Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Savage and the Sustainable: Perspectives on Civilization

As I see it, there are two fundamentally different types of societies: the savage and the sustainable. Men who are now termed white have managed, through perpetrating genocidal genocidal gore and writing and worshiping pro-European/U.S. lore, try, with alarming success, to equate "the savage" with "that which must be destroyed or made holy" by the white man. The success of centuries old campaign of brain-washing and brain-bashing is an ugly testament to the intellectual, spiritual, and political brutality of Western Civilization.

Note: I intrusively add adjustments to a quote by a white man named Mumford and another one named Diamond, which appear in brackets below with a single asterisk at the beginning of each of my additions. Anything else in brackets is in the original text.

From Derrick Jensen, Endgame, vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization (pages 18 to 23):

'The story of any civilization is the story of the rise of city-states, which means it is the story of the funneling of resources toward these centers (in order to sustain them and cause them to grow), which means it is the story of an increasing region of unsustainability surrounded by an increasingly exploited countryside.

'German Reichskanzler Paul von Hindenburg described the relationship perfectly: "Without colonies no security regarding the acquisition of raw materials, without raw materials no industry, without industry no adequate standard of living and wealth. Therefore, Germans, do we need colonies."

'Of course someone already lives in the colonies, although that is evidently not of any importance.

'But there's more. Cities don't arise in political, social, and ecological vacuums. Lewis Mumford, in the second book of his extraordinary two-volume Myth of the Machine, uses the term civilization "to denote the group of institutions that first took form under kingship. Its chief features, constant in varying proportions throughout history, are the centralization of political power [among men], the separation of classes [*including arranging gender as a male supremacist hierarchy], the lifetime division of labor [*especially negatively impacting women and/or the poor or enslaved], the economic exploitation of the weak [*including those politically weakened by rape, those coerced or forced into systems of prostitution and heterosexual patriarchal marriage], and the universal introduction of slavery [*including sexual slavery] and forced labor [*including the labor of caring for men, the labor of birthing, and the labor used by women and girls to resist being forcibly sterilized, and the labor of child rearing] for both military and industrial purposes." (The anthropologist and philosopher Stanley Diamond put this a bit more succinctly when he noted, "Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.") These attributes, which inhere not just in this culture but in all civilizations, make civilization sound pretty bad. But, according to Mumford, civilization has another benign face as well. He continues, "These institutions would have completely discredited both the primal myth of divine kingship and the derivative myth of the machine had they not been accompanied by another set of collective traits that deservedly claim administration: the invention and keeping of the written record, the growth of visual and musical arts, the effort to widen the circle of communication and economic intercourse far beyond the range of any local community: ultimately the purpose to make available to all men [sic] the discoveries and inventions and creations, the works of art and thought, the values and purposes that any single group has discovered."

'Much as I admire and have been influenced by Mumford's work, I fear that when he began discussing civilization's admirable face he fell under the spell of the same propaganda promulgated by the lexicographers whose work I consulted: that this culture is really "advanced," or "higher." But if we dig beneath this second, smiling mask of civilization--the belief that civilization's visual or musical arts, for example, are more developed than those of noncivilized peoples--we find a mirror image of civilization's other face, that of power. For example, it wouldn't be the whole truth to say that visual and musical arts have simply grown or become more highly advanced under this system; it's more true that they have long ago succumbed to the same division of labor that characterizes this culture's economics and politics. Where among the traditional indigenous people--the "uncivilized"--songs are sung by everyone as a means to bond members of the community and celebrate each other and their land-base, within civilization songs are written and performed by experts, those with "talent," those whose lives are devoted to the production of these arts. There's no reason for me to listen to my neighbor sing (probably off-key) some amateurish song of her own invention when I can pop in a CD of Beethoven, Mozart, or Lou Reed (okay, so Lou Reed sings off-key, too, but I like it). I'm not certain I'd characterize the conversation of human beings from participants in the ongoing creation of communal arts to more passive consumers of artistic products manufactured by distant experts--even if those distant experts are really talented--as a good thing.

'I could make a similar argument about writing, but Stanley Diamond beat me to it: "Writing was one of the original mysteries of civilization, and it reduced the complexities of experience to the written word. Moreover, writing provides the ruling classes with an ideological instrument of incalculable power. The word of [*a patriarchal male] God becomes an invincible law, mediated by [*patriarchal male] priests; therefore, respond the Iroquois, confronting the European: 'Scripture was written by the Devil.' With the advent of writing, symbols became explicit; they lost a certain richness. Man's word was no longer an endless exploration of reality, but a sign that could be used against him.... For writing splits consciousness in two ways--it becomes more authoritative than talking, thus degrading the meaning of speech and eroding oral tradition; and it makes it possible to use words for the political manipulation and control of others. Written signs supplant memory; and official, fixed, and permanent vision of events can be made. If it is written, in early civilizations [and I would suggest now], it is bound to be true.

'I have two problems with the claim that the widening of communication and economic intercourse under civilization benefits people as a whole.

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