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Excerpt from Endgame

What Rights Do People Have? (p. 94)

From chapter "Listening to the Land"

The past few weeks I’ve been in crisis. I’m scared. Scared of the implications of this work. Scared to articulate what I know in my heart is necessary, and even more scared to help bring it about. I mean, we’re talking about taking down civilization here.

Last night I was at my mom’s eating dinner and watching a little March

Madness—the NCAA basketball tournament—and I kept thinking, as I watched UNC-Wilmington hold off USC in overtime after blowing a nineteen-point lead, a variant of the question my friend asked about what right I have to not let people live in cities. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people having fun watching these games. They’re not trying to exploit anyone. They’re not trying to kill the planet. What right do I have to so alter their lives? I’m not saying there would never be games again, because the lives of traditional indigenous peoples the world over are far more full of leisure and play than ours. I’m just saying that bringing down civilization would cause substantive changes in the way these people spend their time. And they may not—evidently they do not—want to change.

The answer came to me today. It’s the same answer I gave my friend, which is that I think it’s the wrong question. The question is: what right do all of these people have to destroy the lives of others by their very lifestyle?

It’s hard. I would have no moral or existential problem destroying the lifestyles of those in power. The politicians, CEOs, generals, capitalist journalists. Those who, if faced with a Nuremberg-style tribunal, should and would find themselves at the end of a rope for their crimes against both the natural world and humanity. But what about Americans just trying to love their children and take them to the amusement park once a month, to buy them toys, to get them an education so they can get a job? If I were directing a movie instead of writing a book, it might be appropriate for me to add a montage of images of everyday life in civilization. Young children dancing to “Y.M.C.A.” at a minor-league baseball game. An audience watching Hamlet trying to decide whether he should kill the murderous king (You do regularly go to Shakespeare festivals, don’t you?). People walking the aisles of independent bookstores, stopping to pick titles from the shelves. An ice cream truck. A picnic. But then to round out the montage I’d have to include children starving because the resources they need to live have been stolen; denuded hillsides, blasted streams, dammed and polluted rivers (I just heard that most of the rivers of southern England are so hormone-polluted that more than half of the male fish—in some cases all—are changing gender); prisons full of bored adults who’ve been convicted of crimes; factories full of bored adults who’ve not been convicted of crimes but are nonetheless sentenced to years of tedium; classrooms full of bored children being prepared for their boring lives in office or factory; factory farms full of bored (and tortured) chickens, pigs, cows, or turkeys; laboratories full of bored (and tortured) chimpanzees, rats, rhesus monkeys, mice.

The question quickly becomes: what rights do people have? More specifically, does anyone have the right to enslave another? More specifically yet, does any group of people have the right to enslave others—human or nonhuman—simply because they have the power to do so, and because they perceive it as their right (and because they have created a propaganda system consisting of intertwined religious, philosophical, scientific, educational, informational, economic, governmental, and legal systems all working to convince themselves and at least some of their human victims it is their right)? If not, what are you going to do about it? How much will it take? How far will you go in order to stop those in power from enslaving—and killing—the mass of humans, and in fact the planet?