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Excerpt from Endgame

John Osborn (p. 91)

From chapter "Listening to the Land"

Several years ago the environmentalist and physician John Osborn pointed out to me that many environmentalists begin by wanting to protect a piece of ground and end up questioning the foundations of Western civilization. I agree, obviously, but would emend his comment in two ways. The first is that it’s not only environmentalists whose involvement in their particular struggle leads them to question the basis of this whole way of living. Feminists, conservation biologists, anthropologists, historians, economists, anti-imperialists, anti-colonialists, prison activists, American Indian activists (obviously), otherpeople of color, those who simply hate the wage economy: I’ve spoken with people who are each of these, and they’ve reached the same conclusions. Why? Because once the questioning begins the search for root causes leads you back to the primary problem: the culture itself. And why is the problem the culture itself? Because this way of life is based on exploitation, domination, theft, and murder. And why is this culture based on exploitation, domination, theft, and murder? Because it’s based on the perceived right of the powerful to take whatever resources they want. If you perceive yourself as entitled to some resource—and if you’re unwilling or incapable of perceiving this other as a being with whom you can and should enter into a relationship—it doesn’t much matter whether the resource is land, gold, oil, fur, labor, or a warm, wet place to put your penis, nor does it matter who this other is, you’re going to take the resource.

The second way I would emend his comment is by adding the words in private. This questioning—and in fact rejection—of civilization happens almost exclusively in private, because a lot of these activists are afraid that if they spoke this in public, people would laugh at them, and they would lose whatever credibility they have—or feel they have. It’s always a difficult question. Do I stop this clearcut now, even knowing that without a fundamental change in the culture… I’m merely putting off the date of execution till the next corporate Congress- man figures out the next way to make sure the timber companies get out the cut? Or do I tell the truth, stand by, and watch the trees fall? The environmentalists I know are hanging on by our fingernails, praying that salmon, grizzlies, lynx, bobcat, Port Orford cedars survive till civilization comes down. If they survive, they’ll have a chance. If they don’t, they’re gone forever.

I’m sick of these options. I want to stop the destruction. I want to stop it now. I’m not satisfied to wait for civilization to exhaust its physical and metaphorical soil, then collapse. In the meantime it’s killing too many humans, too many nonhumans; it’s making too much of a shambles of the world.