A World of Make-Believe

We live in a world of make-believe. Think of it as a little game–the only problem being that the repercussions are real. Bang! Bang! You’re dead–only the other person doesn’t get up. My father, in order to rationalize his behavior, had to live in a world of make-believe. He had to make us believe that the beatings and rapes made sense, that all was as it should, and must, be. Now, it will be obvious to everyone that my father’s game of make-believe was far from fun—it was destructive. My father rewrote the script on a day-to-day basis, thereby making everything right—he created the reality he required in order to continue his behavior.

In attempting to describe the world in make-believe terms, we have forgotten what is real and what isn’t. We pretend the world is silent, whereas in reality it is filled with conversations. We pretend we are not animals, whereas in reality the laws of ecology apply as much to us as the rest of “God’s Creation.” We pretend we’re at the top of a great chain of being, although evolution is nonhierarchical.

Here’s what I think: it’s a sham. It’s a giant game of make-believe. We pretend that animals feel no pain, and that we have no ethical responsibility toward them. But how do we know? We pretend that other humans—the women who have been raped, for example (a full twenty-five percent of all women in this culture have been raped, and an additional nineteen percent have had to fend off rape attempts), or the one hundred and fifty million children who are enslaved to make soccer balls, tennis shoes, Barbie dolls, and the like—are happy and unaffected by it all. We pretend all is well as we dissipate our lives in quiet desperation.

We pretend that death is an enemy, although it is an integral part of life. We pretend we don’t have to die, that modern medicine can cure what ails us, no matter what it is. But can modern medicine cure a dying soul? Science, politics, economics, and everyday life do not exist separately from ethics. But we act like they do.

The problem is not difficult to understand: we pretend that anything we do not understand—anything that cannot be measured, quantified, and controlled—does not exist. We pretend that animals are resources to be conserved or consumed, when, in reality, they have purposes entirely independent of us. It is wrong to make-believe that people are nothing more than “Human Resources” to be efficiently utilized, when they too have independent existences and preferences. And it is wrong to make-believe that animals are not sentient, that they do not form social communities in which members nurture, love, sustain, and grieve for each other, that they do not manifest ethical behavior.

We act like these pretenses are reasonable, but none of them are intuitive or instinctual; nor are they logically, empirically, or ethically defensible. Taken together, a way of life based on these pretenses is destroying life on the planet.

But a real world still awaits us, one that is ready to speak to us, if only we would remember how to listen.

This selection has been excerpted from Derrick Jensen’s A Language Older Than Words (2004) and printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing at The MOON magazine

Filed in Book excerpts, Essays
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