..from ‘Columbus and Other Cannibals’ by Jack D. Forbes
People don’t have to be sacrificing goats and virgins around a buncha lit candles while chanting shit to be practicing evil.
This world/society (Civilization) we’ve all been brought up in is BUILT off of the very “dark arts”/”witchcraft”, SORCERY that they’ve always claimed to be against.
Coercion. Force. Rape. Fear-mongering. Control. Manipulation, ect. To traumatize. ALL of this shit, on a personal & collective level, is evil. That is the real “dark arts”. The real trickery, the real “witchery” (in terms of what they say that word is supposed to mean).
This “civilization” and the so called “freedom” that THEY “GAVE” you (and how any other human can even give you your freedom/rights in the first place is beyond me), is an illusion. This shit the majority of you all think is “life” (Civilization); separated from our Mother Earth, is a deep, deep trance/spell.
If you agree with or justify (try to, anyway) ANY of the things that have come about due to this world, you are indeed under their spell. And by buying into their propaganda, spreading it around, you perpetuate this massive spell.
This “civilization” has been the ULTIMATE PROJECTION cast upon us.
The very institutions, religions, entities, societies, cultures, what the fuck ever, who condemn others (especially women), proclaiming that they are evil terrorists, and in particular obviously, screaming about “witches” and “witchcraft” and any form of so-called “dark arts”; are the ones actually using it.
THEY’RE the ones manipulating/using “sorcery” to keep us all under their control.
I’m not gonna break it down because it’s obvious.
…but here’s another quotation from Lucy Pearce’s book ‘Burning Woman’, because thank you, Lucy.
The Dark Arts of the Patriarchy
“Despite claiming distaste and disbelief in witchcraft, our [perverted] masculine culture has a powerful understanding of the dark arts. It’s how they’ve kept their stranglehold on power for all this time.
It is not that they are cleverer, stronger, divinely endowed or even in the majority, despite their claims to the contrary.
It’s that they use forms of mind and spiritual control, more subtle, but not that much less powerful, than the overt violence we stood witness to in the last section.
The dark arts are psychological reminders of the real violence that can be played out without warning on our bodies and minds. But because they are invisible, and take place in the shadows, they are a more insidious form of control and when confronted can easily be denied, laughed off or turned back on the recipient as crazy imaginings.
Some of the most common of the dark arts of coercion that are commonly used in our culture include:
– shame, humiliation, embarrassment, discrediting difference as ‘madness’
– controlling bodies — through strict dress codes, veiling, starvation… [& quite obviously THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE ON THIS EARTH such as food, water, housing, clothing, ect. and forcing/coercing us all to have to SLAVE LABOR just for these things, our basic necessities for our “survival” that has already been provided FOR FREE VIA THE EARTH HERSELF.. DUH?]
– banishment or threat of banishment
– rewards… and threats
– repression and dissociation
– imposing hierarchy and clear authority
– keeping people small, powerless, impoverished and infantilized [as I said above]
– exhaustion and lack of adequate rest or recovery time
– unattainable standards
– a focus on the external
– closely policed spiritual and sexual experience
As a trained teacher, I recognize that we are taught many of these in our arsenal of control. As a parent I know that all mainstream parenting advice centers round them too.
Those are the tools of coercion, the rules of play in the patriarchy. Naturally they are the back bone of most patriarchal religions.
First they are used against us by authority figures when we are younger, when they are physically more powerful than us, and can enforce them. Then we learn to internalize them, creating a super-ego, or internal authority figure which continues the job on their behalf.
Each of these weapons in the arsenal of dark arts is a complex energy trap, taking our natural power and turning it against ourselves in a deadly game of self-policing in order to survive.
Whilst the dark arts remain nameless and invisible, they keep control of us: sticking to us like spiders’ webs in the dark, confining our movements, filling us with unconscious fears of what might happen next.
Each of these dark arts works to activate fear within us.
The fear of being found out, the fear of being shamed, the fear of rejection, the fear of pain, the fear of loss of freedom or finances, the fear of abandonment and the ultimate fear — the fear of death.”
…another mini ventilation…fuck your bullshit.
(because I’ve been thinking a lot about all this “witch” shit today and a topic I have yet to ventilate about, lemme continue on by quoting some of Lucy Pearce’s book ‘Burning Woman’ cuz it is potent) — from Chapter 2: A History of Burning Women — for my sisters.
her fire burns hot.
flames lick through me.
but, there’s no stake holding me here.
no, here she burns for me,
the goddess of fire,
to remind me that
deep in my belly a fire should be raging,
the women of my line,
did they fear this fire?
was fire too close to the history of this line of women immemorial?
I see them, their faces dark,
no firelight in their souls,
no burning in their core,
no fuel to fire longing and desire, to give volume to voice.
this fear of fire,
how deep does it run?
I see them,
a line bleeding back into the dark bowels of centuries past where
no flame burns.
dark faces, tightly drawn skin reminding me of my own jawbone.
how powerful was this message?
put out your light, woman.
by fearing our own fire,
we douse our own flame.
we cannot live what we are here to do without fire.
In order to fully understand our own limitations, hesitations, blocks and anxieties, we have to delve into our his-story. Both the official his-story that we have learned, as well as her-story that has been suppressed. We need to become conscious of the culture that we have numbed to in order to survive. We have to bring into conscious awareness that which goes sensed but unspoken: the threat of being a woman who lives to her own tune in this world.
‘W’ IS FOR WITCH
Whenever I hear a guy say, “She’s too wild, too much, too hard to figure out, too complicated, too intense, too hard to handle, too emotional, too opinionated, or crazy.” I hear, “I’d have burned her ass at the stake back in Salem. She’s too connected … I won’t be able to tame her.” ~ Jenny G. Perry
We are the granddaughters of the witches they were never able to burn. If history teaches us that a “witch” is nothing more than a woman who doesn’t know her place, then damn straight, I consider myself a witch. ~ Ruby Hamad
When I learned my alphabet, W was for witch. The archetypal Burned Woman, there in front of my pre-school eyes. R wasn’t for rapist or P for pedophile or psychopath. But there it was: W for witch.
We are taught about the dark feminine early, we imbibe the warning of the witch with our nursery stories. Beware the solitary woman who lives in the forest, casts spells ad will eat human children for breakfast. And as a perceived pretender to patriarchal power, of course she was depicted in a silly black hat with a phallic broomstick poking out from between her legs.
Want to discredit a woman in the real world? All you need is one word.
Still. In the 21st century. Just this week an Australian Federal Minister called a respected political journalist who wrote about a sexism scandal that a senior colleague had just resigned over, “a mad fucking witch”.
The W word has been a one-word death sentence to women for centuries. The fire starter. It has been used to condemn women who inhabit the outlying edges of our patriarchal culture and flatly refuse to have their lives decided for them. It has been used to shame and silence those who speak up. As well as those who chose not to marry or have children, who healed using unknown means, who cursed the wielders of power for their inhumanity, who attended deaths and births, or have followed their own spiritual and sexual impulses.
The witch represents the patriarchal fear of women’s power, embodied in an individual. She who must be destroyed so that society can prosper. But look a little closer and her spells, her abilities to do the supernatural, to enchant, to shapeshift are, I would argue, paranoid reversals of the Bible. Her powers are spookily analogous to those assigned to the great heroes of the Bible. But if patriarchs’ were done through men, via the power of the male God, then hers, done not in the name of God, must be done in the name of his shadowy counterpart — the Devil.
The witch (AKA a powerful woman) has been pitched as a direct threat to the carefully constructed male dominated system of “divine right”. And so the System has done everything within its power to erase, discredit and disconnect women who exhibit any form of power, and label them witches. With society’s blessing. Because, throughout history, where women have never been considered as human as men, witches were not human at all. They do not deserve our pity or defense, we are told, we are well rid of them. They would destroy everything we hold dear. And so we must destroy them first.
We have been told enough fairy stories in our girlhood to know to beware of the witch. We have read enough his-story to know that as women we don’t want to be mistaken for her. The desire to live, to be accepted and to belong, keeps most of us in our places. And so we spend out lives running from the darkness, trying out hardest to be good and work hard and keep others happy.
To me, a witch is a woman that is capable of letting her intuition take hold of her actions, that communes with her environment, that isn’t afraid of facing challenges. ~ Paulo Coelho
So when we feel the fire rising in our bellies, we also smell smoke in our nostrils. We feel passion and sense danger. And so we step back, pipe down, play it safe. For fear of what if. Because his-story has taught us clearly: “bad” girls are branded as witches. “Bad” girls get burned.
When we feel the upwelling of power within us, our bodies respond with deep fear. Far deeper than just a worry about losing face or looking silly. But rather the threat of losing our lives or those we love. The fear is real. Our bodies know it.
Whether you believe in past lives, in the collective unconscious, the recent scientific discoveries of the cellular transmission of trauma down the generations, or simply in historical awareness, we remember the Burning Times. We remember the high price that was paid for living according to your own inner voice, following your heart, questioning societal norms and being different to your tribe. ….
Times are changing.
And yet still we are haunted by the Burning Times of old. They are still alive in us. We must dig deeper.
The Burning Times
There shall not be found among you any one that makes his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. ~ The Bible, Deuteronomy 18:10
For centuries around the world, the ultimate punishment for women was public death by fire. Perhaps the most well-known Burned Woman was Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake for her actions and beliefs.
She was not alone. In Europe between 1470-1750 figures ranging from a conservative 35,000 to a truly terrifying (though discredited by mainstream his-storians) 9 million women were burned as witches. But as Brian A. Pavlac, PhD, Professor of History at Kings College, London, who specializes in the history of the witch hunts reflects, “even the lower figure of under 50,000 dead would have meant over a hundred thousand put on trial. Then, considering all the personnel involved in the justice system as court officials and witnesses, friends and family members, and those who even felt the ‘fear’ caused by the hunts, millions of people’s lives changed, usually for the worse, because of the witch hunts.”
Whilst the Catholic church started the craze, with the publication of The Hammer of the Witches, from 1542 and 1735 a series of Witchcraft Acts were enshrined into law by parliaments around Europe. The punishments — imprisonment, torture and death — were focused on individuals who were deemed to practice witchcraft and magic. Common accusations of witchcraft included: raising storms, giving the evil eye, killing people or livestock or causing bad luck.
To justify the killings, both Christianity and secular institutions created ever broader definitions of witchcraft including being “associated with wild Satanic ritual parties in which there were much naked dancing.” Ah, yes, naked dancing. Dangerous stuff that!
And whilst the victims of witch burnings included men and children, Brian A. Pavlac notes that “some witch hunts did almost exclusively target women, in percentages as high as 95% of the victims.” Whilst Anne Barstow, author of Witchcraze reminds us that the members of the legal system, its “judges, ministers, priests, constables, jailers, doctors, prickers, torturers, jurors, executioners” were nearly 100% male.
Radical feminist, Marxists scholar, Silvia Federici, points out in her acclaimed book, Caliban and the Witch, that the witch burnings were systematic, happening at the same time as bloody land grabs in Europe and the New World, concurrent with massive increases in the Catholic church and nation states’ power and wealth. This domination and brutalization of nature, native peoples and women was one and the same. It has been argued that witches were burned to coerce women into accepting “a new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources.”
Notes Alex Knight in his essay, “Who Were the Witches? — Patriarchal Terror and the Creation of Capitalism”: “The witches were those women who in one way or another resisted the establishment of an unjust social order — the mechanical exploitation of capitalism. The witches represented a whole world that Europe’s new masters were anxious to destroy: a world with strong female leadership, a world rooted in local communities and knowledge, a world alive with magical possibilities, a world in revolt.”
But it wasn’t just witches who were burned. In England burning was the most common punishment for women for many other crimes against the patriarchy: plotting to kill the king or any other superior (i.e. male) including her husband. Or for coining (counterfeiting money) which, when you are kept out of the economic system by dint of your gender, would be a reasonably common way to try to gain currency for yourself.
It matters. It does. Because those flames the burned our foremothers in their hundreds of thousands, burn us still today, albeit metaphorically, for exactly the same reason.
They were burned simply for speaking their own truth. Otherwise known as heresy, “any provocative belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs.” To be heretical was to be dead.
Look again at the word: Heresy… Her say…
A woman lived under threat of being burned alive for living, speaking or acting in any way which contradicted or questioned the cultural norms which surrounded her: medical, spiritual or hierarchial. She was burned for earning a living on her own terms. The very systems which told her at every turn that she was a sinner, was less than a man, limited her power, authority, sexuality and economic survival.
Men were burned at the stake it’s true, but with far less frequency. The official reason given for the dominance of burning women is that they did not want to expose a woman’s body — heaven forbid, we must ensure her modesty even in death — as happened when a person was hung, drawn and quartered. But even the (male) commentators of the time, could see the contradictions: “There is something so inhuman in burning a woman, for what only subjects a man to hanging” (The Times, 1788).
The woman on fire was not a private act. She was burned in public, as a warning to all women: disobey and this will be you.
Women have not been burned at the stake in England since 1790 and the last trial for witchcraft in the US was as recent as 1833. But sadly, it is not ancient history.
Witch hunts still occur today in societies where belief in magic is prevalent, including sub-Saharan Africa, rural north India and Papua New Guinea. According to the World Health Organization, around 500 women a year are killed as witches in Tanzania, and between 2010 and 2012 over 2,100 reported (in 2012) on six witch camps where women who have been accused of witchcraft can flee to safety. And in Saudi Arabia (a country with a 57% male population) witchcraft is still legally punished by death. In 2015, ISIS was reported as having burned two women as witches, and their husbands too, on accusations of “sorcery” and using “magic for medicine”.
In India the practice of “widow burning” or sutee was officially outlawed in 1829, but continued well into the twentieth century. Women who had been widowed would “voluntarily” be burned alive beside their husbands. Though many were bound and forced in order to “show their devotion”. This is even more hideous when it is understood that young girls would be married off to much older men. So a girl may be widowed at eleven, having been married for two years, and would then either face a life of shunning and starvation as a “widow” whose sins — in this life, or karma from a previous incarnation — were believed to have brought about the death of her husband. A man’s death was always considered the “fault” of his wife.
I want to stop. I want to stop these words and stories, but still they keep tumbling out. I want that writing it will stop this happening. I want to never read or write another list of facts like that again.
But we must learn to see and feel. To feel it fully in our bodies allows us access to the Feminine. We cannot flinch from this reality, from the fear and control and domination of the Feminine by the masculine as it is played out by fathers and husbands and priests and judges in village squares and kitchens and mosques and churches and courts of law around the world.
We must learn to dig down for the very real roots of our fears as they are played out in the world.
We are not crazy.
We are not paranoid.
We are not imagining things.
This is what we fear when we feel our power rising.
This is what we know.
This is real.
[I was gonna stop here… but you know what? Lemme keep going…hope ya don’t mind, Lucy]
The purpose of honor killings is to maintain men’s power by denying women basic rights to make autonomous decisions about marriage, divorce and sexuality. ~ Madre
The right to life for women is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions. ~ Hina Jilani
Hear me when I say, this is not just dry history. It is still happening. Women around the world are being burned, simply because they are women.
Who Were the Witches? – Patriarchal Terror and the Creation of Capitalism
November 5, 2009
This Halloween season, there is no book I could recommend more highly than Silvia Federici’s brilliant Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation(Autonomedia 2004), which tells the dark saga of the Witch Hunt that consumed Europe for more than 200 years. In uncovering this forgotten history, Federici exposes the origins of capitalism in the heightened oppression of workers (represented by Shakespeare’s character Caliban), and most strikingly, in the brutal subjugation of women. She also brings to light the enormous and colorful European peasant movements that fought against the injustices of their time, connecting their defeat to the imposition of a new patriarchal order that divided male from female workers. Today, as more and more people question the usefulness of a capitalist system that has thrown the world into crisis, Caliban and the Witch stands out as essential reading for unmasking the shocking violence and inequality that capitalism has relied upon from its very creation.
Who Were the Witches?
Parents putting a pointed hat on their young son or daughter before Trick-or-Treating might never pause to wonder this question, seeing witches as just another cartoonish Halloween icon like Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula. But deep within our ritual lies a hidden history that can tell us important truths about our world, as the legacy of past events continues to affect us 500 years later. In this book, Silvia Federici takes us back in time to show how the mysterious figure of the witch is key to understanding the creation of capitalism, the profit-motivated economic system that now reigns over the entire planet.
During the 15th – 17th centuries the fear of witches was ever-present in Europe and Colonial America, so much so that if a woman was accused of witchcraft she could face the cruellest of torture until confession was given, or even be executed based on suspicion alone. There was often no evidence whatsoever. The author recounts, “for more than two centuries, in several European countries, hundreds of thousands of women were tried, tortured, burned alive or hanged, accused of having sold body and soul to the devil and, by magical means, murdered scores of children, sucked their blood, made potions with their flesh, caused the death of their neighbors, destroyed cattle and crops, raised storms, and performed many other abominations” (169).
In other words, just about anything bad that might or might not have happened was blamed on witches during that time. So where did this tidal wave of hysteria come from that took the lives so many poor women, most of whom had almost certainly never flown on broomsticks or stirred eye-of-newt into large black cauldrons?
Caliban underscores that the persecution of witches was not just some error of ignorant peasants, but in fact the deliberate policy of Church and State, the very ruling class of society. To put this in perspective, today witchcraft would be a far-fetched cause for alarm, but the fear of hidden terrorists who could strike at any moment because they “hate our freedom” is widespread. Not surprising, since politicians and the media have been drilling this frightening message into people’s heads for years, even though terrorism is a much less likely cause of death than, say, lack of health care.1 And just as the panic over terrorism has enabled today’s powers-that-be to attempt to remake the Middle East, this book makes the case that the powers-that-were of Medieval Europe exploited or invented the fear of witches to remake European society towards a social paradigm that met their interests.
Interestingly, a major component of both of these crusades was the use of so-called “shock and awe” tactics to astound the population with “spectacular displays of force,” which helped to soften up resistance to drastic or unpopular reforms.2 In the case of the Witch Hunt, shock therapy was applied through the witch burnings – spectacles of such stupefying violence that they paralyzed whole villages and regions into accepting fundamental restructuring of medieval society.3 Federici describes a typical witch burning as, “an important public event, which all the members of the community had to attend, including the children of the witches, especially their daughters who, in some cases, would be whipped in front of the stake on which they could see their mother burning alive” (186).
The book argues that these gruesome executions not only punished “witches” but graphically demonstrated the repercussions for any kind of disobedience to the clergy or nobility. In particular, the witch burnings were meant to terrify women into accepting “a new patriarchal order where women’s bodies, their labor, their sexual and reproductive powers were placed under the control of the state and transformed into economic resources” (170).
Federici puts forward that up until the 16th century, though living in a sexist society, European women retained significant economic independence from men that they typically do not under capitalism, where gender roles are more distinguished. “If we also take into account that in medieval society collective relations prevailed over familial ones, and most of the tasks that female serfs performed (washing, spinning, harvesting, and tending to animals on the commons) were done in cooperation with other women, we then realize… [this] was a source of power and protection for women. It was the basis for an intense female sociality and solidarity that enabled women to stand up to men.”
The Witch Hunt initiated a period where women were forced to become what she calls “servants of the male work force” (115) – excluded from receiving a wage, they were confined to the unpaid labor of raising children, caring for the elderly and sick, nurturing their husbands or partners, and maintaining the home. In Federici’s words, this was the “housewifization of women,” the reduction to a second-class status where women became totally dependent on the income of men (27).
The author goes on to show how female sexuality, which was seen as a source of women’s potential power over men, became an object of suspicion and came under sharp attack by the authorities. This assault manifested in new laws that took away women’s control over the reproductive process, such as the banning of birth control measures, the replacement of midwives with male doctors, and the outlawing of abortion and infanticide.4 Federici calls it an attempt to turn the female body into “a machine for the reproduction of labor,” such that women’s only purpose in life was supposedly to produce children (144).
But we also learn that this was just one component of a broader move by Church and State to ban all forms of sexuality that were considered “non-productive.” For example, “homosexuality, sex between young and old, sex between people of different classes, anal coitus, coitus from behind, nudity, and dances. Also proscribed was the public, collective sexuality that had prevailed in the Middle Ages, as in the Spring festivals of pagan origins that, in the 16th-century, were still celebrated all over Europe” (194). To this end, the Witch Hunt targeted not only female sexuality but homosexuality and gender non-conformity as well, helping to craft the patriarchal sexual boundaries that define our society to this day.
Capitalism – Born in Flames
What separates Caliban from other works exploring the “witch” phenomenon is that this book puts the persecution of witches into the context of the development of capitalism. For Silvia Federici, it’s no accident that “the witch-hunt occurred simultaneously with the colonization and extermination of the populations of the New World, the English enclosures, [or] the beginning of the slave trade” (164). She instructs that all of these seemingly unrelated tragedies were initiated by the same European ruling elite at the very moment that capitalism was in formation, the late 15th through 17th centuries. Contrary to “laissez-faire” orthodoxy which holds that capitalism functions best without state intervention, Federici posits that it was precisely the state violence of these campaigns that laid the foundation for capitalist economics.
Thankfully for the reader, who may not be very familiar with the history of this era, Federici outlines these events in clear and accessible language. She focuses on the Land Enclosures in particular because their significance has been largely lost in time.
Many of us will not remember that during Europe’s Middle Ages, before the Enclosures, even the lowliest of serfs had their own plot of land with which they could use for just about any purpose. Federici adds, “With the use of land also came the use of the ‘commons’ – meadows, forests, lakes, wild pastures – that provided crucial resources for the peasant economy (wood for fuel, timber for building, fishponds, grazing grounds for animals) and fostered community cohesion and cooperation” (24). This access to land acted as a buffer, providing security for peasants who otherwise were mostly subject to the whim of their “Lord.” Not only could they grow their own food, or hunt in the relatively plentiful forests which were still standing in that era, but connection to the commons also gave peasants territory with which to organize resistance movements and alternative economies outside the control of their masters.
The Enclosures were a process by which this land was taken away – closed off by the State and typically handed over to entrepreneurs to pursue a profit in sheep or cow herding, or large-scale agriculture. Instead of being used for subsistence as it had been, the land’s bounty was sold away to fledgling national and international markets. A new class of profit-motivated landowners emerged, known as “gentry,” but the underside of this development was the trauma experienced by the evicted peasants. In the author’s words, “As soon as they lost access to land, all workers were plunged into a dependence unknown in medieval times, as their landless condition gave employers the power to cut their pay and lengthen the working-day” (72).
For Federici, then, the chief creation of the Enclosures was a property-less, landless working class, a “proletariat” who were left with little option but to work for a wage in order to survive; wage labor being one of the defining features of capitalism.
Cut off from their traditional soil, many communities scattered across the countryside to find new homesteads. But the State countered with the so-called “Bloody Laws”, which made it legal to capture wandering “vagabonds” and force them to work for a wage, or put them to death. Federici reveals the result: “What followed was the absolute impoverishment of the European working class… Evidence is the change that occurred in the workers’ diets. Meat disappeared from their tables, except for a few scraps of lard, and so did beer and wine, salt and olive oil” (77). Although European workers typically labored for longer hours under their new capitalist employers, living standards were reduced sharply throughout the 16th century, and it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that earnings returned to the level they had been before the Enclosures.5
According to Federici, the witch hunts played a key role in facilitating this process of impoverishment by driving a sexist wedge into the working class that “undermined class solidarity,” making it more difficult for communities to resist displacement from their land (48). While women were faced with the threat of horrific torture and death if they did not conform to new submissive gender roles, men were in effect bribed with the promise of obedient wives and new access to women’s bodies. The author cites that “Another aspect of the divisive sexual politics to diffuse workers’ protest was the institutionalization of prostitution, implemented through the opening of municipal brothels soon proliferating throughout Europe” (49). And in addition to prostitution, a legalization of sexual violence provided further sanction for the exploitation of women’s bodies. She explains, “In France, the municipal authorities practically decriminalized rape, provided the victims were women of the lower class” (47). This initiated what Federici calls a “virtual rape movement,” making it unsafe for women to even leave their homes.
The witch trials were the final assault, which all but obliterated the integrity of peasant communities by fostering mutual suspicion and fear. Amidst deteriorating conditions, neighbors were encouraged to turn against one another, so that any insult or annoyance became grounds for an accusation of witchcraft. As the terror spread, a new era was forged in the flames of the witch burnings. Surveying the damage, Silvia Federici concludes that “the persecution of the witches, in Europe as in the New World, was as important as colonization and the expropriation of the European peasantry from its land were for the development of capitalism” (12).
A Forgotten Revolution
Federici maintains that it didn’t have to turn out this way. “Capitalism was not the only possible response to the crisis of feudal power. Throughout Europe, vast communalistic social movements and rebellions against feudalism had offered the promise of a new egalitarian society built on social equality and cooperation” (61).
Caliban‘s most inspiring chapters make visible an enormous continent-wide series of poor people’s movements that nearly toppled Church and State at the end of the Middle Ages. These peasant movements of the 13th – 16th centuries were often labelled “heretical” for challenging the religious power of the Vatican, but as the book details they aimed for a much broader transformation of feudal society. The so-called “heretics” often “denounced social hierarchies, private property and the accumulation of wealth, and disseminated among the people a new, revolutionary conception of society that, for the first time in the Middle Ages, redefined every aspect of daily life (work, property, sexual reproduction, and the position of women), posing the question of emancipation in truly universal terms” (33).
Silvia Federici shows us how the heretical movements took many forms, from the vegetarian and anti-war Cathars of southern France to the communistic and anti-nobility Taborites of Bohemia, but were united in the call for the elimination of social inequality. Many put forth the argument that it was anti-Christian for the clergy and nobility to live in opulence while so many suffered from lack of adequate food, housing or medical attention.
Another common thread weaving the European peasant movements together was the leadership of women. Federici describes that, “[Heretical women] had the same rights as men, and could enjoy a social life and mobility that nowhere else was available to them in the Middle Ages… Not surprisingly, women are present in the history of heresy as in no other aspect of medieval life.” (38). Some heretical sects, like the Cathars, discouraged marriage and emphasized birth control – advocating a sexual liberation which directly challenged the Church’s moral authority.
The gender politics of peasant movements proved to be a strength, and they attracted a wide following that undercut the power of a feudal system which was already in crisis. Federici explains how the movements became increasingly revolutionary as they grew in size. “In the course of this process, the political horizon and the organizational dimensions of the peasant and artisan struggle broadened. Entire regions revolted, forming assemblies and recruiting armies. At times, the peasants organized in bands, attacking the castles of the lords, and destroying the archives where the written marks of their servitude were kept” (45).
What started as a religious movement became increasingly revolutionary. For example, in the 1420s and 30s, the Taborites fought to liberate all of Bohemia, beating back several Crusades of 100,000+ men organized by the Vatican (54-55). The uprisings became contagious all across Europe, so much so that in the crucial period of 1350-1500, unprecedented concessions were made including the doubling of wages, reduction in prices and rents, and a shorter working day. In the words of Silvia Federici, “the feudal economy was doomed” (62).
The author documents that the initial reaction by elites was to institute the “Holy Inquisition,” a brutal campaign of state repression that included torturing and even burning heretics to death. But as time went on, ruling class strategy shifted from targeting heretics in general to specifically targeting female community leaders. The Inquisition morphed into the Witch Hunt.
Soon, simple meetings of peasant women were stigmatized as possible “Sabbats,” where women were supposedly seduced by the devil to become witches, but as Federici clarifies, it was the rebellious politics and non-conforming gender relations of such gatherings which were demonized (177). Strong, defiant women were murdered by the tens of thousands, and along with them the Witch Hunt also destroyed “a whole world of female practices, collective relations, and systems of knowledge that had been the foundation of women’s power in pre-capitalist Europe, and the condition for their resistance in the struggle against feudalism” (103).
For elite European nobles and clergy, the Witch Hunt succeeded in stifling a working class revolution that had increasingly threatened their rule. Even more, Silvia Federici puts forward that the Witch Hunt facilitated the rise of a new, capitalist social paradigm – based on large-scale economic production for profit and the displacement of peasants from their lands into the burgeoning urban workforce. In time, this capitalist system would dominate all of Europe and be dispersed through conquistadors’ “guns, germs and steel” to every corner of the globe, destroying countless ancient civilizations and cultures in the process.6Federici’s analysis is that, “Capitalism was the counter-revolution that destroyed the possibilities that had emerged from the anti-feudal struggle – possibilities which, if realized, might have spared us the immense destruction of lives and the environment that has marked the advance of capitalist relations worldwide” (22). How might things be different if the forgotten revolution had won?
Conclusion – Rediscovering the Magic of Truth-Telling
“Day by day, it’s worse for my people, especially for the women. And that’s why, because of all of these main reasons, we say this is the mockery of democracy and mockery of War on Terror.” – Malalai Joya, Afghan democracy activist, 2009
Caliban and the Witch is a book that challenges many important myths about the world we live in. First and foremost among these is the widely-held belief that capitalism, though perhaps flawed in its current form, started out as a “progressive” development that liberated workers and improved the conditions of women, people of color and other oppressed groups. Silvia Federici has done impressive work to take us back to the very foundations of the capitalist system in late-medieval Europe to uncover a secret history of land dispossession and impoverishment, gender and sexual terror, and brutal colonization of non-Europeans. This terrible legacy leads her to the profound conclusion that the system is “necessarily committed to racism and sexism” (17).
Most strongly, she writes, “It is impossible to associate capitalism with any form of liberation or attribute the longevity of the system to its capacity to satisfy human needs. If capitalism has been able to reproduce itself it is only because of the web of inequalities that it has built into the body of the world proletariat, and because of its capacity to globalize exploitation. This process is still unfolding under our eyes, as it has for the last 500 years” (17).
It’s been said that we can measure a society by how it treats its women. This book provides compelling documentation to suggest that capitalism is and has always been a male dominated system, which reduces opportunities and security for women as well as marginalizing those who don’t fit within narrow gender boundaries. In particular, Silvia Federici uses the story of the Witch Hunt to illuminate the inner workings of capitalism to show the restraining, silencing, and demonizing of female sexual power built into it.7 Responding to our question that started this essay, she writes, “The witch was not only the midwife, the woman who avoided maternity, or the beggar who eked out a living by stealing some wood or butter from her neighbors. She was also the loose, promiscuous woman – the prostitute or adulteress, and generally, the woman who exercised her sexuality outside the bonds of marriage and procreation… The witch was also the rebel woman who talked back, argued, swore, and did not cry under torture” (184).
In other words, the witches were those women who in one way or another resisted the establishment of an unjust social order – the mechanical exploitation of capitalism. The witches represented a whole world that Europe’s new masters were anxious to destroy: a world with strong female leadership, a world rooted in local communities and knowledge, a world alive with magical possibilities, a world in revolt.
We need not despair for the world that has been lost. Indeed, it is still with us today in the struggles of people everywhere organizing for justice. Today from Afghanistan we can hear the clarion voice of Malalai Joya, a courageous woman who was expelled from the Afghan parliament in 2007 for speaking out against the U.S.-installed warlords who now rule her country. She appeared recently onDemocracy Now! saying, “Now my people are sandwiched between two powerful enemies: from the sky, occupation forces bombing and killing innocent civilians… [and] on the ground, Taliban and these warlords together continue to deliver fascism against our people.”8
Joya risks her life to make these comments, but her words carry the sparkling truth that is so necessary to end the insanity of war and occupation in the Middle East. Those who are summoned to action by her call do so in the immortal spirit of the “heretics” and “witches” who resisted capitalism and feudalism before it, carrying forward a movement that is wide as the Earth and old as time.
“We are currently in the midst of the greatest epidemic sickness known to humanity. Like a fish in water who doesn’t recognize water because it is everywhere, both outside and within the fish itself, many of us don’t realize the collective insanity in our midst, as our madness is so pervasive that it has become normalized. We have become conditioned to accept as normal the fact that we are in an endless war, and innumerable of our brothers and sisters all over the planet are impoverished and dying of starvation every day. It is important to realize that in a psychic epidemic, the majority of people can appear entirely “normal.”
The fact that the underlying psychic roots of the collective psychosis are not even part of our planetary dialogue is itself a telling expression of the depth of the unconsciousness induced by this psychic epidemic. That the mental health community, which should be concerned with psychic hygiene (both personal and collective), is not even addressing the issue of a rampant collective psychosis is a clear indication that the mental health community is itself embedded in and hence infected with the very psychic epidemic it should be studying. By not recognizing the nature of wetiko disease, the mental health community has become its unwitting agents, helping the disease to propagate. What clearer sign do we need of a psychic epidemic than when our mental health system itself, whose job it is to study, monitor, and deal with such phenomena, not only doesn’t recognize that there is a collective psychosis running rampant in our society, but is itself infected with it? Ultimately speaking, it’s not a question of integrating wetiko disease into the existing diagnostic manual, but rather, of radically expanding, up-leveling, and re-visioning our understanding of the nature of both health and illness relative to each other.
Our collective madness has become transparent to us, as we see and interpret the world through it, rendering our madness invisible, thereby unwittingly colluding with the collective psychosis while it wreaks incredible death and destruction on our planet. Being “transparent,” our madness is beyond its mere appearance, which is to say, “beyond being apparent” that is, not visible. Our collective psychosis is invisible to us, as it manifests itself both in the very way we are looking and in the unspoken ways we have been conditioned to not perceive. Due to its cloak of invisibility, we don’t see our madness, a psychic blindness which renders us complicit in the creation of our own madness. This complicity is potentially empowering news, however, since it also signals that we are indeed co-creators of our own reality, and not helpless victims. Wetiko psychosis is highly contagious, spreading through the channel of our shared unconsciousness. Its vectors of infection and propagation do not travel like a physical pathogen, however. This fluidly moving, nomadically wandering bug reciprocally reinforces and feeds off and into each of our unconscious blind spots, which is how it nonlocally propagates itself throughout the field. In wetiko there is a code or logic which affects/infects awareness in a way analogous to how the DNA in a virus passes into and infects a cell. Forbes concludes that “the wetiko disease, the sickness of exploitation, has been spreading as a contagion for the past several thousand years. And as a contagion unchecked by most vaccines, it tends to become worse rather than better with time. More and more people catch it, in more and more places, and they become the true teachers of the young.” Wetiko culture gets taught both at home and in “the academy”, where people become certified in the ways of its world, and are thus accredited and empowered to spread its corrupting ways on ever grander scales with ever vaster and more devastating consequences. Frighteningly, the wetiko psychosis is becoming ever more institutionalized and incorporated into our corporate culture and its way of thinking. People who are channeling the vibratory frequency of wetiko align with each other through psychic resonance to reinforce their unspoken shared agreement so as to uphold their deranged view of reality. Once unconscious content takes possession of certain individuals, it irresisitbly draws them together by mutual attraction and knits them into groups tied together by their shared madness that can easily swell into an avalanche of insanity. A psychic epidemic is a closed system, which is to say that it is insular and not open to any new information or informing influences from the outside world which contradict its fixed, limited, and limit-ing perspective. In a co-dependent, self-perpetuating feedback loop, any reflection that is offered from others, rather than being reflected upon, utilized, and integrated in a way that supports the growth and evolution of the system, is perversely misinterpreted to support the agreed-upon delusion binding the collective psychosis together. Anyone challenging this shared reality is seen as a threat and demonized. An impenetrable field, like a protective bubble, is collectively conjured up around their shared psychosis that literally resists consciousness and perpetuates the spell-like trance of those in its thrall. There is no talking rationally, using logic or facts, with someone under the spell of the psychic epidemic, as their ability to reason and to use discernment has been disabled and distorted in service to the psychic pathogen which they carry. When a group of people are in agreement about anything, whether it is true or not, their alignment with each other exerts a contagious, magnetic field of force which can sway the unaware and attract them into itself. We are on guard, even paranoid, regarding contagious diseases of the body, but we are woefully asleep and unconcerned about, and hence more susceptible to, catching the more dangerous collective diseases of the mind, which are reaching pandemic proportions in our world today. People taken over by the wetiko virus usually don’t suspect a thing about how they have been “conned,” or more accurately, how they have conned themselves. The wetiko culture offers no incentive for them to self-reflectingly speculate upon their increasingly depraved condition; on the contrary, the nonlocal field configures itself to enable, further cultivate, and deepen their psychosis. When someone is a full-blown, unrecognized wetiko, the field around them torques so as to protect, collude with, and feed into their psychosis in a way that entrances those around them. Similar to how an octopus squirts ink in order to hide, a psychic field gets conjured up around full-blown wetikos which obfuscates their malfeasance. Once under the wetiko spell, people lose the capacity to recognize the wetiko pathology in others. In a situation of “group narcissism,” wetikos at different stages of the disease assume particular postures and roles relative to each other that protect and shield themselves from their own insanity and darkness. They feed and reinforce each other’s narcissism because it enhances their own. The greater the gap between the conscious and the unconscious, the greater the chance of falling under a collective psychosis such as wetiko. The less the permeability, and hence communication and dialogue between the conscious ego and the informing influence of the wisdom of the unconscious, that is, the greater the dissociation between the two, the greater the probability of being infected with the leprosy of collective thinking. In a full-blown psychic epidemic, the conscious and the unconscious actually trade places, which is to say the unconscious steps into the driver’s seat, which should be occupied by consciousness. People or groups who have fallen asleep and are under the thrall of the psychic epidemic are then “unconsciously” dreaming, that is, acting out their unconscious in fully embodied form, in contrast to being awake. The type of person ripe for falling prey to the wetiko infection is usually one whose strings are pulled and manipulated by others, who follows a life path dictated by others and is unaccustomed to think for themselves. Not in touch with their inner guidance, they project authority outside of themselves and become very suggestible to the agreed-upon consensus opinion of the dominant pack. When we give away our power, there is always someone bearing the authority of “the State” who is more than happy to accept our offering, feeding the insatiable will-to-power of the shadow, which becomes collectively mobilized. Masses are veritable breeding grounds for psychic epidemics. Though using individuals as its instruments, evil needs the unconscious masses for its genesis and proliferation on the world stage. In a collective psychosis, people literally stop thinking for themselves and let others think for them, like sheep (or “sheeple”) who just follow wherever they are being led, even if it’s off the nearest cliff. Losing touch with their own discernment and ability for critical thinking, the “mass man” becomes part of the mindless herd and falls prey to “group-think,” whose members co-dependently enable each other to uphold their shared version of the wetiko world. Once the office of “perception management,” largely through the corporate mainstream media, convinces a critical mass of people of a particular viewpoint, there is a consensus or agreement that is reached among the masses as to what is objectively true. The agreed-upon version of reality takes on a weight and momentum of its own and thereby becomes the established dogma of what is collectively imagined to be really happening. Like a religious truth, it is irrationally believed like an act of faith by its card-carrying members, even if overwhelming evidence points to the contrary. Anyone who doesn’t buy into the arbitrarily established story is marginalized and demonized, and called either crazy, a conspiracy theorist, or even a terrorist (“You’re either with us or you’re with the enemy”). Such a group consensus about the nature of reality gets increasingly hard to sustain as time passes, however, as, like a house of cards ready to collapse at any moment, its vision of the world is based on the fundamental error of not being true. Strangely enough, people under the collective enchantment of wetiko become fanatically attached to supporting an agenda that oftentimes is diametrically opposed to serving then own best interests. This is an outer behavioral reflection of the inner state of being under the sway of the self-destructive wetiko parasite. Speaking about the rapidly spreading wetiko contagion, Forbes writes, “It is spread by the wetikos themselves as they recruit or corrupt others. It is spread today by history books, television, military training programs, police training programs, comic books, pornographic magazines, films, right-wing[left-wing] movements, fanatics of various kinds, high-pressure missionary groups, and numerous governments.” All of the mainstream, culturally sanctioned, corporatized institutions are in the business of indoctrination, telling us what to think and not think, as well as how to think. Our mind is continually being massaged into shape by the prevailing culture, our true face lifted as our spiritual pockets are picked. Our civilization has become the mouthpiece for the propaganda organ of the disease, entrancing us to “buy” into its viewpoint as we are bled to death of what really counts. The culture (sic) that informs and forms around wetiko illness is itself a channel of its transmission and growth. If we sign on the dotted line and subscribe to its viewpoint, its life-denying culture will gradually subsume us into itself, enlisting us as its agents who unwitingly do its bidding. This is how the ever-expanding, self-generating psychic empire of collective psychosis works, as it increasingly takes over and approaches “full-employment.” We are truly in a war. It is not the war we imagine we are in, which is the way our true adversaries want it. It is ultimately and actually not a foreign war against a foreign enemy.It is a war on consciousness, a war on our own minds.” – from “Dispelling Wetiko – Breaking the Curse of Evil” by Paul Levy
..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.]
Thank you, Derrick Jensen.
“For years I’ve been haunted by a fantasy involving someone like Jesus. This person — woman or man, it doesn’t matter — comes into a community and talks about love. She, or he, tells people they should treat each other with respect, and that this respect must extend to humans and nonhumans alike. A crowd gathers as this person says they should do unto others as they’d have others do unto them, and they begin to murmur quietly as they hear that they should share with each other everything they own. The discomfort of especially the crowd’s children grows more noticeable as this stranger tells them they should love each other, love the land. (He or she says nothing about loving the enemy.) The children hide giggles behind their hands, and now even the adults bite the insides of their cheeks. Finally, after much hesitation, one of the community members responds, “Friend, we respect what you have to say, and thank you for telling us, but can’t you tell us something we don’t already know?” The stranger looks closely, and seeing the obvious well-being of the people, realizes that her (or his) words are redundant. The stranger merges into the community, and all continue with the dailiness of their lives.
The reality of our Judeo-Christian culture is of course far different. A primary purpose of Judeo-Christianity has NOT been to move us toward a community where the teachings of someone like Jesus — simple & necessary suggestions for how to get along with each other — are made manifest in all aspects of life, BUT INSTEAD TO PROVIDE A THEOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK FOR A SYSTEM OF EXPLOITATION. Easy as this is to say, not many people say it (at least in public). It is more convenient for exploiter and exploited alike to pretend their parasitic relationship is Natural, ordained by God. It is easier to believe in a logic that leads directly from original sin to totalitarianism — Because human beings are selfish, evil creatures, they must be controlled; therefore might, guided by an all-seeing God as interpreted by an elite priesthood, makes right — than it is to take personal responsibility or one’s own actions, and to fight for egalitarianism. It is easier to listen to the voice of ‘God’ than it is to listen to the voice of one’s conscience, suffering, and outrage. And it is easier to follow the well-worn yet faulty logic leading once again from original sin this time to apocalypse — Because human beings are evil, and have sinned, they must die. All beings on Earth die. Therefore, all beings on Earth must be evil, and must have sinned. Death is the flower of sin. To avoid death requires the annihilation of evil: therefore, all things on Earth must be annihilated — far easier than it is to accept one’s death as natural. It is also easy, so sanctimonious, to shift responsibility for your own choices and their consequences onto the divine plan of some invisible ‘God’.
If you feel like raping a woman, don’t just do it; have your God decree that under some circumstances such behavior is not only acceptable, but righteous, your God-given right: “And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her . . . then thou shalt bring her home to thine house . . . . If thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go wither she will; but thou shall not sell her for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.”
Rape alone is problematic as a method of social domination, in that it only temporarily provides the rapist control; to extend this over time, to permanently “make merchandise of her”, you must have your God issue a series of decrees hemming women in, binding them to you as your property. Have your God say (while hoping no one notices your own lips moving) that because Eve listened to the serpent — remember, my father never beat anyone who didn’t have it coming — every woman “shall welcome [her] husband’s affections, and he shall be [her] master.” Have your God say any woman who has sexual intercourse freely will be put to death (her body not being her own). Any man, too, who has sex with another man’s wife shall die, because he has diddled with another man’s property, although no punishment shall be meted out on the man who has intercourse with an unmarried woman (but we’ll put her to death for good measure). Small wonder that one of the daily Orthodox prayers reads: “I thank thee, O Lord, that thou has not created me a woman.””
(From ‘A Language Older Than Words’ — highly recommended “decolonize” read)