Review of Endgame from The Review

By Brent Losak
Originally printed in the June 2007 issue of
The Review based in Waco, TX.

Derrick Jensen is that guy in your class who makes you cringe when he raises his hand.

Think about it—you know the one I mean. You sigh loudly enough for him to hear it and tune him out while he asks one of those “Why?” questions that doesn’t even relate to the class as far as you are concerned.

You watch the clock’s second hand tick-tock-take away moments of your life and ignore the teacher’s answer as well, because you know it won’t be on the test. Or will it?

Jensen is also a long-time grassroots environmental activist, a philosopher, a teacher and an author who writes, at the risk of sounding dramatic, what are arguably some of the most urgently important books on the planet. His latest work, Endgame (Seven Stories Press, 2006), is a two-volume assault on the foundations of western industrial civilization, which Jensen diagnoses as the root cause of such major problems as global ecocide, widespread oppression and social and economic inequality. Jensen defines “civilization” as a culture based on the growth of cities, which he asserts are based on the forced importation of resources.

The book’s first volume, The problem of Civilization is dedicated to explicitly stating and then fleshing out the foundational premises of the book, beginning with the assertion that civilization is inherently unsustainable. Some of these premises seek to drag the axioms of civilization itself out into the open and dissect them under an uncompromising floodlight.

Among other things, they examine the relationship between socio-economic hierarchy and violence, and show how the destruction caused by the current culture is tied to feelings of entitlement and objectification of the natural world.

Others foreshadow Endgame’s more thorough analyses of commonly divisive issues in activist and otherwise alternative or resistance movements. Particularly noteworthy is Jensen’s extensive critique of the many faces of pacifism.

It is in sections such as these that Jensen shows his acumen for clearing the muddied, emotion-drenched waters of arguments that have crippled many movement of the past, and that so often paralyze the actions of well-meaning individuals and groups.

In the second volume, Resistance, Jensen shifts from the detailed explications of his premises to a discussion of tactics—that is, possible tactics for bringing it all down—dams, electrical infrastructure, all of it. He’s careful to keep such situations hypothetical and to leave it up to the reader to take any or no action themselves. Throughout the span of the book, Jensen builds upon the observations of revolutionaries, religious leaders, activists, historians, sociologists, psychologists, economists, novelists, poets, ex-military personnel, computer hackers and philosophers to continually drive a deep sense of urgency and personal responsibility into the reader.

Whereas Jensen’s writing has never walked on eggshells, he seems to care even less now about possibly offending the reader. Jensen returns to his premises again and again, and also to his assertion that “all writers are propagandists.” That includes dictionary and textbook writers. That includes Jensen himself. That includes me writing this review.

He doesn’t want to “slip anything by” the reader, and he’s not interested in mincing words—either you see the logic of the argument, or you stop reading and go watch the ball game. Either way, Jensen aims to force all cards onto the table, whether they’re pretty or not.

Viewed in a vacuum, then, Endgame might come off as to harsh for many readers, but taken in context as a continuation of the questions and streams of thought Jensen began in A language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make believe, it becomes clear that Endgame is simply too focused on the dire emergency at hand to hold your hand through it anymore.

Endgame snatches away all of your hope and leaves you left alone with only a resolve to do something, anything, and everything you can to make things better. And if Jensen’s intent is to pin the reader in a corner with action as the only escape, then he has succeeded.

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