Endgame: The Problem of Civilization

by Derrick Jensen

Seven Stories Press (2006)

Book Review

Although the writing style is quite informal, the basic structure of environmental activist Derrick Jensen’s two volume opus is that of a philosophical treatise. In Endgame, Jensen makes two highly controversial arguments:

1. The planet and the human species can only be saved by bringing down civilization.

2. This can only be accomplished by violent means.

Like a philosopher, Jensen builds his case on 20 basic premises listed at the beginning of both volumes (see below). By definition, a premise is mutually agreed assumption (as opposed to a statement of fact) that is used to rationally derive a set of conclusions. In other words, if someone rejects your premises, they will also disagree with conclusions based on these premises.

I myself agree with all but premise 9 and 12. Ten years ago, it was believed that the loss of fossil fuel based industrial agriculture would result in a big drop in population. However more recent research shows that permaculture and biointensive agriculture produce higher crop yields than factory farming. I also believe there is a vast difference between rich and poor people, both in terms of lived experience and power.

In Volume 1, Jensen traces the rise of cities, which by necessity steal resources from distant regions and eventually denude the entire landscape of these resources. After making the case that the corporate elite are voraciously consuming an ever increasing amount of energy, land, water and other resources, Jensen reminds us that we live on a finite planet. He then argues that corporations will most likely continue this greedy consumption until everything is used up – or until we stop them.

Volume 2, which is less structured and more informal, encapsulates many of Jensen’s experiences with the environmental movement and dogmatic “nonviolent” resistance advocates. Given the CIA’s heavy infiltration of both domestic and foreign non-violent resistance campaigns (see How the CIA Promotes Nonviolence), these chapters resonated strongly with my own experiences.

Other than general talk about blowing up dams and cellphone towers, Jensen is deliberately (and in my view wisely) vague about the exact form of violence he’s proposing.

Jensen’s (somewhat abbreviated) premises:

1. Civilization can never be sustainable, especially industrial civilization.
2. Traditional (ie indigenous) communities do not give up or sell their resources unless these communities are destroyed.
3. Industrial civilization would quickly collapse without its reliance on widespread violence.
4. Civilization is based on a clearly defined – violence by those at the top of the hierarchy against those at the bottom is often invisible.
5. The property of those at the top of the hierarchy is more valuable than that of those at the bottom.
6. Civilization isn’t redeemable – it will never voluntarily undergo sane transformation.
7. The longer we wait to bring down civilization, the messier the ultimate crash will be.
8. The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.
9. Some day there will be far fewer human beings on the planet than there are today.
10. The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
11. From the beginning this culture – civilization – has been a culture of occupation.
12. There are no rich people and no poor people. The rich delusionally believe they own all the land and the police enforce these delusions. The poor buy into these delusions almost as completely as the rich.
13. Those in power rise by force. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can decide how best to resist them.
14. From birth on, we’re acculturated to hate life, the natural world, women and children, to fear our bodies and to hate ourselves.
15. Love doesn’t imply passivism.
16. The material world is primary (to the spiritual world). Real world actions have real world consequences.
17. It’s a mistake (or more likely denial) to base our decisions on whether the actions stemming from them will or won’t frighten fence sitters or the mass of Americans.
18. Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.
19. This culture’s main problem is the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.
20. Within this culture economics – not community well being, not morals, not ethic, not justices, not life itself – drives social decisions.

The 2011 documentary EndCiv: Resist or Die is loosely based on Endgame.

Comments
  1. auntyuta says:

    Reblogged this on auntyuta and commented:
    Dr Bramhall’s review I find fascinating reading. Thank you, Stuart, for publishing it. I want very much to reblog it and study it a bit more.

  2. futuret says:

    MANY ASPECTS OF THE TRUTH APPEAR HERE. THANK YOU FOR MORE EXPOSURE. HERE IN THE STATE OF GEORGIA, THE ECONOMY IS VERY BAD, AND IT IS DIFFICULT TO GET ANY KIND OF HELP. I CONSTANTLY LIVE FOR HEART PALPITATIONS AND STRESS. PEOPLE ARE SCRAMBLING TO FIND FULL TIME JOBS. MY SIGNIFICANT OTHER, WAS INJURED AT HIS PLACE OF WORK, AND WE ARE HAVING A LAW FIRM TO HANDLE THE CASE. ONE OF OUR NEIGHBORS AT OUR APARTMENT COMPLEX HAS A FEAR OF LIVING ON THE STREETS, AS SHE CAN NOT GET ENOUGH HOURS FOR THE HIGH RENT. SHE DOES NOT LOOK GOOD EITHER.

  3. Very profound observation, futuret. I’m really sorry to hear things are so difficult for you.

  4. I don’t even know how what we have is considered to be ‘civilization’. We are anything but civilized.

    And I think what he means in number 12 is that the rich are only as rich as WE think they are. If for example, we were all to quit working and stop paying rents and mortgages, stopped shopping at grocery stores and instead, decided to camp out, grow our own vegetables, what would happen to the wealthy? Their money would be worthless. These ‘elites’ and extremely wealthy people keep that illusion alive so long as we believe in the illusion they have created for us. If we were to discontinue living what we called ‘civilized’, which in fact is not civilized, we could become self-sufficient and not depend on mass production of everything. This is what the ‘elites’ are afraid of. That is why you hear that if there were to be a hacking of our power grid, that we’d all be dead in no time flat. Some of us would, but there are millions who would go back to the basics and make it even better than how they’re living now. Actually having all power cut off, no cellphones, no refrigerators, no stoves, would toughen us up. We have become soft because of all of these things that provide creature comforts. What do people think others did before we had all of what we have today? And yet, they survived. Think about it. These things that we think we cannot live without are the very things we need to live without. It is not rocket science. What we think we need is not what we need at all. We just need to figure this out, but we are unwilling to because of fear when there really is nothing to fear in that respect. What we should fear is to continue with the status quo and if that be the case, then we are doomed, for sure because the ‘elites’ will continue to rule at our expense and they will continue look upon us with disdain and contempt simply because we can’t see what is right in front of us. They need us, we don’t need them and they have the sense to know this. We don’t. And they are hoping, we never will.

  5. Okay, Shelby, in pondering your comment, I can see your point about money having no value if working people refuse to give it value. I had never quite looked at it that way. Even though there are dozens of us here in New Plymouth trying to “go back to basics” by getting out of the formal banking system, through our seed bank, our crop swaps, our time bank and our savings pool (by collaborating with other New Zealand savings pools, we help people get mortgages without going through a bank). There are groups all over New Zealand starting similar projects – and from what I read similar groups on the west coast of the US. Where my daughter lives in Portland you can hire (or barter) a goat to get rid of noxious weeds.

    • This is exactly what I’m talking about. That is why the ‘elites’ are taking aim at people here in the states who are ‘living off-grid’ because if it caught on, money would be made redundant and they as well. If we had to depend on our neighbors, we’d like our neighbors a lot more. We hate each other because we don’t need to depend on each other or at least, we have been made to think we don’t. As soon as the ‘elites’ figured out how to get us at each others throats instead of needing each other, we were through and they became the ‘elites’.

      Florida Makes Off-Grid Living Illegal – Mandates All Homes Must Be Connected To Electricity & Water Grid
      http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/03/09/florida-makes-off-grid-living-illegal-mandates-all-homes-must-be-connected-to-an-electricity-grid/

      “Robin Speronis lives off the grid in Florida, completely independent of the city’s water and electric system. A few weeks ago, officials ruled her off-grid home illegal, citing the International Property Maintenance Code, which mandates that homes be connected to both an electricity grid and a running water source.

      This essentially means we are being forced to depend on corporations, that we have no choice about how to run our lives.”
      ————————————————————–

      They are forcing us to lose either way; we live off-grid and are made to get connected and even when we are connected, if we can’t pay skyrocketing utility costs, here in Baltimore, a homeowner can lose their home over non-payment of their water bill and what happens when we lose our home, homelessness and of course, this increases our chances of incarceration because TPTB know that no massive or large scale revolt is going to take place of people refusing to continue living with a system that is set up to exploit them. As long as it is just the poor who are impacted by these laws, which are positively feudal, this will continue and we shall merely remain slaves to lunatics.

  6. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    My comment:

    Jensen’s strictly pragmatic observations of civilization are generally accurate, in my opinion; although, they conspicuously ignore humankind’s latent capacity for adaptation. Just because civilization has been – with few exceptions – the corrupt, hierarchical, exploitative, combative, and wretched social structure that it is, doesn’t mean that it must be that way. Human nature is not all bad. We do have benevolent, compassionate, and altruistic impulses. What’s needed is time enough for progressive evolution to move our species beyond its primal roots.
    However, sufficient time is something we no longer have. Climate change will most likely end modern civilization by the end of this century. A violent anarchist revolution would not only be superfluous, it would shorten whatever time we have remaining. What Jensen and other anarchist thinkers also choose to ignore is: 1) that the social hierarchy inherent in human civilization since the dawn of agriculture is wholly dependent upon a large pyramidal population (i.e. rulers at the top, workers at the bottom); 2) that a large human population cannot exist without social organization; and, 3) that the current human population would be frighteningly devastated by the sudden collapse of social organization.
    Today, there are 7.4 billion people living on Earth. Prior to 10,000 years ago, the total never reached 10 million. That’s roughly a 1000-times increase since our hunter-gatherer cultures (see: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/discovery-of-agriculture-Human-population-/articleshow/23051078.cms).

  7. Reblogged this on shelbycourtland and commented:
    This is a great article, the thing is though, we don’t have a ‘civilization’ to bring down because we are not ‘civilized’. Just take a look around, do you really see much that would lead you to believe that we are indeed, ‘civilized’? Social media alone should be enough to disabuse you of THAT notion. But unfortunately, what we NEED to do, we won’t do. Sadly.

  8. Tara corn says:

    If you take a bus in any city in the United States, you will be heart-broken to see the sheer numbers of homelessness here. Not civilized. I cannot imagine how degenerate america is, to have elected anything like Donald Trump.

  9. I haven’t been in the US in awhile, Tara, and it makes me really sad to hear how bad things are getting. However it sounds to me that people are beginning to wake up and take a stand against all the corruption in American government. Let’s hope they stay awake and don’t fall asleep again. Thanks for your comment.

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