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Excerpt from Endgame

Can the Same Action Be Immoral and Moral? (p. 12)

From chapter "Five Stories"

Here’s a question I’ve been asking: can the same action seem immoral from one perspective and moral from another? From the perspective, for example, of salmon or other creatures, including humans, whose lives depend on free-flowing rivers, dams are murderous and immoral. To remove dams would, from this perspective, be extremely moral. Of course the most moral thing would have been to not build these or any other large dams in the first place. But they’re built, and they continue to be built the world over, to the consistent short-term fiscal benefit of huge corporations and over the determined yet usually unsuccessful resistance of the poor. The second most moral thing would be to let the water out slowly, and then breach the dams more or less gently, taking the survival needs (as opposed to the more abstract requirements of the dominant economic system) of all humans and nonhumans into account as we let rivers once again run free. But the dams are there, they’re killing rivers—because of dams in the Northwest, for example, salmon and sturgeon are fast disappearing, and in the Southwest, I’m not sure what more I need to say except that the Colorado River no longer even reaches the ocean—and the current political, economic, and social systems have shown themselves to be consistently unresponsive to and irredeemably detrimental to human and non-human needs. Faced with a choice between healthy functioning natural communities on one hand and profits on the other (or behind those profits, and motivating them, the centralization of power) of course those in power always choose the latter. What, then, becomes the moral thing to do? Do we stand by and watch the last of the salmon die? Do we write letters and file lawsuits that we know in our hearts will ultimately not make much difference? Do we take out the dams ourselves?

Here’s another question: What would the rivers themselves want?

I’m aiming at a far bigger and more profound target than the nearly twelve million cubic yards of cement that went into the Grand Coulee Dam. I want in this book to examine the morality and feasibility of intentionally taking down not just dams but all of civilization. I aim to examine this as unflinchingly and honestly as I can, even, or especially, at the risk of examining topics normally considered off-limits to discourse.

I am not the first to make the case that the industrial economy, indeed, civilization (which underpins and gives rise to it), is incompatible with human and nonhuman freedoms, and in fact with human and nonhuman life.If you accept that the industrial economy—and beneath it, civilization—is destroying the planet and creating unprecedented human suffering among the poor (and if you don’t accept this, go ahead and put this book down, back away slowly, turn on the television, and take some more soma: the drug should kick in soon enough, your agitation will disappear, you’ll forget everything I’ve written, and then everything will be perfect again, just like the voices from the television tell you over and over), then it becomes clear that the best thing that can happen, from the perspective of essentially all nonhumans as well as the vast majority of humans, is for the industrial economy (and civilization) to go away or, in the shorter run, for it to be slowed as much as humanly possible during the time we await its final collapse. But here’s the problem: this slowing of the industrial economy will inconvenience many of those who benefit from it, including nearly everyone in the United States. Many of those who will be inconvenienced identify so much more with their role as participants in the industrial economy than they do with being human that they may very well consider this inconvenience to be a threat to their very lives. Those people will not allow themselves to be inconvenienced without a fight. What, then, is the right thing to do? Is it possible to talk about fundamental social change without asking ourselves the question the Gandhian refused to answer?