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Excerpt from Endgame

Like You Stole It (p. 185)

From chapter "A Culture of Occupation"

I’m driving through redwoods on a four-lane highway. A car materializes behind me, then speeds by so quickly I barely make out the sentence frosted on the rear window: Drive it like you stole it.

I laugh, then marvel at the boldness of this person seeming to beg police to give her tickets. But the longer I drive this ribbon of asphalt, the more significant the phrase seems. Let’s change it in that sentence from a car to the land: Live on this land like you stole it. That’s what members of this culture do. Probably because they did.

We should admit to ourselves, and this forms the eleventh premise of this book, that from the beginning, this culture—civilization—has been a culture of occupation.

What do occupiers do? They seize territory by force or threat of force. They take resources for use at the center of an empire. They degrade the landscape. They kill those who resist this theft. They enslave those whose labor is necessary for this theft, this degradation of the landscape. They eradicate those who are in the way—the humans and nonhumans whose land this is—and who must be removed so the occupiers can put the land to better use. They force the remaining humans to live under the laws and moral code of the occupiers. They inculcate future generations to forget their non-occupied past and to aspire to join the ranks of their occupiers, to actually join in the degradation of the landbase that was once theirs.

Because exploitation is so central to any culture of occupation—that’s part of what defines it—this exploitation infects and characterizes every part of the culture.

This means any civilized government, by all means including the United States, is a government of occupation, set up to facilitate resource extraction (to bring resources from the country to the city, from colony to empire), a process these days called production, and to prevent interference in this process by those whose lives are diminished or destroyed by the devastation of their landbase, and also by those whose lives are diminished or destroyed laboring to serve production.

Any civilized economics, by all means including capitalism, is an economics of occupation, set up to rationalize resource extraction, and to pre-empt reasonable discourse about non-exploitative community relations.

Any civilized religion, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, and so on, is a religion of occupation. A religion is supposed to teach us how to live, which if we’re to live sustainably, means it must teach us how to live in place. But people will live differently in different places, which means religions must be different in different places, and must emerge from the land itself, and not abstract themselves from it. It’s absurd to think that people will need the same guidance to live in the Middle East as in Tibet or the Pacific Northwest. And a transposable religion means that it could not have emerged from the particularities of that landscape. A religion is also supposed to teach us how to connect to the divine. Yet if a religion is transposed over space, it won’t—can’t—be so quick to speak to the divine in that particular place. The bottom line is that civilized religions lead people away from their intimate connection to the divinity in the land that is their own home and toward the abstract principles of this distant religion. How differently would we relate to trees if instead of singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” we, those of us who live in Tu’nes, were to sing, “I love these redwoods, and they love me. There’s no finer feeling than to be loved by a tree”? On the other hand, what better words to get young slave children to sing in unison than “Little ones to Him belong, They are weak but He is strong.” And finally, given the near ubiquitous belief among the overlords that their wealth and power is divinely ordained, how’s this for a hymn to teach the poor? “I want to be a worker for the Lord, I want to love and trust His holy word, I want to sing and pray and be busy every day, in the vineyard of the Lord.”

Any science of civilization will be a science of occupation, aiming toward ever more control of the occupied world, and toward the creation of ever more destructive technologies. Imagine the technologies that would be invented by a culture of inhabitation, that is, a sustainable culture, that is, a culture planning on being in the same place for ten thousand years. That culture would create technologies that enhance the landscape—what a concept!—and would decompose afterwards into components that help, not poison, the soil. The technologies would remind human inhabitants of their place in this landscape. The technologies would promote leisure, not production. The technologies would not be bombs and factory conveyor belts but perhaps stories, songs, and dances, and nets to catch set and sustainable numbers of salmon.