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Excerpt from Endgame

New Questions (p. 393)

From chapter "Fulcrums"

The new questions become: What are some of civilization’s bottlenecks? What are some of civilization’s limiting factors? Like transportation networks, oil, and industrial diamonds for the Nazis, what are some of the objects or processes that, if interdicted, could cause civilization to grind to a halt?

Similarly, where can we find fulcrums, pivot points, to magnify our efforts? Where do we put the levers, what do we use for fulcrums, how and when and how hard to we push to help topple this culture of death?

Are these fulcrums psychological? I hear all the time that it would do no good to take out dams, for example, because that would leave intact the mindset that leads to their erection in the first place. We need to change hearts and minds, I am told, and once these hearts and minds have been changed everything else will fall into place. Civilization will disappear because people are no longer insane enough to want it.

But maybe that question is too vague. Whose hearts and minds are we trying to reach? Where do we place our efforts in changing hearts and minds to achieve the most effect? Is it among the politically and economically powerful? Is it among the “mass of Americans”? Is it among the disaffected? Is it among the poor? Is it among the so-called criminal classes? Is it among the cops and the military? These latter, after all, have a lot of guns. Where will we achieve the most good?

Are the fulcrums spiritual? People value what they consider sacred. They sacralize what they value. Perhaps we should attempt to desacralize power for power’s sake. Perhaps we should attempt to break down the divine right of science, the divine right of corporations, the divine right of production, the divine right of nation-states. Perhaps we should attempt to help people to remember that spiders who live in their bathrooms are sacred, as are salmon who spawn in rivers outside their homes, plants who push up through sidewalks, salamanders who live high in the hollows of ancient redwoods, their own bodies, their own experiences, their own sexuality, their own flesh free from industrial carcinogens. Where do we place the levers, the fulcrums, to help people remember that they are humans living in a landbase, that they are animals?

Are these fulcrums personal, such that, like Hitler, the “removal” of this or that person will make a tangible difference? Would it help the redwoods and workers of northern California to make sure Charles Hurwitz, CEO of MAXXAM, does not damage them from his high-rise home in Houston, Texas? If so, where and how and when do we act in this way?

In cases where it’s not the individual CEO, but the position—where social framing conditions make it so that most people who would take up that position share the same deadened worldview that would cause them to commit the same atrocities—where then do we place the levers and fulcrums? Do we go CEO to CEO, “removing” them one by one? We always hear that the machine-like characteristics of corporations mean that CEOs are simply cogs—albeit large ones—in these community-destroying institutions, and so it would do no good to remove them. It’s an odd argument to make, even when I make it myself (as I did a few pages ago). There are few who suggest that simply because arresting or killing one rapist does not stop other men from raping, that this means we should not stop whatever rapists we can through any means necessary. Yet when it comes to CEOs the argument seems to hold: Someone else will just take this one’s place, so we must not stop this one personally. In fact, we must allow him to continue to be rewarded with millions of dollars per year in salaries and stock options. Where are the fulcrums to stop these people, these institutions? Where are the bottlenecks?

Or perhaps the fulcrums are social. Perhaps instead of (or in addition to) removing individual CEOs, we need to change the social institutions that themselves amplify the destructive efforts of these individuals. Charles Hurwitz does not kill redwoods by cutting them down. He kills them by ordering them cut down, or even more abstractly, by ordering someone to maximize profits. Are there counterlevers we can use to pry away his levers of power? Are there social means by which we can do that?

Or perhaps, as was also true of the Nazis, some of the fulcrums are infrastructural. John Muir is famously noted as saying, “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” The thing is, a fool couldn’t cut down trees by him or herself. I used to think that we were fighting an incredibly difficult battle in part because it takes a thousand years of living to make an ancient tree, while any fool can come along with a chainsaw and cut it down in an hour or two. I’ve since realized that’s all wrong. The truth is that thriving on a living planet is easy—the whole forest, for example, conspires to grow that tree and every other, and we don’t have to do anything special except leave it alone—while cutting down a tree is actually a very difficult process involving the entire global economy. I wouldn’t care how many ancient redwoods Charles Hurwitz cut down, if he did it all by himself, scratching pathetically with bloodied nails at bark, gnawing with bloody teeth at heartwood, sometimes picking up rocks to make stone axes. To cut down a big tree you need the entire mining infrastructure for the metals necessary for chainsaws (or a hundred years ago, whipsaws); the entire oil infrastructure for gas to run the chainsaws, and for trucks to transport the dead trees to market where they will be sold and shipped to some distant place (once Charles had downed the tree by himself, I would wish him luck transporting it without the assistance of the global economy); and so on. It takes a whole lot of fools to cut down a tree, and if we break the infrastructural chain at any point, they won’t be able to do it.

The same is true, of course, for the rest of this culture’s destructive activities, from vivisection to factory farming to vacuuming the oceans to paving the grasslands to irradiating the planet: every one of this economy’s destructive activities requires immense amounts of energy and worldwide economic, infrastructural, military, and police support to accomplish. If any one of these supports fail—I want to emphasize, if any one of these supports fail—the destructive activities will be curtailed. Where do we place our levers?

Or maybe the fulcrums are all of the above. Maybe changing people’s hearts has a place. Maybe so do all the others, and maybe we should pursue them all, according to our gifts, proclivities, and opportunities.

The bottom line so far as fulcrums and bottlenecks: What will it take to stop this culture of death before it kills the planet?