In A Language Older Than Words, author Derrick Jensen explores the relationship between silencing and clearcutting, between abuse of human beings and abuse of salmon, and offers us a different way to listen. This passage is taken from the opening of the book.
There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists.
In order for us to maintain our way of living, we must, in a broad sense, tell lies to each other, and especially to ourselves. It is not necessary that the lies be particularly believable. The lies act as barriers to truth. These barriers to truth are necessary because without them many deplorable acts would become impossibilities. Truth must at all costs be avoided. When we do allow self-evident truths to percolate past our defences and into our consciousness, they are treated like so many hand grenades rolling across the dance floor of an improbably macabre party.
We try to stay out of harm’s way, afraid they will go off, shatter our delusions, and leave us exposed to what we have done to the world and to ourselves, exposed as the hollow people we have become. And so we avoid these truths, these self-evident truths, and continue the dance of world destruction.
As is true for most children, when I was young I heard the world speak.
Stars sang. Stones had preferences. Trees had bad days. Toads held lively discussions, crowed over a good day’s catch. Like static on a radio, schooling and other forms of socialization began to interfere with my perception of the animate world, and for a number of years I almost believed that only humans spoke.
The gap between what I experienced and what I almost believed confused me deeply. It wasn’t until later that I began to understand the personal, political, social, ecological, and economic implications of living in a silenced world.
The silencing is central to the workings of our culture.
The staunch refusal to hear the voices of those we exploit is crucial to our domination of them. Religion, science, philosophy, politics, education, psychology, medicine, literature, linguistics, and art have all been pressed into service as tools to rationalize the silencing and degradation of women, children, other races, other cultures, the natural world and its members, our emotions, our consciences, our experiences, and our cultural and personal histories.
Derrick Jensen is a long time environmental campaigner, activist, writer and founding member of Deep Green Resistance. He has published Endgame, The Culture of Make Believe, A Language Older than Words, and many other books.
Featured image by Max Wilbert.