Purchase What We Leave Behind
Read more

Excerpt from What We Leave Behind

Horizontal Hostility (p. 76)

From chapter "SustainabilityTM"

Over the past several years I’ve received about 700 pieces of hate email. Only two of these were from right wingers (one of which was a death threat because I shared the stage with Ward Churchill: the writer didn’t even have the courtesy to threaten me because of my own work, but rather because of someone else’s; the other was from someone who objected to me using quantitative analysis to prove one of my points: I’m still not sure what his problem was). All of the others were from those whom I would have thought would have been allies. Some vegetarians and vegans write me hate mail because I eat meat. Some permaculture activists write me hate mail because I don’t think that gardening will by itself stop this culture from destroying the planet. Pacifists write me hate mail because I say that sometimes it’s okay to fight back. Hitchhikers have written me hate mail because I fly to give talks. People who don’t do much of anything have written me hate mail because my books are printed on the flesh of trees. A Trotskyist (I didn’t know there were any left) wrote me a note that began, “I hate you. I hate you. You are an anarchist and so I hate you.” Anarchists have written me hate mail because they say I’m not enough of an anarchist. And so it goes.

It’s all a monumental waste, and I wish these people would devote this time, this energy, this emotion, to stopping the culture that’s killing this planet.

It happens often enough to have a name: horizontal hostility. It has destroyed many movements for resistance against this culture, and driven people away from these movements in hordes. It’s much easier to attack our allies for their minor failings rather than take on Monsanto, Wal-Mart, Ford, Nike, Weyerhaeuser, and so on.

Intellectually, I understand why it happens, and even understand its roots in abusive power dynamics. Children who were abused by one parent often as adults end up hating the non-offending parent more than the offending parent, because the non-offending parent is safer. This safety allows those feelings to come out. This happened to me some in my 30s. I dated some women who had been treated very poorly by men (as many women have) and in these cases I was really the first nice guy they’d known. All of their anger toward men finally had a safe place to come roaring out. It wasn’t fun, and it’s not an experience I would repeat. The same thing is true on the larger scale: it can be so much easier and safer to get angry at the activist next door because that activist has a car, or eats foods you don’t approve of, and so on, than at the corporations and governments that are killing the planet, and the police who support them.

That’s why I hesitated to write this section. Would I be doing the same thing? I wasn’t sure. I wrote to ask my friend the activist Lierre Keith whether I should write a section criticizing McDonough. He is, after all, at least heading in the right direction.

She responded, and this is what I needed to hear, “But in the end, McDonough isn’t heading in the right direction. He’s heading in exactly the same direction—complete drawdown of planetary reserves of metal, oil, water, whatever—but we’ll get there a bit slower on his plan. Industrialization is still industrialization. This way of life is over. It has to change.

“And people who would otherwise have to face facts have an emotional/intellectual out: Look! The Rocky Mountain Institute has a car that can get 100 miles to the gallon! Yeah? So fucking what? Where will the steel and plastic come from? What about the asphalt? And the main problem is that if we’re building for cars—or truck factories and so on—we can’t build for human and other biotic communities: cars require the exact opposite.

“There’s no way trucks and an economy based on those kinds of distances are ever going to be sustainable. Why are we as a culture wasting our time and resources building one more fucking truck?

“So I think their project is corrupt and it’s only prolonging the inevitable. They’re still fighting for a way of life that necessitates destroying the planet.”

She’s right. I wrote the section.