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Excerpt from Endgame

Liberating Rivers, Blowing Up Dams (p. 216)

From chapter "Why Civilization is Killing the World, Part"

Liberating rivers, blowing up dams. The difference may seem semantic to you— like liberating versus invading Iraq, like “creating temporary meadows” versus clearcutting—but it doesn’t to me, for a number of reasons.

The first, and probably most important, has to do with everything I’ve been talking about in this book. Rhetoric aside, both invading Iraq and clearcutting are motivated by the culture’s obsession to control and exploit. The primary reason is to gain, maintain, and use resources—oil in the first case (as well as to provide a staging area for further invasions), trees in the second. Further, both invading and clearcutting damage landscapes, damage our habitat. They further enchain the natural world.

The primary motivation for liberating a river, on the other hand, isn’t selfish, except insofar as it benefits oneself to live in an intact, functioning natural community (duh!), and insofar as doing good feels good.

This all leads to probably the most important question of this book so far: with whom or what do you primarily identify? A way to get at that question is to ask: whom or what do your actions primarily benefit? Whom or what do you primarily serve?

Who or what primarily benefits from the invasion of Iraq? Let me put this more directly: who/what benefits from U.S. access to Iraqi oil fields?

The U.S. industrial economy, of course. If you care more about and identify more closely with the U.S. industrial economy than you care about or identify with people killed by U.S. bombs or bullets (or by the “blunt force trauma” of smackyface)—people under whose land the oil resides—then you may support the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

I’m taking bets as to who’s next on the list to be invaded. Smart money says Syria, but Lebanon and Iran aren’t far behind. Here are the current odds, if you’d like to jump into the pool: Syria, 1:1; Lebanon, 3:1; Iran, 4:1; North Korea, 15:1 (North Korea actually having the ability to fight back reduces the odds tremendously); other 25:1; invade nobody 10,000:1 (and Colombia doesn’t count, since the U.S. has already invaded [oh, sorry, is “advising”]; the same is true for the Philippines, and about a hundred and twenty other countries).

Similarly, if you identify more strongly with Weyerhaeuser or MAXXAM, or more broadly the industrial economy than you do with forests, you may support clearcutting.

Just today I saw an article in the local newspaper saying that local shrimp trawlers are complaining (accurately enough) about regulations California is (finally) putting in place to curtail the (extraordinary) damage done by trawling. Shrimp trawls are designed to maximize contact with the sea floor. They scrape away everything in their path, the undersea equivalent of clearcutting, picking up every living thing as they go. In some places 80 percent of the catch is “bycatch,” that is, creatures the trawlers can’t sell, and who are merely thrown overboard dead or dying.

Local trawlers say the regulations will force them out of business. Politicians say the regulations will hurt the local economy. This amounts to an explicit acknowledgment on both their parts that shrimping, and more broadly the local economy (and more broadly still the entire industrial economy) is predicated on harming and eventually destroying the landbase.

If you identify more closely with the local economy than the local landbase, it may make sense to you to support an economy that damages this landbase, your own habitat.

If, on the other hand, you identify more strongly with your landbase than with the economy, it may make sense to you to protect your landbase, your habitat. And since the industrial economy is poisoning us all, the same would be true for those who identify more closely with their own bodies and their own survival (and the survival of those they purport to love) than they do the industrial economy.

Who benefits from the removal of dams?

If you identify more closely with the Klamath River and its salmon, steelhead, lamprey, and other residents than you do with the agricorporations which primarily benefit from taking the river’s water, it may make sense to you to help the river return to running free, to liberate it from its concrete cage, or rather, to help it liberate itself. The same would be true for the Columbia, Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Sacramento, Nile, and all other rivers who would be better off without dams.

With what/whom do you most closely identify? Where is your primary allegiance? Where does your sense of skin extend, and what does it encompass? Does it include ExxonMobil, Monsanto, Microsoft? Do you give them fealty? Do you give them time, money? Do you serve them? Does it include the U.S. government? Do you pledge it allegiance? Do you serve it? Does it include the land where you live? Do you act in its best interests?

* * *

I still haven’t really gotten to the difference between liberating rivers and blowing up dams. It’s one of focus and intent. I’ve written elsewhere that if I were once again a child faced only with the options of a child (i.e., no running away), but having the understanding I do now of the intractability of my father’s violence, I would have killed him. But the point would not have been to kill him. The point would have been to liberate me and my family from the rapes and beatings, to stop the horrors.

Similarly, I don’t have a thing for explosives. If I took out a dam, it wouldn’t be so I could get off on the big kaboom. I’m not even sure it would be to help the salmon (although yesterday I saw seven baby coho in the stream behind my home, and fell in love with them all over again). It would be to help the river, which in turn would help the salmon. It would be to stop the horrors.