..sharing more from Derrick Jensen’s ‘A Language Older Than Words’ because I can. As always, you don’t gotta like it. Or even read it. I know I’m just being redundant.
“The word ‘economics’ comes from the Greek ‘ta oikonomika’, which means ‘the science of household management.’ It is how one takes care of one’s house. The word has suffered devaluation, and now means the management of money.
The word ‘ecocide’ comes from Greek as well, ‘oikos’, meaning ‘house’, and ‘cidium’ meaning ‘to slay or destroy.’ Ecocide is the destruction of a house.”
“While the goals of economics — as is also true of physics — consists of equations ostensibly created to describe real-life events, it does so poorly. In order to make equations manageable (thus allowing the pretension that life is manageable) economists must disregard or fudge variables that may be difficult or impossible to quanitfy. Thus today I can look in an economics textbook and see that Wh = B + M, which means that wealth by definition equals bonds plus money, because, as the authors state, ‘bonds and money are the only stores of wealth.’ This example is not unfair: corporate accountants do not factor human happiness into their bottom lines, or the suffering of enslaved children. The voices of wild wolf and caged hen do not enter these equations. Like our science and our religion, corporate economics deafens us to corporeal life.
What’s more ludicrous is that the equations fail to describe even our economic system. The equations I learned were based almost exclusively on the model of something called ‘the free market.’ It was hard for me to waste time learning equations based on something that doesn’t exist: even Dwayne Andreas, former chief executive officer of the argibusiness transnational Archer Daniels Midland, admits, ‘There is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold in the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.’ You see the same thing economics classes.
For our economics textbooks to have been accurate, they would need to be printed in blood. The blood of indigenous peoples destroyed so their land could be taken, bought, and sold. The blood of salmon, beaver, and buffalo commodified and killed for the money they have come to represent. The blood of all of us whose lives are diminished in the act of commodifying others. The blood of slaves and wage slaves who spend their lives toiling so their owners may have the leisure that is the birthright of every living being. The blood of the land itself, poisoned by ‘externalities’, those cumbersome details too dark or difficult or inconvenient to take their place in the economic equations that guide so much of our lives. The blood of everyone who is silenced by economic theory. In the same vein as our science and religion, the most obvious function of our economics is the erection of a sociopolitical framework on which to base a system of exploitation.
I hung on through fall semester, and bailed in early spring. … The classes were meaningless, … I remember a class in managerial economics, the textbook for which was Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’. The instructor told us our grade would be based on presentations, and because the business world is, as he put it, ‘a world of cutthroat competition’, students were encouraged to sabotage the bulb from a slide projector when the presenter had left the room. Because the presenter had another bulb in his pocket, he received an A. I did not last the day; after hearing that story I packed away my notebook, slipped out the door, and went to the registrar’s office to drop the class.”
“It doesn’t make much sense for me to raise chickens. Why should I go to the trouble of incubating chicks, keeping them in my bathtub, dumpster diving for food, and conversing with coyotes, when I can go to Albertson’s and buy a package of drumsticks for less than a buck a pound?
Not much that we do in our personal lives makes much economic sense, just as most things we do for money make no sense in personal terms. It makes little economic sense for me to write this book: my pay will probably hover around a buck an hour (enough, at least, to buy a pound of chicken). From a fiscal standpoint, I’d be better off working at McDonald’s. High jumping didn’t pay. Friendships don’t pay. It makes no economic sense to make love: it takes time, uses calories, and costs money if you use condoms or pills.
I suppose if we stretch the definition, making love can be made to fit into certain economic categories: my friend tells me the price for sex on East Sprague here in Spokane is 50 bucks for a lay, 40 bucks for a blow, and 100 for the woman to do whatever you want for an hour.
It could be argued that by moving swiftly from lovemaking to buying sex I am blurring distinctions that shouldn’t be blurred. But that’s what happens to any process when we turn it into an economic exchange, whether we’re talking about a trick on East Sprague, a pound of chicken at Albertson’s, or a book at Hastings or Borders. The complex and often murky processes — lovingmaking in the first place; the gathering, raising, or killing of food (as well as more broadly our relations with other species) in the second; and in the third the process of exploring and articulating what it means to be alive and human — have been telescoped into commodities that can be quantified and transferred. ‘I’d like three books, two packages of chicken McNuggets, and a blow to go, please.’ That which it is possible to reduce to a commodity and sell, is. That which can’t, is either (by definition) devalued, ignored, or simply destroyed.
Let’s get back to East Sprague, and to what must be lost in transition from intimate to commercial. Love is certainly lost, but what else? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps the transition merely demystifies — removes the shroud of projection, of unnecessary and cumbersome mystery — to reveal what, at base, is really there: friction on skin, stimulation of nerve endings, lubrication, seminal emission. Nothing else. Perhaps our economics reduces it as surely and cleanly as does our science to what is reproducible and quantifiable in any laboratory, to what is real: we have time of erection, cubic centimeters and chemical content of semen, chemical content of the woman’s lubrication (if you pay 50). With the right equipment we could track the chemicals in the man’s brain as he comes, and those in the woman’s brain as she thinks of something else.
Here’s the problem: in this tidy world of economic categories, there’s no room for love, joy, mystery, for the somtimes confused and confusing, sometimes clear and clarifying, sometimes beautiful, sometimes magical suction of body on body, skin on skin, soul on soul. The process of lovers entangling and moving together figures little in the exchanges on East Sprague.
But I suppose even within the context of a relationship we could twist sexuality to make it fit within economic categories: I give pleasure in order to receive an equal amount of pleasure. It’s an economic exchange as surely as if money changed hands, with the currency now caresses. But as was the case for the two friends sucking on straws, this description of economic selfishness does not describe the process as I experience it. My experience — and this is true not just about sexuality — is quite the opposite of what our economic philosophy would suggest. The purpose — and this, too, is true for all of life — is in the giving, sharing, and receiving wrapped inextricably into a single thread.
Our economics, as is true of our science, represents the triumph of product over process, and form over content. It is the triumph of selective deafness and blindness over conscience and relationship. I don’t care how miserable was the chicken’s life nor how poisonous the hormones, just give me cheap and juicy drumsticks. I don’t care that the prostitute is probably poor and was sexually abused as a child, nor that the encounter will be devoid of emotional content, just get me off. My shoes were made in an Indonesian sweatshop? I don’t have the money to buy socially and ecologically friendly shoes that cost twice as much. It doesn’t matter that the production of my toilet paper came at the expense of clearcut mountainsides, sedimented streams, and rivers poisoned with dioxin; I cannot afford, once again, to buy the unbleached and recycled stuff that goes for 50 cents a roll.
One of the problems with our economics system is that money is valued over all else. That is enough to guarantee widespread misery, degradation, and ultimately the destruction of most, if not all, life on this Earth. It is axiomatic that people will not pay for that which they can get for free. This means that with certain notable exceptions — professional athletes, many of the self-employed, creative workers such as artists, scientists, members of the helping professions, and so on — most people will not get paid for doing what they would otherwise do, what they love: why should someone pay if you will do it anyway? Another way to say this is that as with grades, if implicit motivation is there, there’s no reason for external reward. The counter of this is also true, that oftentimes monetary rewards substitute for implicit motivation. What this means is that so long as money is valued — and in fact necessary — a great percentage of people will end up spending a great deal of time doing things they don’t want to do.
Prior to contact with our culture, it was common for members of indigenous cultures throughout the world to live ‘a careless life.’ Indeed, the Khoikhoi were said to ‘scarcely admit either force or rewards for reclaiming them from that innate lethargick humor. Their common answer to all motives of this kind, is, that the fields and woods provide plenty of necessaries for their support, and nature has amply provided for their subsistence, by loading the trees with plenty of almonds … and by dispersing up and down many wholesome brooks and pure rivolets to quench their thirst. So that there is no need of work. … And thus many of them idly spend their years of a useless restive life.’
Because our cash economy is predicated on the idea of a society composed of atomistic individuals pulling in selfish directions, it can do no other than reward selfish behavior. Communal behavior is not rewarded in this system, which means the cash economy can do no other than destroy communities. It damages relationships, too, not only because relationship consist of processes, not products, and are thus invisible to the system, but also because any relationship based on atomistic individuals pulling in selfish directions is not a relationship at all. And our cash economy can do no other than destroy life on the Earth, because life has neither value nor voice, whereas resources, for example two-by-fours, while still voiceless, have value. Given the system of rewards, it is a surprising testament to the tenacity of life that any viable natural communities persist. It is an open question as to how much longer they will do so.
Our economics promises a life of increasing ease, which would put us back where we started so many rapes, clearcut forests, and extirpated species ago. For those of us rich enough to reap its benefits, our economic system offers a life devoid of experience; as though life, and experience, were a hassle. I can buy fast food. I can buy fast sex. I can buy fast ideas. It is as though our goal were to pass our days comfortably in an embryonic hot tub, television turned on for community so we need never relate to another living being, umbilical cord attached so we need neither chew nor swallow. This kind of withdrawal makes sense for a traumatized people who believe that they’ve been forced to inhabit a treacherous world filled with selfish individuals. But if the world is not as they believe, then how sad that we avoid relationships to avoid the hassle.
Had I been satisfied to buy shrink-wrapped drumsticks at the grocery store, I may never have begun a conversation with coyotes, nor had the honor of meeting that brave Pekin who taught me about death. I would never have dug in a dumpster for the birds, nor felt the communion of generosity with that homeless man. … I may never have begun this exploration, with the richness of understanding it has brought to me.
It’s true as well that had I not attended the School of Mines, I would not have high jumped, and had my father not abused me, I may never have been sufficiently alienated from our culture to see it for what it is. Negative experiences can lead to joy and understanding. Life is untidy. When we reject this messiness — and in so doing reject life — we risk perceiving the world through the lens of our economics or our science. But if we celebrate life with all its contradictions, embrace it, experience it, and ultimately live with it, there is the chance for a spiritual life filled not only with pain and untidiness, but also with joy, community, and creativity. [now he’s saying LIFE, here.. not pretend/fake-life known as Civilization]
Last December I saw an advertisement outside an electronics store. There was a little boy, delirious with delight, surrounded by computers, stereos, and other gadgets. The text read: ‘We know what your child wants for Christmas.” I stared at the poster, then said to no one in particular, ‘What your child wants for Christimas is your love, but if he can’t get that, he’ll settle for a bunch of electronic crap.’
Don’t look at my finger. Look at the moon. The point of this book is not to excoriate our culture. To believe that any one thing is ‘the problem’ would be to believe that if we simply reform our economic system, everything will be okay, or if we reform science, or Christianity, or if I simply wait for my father to die, then everything will suddenly be fine.
But it won’t be fine. We need to look deeper. Ours is not the only deathly economics to evolve, and Christianity is not the only body-, woman-, and Earth-hating tradition. Women have also been raped, killed, and mutilated to serve Allah. The Hindu code of Manu V decrees that ‘A woman must never be free of subjugation’, and there have been many indigenous cultures as virulently misogynistic as our own. Other systems of knowledge have blinded people to physical reality and have deafened them to the suffering of others as surely as Western science. Other cultures have screwed up the environment, though none with the intensity, scope, enthusiasm, or finality with which we have approached this task.
But not every culture has done these things.
Don’t look at my finger. Look at the moon.
We need to look beyond, to the urges that inform, to the hidden wounds and presumptions that lead first to the conceptualization and later implementation of our economics, our science, our religion, our misogyny and child abuse. An economics like ours can emerge only from a consciousness like ours, and only a consciousness like ours can give rise to an economics like ours. To change economics, science, religion, or our intimate relations with humans and nonhumans, we must fundamentally change our consciousness, and in so doing fundamentally change the way we perceive the world. Try to see the patterns. Look. Look again, and look a third time. Listen.
Make no mistake, our economic system can do no other than destroy everything it encounters. That’s what happens when you convert living beings to cash. That conversion, from living trees to lumber, schools of cod to fish sticks, and onward to numbers on a ledger, is the central process of our economic system. Psychologically, it is the central process of our enculturation; we are most handsomely rewarded in direct relation to the manner in which we can help increase the Gross National Product.
It’s unavoidable: so long as we value money more highly than living beings and more highly than relationships, we will continue to see living beings as resources, and convert them to cash; objectifying, killing, extirpating. This is true whether we’re talking about fish, fur-bearing mammals, Indians, day-laborers, and so on. If monetary value is attached to something, it will be exploited until it’s gone. This story is so oft-repeated and oft-ignored.
Take the great auk, also called the spearbill in tribute to its massive bill, and called by the Spanish and Portuguese ‘pinguin’, which means ‘the fat one’, in reference to the soft jumpsuit of blubber that enveloped it. This flightless bird was common throughout Europe, existing side-by-side with humans as far south as the Mediterranean coast of France. By the year 900, the great auk was no longer perceived as a neighbor; it had become a commodity. It was slaughtered commercially for the oil derived from its fat, and for its soft elastic feathers. By the mid-17th century, hyperexploitation had killed all but one of the great auk nesting sites in Europe, and that was destroyed before 1800.
In North America, too, humans coexisted with great auks for thousands of years, perhaps thousands of human generations. But they didn’t develop an economics requiring the objectification of all others, and so the relationship continued. Humans smoked auk meat to eat through winter; they ate their eggs; they rendered fat into oil which they stored in sacks made from them into flour from which they made winter pudding. Humans did all this, season after season, generation after generation, causing no appreciable harm to the birds. I do not know what these humans gave to greak auks in return, but I would stake any hope I have for continued human existence on the belief that the humans gave something back to these stately black birds, with their powerful lungs and wings made for diving and undersea propulsion. Perhaps all they gave back was the right for them to be.
The earliest description we have of a North American encounter between Europeans and great auks ends, as these encounters always do, in tragedy for the natives: ‘Our two barcques were sent off to the island to produce some of the birds, whose numbers were so great as to be incredible. … In less than half-an-hour our two barcques were laden with them as if laden with stones.’ The next year another chronicler noted, ‘This island is so exceedingly full of birds that all the ships of France might load a cargo of them without anyone noticing that any had been removed.’ Having been noticed by members of our culture, the fate of the great auk was sealed.
They were slaughtered for their meat, which was sold. They were slaughtered for their oil, which was sold. They were slaughtered for their feathers, which were sold. Their eggs were taken for markets in Boston and New York. Wrote an Englishman: ‘These Penguins are as big as geese and … they multiply so infinitely upon certain flat islands that men drive them from hence upon a board into the boats by the hundreds at a time, as if God had made the innocency of so poor a creature to become such an abundant instrument in the sustenation of man.’
At last, around the turn of the 19th century, bans were placed upon the killing of remnant auk populations. The bans, being as nominal as environmental restrictions are today, were of course ignored, and the last known rookery was destroyed in 1802. But one colony, a tiny one of perhaps 100 individuals, remained, near Iceland. Word of this colony finally reached Europe, and collectors quickly offered a local merchant high prices for eggs. By 1843, most of the birds were gone, and on June 3, 1844, three fishermen killed the last 2 auks, and smashed the last auk egg.
It would be easy for me to hate that local merchant and this three hirelings for what they did to the world in general, and to me in particular, when they eradicated these creatures. But as with Chivington, Hitler, Descartes, Bacon, the authors of the Bible, ‘free market’ economist Milton Friedman, and so on ad nauseum, these men were not alone. They had, and continue to have, an entire culture for company. A bureaucrat with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and the Ocean stated the matter perfectly. His honesty is frightening: ‘No matter how many there may have been, the Great Auk had to go. They must have consumed thousands of tons of marine life that commercial fish stocks depend on. There wasn’t any room for them in any properly managed fishery. Personally, I think we ought to be grateful to the old timers for handling the problem for us.’
Any being that sparks economic interest is doomed. Eskimo curlews, passenger pigeons, puffins, teals, plovers, all these and MORE were exterminated or diminished by the insatiable lust for killing that our economics both rationalizes and rewards.
Sea mink, exterminated for their fur. Beavers, decimated. Wolverines. Fisher, marten, otter. Buffalo, wood bison, pronghorn antelope. Salmon: ‘A ball could not have been fired into the water without striking a salmon.’ Cod: ‘So thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them.’ Halibut. Herring: ‘I have seen 600 barrels taken in one sweep of a seine net. Often sufficient salt cannot be procured to save them and they are used as manure.’ Capelin: ‘We would stand up to our knees in a regular soup of them, scooping them out with buckets and filling the wagons until the horses could scarcely haul them off the beaches. You would sink to your ankles in the sand, it was that spongy with capelin eggs. We took all we needed for bait and for to manure the gardens, and it was like we’d never touched them at all, they was so plenty.’
You or I could catch all the fish we could ever eat, cut all the trees we could ever use, kill all the animals whose skins we could wear, and we would still not destroy the Earth. Or rather, we could kill all that is given to us only so willingly as we give back. What the hell use would it be for me to overfish West Medical Lake, where just tonight I caught my dinner? Why would I possibly take every fish? They would rot. It makes more sense to leave them so I can come back next week or next year, or never. Why should I stop them from living out their lives in their own manner?
Right now in the Bering Sea 45 trawlers, each larger than a football field, drop nets thousands of yards long and catch up to 80 tons of fish per day. These ships can remain at sea for months, catching sea lions, seals, pollock, whales, halibut: anything that crosses their paths. Most of what they catch is not worth any money, so it is simply shredded and dumped back in the ocean. If none of the 80 tons of fish could be converted to cash, no sane people would ever want to kill so many, which is itself powerful support for the thesis that our economic system makes us crazy, or at least manifests prior insanity, or both.
But money doesn’t rot. It doesn’t swim away to live another day. It doesn’t fight back. It doesn’t disappear to the bottom of the ocean. It doesn’t get eaten by other fish.
Like the Christian heaven far from Earth, and like the robo-roaches made more pleasing by the removal of their wings and the insertion of electrodes to facilitate their control, money perfectly manifests the desires of our culture. It is safe. It neither lives, dies, nor rots. It is exempt from experience. It is meaningless and abstract. By valuing abstraction over living beings, we seal not only our own fate, but the fates of all those we encounter.”
“What’s the point? Is it to accumulate wealth? If you were to ask 10,000 people if their main goal is to accumulate wealth and material possessions, the overwhelming majority would say NO. But if the answer to this question to be based not on their words, but on how they spend most of their waking hours, the answer would be a resounding YES.
What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects, and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? What if the point of life, the primary reason for existence, is to lie naked with your lover in a shady grove of trees? What if the point is to stop, then, in your slow movements together, and listen to birdsong, to watch dragonflies hover, to look at your lover’s face, then up at the undersides of leaves moving together in the breeze? What if the point is to invite these others into your movement, to bring trees, wind, grass, dragonflies into your family and in so doing abandon any attempt to control them? What if the point all along has been to get along, to relate, and experience things on their own terms? What if the point is to feel joy when joyous, love when loving, anger when angry, thoughtful when full of thought? What if the point from the beginning has been to simply be?”
[and yes, as i’ve been saying.. the point of Life is Life itself. the end.]