Society as An

Abusive Relationship

*I originally researched this piece for a Vox Feminista group skit I wrote, which you can watch here (it’s under Ensemble Pieces in the Performance section of the website). The book we designed our show around, and which we mined many of our writing ideas from, is Derrick Jensen’s Endgame.


How do we learn to drop out of civilization?
And, in a related query, I wonder if we all have PTSD from this abusive relationship? 

Judith Hermann writes, “The primary reason we’re so ineffective in our attempts at resistance is that we are captives of this culture who’ve not been entirely broken, but who’ve been traumatized to the point of narrowing our initiative within the confines of the perpetrators’ dictates. We haven’t given up, but we know we’re being watched, that we will be thwarted and pay dearly for our insubordination.

Lierre Keith says, “The first act of bringing down civilization is driving the colonizers out of our hearts and minds and seeing civilization for what it really is. If we can see our lifestyles clearly, and the consequences of our privilege and our wealth, we could choose.”

How can we choose another way when we know no other way? How to truly heal the isolation we feel when we’re lied to continuously & told we’re “totally connected”? How can we act on the knowing we feel that something else is out there, when we have all the information, situated as we are in the midst of the Information Age”.
In a time of cultural truth-less-ness, how to act against the totality of civilization by telling the truth ? This act of truth is a community service to our future. 

All the cultural coercion and control aside, we need to teach ourselves and each other to see civilization for what it is—the annihilating mindset of  exploitation and violence that’s the center of our many-millenia-old ethos of separation.

We’ve got to learn accountablity to Life, rather than loyality to the institutions of death. Learn to value Life over production. Crawl away from all the soft cells of denial and fight like hell to protect this world. Leave leave behind this imperial tumor body.

Empire tells us that inherent flaws in human nature lead to a natural propensity for greed, violence, lust for power, so we need cops and market discipline to maintain the social order. But Psychology tells us that the source of these commands issues from the lower, narcissistic orders of consciousness, which are normal for children, but pathological and sociopathic for adults.

We’re stuck in a culture of eternal child identities, irresponsibly spoiled and with no recognition of limits. Add to that the structures of our patriarchal hierarchy that make us so easily manipulated by cons, advertising, and demagogues. It’s easier for people to imagine the end of the world than the end of Captialism. Yet, within it all, we have the capacity for reflection and intentional choice. And so we swing in the chrysalis, bumbing against climate catastrophe, crashing into nuclear war scenarios, waiting unconsciously perhaps, to evolve to higher levels of consciousness. But, will there be enough time?

We desperately need a more radical analysis! We live crouching for our survival within the lie that technology is THE way to know the world, and capitalism is THE way to do economics, and industrial civilization is The way to live. But, this belief system is forged in the crucible of an abusive relationship.

This alliance we have to civilization is an abusive relationship, and we all suffer from PTSD, to varying degrees. It’s true that all abusers have a distorted sense of right and wrong. There’s no morality in the abuser—there’s only an unlimited domination to please himself. And this has many tentacles. They wrap around every aspect and institution in patriarchy.

Civilization is an abusive relationship. We say we want women and other oppressed peoples to fight back, but when will we, as a culture, decide we need to defend ourselves? What will it take to choose to protect the sources of life and fight back against the killers? Empire organizes itself to stride through history on boots of domination that form every level of society. From family members to nations, but all are abusive, & all acts of sociopathic selfishness have predictable patterns. All wealth, all energy and resources are appropriated by civilization, to maintain the institutions of dominance—whether in the family, or in the empire.

The great Andrea Dworkin wrote, “Like 2nd wave feminists, we must violate consciousness in order to change it.” We transcend atrocity by choosing a new way to live. We can reject violence, exploitation, coercion, control, and this massive annihilation of beauty. We will understand, again and at last, the beautiful truth of interdependence.

Just and only change the story—of disconnection, entitlement, relationship, of terrorism and security. Tell the story of how everything is related to everything.
“All that will cure this alienation is Relationship.” (Derrick Jensen)

Here’s a rare attempt at Fiction,
and it’s in-progress.

           —“You cannot destroy a world and live in it.”—
I copied that line out in red paint on the wall of my writing room. 

The phone was bugged. The email surveilled. Hell, the house was probably wired too. As a solution-seeking, ovaries-to-the-wall-activist, the only times I feel safe talking about fighting back against the conditions that surround us are outside on hiking trails, or inside in cars. Other people’s cars. The Intra-Mountain Peace Center, where I sit on the spokes-council, is now categorized by the Feds as a domestic terrorist organization, and is probably infiltrated.

I left that building for lunch. Joined three white haired women outside at the picnic table by the river to talk about the enormity of the problems and reach, again, to imagine a solution. Probably the trees aren’t wired with directional microphones as they were at the peace camp in Britian. Probably we could trust each other.

One of the women, Rebecca, astounding me with a shocking breach of nonviolence added,
—I’m amazed that there hasn’t been a suicide bomber taking out a dam a week in this country.

And the others continued—
—Cell phone towers, roads, train racks.
—Corporate headquarters, weapons manufacturers, parking lots.
One by one, we were taking it up, and getting far more excited than we do in official meetings of the Center.
—Take out vivisection labs, factory farms, factory trawlers.
It was like a game of name three things.
—Take out the infrastructure! That’s what they taught us in the army.
—So many pissed-off veterans who hate this government! Who know how to sabotage, who were trained to be strategic with targets. After all, war’s just about destroying a country’s organizational structures and the facilities needed to operate society.
—How many decent, impoverished, homeless vets are there? How many insulted by the systems that demanded so much from them, thatcontrol their lives?
—These are men and women who long to be productive in the service of actually fighting for their country. They’ve already proven as much.
—It might be easier to teach these people about social justice, earth justice, connection than to teach a bunch of nonviolent activists mired in despair and denial to drop their inane bullshit about morality and actually fight back.

It was like a fantasy story, a moment out of time, but we had all been thinking these private thoughts. We don’t usually speak our inner-most hearts of sabotage, damage to property, physical defense, of truly, really fighting back, or of any actions that would actually change something. Not out loud and not in public. We’re afraid—that we’ll lose credibility, alienate the masses, really get in trouble—lose our freedom or our lives.

The most commonly held, rarely admitted solution in the peace and justice movement, the anti-war movement, the environmental and human-rights movements has been to never upset the people who run the place, the owners of this country. That is the core of our nonviolent “revolution”. I’ve been there. I’ve been on the inside of the radical outsiders for going on 3 decades, and nothing has changed. Except that it’s gotten much worse. We know that industrial civilization is killing the planet. I’ve known for a long while now, in silent frustration and a little shame, that all our hard work and passion, our meetings and our efforts have been totally ineffective. Emma Goldman said a hundred years ago, “If voting changed anything it would be illegal.”

All across the empire, good people, awakened people, folks who call themselves activists meet and talk. They talk and talk and process and talk more, about political change, about transformation, about resistance, responsibility, Morality. Yet our talk remains stubbornly cemented into the bedrock of overarching structures created by the rulers who govern, dream up and oversee the destruction in the first place. ‘Activist’ has the word active right in there, doesn’t it? And we are active. Very active, sort of.

We march and boycott, demonstrate and write letters to editor, design campaigns and petitions, sometimes have sit-ins and even commit to civil disobedience, though this last is the rarest unicorn in the world of Amerikkan ‘political resistance’ at the start of this new century. We fundraise and have consciousness raising groups and host speakers. But all this kind of activity becomes such a distraction! We spend more time not actually resisting than we ever do fighting back. We spend more of our precious energy discussing morality than tactics or strategy.

Peace, love, and morality occupy a foundational space among the Left, but I think that reflexive need to take the moral high ground is what holds us back from effective actions to stop the destruction. Just like it does with the neo-liberal Democratic Party. It’s kind of nuts, because it is not authentic to us as individuals, as our conversation around the picnic table demonstrated. We have learned in our lifetime indoctrination in this hypocritical, sleep-walking, capitalist, hi-tech country that this is the way to be an activist. And it really is bullshit when the world is being actively murdered all around us.

Our morality is defined, designed, and prepackaged for us by those who are killing the planet. Corporate entities, who are totally Immoral. And thus, tragically, our morality is defined, designed, and prepackaged to be totally ineffective. It’s immoral not to fight back, to defend life from the killers. Immoral, as fire takes the roof, the walls, and the whole model of civilization flames up and starts to topple into another dimension. Your morality is a kind of surrender. Your high ground is actually a hole where you hide from the very real consequences of punishment, and failure.

They kill and steal and lie on the media that they own. Of course we’re ineffective. They own the cops, the courts, the politicians, and all the means of production. Of course we’re ineffective. We play by their rules, live by their rules, totally inside their lies, and we don’t even question the basis of these rules, which is to keep everything in the hands of rich, white, immoral and functionally heartless men who make all the decisions in our world to keep their short-term profit pouring in as the earth empties. Who won’t see the world as a living being, and the basis of our Everything. To advocate non-violence, when our lifestyle is based on such overwhelming violence is to not advocate nonviolence at all. Is to tacitly agree to a role in a staged play, where we appear to go against the flow, to be a resistor to the abuse, but ever to back down before the superior violence on which the system is based, which waits for us in the dark wings of a national theater.

We insist on nonviolence. We agree to be arrested and fined for trying to protect life. We aim for publicity in the corporate media about nukes, injustice, pollution, destruction, rising fascism & climate chaos. They ignore us or misquote us or stubbornly speak only to our enemy. We’re not even supposed to admit that word, enemy. We say we don’t want to be like them. We are better than them. It makes us feel good, about something. What bullshit righteous elitism! How is that going to save anything? We agree not to destroy their property, not to raise our voices or run, not to resist being caught, and to walk willingly into punishment by the forces of the state. This is what our resistance is based on? In the 21st century, so far at least  this is how the movements work in Amerikkka. Let me tell you, this is masochism.

It’s time to drop this great weight of denial. I can’t stand the hypocrisy any longer! Stop pretending that we’ll win and everything will be saved. Nothing can be saved, nothing will turn out ok, and it’s time to fucking talk about that. There’s no way to soften the crash that is coming except to help bring it on. To participate actively in the endgame, on our own true moral terms. To seriously face into the question, to whom are we responsible? To rachet up the notion of morality and face the existential threat of our lifestyles, which we are continuously bribed to accept as our sole role in the tragedy of our species.  

The time has come to embrace reality and move forward in the power of that truth, released from the despair that every activist I know lives with, every moment of everyday. Wriggle free of the grip of fear of getting in trouble, the fear that stops us every time— the belief that we have something left to lose. We don’t. We need to stop allowing civilization to abuse us and the planet, to kill us and the planet, and we need to stop it by any means necessary.

By any means necessary.

—We’ve got to take the offensive now; it’s time to strike at the root of their capacity to do this great damage. It’s time to fight back!

—Attack on all fronts, wherever we find the opportunity. This is war and there IS an enemy. Bring down the physical infrastructure that allows them to commit the outrageous atrocities that we’ve been taught to call civilization

—Listen to this—I pick up the book and read from Endgame.
—If someone put a plastic bag over your head or the head of someone you love and said he would give you money if you left it there, would you take the money? If you said no and he insisted, even to the point of a gun, what would you do? Would you take the money? Or would you fight back?

—Every single stream in the U.S. is contaminated with toxic chemicals. There’s dioxin in every mothers’ breast milk. 

—Yes! And the air in inner cities is so poisoned that a baby born in L.A. inhales more carcinogens in the first 2 weeks of its life than the EPA considers safe for a lifetime!

—In the last 24 hours, over 200, 000 acres of rainforest was cut down. 13 million tons of toxic chemicals were released. 45,000 people, most of them children,  starved to death. More than 100 animal and plant species went extinct. Forever. That’s just in one day!

What are we willing to do about it?

Oil is vital to civilization. Without oil, all the machines of mindless destruction are inert pieces of iron, plastic and wires.
—One advantage we have over everyone who’s ever tried to fight this beast— says Jensen—is that civilization is now completely dependent on one resource. This culture is a vampire that lives on black blood. Someone needs to cut that artery.

—It’ll be messy and dangerous, but the sooner civilization is stopped, the more life will be left for all other life forms.

—Another target is high technology. Computers, telecommunications systems. A tech- society is inherently less secure than a natural society.

—So we have that going for us too. Disrupting communications, fucking with them from screen and cables is very easy. So many hackers. So many targets.

We go to my house for a meal. Outside, the rain’s pouring down and I run out and back in, over and over, glad to have something to do besides think and talk. Also, I can’t shake the fear that my house is bugged. Switching buckets and getting soaked to catch the water that’s flowing down from the gutters of the house is such a deeply-felt treat, the truest of all my entertainment, and getting rarer. I love when it rains. The bad news is that the house is starting to melt a bit, the adobe soaking through in places where the overhang isn’t sufficient to protect the straw walls. Probably a metaphor. In the bigger picture, the terrible drought and wildfire situation is mitigated, at least in the moment. The land is singing hosannas of celebration. The house can melt back into pre-civilized time. 

Civilization ending is like my house melting. I can’t let myself be attached. It’s evolution at work. Many would die, most will suffer, but species and land-bases will survive, the air and water will clear themselves, the biosphere will have been saved. I run out to dump a 5-gallon bucket into a 55 gallon barrel. I’m dripping wet and laughing.

I’ve always loved participating in plumbing with my body. I thrill to the act of my daily life slowed way down by inconvenience, and the righteous feeling of knowing what a gallon of water feels like in the laboring muscles of my body. Who needs a gym when you chop wood and carry water daily? Catching water is one pure solution. I love the solar off-grid electricity too, but I know it’s not sustainable. Solar still takes a toll on the earth, contributing to the extraction economy, and it won’t end climate change, even if everybody did it.

Solar power is not the panacea we pretend it is because photovoltaic panels still need to extract massive amounts of fossil fuels to produce, as well as requiring mining and the toxic chemicals for use in its extraction. It’s just more oil. Because solar panels take tons of steel and plastics and the wiring of copper and other metals for the appliances the solar will serve, which also need to be manufactured, and then transported to where you live, it’s not great. And the batteries are an environmental nightmare! Even solar electrical energy can never be sustainable because electricity and all its attendant structures require and industrial infrastructure. Because all of this is driven by oil.

These days, lots of my friends are really into biodiesel. They convert their engines, make fuel from restaurants’ used oil— a neat recycling of both industrial culture and convenience. And its exhaust even smells good, like French fries or Chinese food, but it too is unsustainable, and a distraction from the bigger problem. It can’t become a cultural solution, because there’s not enough restaurant oil to recycle. Most folks would want commercial biodiesel, which exists, but requires massive inputs of fossil fuels to transport and to process, and fertilizer to grow the biofuel crops, when that energy could be used to feed people. It really just shifts oil dependence from somewhere visible—the gas pump—to somewhere invisible and far away. And how much fucking energy does it take to make a new Prius?

Yeah, there’s lots of emotional power in the wishes of good people to stop creating greenhouse gasses, stop strip-mining, stop nuclear energy and oil pipelines, stop the destruction, and that’s why greenwashing solutions are so compelling. Like our consumer society can shop our way outta this one! Just about every single thing we do to live in civilization contributes to the poisoning of the earth, the air and oceans, the rivers and food, and to climate ruin.

We’re sitting around the kitchen with our eyes on the end, and the storm all around us and we’re still processing. Of course we’re still freaking processing.  
—We need a compelling story, and a metaphor is helpful for people. A coccon, a butterfly! 

—Right… the cocoon— I say,—the caterpillar’s gotta  give up her former identity so that she can assume another one when the time is right. So maybe it’s time for us to melt into another identity. And this is the time of our getting ready, like that butterfly-to-be guru. When her purpose in one form starts to be fulfilled, she becomes receptive to new stimuli. 

—Maybe the culture is just waiting for that necessary call to re-birth. Then we’ll emerge awake as extensions of the world, as the mind of the world, as connected as animals who think along the whole length of their bodies.

—It’s about Relationship. When we mature as a natural species, we’ll be ready for fully mutual relationships with all of life.

—Then we can be truly moral human beings.

Oh, sure. That’ll happen. I’m not holding onto that idea .....I get up to make a dressing for the greens that my friend is picking, out in the rain of the garden. Slicing a lemon in half, I dig a fork in, twist it around and the brightly sour juice of tropical summertime runs into the wooden bowl.

—I’ll miss lemons—I start to sing it as a silly song. —I’ll miss the lemon! Oh leave me just some lemons. For lem-ons aare….. 

But I stumble and start to cry. Then to sob. I hold onto the counter as my friends encircle me, saying soothing sounds. I pray to let this pass through me. Becasue this grief is not an abstraction. Feel this. I try and talk myself through this because the habit is to hide. I tend to just become all happy at the thought of the end, giddy at what will be saved, but I skip over the hard part. The suffering. The deprivation. But I need to fight that. This aspect of the crash is perhaps the most real. This hurts just like you’d expect the end to hurt if you could see it coming. I leave the house to go hug some trees, leaving the salad dressing unfinished.

I lie on the ground in the pouring rain, let the cold slashes wash the tears off my face. Baby birds tweet frantic music, going silent when I pass them. They’re growing bigger, louder, planted like seeds in the clay mask against the studio wall. Their nest’s a mere three inches of depth stuffed with sticks the tiny wren parents flew in. Like us carrying trees through the air, and both birds somehow jammed that womyn warrior mask full of sharp stiff lattice twigs, and now it is singing. How life loves to live! The bright longing of Nature buoys me through the darkest days.

Filled with song and frenzied demands, inhabitants of the clay mask belts out bird song and the parents fly back and forth all day with seeds and insects on wings and instinct. They both continuously poke food down there, into the pink throats that are attached to the babies I haven’t seen yet, but I believe they are there, that they exist—unlike god, unlike democracy or nonviolent victory against the engines of all-out war—fuck abstractions! These bird babies exist, like the goodness of a forest, like wet air on my skin and cold creek water running over my hands—you can hear them, feel them plumping up the fabric of morning. Baby birds shine on the periphery of my days, here at the end of the world.

Human beings are the helpless, nesting babies of the world. A failed experiment in its rampaging infancy. Screeching for more. The Super-predator infant species that has no instincts, and no limits. Is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end?

Back inside, I blow my nose, toss the lemon in the compost. Add crushed garlic, tamari, olive oil, nutritional yeast. B vitamins! Oh, I’ll miss them too, and the tears leak again. What will it look like to make a meal, after. After. I dissect the word, but it’s just sounds. In the world of flesh, we’re just used to so much food, even me in my deliberately-simplified, privileged existence here at the start of the end of the world.  Such variety and yumminess carries me through my waking life, even in drought, even in global warming. Even in wartime with the empire borrowing two billion dollars a day just to stay open for business.

And when there is no business because it all runs on oil? Because we basically eat oil, wear oil, sleep and walk wrapped in oil products, communicate over oil, and all the ubiquitous plastic too is oil. What then?  When that wall comes down like a big gate spelling out NO, when the cities all dry up like the land is drying up, when the people become the lab animals, the social experiment of us continuing relentlessly, and ruthless rulers chase their power down desperate to catch and keep poisoned illusions of grandeur and power and everything rushes towards that inexorable giant drain sucking it all into the poisoned landfill, what then? When all the toxic mimics fail and we turn ugly, how different will a day be?

My friends go home and I go for a walk in the rain-drenched woods. The scents released by the forest make me light-headed. I am mist. I am moss. I am complexities of swirling sky lid and underground life, churning. I am invisible. I am tiny and can fit into the soil cities. I am enormous and can fly draped in sky consciousness. I am the Big Picture. Not a tourist, but a Witness. Welcome inside me, World! I am busting out of my tiny container. I turn round, and twin pasque flowers have risen in the time it's taken to write this, the time it’s taken these clouds to gather and shut out the sun.

Walking my earth path, feeling the murmuring of a thousand voices in spring-throated celebration trumpeting, their chorus rising up the aspen trunks. After the first real rain since September, there is a palpable gulping and saturated inbreath, a gurgle, a splash at last, as the tips of the tallest trees in this long grove grow taller to converse with these fast scuttling cloud forms. Moss, enlivened, winks from ground cover and nameless herbs burst their balls of heat to greet this fierce metal wind. This strobing day.

Oh, smell of this drought-stricken forest in the blessed precipitation. Air with oxygen! I wanna unzip this abstraction suit and remove forever the helmet of spectacled separation, join the dance, yell in crow voice, and sprout buds. And so i do.

Watch from the Big Meadow the dragon pushing her mist up, up to engulf us again in a day of blessed moisture. Wind in the forest, dog on her back, rolling. The shape of weather becomes my shape and I welcome it inside. I am wind’s voice, fire’s triangles, chevrons of water racing down grooves in the trail. I am chaos of the charged & changing center. I am the centrifuge of spring, the rushing wanna-flood rivers. I am the stones guarding their silent longing within. I am in disguise and everywhere. You breathe me in as I breathe you. You watch me watch. We witness together, rushing as wind through every new grass blade. I am sinking as sun into each cell of fir needle and blossom in this and every meadow.

My grief and my ecstasy are mythic, yin and yang, constant polar opposites that spin me. My paradox continuously reflected, my ideas about life and death are one tiny speck on this matrix in which i am spinning as Springtime, embodied and so conscious. I advance. I crouch. I’m the bee in the flower. I’m the Latin names of all the images in every picture book of nature describing Me. I am constant, cyclical, apocalyptic, calm. I am restoring, transmuting, smoking, uncorking bubbles. I tickle the world with my translations of it which is me swinging through the jungle vines of paradox like Tarzan, or a monkey.

All head and breath, I graze this mind like a bullet. I open like a head wound. I am the breach in that integument, the leak in this balloon, breath of all that surrounds me as I inhale it all open. Exhale. Let the breath fall, caught in the green.

Mist slides up from the east, splits south and north, loops the horizon in this flowing dragon breath, tied like my bootlace to these footsteps, hoofbeats, wings. Velocity outrageous builds till all the bright is drenched and sleeping under all this this weather. Oh, atmospheric forces, surround me and take me down from my mind to this aching, aging, actual old body, these creaking joints, these muscles, this weeping glorious heart! 

*“Bringing down civilization is just depriving the rich of the ability to steal from the poor, and depriving the powerful of the ability to destroy the planet.”     (Derrick Jensen)

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