopsychology has failed. Ecologically, the diversity of life around the world is worse off with the rate of species extinction only intensifying in recent years. Psychologically, the rate of mental illness is even worse than in the 90s. And, as far as the “hearts and minds of the public”? Well, close to 63 million Americans just elected a climate change denier to the most powerful political position in the world.

Ecopsychology’s failure stems from an unwillingness to carry the material implications of the very insights ecopsychologists have made to these implications’ logical conclusion. These insights can be distilled into a few, potent premises.


I. The human mind originates in its experiences of its environment. In other words, the human mind is experiences of environment.

What do I mean by “environment”? For my purposes, the environment is the sum of all relationships, conscious and unconscious, physical, emotional, and spiritual, creating our lives.

Some of these relationships are as obvious as the sun’s heat, the moon’s pull, and the stars’ mysteries. Some of these relationships need no explanation: the nearness of your lover’s body, the taste of ripe blackberries, the sound of an elk bugle over the next ridgeline at dusk. Some of these relationships are as widely-studied as our dependence on our mothers’ bodies in the earliest stages of our development, as the dominance abusers gain over the abused, and as the influence modern advertising has on our desires. Some of these relationships – like the ones lost with the disappearance of hundreds of species daily, like the disintegration of connections with our ancestors, like the inability to make any sense of our dreams –  have been ignored by the dominant culture for far too long.

One of the defining characteristics of ecopsychology, is a rejection of Descartes’ “I think, therefore, I am.” Ecology, recognizing that life is sustained by countless connections between living beings, replaces Descartes’ statement with “We relate, therefore, we are.” James Hillman articulates this rejection as a demonstration of the “the arbitrariness of the cut between ‘me’ and ‘not me’” that has dominated civilized thought for the past 4 centuries.

Out of this rejection comes the necessity for what Anita Burrows calls an “expanded view of self.” Drawing on her clinical experience with children, in her essay “The Ecopsychology of Child Development” Burrows argues, “If we see the child inextricably connected not only to her family, but to all living things and to the earth itself, then our conception of her as an individual, and of the family and social systems in which she finds herself, must expand.”

It is here that we first encounter implications that ecopsychology has proven unwilling to respond to. What do we find when we expand our vision of self to include “all living things and to the earth itself”? We find all living things under attack and the earth threatened with total collapse.


II. Human behavior originates in the human mind. So, human behavior originates in experiences of environment.

The origination of human behavior in the mind is neither new nor controversial. The origination of human behavior in experiences of environment is also largely accepted in mainstream psychology as long as that environment is limited to human social interaction.

Radical psychologist R.D. Laing, whose work brilliantly describes the alienation infecting Western humanity, succinctly explains the situation in his work The Politics of Experience, “Our behavior is a function of our experience. We act according to the way we see things.” Laing illustrates the importance of human relationships in our conception of self, “Men can and do destroy the humanity of other men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent. We are not self-contained monads producing no effects on each other except our reflections. We are both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by other men; and are agents who act upon others to affect them in different ways.”

Laing, for all his wisdom, examines only a small part of the environment producing the human mind. We can correct his vision and come to a deeper understanding of the human psyche if we accept the definition of “environment” I created above. Expanding Laing’s conception of self, we can re-write his analysis as: Humans can and do destroy the relationships sustaining life, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent on countless connections. The natural world, which includes us, is both acted upon, changed for good or ill, by the totality of these connections. Our environment, whether it is a healthy natural community or an artificial human one, acts upon others to affect them in different ways.


III. Changes in experiences of environment lead to changes in human behavior. Healthy experiences of environment produce healthy behavior. Unhealthy experiences of environment produce unhealthy behavior.

This premise is Paul Shepard’s thesis in Nature and Madness. Beginning with the question, “Why does society persist in destroying its habitat?”, Shepard blames the physical destruction wrought by civilization and the way this destruction influences human ontogeny. A primary strength of Shepard’s analysis is the way he removes human destructiveness from abstractions like greed or evil and places them in concrete processes like biological development. In doing so, he robs those who blame human nature for the destruction of the planet of their excuse for inaction. He also pulls the rug from under ardent liberals who claim we need transformations of human hearts and that the best way to achieve these transformations is through therapy, education, and one-heart-at-a-time crusades.

Shepard blames the knowledge and human organization developed by civilization claiming it “wrenched the ancient social machinery that limited human births” and that “it fostered a new sense of human mastery and the extirpation of non-human life.” This resulted in not just psychopathic individuals, but in psychopathic cultures. Psychopathic cultures produce psychopathic individuals who, in Shepard’s words, heedlessly occupy “all earth habitats,” who physically and chemically “abuse the soil, air, and water,” who cause “the extinction and displacement of wild plants and animals,” and who practice “overcutting and overgrazing of forest and grasslands.”

Healthy human behavior, for Shepard, will only be achieved, then, by a return to the global existence of human hunter-gatherer societies. In doing so, we will return to a way of life in “which our ontogeny has been fitted by natural selection, fostering cooperation, leadership, a calendar of mental growth, and the study of a mysterious and beautiful world where the clues to the meaning of life were embodied in natural things.”


IV. Human behavior is destroying the environment. Destroying the environment produces unhealthy experiences of the environment which, in turn, produce unhealthy human behavior.

I am writing this looking out the glass windows of a coffee shop separating me from the reality of a -8 degrees Fahrenheit temperature in Park City, Utah. I can see the digital numbers on the coffee shop’s thermostat: 73 degrees.

I consider what lets me sit here, in comfort, while ten feet away, on the other side of the window, the air would cause the skin on my knuckles to crack and bleed. The energy required to keep this room warm is produced by burning a combination of natural gas sucked from beneath the earth’s surface where it played an integral role in forming the earth’s skin and coal formed by the decomposing remains of ancient forests ripped from wounds in the land. The combustion of the natural gas and coal produces great heat, but it also produces poisonous fumes that trap the earth’s heat in and melt polar ice caps, disturb rain patterns, contribute to species extinction, and threaten life with total collapse.

The glass, wood, aluminum, and steel that forms the wall between reality and me, and holds the warmth in, also allows me to focus my attention on the artificiality of my computer screen. For most of the morning, I am unaware of the gold flickering with the communion of the winter sun on frozen pine branches. I do not see the crystal purity of the cold blue sky. I cannot rejoice in the magic moment water freezes in mid-air to sparkle in a twisting sheen with the breeze.

I am also ignorant in the warning pain caused by cold. Without the sacrifice of the gas and coal, without the theft of the wood and minerals needed for the glass, maybe Winter’s voice would be too stern to withstand. Maybe, the cold is a command to humans to forsake the heights where the region’s pure waters collect. Maybe, the chill is telling us we are too clumsy, too awkward not to foul the waters that will support all of life here through the spring, summer, and fall.

In short, the destruction that produces my comfort allows my narcissism and encourages my apathy, while I continue to contribute to the destruction.


V. The cycle of violence perpetuates itself over generations and intensifies as unhealthy experiences of environment become the norm for most humans.

Freud asked, “If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations – or some epochs of civilization – possibly the whole of mankind – have become neurotic?”

It is not the “whole of mankind” that has become neurotic because there exist, and always have existed, original peoples who live in balance with their land bases. But, civilization itself, is insane. Derrick Jensen defines civilization as “a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts— that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities, with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”

Civilization is insane because the civilized strip their land bases of the physical possibility of life. As civilization spreads, it leaves an ever-widening circle of destruction. The human minds that develop in this circle of destruction, have had their experience destroyed, and carry their destruction with them to destroy more lands. Each successive generation exists on lands more impoverished than the preceding generations experienced. The environmental catastrophe confronting us is the result of this insane cycle.


VI. The environment is finite. Eventually, humans will destroy the possibility of experiences of environment.

The relationships creating our lives can be diminished. Loved ones die, rivers run dry, mountaintops are removed, and species vanish forever. While this process intensifies, the first thing that happens is the diversity of our relationships is destroyed. To borrow Richard Louv’s phrase, we begin to suffer from “nature-deficit disorder.” As humans proliferate and “heedlessly occupy all earth habitats,” most human relationships become relationships with other humans.

R.D. Laing wrote, “If our experience is destroyed, our behavior will be destructive. If our experience is destroyed, we have lost our own selves.”  If we expand Laing’s definition of “experience” to include non-human relationships, then we begin to see that not only is our experience destroyed, but the very possibility of experience is threatened.

The material world makes experience possible. Quite simply, without flesh to compose our bodies and brains, without water to carry nutrients to our bodies and brains, without minerals to facilitate electrical impulses, we cannot experience. As we destroy more topsoil, irreversibly alter the climate, and poison the world’s water supplies, we come ever closer to the moment flesh cannot grow, water is transformed from life-giver to death-bringer, and minerals are all trapped in steel beams rusting where they collapsed under civilization’s gluttonous weight.


VII.  We must change human behavior. To change human behavior we must change human experiences of environment.

Medicine tells us that prevention is better than cure. And, eradication of illness is the ultimate prevention. Ecopsychology provides the map for the eradication of the psychopathology currently affecting civilized culture. If we want to prevent this psychopathology from infecting and destroying future generations of human and non-human life, we need to fundamentally alter the sick, disappearing, human-centric environments human minds are currently formed in. We must physically dismantle civilization to give the natural world a chance to heal and truly sustainable human cultures to thrive across the planet once more.

I’ve written several essays, now, making this same point and I’ve received a lot of feedback. Few people disagree with me, but I’ve been very disheartened to learn that many of my readers take my call to dismantle civilization as essentially an internal process. I’ve had writers tell me we need to “re-wild our minds” (as if that is possible without re-wilding the environments producing our minds), we need to grieve planetary and species’ destruction (and while we are grieving more of the planet is destroyed and more species lost which will, I assume, also need to be grieved creating a never-ending cycle of grief), and I’ve even been invited to live in a commune, off-the-grid in South America.

But, civilization is not a mental event. Civilization is a global, physical process that is destroying the planet. While it is producing climate change, ocean acidification, massive deforestation and desertification, there is nowhere to escape.

Unfortunately, too many students of ecopsychology who recognize this, instead of facing the need to physically dismantle the systems causing this collapse, too often retreat to the position that only personal therapy is possible and that the planet can only be saved by curing one mind at a time.

How can James Hillman who has provided so much insight, for example, write: “Psychology, so dedicated to awakening human consciousness, needs to wake itself up to one of the most ancient human truths: we cannot be studied or cured apart from the planet.” And, then, literally in the very next sentence write, “I write this appeal not so much to ‘save the planet’ or to enjoin my fellow therapists to retrain as environmentalists…My concern is also most specifically for psychotherapy…”?

How can Terrance O’Connor, practicing psychologist, narrate a story in which he answers the question “Why should we want mature relationships?” at a conference for divorced people with an outburst that included these statements: “The status quo is that the planet is dying!…healthy relationships are not an esoteric goal. It is a matter of our very survival and the survival of most of life upon this earth” and, then conclude his essay with “What is the responsibility of a therapist on a dying planet? Physician, heal thyself”?

The answer is found in the strength of the very ideology ecopsychology seeks to undermine. Planetary destruction is reduced to an ailment in individual human minds. While ecopsychology wisely recognizes that the human mind is formed by material relationships and that physical threats to these material relationships are physical threats to the human mind, when ecopsychologists concern themselves primarily with psychotherapy they contribute very little to the effort to prevent psychopathology. Ecological psychotherapy, as a practice to heal mentally ill individuals, is merely a band-aid over a gunshot wound.

The natural world does not need more ecotherapists, it needs ecomilitants. It needs strategic, organized resistance to civilization. I say this as someone whose life has been saved by ecotherapy. My life and the lives of those lucky few privileged enough to gain access to ecotherapy are nothing compared to annihilation of life on Earth. If we do not concentrate all our efforts at physically toppling the systems destroying the planet, no amount of therapy is going to save us.

I recall the starlight on Thomas’ peacefully sleeping face. I don’t want my nephew to experience the illnesses causing someone to seek the services of a therapist – ecological or otherwise. I want him to live in a world where the physical richness of his experience guarantees his healthy psychological development. I want him to live in a world that isn’t being destroyed.

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